Posted in #atozchallenge, April CampNaNoWriMo 2018, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Challenges and Contests, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life, Writing Sample

P is for Preparing Ourselves and Our Home: #atozchallenge, Day 16

Close Yet Ready

When strength fades away

When death grows close

Close spaces become hazards

Close off paths of travel

Travel through the new terrain

Travel through the final days

Days spent in reconsidering

Days spent in rearranging

Rearranging the furniture

Rearranging our priorities

Priorities must be reconsidered

Priorities shift as life ebbs

Ebbs into weeks then days

Ebbs until only hours remain

Remain together as long as we can

Remain connected still sharing our bed

Bed where so many conversations wandered

Bed where a son and daughter were created

Created a family that spilled ever outward

Created a life here with that bed as the center

Center ourselves in the love we’ve nurtured

Center ourselves for the death that’s approaching

Approaching fast although unwanted

Approaching to change everything we’ve known

Known each other’s breaths and heatbeats

Known deep love in all its many shadings

Shadings of sorrow edging each moment

Shadings of after as I rearranged the now

Now each change carries a message

Now I am always so painfully aware

Aware that these changes come with a message

Aware that we are crossing a threshold

Threshold between married and widowed

Threshold between what was and will be

Be with me always don’t die don’t leave me

Be healthy and strong and so filled with laughter

Laughter the music that always sustained us

Laughter lingers but now tinged with pain

Pain as his body is consumed by cancer

Pain as my soul faces a life lived alone

Alone in this room we’ve shared for so long

Alone in this bed he made with his own hands

Hands that shake now once caressed me

Hands grown feeble cradled our children

Children grown strong and healthy and happy

Children losing something I can never replace

Replace furniture and make spaces ready

Replace future vision with reality of now

Now

Ready

So, I’m back to being a day late with this post, but for reasons that relate directly to the topic of this poem.

On Tuesday, I participated in my second-ever Meet the Author event for my recently-published, Pushcart Prize nominated story, “Being Colette,” which was published by local small press 518 Publishing in the Dark and Bitter anthology. This is something I’d never done before Jim died, but he always said he wished I could earn money from my writing, and this is a start…

On my way to the event, I passed an animal shelter. I’ve been thinking that I need a dog to help fill the large empty place in my bed, and give me a companion to ease the pain of grieving as I expend energy in caring for someone who could use some TLC.

So, on my way home, I stopped and inquired about pit bulls or pittie mixes who might get along with cats and other dogs. Pit bulls get an undeserved bad rap – they are sweet dogs and so good with kids they used to be known as “the nanny dog.” Shelters are full of pitties looking for homes, but they’re harder to adopt than some other breeds. But our late dog, Corki, was a pittie mix, and he sold us all on the breed.

Within minutes, I was getting big sloppy kisses from a young pitty named Nadine, who had been found as a stray.

On a separate but now related note, I bought a new bed. I needed to stop sleeping in the bed Jim and I shared – the massive raw wood bed he built with his bare hands, and which he died in.

Part of recreating my life is letting go of the anchor of that bed. Eventually, we plan to make it a small raised bed greenhouse, so it can remain a part of our lives… but, for now, I have a wrought iron sleigh bed that is almost the opposite of the bed we once shared. It’s a concrete reminder that I am in a new phase of life.

So yesterday, Jeremiah and I dismantled my marriage bed, and assembled the new one I will share not with a husband, but with the dog I’ve renamed Magnolia – Noli for short. And today, while she’s being spayed in preparation for coming home, I’m catching up on what didn’t get done yesterday, and preparing my room for her occupancy and recovery.

And life goes on…..

Join us tomorrow (OK, later today), when we’ll explore Quagmires and Questions.

Peruse more potent P posts!

Magnolia (Noli) Burton, April 18, at the shelter. Photo credit: Lise Burton

 

 

 

Posted in #atozchallenge, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging from A-Z April 2018, Challenges and Contests, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life, Writing Samples

N is for No More of So Much: #atozchallenge Day 14

Love Amid Loss

An end to morning coffee and conversation

An end of snuggling close and making love

Love is more though than physical touch

Love can’t be ended at the bottom of the cup

Cup once overflowing now holds only dregs

Cup not half full or even half empty

Empty moments turn to empty days

Empty weeks empty months empty years

Years ahead yawning hollow as deepest caves

Years of marriage piled deeply all around us

Us has been in my vocabulary for so long

Us is a word that belongs now to my past

Past the point where we can fix this

Past days of easy love taken for granted

Granted twenty years ten months

Granted a small bundle of extra days

Days spent in revelry and days spent in spite

Days of joy many days of sorrow woven through

Through the everyday magic of being a team

Through the everyday challenges of being a family

Family we nurtured and sustained

Family we created for ourselves and of ourselves

Ourselves always our greatest strength

Ourselves too soon parted by his death

Death that brought the end of our team

Death that brought the end of our marriage

Marriage that seasoned and matured us

Marriage we were still negotiating

Negotiating with death is impossible

Negotiating this new life is essential

Essential for this shattered team

Essential for those of us who remain

Remain here though death claimed him

Remain behind in the land of the living

Living together his children and I

Living a new life we create as we go

Go forward with many backward glances

Go on living because we are still alive

Alive and not as bereft as we seem

Alive as his love’s lasting embrace

Embrace us now hold and keep us

Embrace us as we gather

Gather to share the love he gave

Gather our memories to sustain

Sustain us in these times of sorrow

Sustain us even through his loss

Loss of a cherished partner and friend

Loss of a life but not the gifts he bestowed

Bestowed

Friend

In the days between Jim’s diagnosis and his death, I seemed to keep bumping into things that were going to end with his death. We hadn’t been intimate as often even in the preceding months – as he’d grown sicker with what he assumed were digestive difficulties, he lost interest – and I realized at some point that we’d had the last intimate encounter we would have.

We had taken a trip to Maine in October.  We had always talked about visiting Acadia National Park, and, with the kids old enough to remain home alone, it was our first romantic getaway. Realizing it was also the only one we’d ever have was a deep regret we shared…

I wasn’t prepared for the loss of simple conversations…but, as his disease progressed and death neared, lucidity became sporadic, then infrequent, then almost absent……and then, in the final days, words faded away altogether, sealing us in two different realities, with a threshold neither of us could cross.

And so he died, and I live, and I’m still finding those things we’ll never have again.

Yet, at the same time, I’m also finding that he left us with so much that we can hold to, and use to carry us forward.

Join us again tomorrow, when we’ll be opening to new possibilities…..

Read more N posts here.

Posted in #atozchallenge, Blog Hops and Fests, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging from A-Z April 2018, Challenges and Contests, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life, SoCS, Stream of Consciousness Saturday, Weekly Features, writing prompts, Writing Sample

Marriage Metamorphized with Metastasis: #SoCS and #atozchallenge Day 13

Anywhere in Sickness

Monsters in the closet and under the bed

Monsters can lurk almost anywhere

Anywhere we imagine them with our fears

Anywhere in the body where they can grow rampant

Rampant cells divide and multiply and divide again

Rampant growth consuming what was healthy and strong

Strong as his body and strong as our mature love

Love that slew every monster that came

Love that wrapped us in armor of everyday magic

Magic that put wonder into simple things

Magic we counted on in our darkest days

Days with little money and worries to spare

Days when rainbows and birdsong filled our lives

Lives shared with happiness and sometimes frustration

Lives made richer when we two became one

One home one bed one path tread by four feet

One purpose in the life we shared

Shared coffee and meals and arguments and joys

Shared a little more than two decades

Decades more we thought we’d have

Decades to grow even and ever more

More life and more business to attend to

More tears to shed and living to do

Do the things needed to raise our kids well

Do what we needed to embrace our own dreams

Dreams postponed while the kids were small

Dreams that were taking on more concrete shape

Shape of a future we never will live

Shape of a tumor-monster that killed

Killed my husband of twenty years

Killed my children’s loving silly dad

Dad and husband strong and solid

Dad snuffed out by that greedy cancer

Cancer ever hungry could never get enough

Cancer swelled and sucked away energy

Energy and strength all given to the monster

Energy gone and marriage metamorphized

Metamorphized as the cancer metastasized

Metastasized from pancreas to liver

Metastasized with deadly speed

Speed of the change from being his partner

Speed of the change to become caretaker

Caretaker a job that I never expected

Caretaker a function I served as my honor

Honor the vow I took twenty long years ago

Honor the vow of in health and in sickness

Sickness that made of him a man in grave need

Sickness tended my final wifely service

Service

Need

 

I actually wrote this poem early in the day, but then had plans that kept me away most of the rest of the day. Now, though I’m feeling so tired it’s hard to type, I’m here, because I’ve made it before midnight all week, and don’t want to blow the streak…

Marriage changes when a spouse is terminally ill. The growing infirmity shifts the partnership relationship to one of caretaker and tended. When the disease progresses as swiftly as Jim’s did, the changes can come at a truly dizzying pace.

It was exhausting, often frustrating, and consumed my time much like caring for a newborn in reverse. It became, in the last couple of weeks, almost impossible to know how my days would pass. Things we’d thought, in the beginning, we’d be able to see to together, became things I’m still dealing with three months after his death.

There were times I sobbed in sheer hopelessness at all the things that needed my attention, and the grinding fatigue as they piled up, no matter how much effort I expended…I was also angry with him, sometimes, for the things he might have done when he was well, but didn’t, even when I asked.

Maybe it was a form of grieving, and of dealing with the monster growing unchecked in my beloved’s vital organs.

But, through it all, I was honored to be able to do this for him, however imperfectly. I knew it was the last service I could do for him directly, and, after all, I didn’t promise to just be with him when things were good and he could do for himself…but in sickness, as well as health, to death did us part.

This post does double-duty for this week’s Stream of Consciousness Saturday post, where the prompt is “mon” as a word or part of one. You can find more SoCS posts here.

And come on back Monday, when we experience No More of So Much….

Looking for more M posts?

The journey of a marriage, in one poignant song. I’ve loved it for years, but now it has new meaning…

Posted in #atozchallenge, April CampNaNoWriMo 2018, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Just for Fun!, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life, Writing Sample

L is for Laughing Our Way to Death – and Beyond: #atozchallenge, Day 12

Marriage Within Truth

We laughed a lot when we were brand-new

We laughed our way into a marriage

Marriage that began with a slew of in-jokes

Marriage that produced two laughing children

Children whose giggles were balm to our souls

Children whose chortles were our favorite music

Music that filled our little home with delight

Music that told us we were getting this right

Right and left up and down laughter everywhere

Right from the beginning laughter filled the air

Air carrying mirth everywhere we went

Air lighter and brighter for our merriment

Merriment we shared with every passerby

Merriment offered freely and given with glee

Glee that swelled and filled our lives

Glee that sustained us when sorrow came

Came to take from us our precious second son

Came to show us the even then we could laugh

Laugh at gallows humor when that’s all we had

Laugh even through the tears we shed

Shed the mourning shrouds to tend to the living

Shed the numbness of grief with the best medicine

Medicine that offered healing no anti-depressant could

Medicine that nurtured bright living for our surviving son

Son who gave us so much reason for joy

Son whose happiness became precious treasure

Treasure each breath and tiny toddler joke

Treasure the dimples the giggles the squeals and smiles

Smiles we found again when our daughter was conceived

Smiles we clutched when told she might not live to be born

Born into this family fractured and remade

Born heathy and strong and ready to embrace hilarity

Hilarity she brought from her earliest days

Hilarity that made us a new kind of whole

Whole arsenal of humor our family shares

Whole of our secret weapon against life’s cruel snares

Snares like cancer we never saw coming

Snares that snatched away that big laughing man

Man whose barrel chest produced such wondrous guffaws

Man who once kissed a fish to make his girl giggle

Giggle our way through more than twenty years

Giggle like crazed children until we were in tears

Tears flow now for all that’s been lost

Tears that season our laughter with new sorrows

Sorrows eased by the humor we find

Sorrows unshadowed by little jokes left behind

Behind this great loss is even greater truth

Behind this darkness is a long laughing light

Light

Truth

Jim and I laughed. Before we were lovers, we were friends, and we laughed. Once we were dating, the hilarity escalated.

One night, I called from work because he was going to give me a ride home. We lived at the edge of the Grand Canyon then, and I worked with a woman he’d casually dated before we met, and who was sensitive about his moving on. When he picked up the phone, and gruffly said, “Yes?” (Jim hated the phone!), I responded, “It’s me.”

“Me who?”

“Me me.”

A pause. Then, “Mimi? I told you never to call me here.”

Part of the reason I married Jim were his jokes (mostly off color), and his ridiculously improbable stories.It was during the one about the pomegranate that rolled up the hill that I knew I wanted to be with this man forever. Here was a man who could be silly with me, and would. But, when life was serious, he’d take me that way, too.

It got serious in 2003, when our second child suffered a brain injury at birth. It was Jim who made me laugh the first time, as he was getting ready to bring me home from the hospital where three-day-old Elijah was lying in a coma in the NICU. His joke was wildly inappropriate – but it fit a situation for which we had no rules, and I clung to it until life offered something better to laugh about.

Even when he was diagnosed, he still found things for us to laugh about. “Most of my life, I’ve worried about my weight,” he said. “But now I’ve got a magic wand. The weight just comes off!”  He joked about his terminal cancer as a “free pass” to eat and do what he wanted, because there weren’t going to be any repercussions worse than death.

His last joke came about a week before he died. I’d helped him with a shower I knew would be the last one, even though I don’t think he realized that he’d be bedbound from that point forward. He was lucid less and less by then.

I was helping him dress – something else he could no longer do on his own, and he caught our reflection in the mirrored closet door.

“Look,” he said, conspiratorially. “My wife’s here.”

I miss him – but we’re determined to carry on the laughter in his honor.

Come on back tomorrow, when

Marriage Metamorphizes with Metastasis.

Looking for more lovely L posts?

A mutual favorite song for both Jim and I:

Posted in #atozchallenge, Blog Hops and Fests, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging from A-Z April 2018, Challenges and Contests, Life Writing, My Poetry, Parenting, poetry, slices of life, Uncategorized, Writing Sample

K is for Kids and Kitchen: #atoozchallenge Day 11

Life from Sustenance

There is nothing more non-negotiable than death

There are other things non-negotiable in life

Life comes with needs that death absolves

Life requires food, water, air, and shelter

Shelter in the embrace of mother’s arms

Shelter in the embrace of the kitchen

Kitchen the place where I tend to needs

Kitchen the place where I nourish our souls

Souls grieving and hungry for sustenance

Souls healing as bodies are fed

Fed food that is created with love

Fed by my efforts to learn something new

New skills practiced as I prepare each dish

New repertoire growing as I learn

Learn to accept the challenges

Learn to consider everyone’s tastes

Tastes and nutrition blending together

Tastes changing as teens grow

Grow into acceptance of what we’ve lost

Grow into new ways of doing and being

Being more helpful than they once were

Being patient with my mistakes

Mistakes are part of the trial and error

Mistakes can be a path to wisdom

Wisdom gained with each meal served

Wisdom seasoned with reality

Reality that I’m their only parent

Reality that it’s now all up to me

Me the mother who married a chef

Me the one who hadn’t cooked

Cooked only begrudgingly

Cooked things no one wanted to try

Try now to overcome the aversion

Try to create culinary excitement

Excitement at every success

Excitement at my new competence

Competence breeds confidence

Competence becomes independence

Independence is a kind of balm

Independence is another kind of food

Food for bodies and food for souls

Food that sustains me as I become

Become the mistress of the kitchen

Become comfortable in this new life

Life goes on even after his death

Life goes on and needs sustenance

Sustenance for our bodies and souls

Sustenance and delight nourished

Nourished

Souls

It’s been three months today since Jim died, and I became the sole provider for my children Cooking wasn’t something I did; Jim was a talented professional chef even when we met, and, though I had enjoyed cooking when I was single, I knew when I was outclassed.
From early ages, the kids knew it too. As an eight-year-old, Jeremiah once joked, “Mom, if I want you to make me scrambled eggs, I’ll ask you for an omelette.”

So, while Jim was alive, he did the bulk of the shopping and cooking.

Obviously, that’s changed.

I bought an Instant Pot shortly after his diagnosis, it’s been my salvation. I don’t enjoy “babysitting” food while it cooks, and I’m not especially good at it. I tend to get busy with writing or cleaning or reading or being with the kids or breathing….and things go wrong. With the Instant Pot, things take far less time, and, because it’s programmable, I can do other things while it cooks, like raking the yard, taking a shower, or writing blog posts.

I’ve used it for things I might not have made otherwise: steel cut oatmeal, sweet potato and butternut squash soup, whole roast chickens – and even bone broth!

It’s given me a new sense of competence, and, because it is so versatile, I’m buying ingredients rather than the prepackaged meal options I might otherwise have resorted to. That’s better for the budget, and our health…and every new dish (even the disappointingly oversteamed asparagus) builds my knowledge base and my certainty that I can indeed feed us.

That’s it for me…later on, I’ll be making soup from my own stock, and roasting yet another chicken.  Yum!

Come on back tomorrow, where we’ll be laughing our way to death…and beyond.

Get the whole kit and caboodle of K posts!

Posted in #atozchallenge, April CampNaNoWriMo 2018, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Challenges and Contests, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life, writing, Writing Sample

I is for Increasing Incapacity: #atozchallenge Day 9

 

Time Before Alone

Once before cancer came

Once upon a time

Time was he was strong and one

Time he lifted a washer in his hug

Hug me as though he was a bear

Hug so safe so secure so warm

Warm embrace and gentle soul

Warm willingness to help any and all

All parts of this lumberjack of a man I love

All things I took for granted would always stay

Stay strong and healthy for another two decades

Stay with me as we grew happily old together

Together like we were back in Sedona

Together climbing red rocks my hand in his hand

Hand strong and certain touching me and cradling babies

Hand broken by trauma but still artful and nimble

Nimble until the ravages of disease came

Nimble until growing weakness made them tremble

Tremble that troubled him when it first came

Tremble that echoed down into each muscle

Muscle consumed by rampant multiplicity of cells

Muscle once so capable rendered insubstantial

Insubstantial losses at first until he fell

Insubstantial no longer as he lay on the floor

Floor now a terrain that thwarted independence

Floor only crossed when he had extra support

Support given and accepted but bittersweet

Support of my hug as he cried anguished tears

Tears on my shoulder as he leaned into me

Tears because he wasn’t ready for this

This relentless assault on all that he was

This proof that this was not a bad dream

Dream of some miracle that had yet to be

Dream become a nightmarish reality

Reality of the walker the exhaustion

Reality of increasing shaky frailty

Frailty as his body wasted away

Frailty of mind as lucidity faded

Faded off into delusional dreaming

Faded away taking him somewhere distant

Distant undiscovered country waiting

Distant eyes of this man that I love

Love transforming as he goes further away

Love can’t make this journey shared

Shared bed where we exist in two separate planes

Shared memories of two decades now mine alone

Alone now but still held by his gentle strength

Alone and still supported by his remembered embrace

Embrace

Strength

 

I’m not sure I’ll ever forget the sound.

Jim and I had been sitting together in the living room, and decided to head toward the bedroom. I was in the bathroom, with Jim following, when I heard the unmistakable sound of a large man hitting the floor
Once we’d gotten him up and into the bathroom, with the aid of the walker that had been folded up behind the living room chair for the last few weeks, he hugged me and cried. “I’m not ready to need a walker,” he said, but I knew that what he meant was, “I’m not ready to die.”

But death comes, whether we’re ready or not. Jim had been sure-footed, but, after that fall, he never again moved easily. His hands began to tremble. First, he couldn’t write, then he couldn’t take his medication on his own, then he couldn’t manage his water bottle – and then he was bedbound and unable to use his hands at all.

It was small blessing that, by that point, he was seldom lucid, already more in the next plane than this one. I don’t think he knew how incapacitated he was.

I hope he didn’t, or, if he did, he was no longer troubled by it.

I know that I was humbled by the reality of his decline, the simple things, once done almost without thought, that were beyond him.

Cancer truly tested the vow, “in sickness and in health.” I didn’t live up to it as well as I’d like in every moment – but I hope that I did in enough of them to ease the transition for the man I would have loved to have spent the rest of my life with.

 

Join us again tomorrow, when we explore the juxtaposition of joy and sorrow.

And find more illustrious I posts here.

My son introduced me too this lovely and heartbreaking song during the last several weeks of Jim’s illness. It’s become a favorite I can’t listen to too often – it’s just too close to my reality…

Posted in #atozchallenge, Blogfest Entries, Blogging from A toZ April Challenge, Blogging from A-Z April 2018, Life Writing, My Poetry, poetry, slices of life

H is for Hospice, Not Hospital: #atozchallenge Day8

Room for Marriage

I walk down sterile echoing halls

I come a stranger into numbered room

Room where my husband lies trapped

Room where our intimacies are denied

Denied the freedom to live as he will

Denied right to eat sleep be as he needs

Needs to be more than a name on a chart

Needs to be far more than just a disease

Disease has no feelings no will no voice

Disease has overrun so much of his life

Life the hospital is frittering away

Life too soon to be ended to remain

Remain in this place of sterile echoes

Remain here where joy has no home

Home is waiting with all he holds dear

Home where wife and children are near

Near to his living and the coming of death

Near things he loves and familiar places

Places arranged for his comfort alone

Places not sterile but comfy and warm

Warm love surrounds him with tender care

Warm volunteers who come only to tend

Tend to his concerns listen to what he says

Give information and provide soothing support

Support for the whole of the man he is

Support as he navigates this final journey

Journey made not only by him

Journey made by us all together

Together sustained by hospice caregivers

Together with respect for all he wants

Wants an easing of pain and attempts to cure

Wants family laughter and comfort measures

Measures the life lived in his days

Measures only what’s needed to bring him peace

Peace absent back in those sterile echoing halls

Peace of the sustenance of familiarity’s embrace

Embrace of his daughter and his son

Embraces and tears with a loving wife

Wife to tend in ways no hospital nurse can

Wife to love him in health and in sickness

Sickness that will steal him away far too soon

Sickness doesn’t become the sum of his days

Days that pass with television and conversation

Days where sleep and waking just flow

Flow into a three AM living room picnic

Flow through the last days of a marriage

Marriage of medical support and home

Marriage allowed to be real until his death

Death

Home

 

A few years ago, our dentist died of cancer. His wife was his hygienist, and she told Jim that he’d died fairly suddenly, and had spent the last three weeks of his life in the hospital.

That bothered Jim greatly. He stated again and again that he wanted to die at home. Though it was daunting to consider, I supported him in that wish. However, his cancer was diagnosed as a result of treatment for a swollen and painful leg that was diagnosed as deep vein thrombosis.

He spent several days in the hospital receiving life-saving treatment for that condition – and another ten when he had a minor heart attack as a result of his first (and only) chemotherapy session.

Those stays made it clear – he languished in the hospital – unable to sleep with the light and noise, unable to relax due to round the clock medical procedures despite the fact that his condition was terminal from the time he was diagnosed.

When he came home from that second stay, he was determined to stay at home – and to die here, in the spot where I am currently sitting, on the bed he made for us both.

Because of hospice, this was possible, while assuring that Jim had the care he needed to be comfortable, and offering something the hospital didn’t – care and support for me, as well. Our hospice nurse, Caroline, was fantastic at handling requests and adapting as Jim grew sicker. His chaplain, Mike, was caring and kind.

They made a difficult transition far more navigable, and made it possible for Jim to do just what he most wanted – to die at home, surrounded by love.

Join us again tomorrow, when we’ll explore the Intensification of Incapicitation.

And find more H happenings here!