Saturday, May 11, 2019

Dear Heart . . .

This rainy Saturday seemed a good time to continue work on my project of turning an unused room into a guest room.

This has meant sorting through a desk and three crammed book shelves, so it's been time consuming, mostly because my heart keeps stumbling over relics of Gayland.

Today I was stopped completely by a note he had given to me on Mother's Day, 2000, along with a gift of two joined hearts in Steuben crystal. The hearts sit on a shelf in my living room. The note had been tucked into a drawer.

Dear Heart,
Blessed be you on this Mother's Day - and joy to hold dear the life you give and rejoice to see in fullness.
This bit of glass was to have been a Valentine gift -- but it better symbolizes this day and the joined hearts of you and Daniella!
So I rejoice to be giver and rejoice to see the joined hearts and share the giving love from your hearts.
Much love, Gayland
May 14, 2000

If you were ever the recipient of a note from Gayland, you recognize his stream-of-consciousness writing style.

 He wrote in full throat, never stinting on emotion or bothering much with punctuation. He loved dashes, and the fact that there are only two in this note is a bit unusual. And while I treasure all notes from him, this one is especially precious, for in it he at last reveals that he has started to understand the relationship between me and my child, a relationship that, early on, had startled him, puzzled him, and, yes, made him jealous.

He never had children of his own, and inheriting an adult woman as a step-daughter was a step into a totally unknown world. His relationship with his parents had been loving, especially with his mother, but he was taken aback by how very close Daniella and I are.

He was just plain jealous of the time she and I spent together, and sometimes, he was a bit of a brat about it. He was a world champion pouter, and I called him on it many times when we were visiting Daniella when she lived out of state. He would grumble and deny it and then eventually apologize. I think even he was surprised by his jealousy.

Eventually he came to understand that my love for him was in no way affected by my love for her. It was odd that a man so gifted in loving others was so worried that, in this one case, there wasn't enough love to go around. He would still have his moments, and Daniella and I would still call him out on it, but he truly did love her and her sons. Seeing her become a mother was amazing to him, and those two baby boys were the absolute light of his life.

So I watch as the joined hearts catch the light and give it back, much as his heart did every day in so many ways.

I miss you, dearest man.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Brightness falls from the air

It's a line from a Thomas Nashe poem, A Litany in Time of Plague -- certainly the one line that immortalized Nashe. It's a line in the middle of a stanza that's in the middle of the poem.

Beauty is but a flower
Which wrinkles will devour;
Brightness falls from the air; 
Queens have died young and fair; 
Dust hath closed Helen’s eye. 
I am sick, I must die.
Lord, have mercy on us!

But oh! How that one line speaks truth to those who have lost someone they love.
Brightness falls from the air.
That's exactly what happens when, in the midst of going about my day, I am blindsided by a vivid memory of my love. Anything can trigger it -- a view, a song, a news story, a flower, a sentence in a book, a TV show. Whatever the trigger, a vivid memory of Gayland springs full blown into my mind's eye, and for a split second, he lives in my mind. Then reality intrudes and -- brightness falls from the air.

Any transitory happiness flees, tranquility is gone, laughter fades, courage falters, hope fades, and bleak despair reigns.

Sometimes it lasts only a minute, and I am able to recover without anyone noticing that this black cloak of grief just enveloped me. Other times, it lasts for days, this bleak hopelessness. When this happens, I just fake it. Why suck others into my bleakest times? 

When it hits, the blow of grief has a physical impact. I feel my shoulders drop, my hands fall to my side, my knees weaken. Once in a while -- thank God only when I'm alone -- it has literally knocked me to my knees.

When that happens, I just sink down and sit there and let the dogs comfort me, as in their loving doggy concern they nudge me and lick me and lean close to me. When sometimes in the night I rise from my sleeplessness and walk outside, they all come with me, even the cat, and we walk the garden in the post-midnight hours, pacing back and forth between the garden "rooms" he and I created together until I am exhausted enough to go back to bed. 

And then, as if to make up for the black times, a period of tranquility will arrive, allowing me days of peace when I am allowed to believe I have come to terms with the loss of him. 

It's a lie.

Oh, I am functioning. I am even having fun. I spend time with people I love. I work on projects I care deeply about. 

But the impact of the loss of Gayland is never far from me.

Perhaps one day these moments will elicit only a fond smile. But for now?

For now when they come, they take the light with them, and brightness falls from the air.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Happy birthday, my love

Today is Gayland Pool's 82nd birthday.  Somewhere he is celebrating, I am sure, because he always liked a party.

He loved nothing more than gathering up all the people he loved -- and that was a LOT of people -- and plying them with food and drink and all the hospitality his generous soul could provide.

Gayland loved using the occasion of his birthday as a way to help others. One year we had a concert to raise money for Sudan. Another year we hosted folks organized against the death penalty in our garden. In other years, we  hosted fundraisers for animal shelters, the Women's Center and Women's Haven, and for politicians we supported.

For someone with such a generous soul, he was really bad at accepting gifts. He felt it was a waste of money, money that could have been used to help someone else. Partly, this was because he didn't hesitate to buy things for himself, particularly books and works of art that spoke to him. He knew what he needed to feed his soul, and if he could figure out how to afford it, he bought it.

But partly it was, I think, that at some deep level he didn't believe he was worthy of generosity. While I suspect I know the origin of this, I cannot be sure. This reluctance to accept gifts was something we talked about every Christmas and every birthday -- that he loved giving gifts to folks, and that he should allow folks the same pleasure in giving gifts to him.

"All you have to say is,  'Thank you,'" I would say to him, when he would begin in on how people shouldn't have spent the money, etc. And he would grimace and say, "Thank you."

Gayland's feeling of unworthiness is common, I believe, among people of his generation. Children of the Depression were raised amid scarcity, hard ground indeed for a theology of abundance to take root. He could be very tight with money. And yet, Gayland epitomized abundant love for others. It was mostly with himself that he was ungenerous.

To watch him move through a room, smiling, grasping hands, gently touching a child's head, an adult's arm, focusing intently while engaging with each person was to watch a lover of humanity in action. Children knew this instinctively. I can't count the number of times we would be stopped in a store or on the street by the sudden appearance of a small child who had wrapped him or herself around his leg. I soon learned to just stop while Gayland engaged with the child and I scanned the space for an anxious looking parent. Sure enough, here would come an adult, calling the child's name and looking simultaneouly relieved and suspicious. Who were these people with their child? Gayland would greet the parent, and gently unpeel the child, who usually was chatting away with him, and introduce himself and me. Within seconds, the parent relaxed, the child was transferred -- although occasionally one would insist tearfully that  he or she needed to go with Gayland - names were exchanged, and off we'd go on our interrupted errand. More than once, the parents and children turned up in church the next Sunday.

He was a child magnet. I think they recognized something childlike in him, a joy and amazement at being alive that they shared. His grandsons certainly knew they had an unfailing advocate in their Da, who believed they could do no wrong, ever. He was amazed at having grandchildren, and thought they were the most special, handsomest, smartest boys ever -- the Best Boys in the World. And of course, they are.

Just in time for his birthday, I finished some much needed work in the farmhouse, work that had been put off while we dealt with his illness, and then I dealt with losing him.

It has been a bittersweet experiece, because it is the kind of project we loved to do together, playing with space with Tino's help. I know he is pleased with the work, because if he wasn't I suspect he would have found ways to let me know.

So happy birthday, my love. I miss you every day.

And here's the latest project:

<<<<< You know the south porch that was falling down? I did as we talked about, my love, and took that wall out to add room to the kitchen.

               See the new space. >>>

You can see we whitewashed the floor like we talked about doing.

<<<<< I also removed the exposed shelves, and lowered the cabinet to I can reach it -- without my tall person here, I needed to do that. And I put up art where the open shelves were.

I also took the wall out to expose the stairs and open up the space beneath them as we'd talked about. >>>>>

And I took out the appliance center we never used and turned it into a seating area at the bar.     >>>>>>>

<<<<< I added lighting to the open space under the stairs and put a bench there to stow purses and things when we have a party.

<<<<<< Here's the view into the kitchen from the dining room. You can see the door in the corner has been removed when I opened up the porch. It makes the dining room much lighter. You'd like that.