Selling and Saying Goodbye

The sign went up today.
Eighteen years of life well-lived is for sale.
An empty-nest ranch on a quiet cul-de-sac grabbed us at the first drive-by.
Within the first year, our daughter graduated college and came to stay awhile.
A few months later, our son and his family moved in with our first grandchild.
Loving and living and laughing; we made it work.

In the blink of an eye, along came another baby girl and another son through marriage!
Our kids found their own homes; and it was just us again....
To build a garden wall, plant flower beds, design and construct a deck
Full time jobs didn't keep us from babysitting, having sleepovers and spoiling our granddaughters.
Swim, bike ride, carnivals, fairs and Disneyworld...all through the eyes of children again.
We were having the time of our lives.

Missteps and health hiccups finally caught up with us, but again we made it work.
Working from home in his wheelchair, then a walker and finally a cane....
Grandpa orchestrated and oversaw the house renovation project.
Wood floors, new appliances, added windows, French doors, Berber carpet.
As his health and mobility improved, we did a switcheroo....
He took over the household chores and I the yard work.
Great fun with our grandson running around most days!

Just when we thought it couldn't be a more wonderful life,
The twins came along! Retirement quickly followed and now....
It truly was a Grandma and Grandpa house with double the stuff and double the fun!
Sandboxes and slides, swim gear and skateboards filled the garage.
Portable cribs in the kid's room, games and books in the den and lap trays for those
Breakfast in Bed mornings with grandpa's famous pancakes.

All five grandkids had pals in the neighborhood.
The twins lost their fear of dogs from the gentle shelties who lived next door.
The man across the street lent a hand for trimming too-high hedges.
Every Halloween, there we were; sitting out front. In costumes. With gin and tonics.
Catching up with neighbors while we passed out goodies was the highlight of fall.
Our yard-decorated front, back and side; had the most witches, scarecrows and ghosts
Thanks to Grandpa's bargain shopping!

Same at Christmas time. Oh, how many freezing Decembers we took turns on the ladder,
Putting up colored lights and hanging wreaths;
Blinking Santas and snowmen, polar bears and a family of ducks. The after-holiday-clearance
Stuff was all right here in our beautiful yard. "The more the merrier the holiday," he'd say.
And inside was no different.
Over the years we acquired quite a collection of musical decorations;
Imagine them all playing at once!

From the time they were little, the kiddos planted garden flowers and veggies every year.
We called them our Gardenyardigans. Carrots and strawberries were a favorite.
And the flowers; learning to cut and gather throughout the spring and summer is such joy.
We helped them hunt for bug and leaf specimens; and watched as they ran and shrieked
Catching fireflies on a warm June night.
With the stone wall and the oversized deck, there isn't much lawn to play on.....but there's a hill!
Great for coming down in winter snow; slippery fun running down into the summer sprinkler.

No Christmas decorations this past year. No sitting outside at Halloween.
The kids are busy with sports and clubs now and have all become great swimmers.
Sleepovers are in the big bed now, and it's donuts for breakfast, not pancakes.
It's become a Grandma-only house; not the same. Just not the same without him.
Both the inside and the outdoors have lost something;
The other side of shared work, accomplishment, pride, enjoyment and love for this house.
A brand new place 18 years ago that became a lived-in home filled with happiness.

Soon, the time to say goodbye will be here.
Time for this ranch to welcome another family to live and laugh.
 If I could wrap my arms around this house;
I'd thank it for letting us become grandparents, letting us grow old together,
And eventually, for giving me the strength in it's soul to grow peace in mine;
Giving us both hope for a new future.

Starting a New Beginning

Norman Vincent Peale wrote about dealing with life's troubles. In an old piece I came across recently, he suggests we may unknowingly like our trouble..."a convenient alibi for failings and shortcomings." In my case, I blamed my writer's block on grief and melancholy....I did enough on the sad theme about becoming a widow and poor me!  But what's really holding me back is my fear of sharing that I can and DO find happiness; I AM trying another beginning. "The spirit of man enables him to surmount his sorrows," Peale states….it’s okay.

I focus on moving forward; learning to live on my own and keeping my husband’s light burning for family, friends and all those in the world whose lives he touched. I still deal with grief and loneliness two years later.  I feel the pain all over again when friends lose a spouse....the heaviness holds me down so close to depression and it wears me out pushing it away. Know what I mean?

 But I am grateful for each day that I'm here and healthy. I can make decisions now. I can laugh and have fun and enjoy things even though I lost a part of my being. Underneath the sadness is hope, hope begets curiosity and strength.  It's strange feeling content and steady, but lost and wobbly at the same time. Does it ever go away? Should it? I like this kind of vulnerability. It keeps me balanced: two steps forward selling my house, traveling, thinking about another man; and then one step back with memories and tears and longing for my husband's touch. It works in perfect rhythm most days, until I trip and step back too many times. Just like on Dancing with the Stars....I have to stop whining and try again the choreography of life’s neverending starts.

All my life I had beginnings, but the path was laid before me pretty much. College/dorm life/degrees came with plans and I conquered them all. Marriage was the best beginning because it came with a partner! Together we figured it out through 47 years of living, raising kids, cross country moves, new jobs, homes....loving and learning and laughing all the way. We welcomed grandparenting with open arms; left alone with the first newborn, we stared at each other in awe. How did we get here? Are we ready, willing and able? Apparently not as well as we thought because there were no instructions on the swing set that cautioned baby girl may throw herself onto the floor at the split second you lay her in and start to fasten straps! She was fine but we were not. Her parents were understandably upset. Not our first life-time goof....but one that stuck. We learned to tag team and face this new beginning hand-in-hand; another granddaughter, then a grandson!  By the time the twins arrived, we were having the time of our lives! We loved each other even more....not because we'd been so beautifully rewarded for raising two kids.....but because we'd reached old age while we were still young and fun and onboard with a fast-changing world.

There was even a plan for death. Funeral arrangements and wills and bundles of red tape are all explained in solemn binders. People magically appeared to take my hand and guide my way. But then it's over. It's done. And days and weeks turned into months and seasons and I floated along automatically; not quite here, but functioning. Time went by, but I was still at the beginning.

There are no rules for widowhood. No right or wrong for dining or traveling or living alone; no plan for finding friendship, companionship. Yes, there are websites and what we used to call mixers, but that’s not my style. Seventy, senior and single seeks comfortable and understanding; another wounded soul on this same I want someone else wandering and wondering what the hell do we do now?  

 No rules on how to behave. I joined a grief group at my church which was quite comforting in those early months; yet it frightened me to see so many widows still there ten years later with sad eyes. I have five young ones who miss Grandpa and I am HIS cheerleader now!  I am the go-to grandma for fun and games, sleepovers, skating, they realize how much I need this too?  

Should I stay or should I go? I’m going to sell this home full of joy and love. I want a fresh place, a new environment and an old village if you will. I am blessed to have many villages and tribes of pals who’ll welcome me with open arms. But the naysayers say stay; your house is your nest egg, you haven’t waited long enough. How long is enough? No rules here either. I’m not the best regarding financial matters, but I do know staying here and now is not for me…..I want to go and do and be! My five little giggle buddies….ages 7-17 (who tell me that our ages “match” now that I’m 71!) are my strength here also….going through files and photos, old trophies and sports memorabilia. These kids have done some heavy lifting, figuratively and literally, in helping me prepare for a garage sale. Not one is saying “don’t go, we’ll miss you”…..they can’t wait to visit wherever I land!

There’s no right or wrong when it comes to change. I was wishy-washy for a long time; then gradually becoming sure of my decision to move. I told my family I felt a sense of peacefulness now. Bless my granddaughter who gently whispered, “peace means you are ready and you are doing the right thing, Grandma.” I spend days going through things room by room. Each closet or shelf or drawer I open is a peek into the past. The old woven jewelry basket I've kept filled with old photos is absolutely ‘my life in a box!’ I’m taking my time; but once the sign goes up, it’ll sell pretty fast.  Finding a place to relocate is not easy either; have you ever felt like being blind and wide-eyed at the same time?  I am learning as I go.

 Besides peace and strength, I have faith; faith in God’s plan and faith in myself. You too, will realize someday that you are stronger and ready for change, big or small. You’ll learn to tuck the past safely in your pocket, forget about so-called 'right' rules and look ahead to something new. “It’s hard to start again this far along” as the song written by Mary Gauthier goes. “Brick by brick, the letting go, as you walk away from everything you know.” But I can tell you this….beginnings also bring anticipation. Every new start I've made helped build the chapters of my life and now I get to start another…."live the hell out of life" my husband used to say. You got it, babe! Will do.


It's That ValenTime

He gave me flowers, candy and sometimes jewelry most years. His last year he brought me coffee in bed with this card and mini-Valentine cupcakes! A few months later, he got Easter cupcakes for my spring Birthday....all sale specials I'm sure! This is a tough one for me and so many dear friends who have lost their spouses after a lifetime together. My heart goes out to them as I feel what they feel and think what they think when awakening each morning and when they turn off the lights at night. (I leave some lights on nowadays.) Empty chairs and an empty table, empty bed.....empty house. 

No one to exclaim "what the hell" about Brian Williams to or share my latest accomplishment in Zumba. No one who asks how your appointment went or pick up the pen you just dropped or grab you a napkin. Two months after he died, another widow told me it gets both harder and easier. After seven months, I wrote about becoming a widow on my blog; feeling all strong and knowy about the widow part......but including a disclaimer that I no longer had an editor in residence. The first year anniversary went okay as friends and family invited me for lunches and dinners and the grandkids telling Grandpa stories. I can do this, I thought....thinking I'd passed some kind of test or magic number or milestone. It seemed I'd reached the 'gets easier' phase. And then came this past fall/winter holiday time. I put on a smiley face and decorated with my youngest grandchildren, but there's no fun in it alone; 'cause they eventually go home. And you're on your lonesome own again. So yeah....that was one of the 'gets harder' times for sure. And the recent deaths of two more friends pulls down .....way down.... on the 'harder' meter.

 So I practice gratefulness, thank the sun for shining and turn the oldies' station loud to get myself turned forward....and it works with one step in front of the other, and then another. And it is NOT true that time's 18 months and I miss him more than ever! The thing about LOVE is that someone has to go first and someone has to stay behind. The thing about FOREVER is that it really does keep going in our hearts....filling up with memories of all our togetherness. He knows this and gives me what I this morning; I woke up thinking "I'm better than I think I am!" I'm better than I think in lots of ways. His Valentine gift for me this year! So, dear lonely friends....please feel my hugs and my prayers for you. There are signs and messages surrounding you always and you WILL find strength and comfort......and melancholy. Embrace the sadness and hard times and please know that easier times will follow. Show your kids and grandkids sorrow and show them happy. And may everyone find some happy here and there this Valentine weekend.

Accepting Change this Year

Bundled in sweats and blankets, I'm trying to avoid using the old furnace if I don't have to. But it's cold here in front of the window where I write. And I feel like writing for a change! Most of the time I'm so busy I don't notice the cold....or I go out and walk or rake leaves as it's often warmer outside than in. The small tree is up and trimmed and there are three light-up decorations in the yard. That is enough. Three grandkids here every weekend mean each can play a role in getting this Grandma-only house ready for Christmas. Carrying the tree in and setting it up; getting the boxes down from the attic, choosing favorite ornaments and which yard stuff to use, playing the holiday music boxes over and the same time! They love this collection that grew each year from after-Christmas sales; something Grandpa was really good at!

This second Christmas without my husband has been so much harder. Losing him was still too fresh in my head last year; I still operated on the momentum that had carried me through two services and  helped me maintain every routine and tradition through Halloween and Thanksgiving and the kids' Birthdays and then....Christmas. My daughter insisted I spend the night at her house; sharing that Big Day with her in-laws; once solely their domain.
This year has been full of positive change and growth; finding my independence and some kind of forward path. But it's still hard. Cold, rainy weather dampened our annual cul-de-sac's sit-outside-with-neighbors Halloween celebration, so I got a pass on that. With the exception of maybe two or three out of 47 years, my husband stuffed the turkey and cooked the whole Thanksgiving meal every year in all our homes. This year my daughter hosted it at her house. And this year, I'm heading to my son's for his home on the beach in California. Yeah, big changes. And I am okay with this. Together we are showing the kids and ourselves that it can become different while keeping him very much alive in our hearts.

We used to call the beach town where our older granddaughters live our second home. We went for months at a time; keeping tubs of clothes, our bikes and an old classic car in storage till next time we arrived. Less than a month after he died, I hopped on a plane to CA to walk the beach. I rode my bike down our favorite palm tree-canopied streets and along the boardwalk all the way down to Surfer's Point. Funny how I could feel him beside me; I usually rode fast so stayed ahead of him; other times he'd have had enough and head back first. It's been 15 months since I've been back. Apparently I've missed so much. We knew the neighbors around our beach rental; participated in community events, volunteered at the girls' schools, belonged to the library and the local old-car group. Now the Pacific Coast Highway is blocked by mudslides, (meaning Hwy 101 on my ride from the airport....yikes!) and local seaside restaurants are either closed for the season or undergoing renovations (from weathered charm to shiny new does not appeal.) Some of our favorite pals have either moved or gone away for the holidays; sure wish things could always stay the same.

But it will all be good....the best thing in the world to see my family and share in their traditions and plans. Both teenagers still want to bake and decorate Christmas cookies. They'll ride bikes with me and my son's idea of entertainment is to walk along the keys and see the light displays on all the boats! A beachy Christmas and lots of good memories here!
 I've had some great days,weeks and months this past year on my own. Unexpected and different, but in mostly good ways. Now as December winds down and I welcome 2015 with my California kids, I accept things being different, things changing and that things become as they are meant to be.

Follow The Fence To Safety; Evading the Enemy

 Only in his later years, did my father finally agree to let me interview and record his memories and experiences from WWII....thanks to my kids who wanted to write school reports about him. I have copies of their old papers, the scrapbooks, tape-recordings and notes I made and most recently, the framed display of his medals and citations designed by my brother. I am delighted that the next generation...his three youngest great-grandkids are sharing Grandpa Bickley's story in their classes! 

 On his 18th mission in July, 1944, my Dad's B-17G Bomber was hit by flak while flying over France. He parachuted into a field near Rouen and hid for hours in thick, thorny bushes; evading capture by the German soldiers and holding his breath as they "poked around just inches away."
Taking a chance; he eventually started waving and walking toward a young boy pushing a plow. Pointing and gesturing excitedly, the 12 year-old indicated my Dad should "follow the fence" to the back of a farm in the distance. The farmer's family welcomed him into their home and quickly summoned their neighbor; a Count and wealthy landowner who headed the local French Underground.
The small village of Preaux was ready to do their part; having agreed before hand how it would work if an allied soldier needed protection. With new clothing and a new identity, my Dad lived for two months with various families. He grew a bushy mustache, went by the name of Pierre and quickly improved his high school French.

S/Sgt. Bickley was a turret-ball gunner.
It became a scary "game of hide-and-seek" with German troops searching barns and cellars daily and Dad riding his borrowed bike to a different place each night. When he and I talked about 15 years ago, he told of the relaxed and "homey" meals prepared by the farm wives and how all the kids called him 'mon oncle." He'd acquired the accent listening to his hosts for so long that when he reunited with members of his crew living in the next village several weeks later, they couldn't believe how French he'd become! Perhaps they didn't blend in as well as he did!

 After 70 days, the advancing Canadian ground forces made their way to Rouen. With his altered appearance, clothing and accent, he had to convince them he was indeed an American! He traveled  with the allies through towns and villages celebrating the liberation of France; finally boarding an RAF warship across the English Channel and back to his base in England.

A month later, he was back in Detroit to visit family and see me...his newborn daughter! He continued to serve as a pilot trainer in Texas until his discharge the following year. I never heard him talk about any of this growing up; didn't know a thing about it until the night we had a special visitor. I was 16 and allowed to stay up late! A news team arrived at our house just as my father returned from picking up Count Francois de Boisgelin. It was a big deal; this photo and article hung on the den walls for years; proudly showing off the citation of "gratitude and appreciation from the American people for gallant service in assisting the escape of Allied soldiers from the enemy." Signed by President Eisenhower, copies were given to members of the French Underground as well as the airmen whose lives they'd saved....but whenever asked about it, Daddy never offered more than we already knew.

 The Detroit News; Spring, 1960

Years went by and bits and pieces would emerge whenever he discussed war-related things with my uncles or my brother after his return from Vietnam. Spending a weekend with me one summer in the mid 80's, we all went to tour a display of B-17's at the local airport. Boy, did he enjoy that! "How did I ever fit into this thing" he repeated over and over. He loved walking through the plane's narrow interior, remembered his cold hands and joked about his buddies! It never occurred to me to write anything down. Luckily, he grew more comfortable sharing as time went on. By the time he agreed to be "interviewed" by me....the family 'historian'....I was ready to record. He never mentioned fear; "we just knew what to do and did it" he said nonchalantly about the moment they were hit. Sweet details like Francois checking on him every week and handmade hand-me-downs that he thought too small, but were in fact just the right size for a skinny guy on the run. 
   In researching details to add to the medal display, my brother found that all crew members had survived the plane being shot down that summer day. It was nice to learn that they'd either been hidden as my dad was or captured as prisoners of war....and all were eventually rescued. I've shared this with various organizations who preserve the integrity and heroics of WWII veterans and I get teary-eyed every time I hear them referred to as the "Greatest Generation!"

With my parents a few months before he died.

He's been gone 10 years now. Healthy, energetic and always ready to try something new; he passed away a few days after getting light-headed after his daily walk and chores. Yes, he'd had a heart attack at age 50, but as he told me minutes before he died; "I've been thrown a curve ball....they say it's my lungs!"
The WWII Memorial opened that fall; something he'd been looking forward to. My husband and I were among the first visitors; placing copies of these articles and photos along with so many others who'd come to honor their Greatest.