Tag Archives: loss

Change

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I never figure coin, when adjusting my checkbook. If I deposit $438.87, I only add in $438.00. If I write a check for $12.02, I subtract $13.00. Most errors occur in adding and subtracting the coin, and I’ve eliminated it. I’ve also given myself a little cushion. If I forget to subtract the $2.50 service charge each month, I am covered. If I forget to enter a check or debit from my account, I am usually okay. With nothing more than the coin, I accumulate a couple hundred dollars each year.

It’s a nice little bonus. Sometimes it covers a little trip away; sometimes it gets me out of a bind caused by an illness or an unforeseen auto repair bill. A few years ago, with no other pressing needs, I used it to buy a camera. It’s nothing fancy – just a little “point and shoot” – but I enjoy it immensely. Because I got it with “left-over coin,” it seems like a gift.

I take more photos in October than in any other month of the year.

Change is what I am documenting.

Leaves turn from ordinary and expected greens to a wealth of gold-red-orange-purple colors that continue to delight, amaze and surprise me, though I’ve been observing this process for more than sixty years. Yesterday, the temperature dropped more than ten degrees, mid-day. We had episodes of rain here on Beaver Island, then sleet, then snow…and beautiful blue skies and bright sun in-between!

Change is the way we make note of our lives, as we live. It’s not always as pleasurable as watching autumn colors.

It includes “where did this summer go?” and “where did these wrinkles come from?” and “how did it happen that my precious babies are now grown, with problems and disappointments of their own?” It includes loss. And death.

I was, in fact, going to title this piece “Change and Disappointment.”

Beaver Island is losing its Beech trees. Every one. A disease that infected them years ago is taking them down. The woods are littered with their fallen majesty; every wind storm adds to the toll. As if that weren’t enough, fallen trees take out the electrical power and block roadways.

[even I can see the sheer audacity of that statement: “bad enough that an entire species of hundred-year-old trees is dying…but it’s inconveniencing me, as well!” Shame on me, as I continue, self-centered-ly]

A dear island gentleman passed away recently, an old friend of my father’s. I’ll attend his funeral this morning.

Last week, a man died – the father of an old friend – who I’d known for fifty years. As children, we’d raid his food stores for our midnight snacks. We’d roll our eyes at his commentary as he drove us to the Pix theater for movies. His voice, downstairs talking on the HAM radio, was background to our whispered midnight conversations. He was an integral part of my childhood.

I suffered a huge letdown with another project last week, which has caused a total upheaval in the process. I can’t quite make sense of it yet, or form words to describe the disappointment and fear…but I forge on.

“Forge on through disappointment and loss,” I tell myself. “Make the most of change.”

With thoughts like that, I headed down the Fox Lake Road last week, planning to be on time for work at the hardware store, which was the only job – at that time – that was not causing me grief. A large beech tree had fallen across the road, blocking my path. I couldn’t move it. What could I do? I could back up (on curvy road with dust-covered windows) more than a quarter-mile to a place where I could turn around, then back-track and take the long route to town. I could sit and wait for someone to come that could help me move the tree, or that could cut it out of the way. I could go around it…maybe. I got out and paced the distance from the end of the tree, across to the drive-able shoulder and off to the nearest barrier, which was a cluster of small trees. I might just make it, if I aimed just right, and turned just so, and didn’t flatten my tire rolling over the end of the tree trunk…

Well, I didn’t.

I got wedged in between the tree trunk in the road and the cluster of small trees off the road. After inching forward and back – forever, it seemed – to dislodge the car, I thought a bold push forward was necessary to get past a tiny fingerling tree that was holding me up…

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I tore the mirror right off the passenger side of my good little car. I’ve been so very appreciative of this car and so careful of it, I wanted to just cry. [I hate to admit, I also toyed with the notion of titling this piece “First Blood” to mark the first damage incurred on my watch.]

So much for getting to work on time!

So much for forging on with good spirits!

So much for making the best of change!

And yet…change is not only the things that happen, out of our control, that we fight and rail against and mourn for.

Change is also What is Left.

Change is the coin left over when you break a dollar. The eyes of small children twinkle when they give you one thing…a dollar bill…and they get back many shiny things in return. We adults all know it’s not as much…but oh, to look through a child’s eyes, and see that way! From my own experience, I know how change can accumulate.

For every loss, no matter how great, something is left, something is gained. For all of my self-centered melodrama, I still have an exciting business; I still have a working vehicle. When one sense is lost, the other senses are heightened. When a loved one dies, we look with renewed love and appreciation to those who are still with us; every memory becomes more precious.

The task is to take What is Left…and live with it. Let it grow, let it accumulate, let it be.

Sometimes – as in the autumn colors all around – what’s left is glorious.

Forward…and Back

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Rainy…and bright.

The August garden, a crazy circus of orange and yellow and (yes!) apricot Day Lilies, Black-eyed Susan, pink Cosmos, bright Marigolds and WEEDS, is also alive with trails of pumpkin runners, tomato plants and heavily loaded grape vines hanging over the fence. The asparagus fronds wave a golden mist in front of the drying raspberry canes. The pea plants are yellow: the last, late harvest of peas went into the soup pot yesterday. The potato plants are wilting, a sign that their work is done, and potatoes can be dug soon. The cucumbers struggle on. This rain will help.

August is a mix of living and dying.

Walking down the Fox Lake Road last evening, I noticed more of the same. The wild raspberries, just like the cultivated plants in my garden, are just about done. The milkweed is dying, putting the last of its energy into producing seed pods…but their drying flowers still perfume the air as I pass. Blackberry bushes, I am happy to announce, are loaded with green fruit. It will be ripening soon, and keep us in sweet harvest until the frost.

August is a mix of dying and living.

My sisters were here, with families and friends, to celebrate life in our own crazy ways. August is a mix in our family, too, with birthdays and anniversaries interspersed with dates associated with the death of a loved one. Strength is born of sadness, but more: through loss I have learned to cherish the moment, the life we are given, and the people I’m blessed with. I feel in every hug, every baby’s laugh and every “I love you,” a tremendous gratitude for the insight to appreciate this wild life.

A good friend lost her sister last week; another lost her brother just the day before yesterday. My friend, John, is here on Beaver Island to honor his lifelong partner, Larry, who died last year.

It’s raining today, but the sun shines through.

Life is a mix.

We must forge on.

“We must have the stubbornness to accept our gladness in the ruthless furnace of this world.” (Jack Gilbert)

“It has done me good to be parched by the heat and drenched by the rain of life.” (Henry Wadsworth Longfellow)

“These are our few live seasons. Let us live them as purely as we can, in the present.” (Annie Dillard)

Low Points

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In the vast terrain that is Memory of my life so far, there are gentle slopes and curves, a few sharp turns, more peaks than I probably deserve…and four deep trenches.

I can name them.

1) When I was eleven or twelve years old, my baby sister, Darla, died. She was not quite two months old. I can picture how she was in life, her sweet cheeks and fluff of hair and Cupid’s bow mouth. I can see her, still, in the small casket, in the white baptismal dress each one of us wore before her. I remember how we clutched at each other in sadness and in fear, at her death. Fear at seeing our strong parents crumbling in their grief. Fear of our own newly realized mortality.

2) After fourteen years of marriage, I divorced my husband. I never planned for that turn of events. I didn’t see that as even the remotest possibility, going in. We had planned to grow old together.  In my Catholic family, I was the first to use that option. Divorce changes everything. It alters your past memories and future plans. It ruins holiday traditions. It changes the whole world’s opinion of you and the way your own children perceive you. It forced me to re-think the person I was, and the person I would become.

3) When my youngest daughter was fourteen and a half years old, she chose to go live with her father. It didn’t go well, or certainly not as I would have liked. I couldn’t make her come back and the courts wouldn’t force it, so I watched from a distance with great sadness and regret.

4) In the summer of 2011, my sister, Sheila, died – without warning – less than two weeks before cancer took my mother’s life.

These are the low points of my life, the trenches in my memory.

I’ve had other losses, other break-ups, other heartache…but none have shaped my life the way these have. None can pull me back in the way these can.

It happened just yesterday.

I was writing about my little dog.

I’d been running through it in my mind.

There was the walk in fresh snow, when we came upon the tracks of a coyote who had passed by. Both dogs – Clover first, then Rosa Parks – dipped their nose into each paw print, then, nose-to-nose, looked into each others eyes. “This is serious!”, I imagined was the message that passed between them.

I was going to write about the idea that Rosa Parks is about the size and weight of a year-old baby. That the heat from her body, when she curls up to sleep in the bend of my knees or around my feet, makes me question my resolve to spend the rest of my life alone. I didn’t realize how much I was missing the warmth of another living thing, until I got her.

I was going to tell how snarly Rosa is, how protective of her space when I go to get into bed. In the morning, though, with tiny baby noises, she crawls up to give me little nudges, to show me her belly and to let me scratch her ears.

I started to write it, but wandered, and before I knew it, the story was about my tragedy more than it was about my little dog.

I don’t live my life in grief. I’m quite happy most days. I certainly don’t plan to introduce my loss into everything I write.

Yesterday, I just strayed too close to the edge.