Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On the willows there...

1 By the waters of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion.

2 On the willows there we hung up our lyres.

3 For there our captors required of us songs,
and our tormentors, mirth, saying, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion!"

4 How shall we sing the LORD's song in a foreign land?

Psalm 137: 1-4, English Standard Version

Weeping Willow in bloom, Missoula Montana, 4/17/07

Losing a loved one, especially after fifty-seven years, is in many ways like going into captivity in a foreign land. In the United States, we have so distanced ourselves from the natural processes of death and dying that few of us are equipped to handle the upheavals, mostly emotional, that we go through.

To date, I count three major storms the people around me have had to weather since Mother died at Thanksgiving. First, and probably the easiest, was the immediate aftermath of her death. By that I mean dealing with the funeral home, the committal at the cemetery, and the memorial service at the church. Mother’s final days were such that death itself seemed a blessed relief, and as I had already made most of the arrangements with the funeral home, that part was brief and relatively painless. The committal, when the minister and I met at the Smith River Cemetery to say a few last words prior to the coffin being lowered into the ground, was a short ritual, and we left while the coffin was still on its stand.

At the memorial service itself, I had trouble singing the hymns that I had chosen, particularly Ivory Palaces, a hymn I have never heard sung in a church before, but which I grew up hearing my parents sing as a duet. Even though I wrote and delivered the eulogy, I had little trouble with that part of the service. It was a time to speak of the wonderful life I had shared with Mother — especially those parts the local congregation knew nothing about. After the service, the reception in the church’s Fellowship Hall was a time for further sharing, and I am grateful for all that the people of the Smith River United Methodist Church said and did. The final chapter has not yet been written, namely the thank you notes I need to get out to all those wonderful people. They are coming, the notes that is, and will be written and mailed as my top priority when I return to Smith River.

When Jim moved into my guest room, he took it upon himself to help clear up the mess that had accumulated around and through the house. One of the first things he did was to take down all the paintings in the living room and replace them with framed enlargements of my photography. I’m sure he did not anticipate the firestorm this caused when I walked into the living room that was no longer Mother’s. I wasn’t ready to lose her a second time. While I’ve grown to like the look, and while I certainly enjoy seeing my work on display, at the time I reacted badly, emotionally, and I need to apologize to Jim who was only trying to help.

After Mother was moved into the nursing home, I transformed the guest room into a storage room where I put all the clothes I cleaned out of the master bedroom closet. The guest room closet itself was already full of Mother’s clothes, as she had moved into that room years ago, finding my old twin bed more comfortable (or perhaps less ghost-filled) than the bed she had shared with Father for fifty-four years. Before his death, Father would ask me on occasion what of their “stuff” I wanted. I always told him that I wanted the bedroom set when they were done with it. I’ve been using that set, and the master bedroom, for the past several years whenever I would visit Mother, and when I moved into her home in February 2006, it became mine. I emptied the master closet onto the extra twin bed in the guest room, and that was the way things were when Jim moved in.

With him off to visit his own mother in Medford, Oregon, I took advantage of his absence to pull all of Mother’s clothing out of the spare room, and stuff them into plastic bags until I could launder them and get them to the thrift store. I ended up doing twelve loads of laundry—sorted by color—and took a Volvo station wagon full of clothing to the thrift store. I know Jim wasn’t prepared for my mood when he returned from Medford to find me in the middle of this operation. Once again I was “losing” Mother, and it hurt deeply. The church women had offered to help with the process, but it was something I felt the need to do myself. For one thing, Mother was an extremely private person and would have hated having anyone else go through her things.

Apricot in bloom, 4/17/07, Missoula Montana

At present, I’m sitting at MY desk, in MY study, in MY home, that is to say in the house that I bought in 1975 and have lived in ever since until I left for California February a year ago. So why doesn’t it feel like home? There’s unfinished business in California, that’s the truth. For one thing, the escrow hasn’t cleared, and the house in Smith River isn’t officially mine. For another, while I’ve gotten rid of most of Mother’s clothes, what about all the rest of the stuff? And why do I feel more comfortable there than here? I think it’s all part of the grieving process, and who knows how long that will last.

I’m not ready to make any definitive decisions about what will happen next. Will I sell the Smith River house? Will I keep it and rent it out? Will I move permanently to California and if so, what do I do with the property in Montana? Fortunately, I’m not in a position where I have to make those decisions in the immediate future. Barring any emergency, I have the financial resources to live at least another two years, even if my writing and photography do not reward me monetarily.

Ceramic Ornament, purchased in Cappadocia, Turkey, 2000.

Taken 4/17/07 in Missoula Montana

What I have decided is that I need to get back to writing on a regular basis, and I need to continue to work at perfecting my photographic skills. I will also take a few trips, including what I am now calling my 6,000 mile Sunday Drive. I have an obligation to be back in California by the 25th of April, and I want to stay there through the Tall Masted Ships Festival that Crescent City is hosting in early May. Then, before it gets too hot, I want to drive south and east, traveling through the handful of states I have not yet seen: Iowa, Oklahoma, Arkansas, Georgia, South Carolina, Delaware, Rhode Island and Connecticut. I want to do genealogical research in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, and Ohio. I want to write and sell my stories. I want to sell my photographs as well.

Those of you who have read my blog from the beginning recognize the impetus behind what I’ve said in the previous paragraph. It’s nothing new. What is new is that I am no longer tied to any specific place, either by job or by filial devotion. For the years between 2001 and 2007, all my travel time was spent on trips to visit Mother. I’m ready to widen my horizons. Ready to travel on my own schedule. I’m open to suggestions if you’d care to influence my itinerary. Just drop me a note with anything you think I should see or write about. If I can work it in, I will! That’s a promise. And if you have friends or relatives you’d like me to visit (especially if they can put me up on my travels), tell me!

Iittala Glassware carried by hand from Finland, 1985.

Picture taken 4/17/07, Missoula Montana

Oh, one more thing, this morning I pulled a book down from the shelves, Living Without A Goal, by James Ogilvy. It’s a book I bought over ten years ago. The bookmark I found in it is an Alaska Airlines ticket stub from one of my trips to San Francisco back in 1997. The subtitle of the book is “Finding the freedom to live a creative and innovative life.” I’m really ready for that.

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