Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Eight months and ten days on

The rains came, and the purple sage bloomed. He always loved the sage.


There's so much to talk to him about. The wisteria bloomed! In August!?! A particular former bishop announced his retirement. A hawk landed outside the round window and then drank out of the bird bath, giving tiny heart attacks to every bird in the area. Robert Mueller is getting convictions. And our grandsons are both in high school (!) a fact that would have made him grin ear to ear at those beloved boys.

 

And you know what surprises me? That I can still be caught by surprise when I turn to tell him something. That the grief is still so raw, so painful.

It's been eight months and 10 days since he died. It feels like it was this afternoon.

I guess I believed those who said it won't go away but it will get easier. And yet here it sits, hunched just one thought away behind my veil of composure, ready at any moment to take my breath away, fill my eyes with tears, make my chest fill with pain.

I've gotten really good at disguising these attacks, at turning away or going silent or concentrating really hard on something else until I regain control. But when I'm alone it always wins, leaving me weeping from the force of the longing for him.

So I just keep moving.  I made through General Convention, even though every time I walked out of the House of Deputies and he wasn't there waiting for me, smiling and saying, "Hello my love," my heart hurt. And oh, he should have been there when I was honored by the president of the House of Deputies, Gay Jennings, because the work that was being recognized was made possible by his support, his wisdom, his having my back every minute. He would have loved it!

 

I made it through vacation in Hawaii, the vacation he bought and paid for the spring before his death. 

And I am surviving going through his office, although I can only do so much at a time before the emotional toll is simply too much to bear. He and I had talked about other ways to use the building his office is in, because as he got more frail, he worked there less. He always loved playing with ideas for new uses for old spaces.

But remember, we are talking about a space Gayland Pool occupied for many years, so every. single. cubic. inch is filled with stuff he kept -- books, art work, photos, books, letters,  cards from people he helped, people he married, people who loved him (thousands of cards), files, books, prayer cards, prayer books, hymnals, and more unidentifiable things than you can imagine.

And I have to go through it all, because his filing system was, well, very unusual. I found the title to his car in a file marked "pets." See what I mean?

And art work! What wasn't on the walls was stacked against the walls.



I found the brochure about the walking tour of historic sacred
spaces that he helped create.






And more political banners, bumper stickers, tote bags, and other items from the causes he supported than you would believe.


He gave money to every progressive cause that helped women, children, minorities, the vulnerable, the environment, and animals. He loved the ACLU. He was a life member of the NAACP.

And his sermon materials. Oh my. File after file for Year A, B,and C. Fifty years of priesthood wrapped up in notes, sermons, and more notes.

And that's all in the first room . . .

So please pray for me. For stamina, for wisdom, for patience, for discernment of what to keep and what to let go, for, well, for making it through to tomorrow without this beloved maddening, funny, wise, smartass, courageous, caring, creative, disorganized, energetic, and loyal man.

Oh God, my love, how I miss you.

Monday, July 30, 2018

A vacation gift from my valentine

Last year, when Gayland began failing, I kept getting phone calls from Westin Resorts, saying they needed to talk with me about my Westin vacation.  It sounded like a sales call, so I would just say, "I don't have time for this now," and hang up.

This went on for months. Gayland got sicker, and then he died, and my world just shut down to trying to make it from one day to the next. But these calls from Westin kept coming.

Until finally, on Valentine's Day, I said, "What is it you want?" And the woman told me that in the spring of 2017 Gayland had bought and paid for a 5-night, 6-day stay at a Westin Resort on Maui for two adults and two children under 18 and I needed to schedule it before the time ran out.

What?

In a daze I listened to her explain that it came with a rental car and a $75 voucher for use on the resort and I needed to schedule my stay soon. I explained to her what had happened, and she immediately extended the deadline until September. After the shock wore off, I consulted with my daughter and we selected a date.

So on July 16, my daughter, my two grandsons, and I flew to Maui, courtesy of Gayland's Valentine's Day gift.



It was wonderful. It was heartbreaking.

He and I had stayed on Maui twice, most recently five years ago.  Almost every day, he would say, "We have to bring the boys here." And I would agree. He was especially pleased to find a cafe in Lahaina called Da Kitchen, which he decided was Da's Kitchen (the boys call him Da).



When the plane took off I was almost overwhelmed with the sense of loss. His absence was so huge I could hardly breathe. He would have so loved to be there with us. He loved swimming in the ocean and he and the boys would have become waterlogged together. He would have snorkled endlessly with them. He would have loved watching them at the aquarium and urging them to try new foods. He would have loved their reaction to the volcano, to seeing all the new variety of birds and plants and all the colors the ocean can be from one minute to the next.



So I know he was smiling at their antics in the ocean and loving their having this time in a beautiful place. We came home full of new shared adventures and experiences.



They did love it, my darling, just as you knew they would. But it would have been so much better with you along.

Sunday, July 01, 2018

What is heaven worth without dogs?

When you've lived with someone for 26 years, there is a lot of stuff involved -- and a lot of photos stuck here and there.

So yesterday, as I was cleaning, doing laundry,  and trying to get ready for General Convention in Austin, I happened to open a drawer in Gayland's bedside table.

And there was this photo.


This is Gayland with his beloved dog Esau. I am convinced it is a photo of their reunion in heaven.

Esau was a foundling, like all our dogs. Gayland found him lost and wandering on Meadowbrook Drive and brought him home. He left me a cryptic voice message that said, "The little hairy man and I are home, waiting for you." So I arrived home from Channel 13, where I was working at the time, full of curiosity.  And fell in love with Esau.

Esau was indeed a little hairy man. He was -- it turned out -- a loose coated wire-haired dachshund. Who  knew that was a thing?

But what a precious thing. He and Gayland bonded at once. Gayland had never had a dog that was just his. They had had family dogs, but Esau was totally HIS. They adored each other. Oh, Esau loved me too, but it was clear I was a distant second to Gayland.

In 2012, while we were on a trip to Sicily, someone left a gate open, and Esau and another dog got out and were killed by a car. Another of our dogs was badly injured. We came home to this news, and we were devastated, Gayland especially so. The loss of Esau was huge.

A few months later, we got two more wire-haired puppies who had gone soft coated, and we loved Ms. Wiggles and Toby, but they weren't Esau. I don't think Gayland ever really got over that loss.

So I look at this photo, and I smile. I know Esau was waiting for Gayland and greeted him with squeals of joy and wiggles of delight. Rusty was there too, and Molly and all our other beloved dogs who went on ahead.

Of course they were.  For what is heaven worth without dogs?

Monday, June 25, 2018

Triggers

When the longing hits, it's a full body experience.

It can be triggered by driving past a restaurant we liked, walking into church, seeing friends he loved, seeing an art exhibit he would have found interesting, coming home from a party. . .

The longing is so intense it takes my breath away. Just today I almost had to pull over to the side of road to catch my breath because it was so intense. All from passing a church where he served.

This weekend I met my new grand nephew for the first time, and as I drove home, all I could think about was how Gayland would have loved him. Gayland loved this baby's mama from the first time he met her as a little girl, and he was overjoyed with the news of her pregnancy. He would have loved seeing this baby boy's beautiful hands, and would have marveled at his composure at being surrounded by all the Sherrods -- something even Gayland found overwhelming at times.

Waiting on a vote at General Convention in Philadelphia, 1997

This week, as I get ready to go to the General Convention of The Episcopal Church next week -- this is the governing body of our church that meets every three years -- I miss him so much it hurts. For years we went to Convention seeking to change things in this diocese so women could be ordained priests here, and LGBTQ Episcopalians would be loved and welcomed in all orders of ministry. He paid a big price for this advocacy work, forced into early retirement by a bishop who couldn't do anything to me, a lay woman, but could go after my priest husband. The financial hit from that was a big one, one that remains with me, but Gayland never regretted our work.

Our partnership strengthened both of us, but certainly me. I found the courage to take on the church governance because I knew he had my back, that no matter what happened, he was there with and for me, even if he was back at home taking care of everything there. But he always managed to come for at least part of Convention to be with me. He was my strength and a lantern to my feet. Going to convention alone feels so wrong.

And now as I look down, I see all the dogs have gathered by my feet, and the cat is curled up next to my keyboard.  This always happens when I write things like this. So here we sit, one very lonely human amid five animals, all of us missing him.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

A broken heart gets in the way

The other day I was watering the garden and right in the middle of the walk, as carefully placed as if by plan, was a small stone in the shape of a heart.



A broken heart.

It stopped me in my tracks. I picked it up, turned off the water, and walked over to the pergola and sat down to contemplate it.

It is a tiny thing. about the size of a nickle. But its impact was huge. Because I had been telling myself I was doing really well.

I was lying. My heart is broken. I am in the most familiar of places and yet I recognize none of it. Without him, all is foreign, all is strange, meaningless.

I am lost.

Stand still.
The trees ahead and bushes beside you
Are not lost. Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known.
The forest breathes. Listen. It answers,
I have made this place around you.
If you leave it, you may come back again, saying Here.
No two trees are the same to Raven.
No two branches are the same to Wren.
If what a tree or a bush does is lost on you,
You are surely lost. Stand still. The forest knows
Where you are. you must let it find you.

"Lost" by David Wagoner
From Collected Poems 1956-1976

"Wherever you are is called Here,
And you must treat it as a powerful stranger,
Must ask permission to know it and be known."
That is how I reply to people who ask, "How are you?" I say, "I am here." But Here is indeed a powerful stranger, unknown territory full of mysteries.

Last month his will was probated, a legal procedure so dry and formulaic that it made me want to scream, "Stop! What he wanted mattered more than these muttered rote words and scripted replies in a courtroom. He is not just one more 'case' come before you. He was wonderful, beloved, delightful. Can you not see that the whole world is diminished without him!?"

But of course one does not act that way in a courtroom when one is just a bit player in a minor legal drama that just happens to deal with the death of a beloved husband. 

So now I am officially his sole heir and executor. He had already made provision for others to be cared for, so his will was very simple and straightforward. Now I am tasked with inventorying our "estate," a word much too grand to encompass our eccentric and very personal creation of a home.  How am I supposed to put a dollar value on our life together? For that is what it feels like I've been asked to do. 

I have sat down again and again with all good intentions to start this task and end up walking away again and again, helpless before the impossibility of it. Yes, I have found deeds and records and all manner of documents, but I can't seem to go much beyond that. 

So I wander outside and watch Raven and Wren in the garden, although my Raven is actually Crow. Yes, Crow has taken up residence here this spring, and unlike the busy noisy wrens, he is a creature on a schedule. He comes to the pergola fountain at the same time every day to drink, scattering any loitering squirrels and daring my dogs to challenge him. They just act like they haven't noticed him. He perches on the bubbling top of the fountain and boldly drinks without even looking around. He doesn't care if I am sitting three feet away watching him. When he is done, he looks directly at me, and we eye one another in silence for a time. Then I tell him he is beautiful and he bobs his head at me, and takes off over the pergola, crying his raucous challenge to the skies.

Odd how I have come to count on those encounters. I sit and watch the birds, and the lizards and other creatures who share this space with me and wonder if they notice how different it is without him. And I wonder if grief is making me a little bit mad. A good friend who has endured a huge loss herself told me to call her whenever I needed to ask if I was crazy or not. Now I know what she means.

Grief does create a mad space in one's life, a space that makes no sense, a Here that is a powerful stanger, one that may or may not give you permission to know it. 

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Missing my birthday boy

My beloved was born on April 23, 1937. So Monday was a hard day.

Because every year on our birthdays we would begin the day the same way. The one who was not having a birthday would ask the other, "How shall we celebrate your birthday?"

And we would then explore increasingly elaborate ideas -- go out to dinner, go to a  movie, go to a Broadway show, book a cruise, go to Mexico, go to Italy.

But we each knew what we would end up doing -- having dinner together here at home. In the garden usually on his April birthday, in front of the fireplace on my December birthday.

His birthday dinner in the garden 2015
Because nothing, absolutely nothing, was as much fun as just the two of us together in a place we had created together, eating and drinking and talking and laughing.

Daisy wishing her daddy happy birthday in 2015
He was among the smartest people I know.

I so miss his wit, his observations on the day's happenings. He was generally kinder than I am, but then, a lot of people are. Conversations with him were always interesting, challenging, and just plain fun. He taught me so much, and stretched my world view in so many ways.  He was so widely read -- and I swear, he retained it all.

He couldn't remember to pick up the stuff I asked him to get at the grocery store, but he could remember something he'd read ten years ago in a  Nikos Kazantzakis book.

A thousand times a week I think, "I have to tell him about . . ." And then reality intrudes.

I so miss our conversations, my love. I know you are probably having a wonderful time tracking down all the writers whose work you loved, but I wish you were still here. Things are more than a little bleak without you.

You would have been 81 years old on Monday, but those numbers truly mean so little when I think of you. Your vibrant spirit, your wit, your charm -- they were ageless.

So on Monday, I set up a gofundme account, the Gayland Pool Memorial Outreach Fund to raise $10,000 to carry on the ministries you were so passionate about through the work of the congregation at St.  Luke in the Meadow Episcopal Church. We've raised nearly $3,000 of it so far.

It's helping me get from one day to the next. Because it's damn hard.

I miss you so, my love. So much.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

An empty garden

This is the time of day when I miss him most - early evening, when the day is drawing down and we both would stop whatever had kept us busy that day and turn to one another for companionship and conversation.

He would make me a drink and -- if the weather permitted and it nearly always did - we would head out into the garden. The dogs knew this routine so well they would meet us at the crossing in the walk -- are we going to sit in the pergola or in the Chapel Garden? When we would tell them which, they would tear off ahead of us, thrilled to be outside with us, knowing we would be playing with them, talking to them, laughing at them.



Daisy and Sam still look at me this time of day when I step outside -- are we going to spend time out here together, their eyes ask?

But I just can't. Sitting in the garden without him is so meaningless, so arid, so devoid of contentment that when I do sit outside I end up weeping, and the smaller dogs end up huddled around my feet, with big dog Booker putting his paws round my neck and embracing me in his distress.

I worked all day yesterday in the guesthouse garden, and when I finished, dirty and exhausted, I realized I had already turned to call him to come see how it looked, to come have a drink with me there while we enjoyed it together. But he isn't here, and the joy in the beauty of the space drained away, and it became just another job among many to finish.

I know the dogs worry about me. When I collapse in the garden weeping, they pile all over me, upset and trying to figure out what to do. I suspect if it weren't for them, I might end up curled up in a ball out there.  But they are here, and so I don't end up that way.

Instead, I walk into this oh-so-empty house, wash my hands, wipe my face, and try to figure out how to move through the next few hours until I can fall into blessed sleep, where, for a few hours in treacherous dreams, he is still with me in the garden. Because, in my dreams, we are almost always in the garden.

But the price paid for these sweet dreams is awakening every day to the knowledge of just how enormous is the space his absence occupies.

God, how I miss him.