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

I am honored to share this with a greater audience for Veteran's Day. 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. This year 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.

Walk Like a New Yorker

 "Why are we the only ones saying excuse me?" I wondered out loud as we made our way to dinner our first night in New York City. I was carefully noting the numbered streets and avenues at each intersection while trying to avoid people bumping into us or quickly pushing by. "They're all in a hurry and very rude!" my granddaughter said righteously.

We finally found the lovely Joe Allen restaurant; walking down steps into linen-tablecloths, celebrity photo-covered walls and a menu with eye-widening prices! Toasting each other with a Shirley Temple and gin and tonic, we hungrily ordered chicken Caesar salad and an Angus burger...perfect meals after a long, snacks-only travel day. The only kid and grandma duo among the suits and theater-going couples; the servers were eager to welcome us and offer fun suggestions.

Over dinner, we discussed the people in the streets; they think we're 'just tourists' said my sweet girl with teenage sarcasm.There seemed to be a method to their madness I they just barge along and others know enough to dodge them? How annoying we were stopping for photos; in awe of skyscrapers, bright lights, piles of trash and people cutting in front of moving vehicles.

The next morning we headed to Pier 83 in rainy, chilly wind. As we politely lifted and shifted our umbrellas so as not to poke anyone...while getting poked and dripped on ourselves...she figured it out!  "It's like dodge ball" she announced. Watch this! And she quickly walked ahead, zigging and zagging to avoid those coming toward us as well as those following behind. Me...not so much.

 Trying to control my umbrella, holler don't go too far ahead and not  bump anyone...I wasn't catching on at all. Why don't people stay to the right like suburban malls, walking trails and airport terminals? On the Lady Liberty cruise she chastised me for not seeing how easy it was. "Don't be so nice, don't keep saying excuse me, Grandma! Just go!" Not my style, darlin', I tried to explain. Walking back, head down against the wind and chilled to the bone, I suddenly didn't care if I stepped in someone's way. Enjoying hot chocolate and a cupcake at the Cake Boss CafĂ©, I was congratulated with "you did much better, Grandma!" Oh no!  Was I setting a bad example by praising her hustle-bustle street smarts; showing my age fretting about manners?

We walked everywhere the next few days; from 5:30 AM through empty streets for the Today Show to the late evening theater crowds around Times Square. But it was the mile-long walk from our hotel to the Empire State Building when "walking like a New Yorker" finally kicked in. I watched for openings and darted to the left or right, scooted around strollers and luggage-pullers, crossed against lights, quickened my pace passing slow walkers and never once excused myself! But I smiled a lot! Smiled and people smiled back. They respected me and understood I knew what I was doing... at least I like to think so! I had the confident stride and knowledge of where I was going. (A straight shot down Fifth Avenue!) I let her go ahead, saw her glance over her shoulder with pride as she checked on me.

 What easy freedom it is to walk the City streets when you know how it works. You feel the energy of aliveness and purpose and realize those who live and work in the city are just decent, caring people going about their business; hoping the next visitor figures it out sooner rather than later!

Advice For a College Bound Daughter

I have the letter my mom wrote to me and left under my pillow that first night in my college dorm room after the family had moved me in, hugged me goodbye and driven away. I gave it to my daughter the day she moved into her college dorm room....only I handed it to her and told her to read it after I'd left for home. I will give it to my son's daughters when they're off on their own; and hopefully my daughter will give it to hers when the time comes. It is the kind of letter that says exactly what every girl needs to read, to know and to feel at this moment in time....and my Mom said it best.

Mom and I saying goodbye as I begin my college years

I was off to Western Michigan University to become a teacher in the fall of 1962.  Just 18, the oldest child of four including the 'little kids' ages 3 and 5; moving two hours away from my Detroit home to live and learn in Kalamazoo was a big deal! Mom depended on me, so letting me go was hard for her. She knew I was excited and we'd had all the talks; but mostly....she understood this was a great leap of faith and growth for me. Her letter was perfect comfort and confidence in knowing I'd be okay.

for you and D, K and B. Maybe we haven't always done things wisely, but all that we have done is because of our great love for you kids. Looking back, there were things that would have made your life happier, I'm sure, but you have had a wonderful life as it is. Do you understand what I'm trying to say my darling? I believe with all my heart that you're going to do wonderful things someday and you will learn best by living the best life that you can.
                                        Joanie, you are going to run into many different kinds of situations and temptations of which you have no knowledge; but we have enough faith and love in you to know that you can and will handle them all to the best of your ability. Remember time and again of why you are and where you are, and what it means to all of us. We will miss you, but if you are happy then we won't mind so much.
                                           Do what is right for you; weigh your decisions, then be happy with your choice in what ever you do. Pray to God each night Joanie, and give thanks for everything as I pray each night thanking him for giving you to us. We are very proud of you and know you will do everything to make us keep on being so proud.  We are always here whenever you need us.
                           Goodnight my darling, sleep tight and give thanks.
                                                         All my love always,

In just two more years my oldest granddaughter will head to college; I'm confident these words....with her name inserted.....will be just as appropriate and meaningful as it was for me fifty years ago!