Family Trees


No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me
No more “I love you’s”
The language is leaving me in silence
No more “I love you’s”
Changes are shifting outside the word.

Sung by Annie Lennox
Written by The Lover Speaks

I love this song.  I ask Alexa to play it over and over again on Echo.  It is the words themselves, as well as my cousin Annie’s beautiful voice, which captivate me.

Yes, my cousin Ann – actually my third cousin, once removed.  No, we haven’t met.  In my possession is a love poem written in 1856 by my 2nd-great grandfather James Chalmers; he is Annie’s 3rd-great grandfather.  I always thought it would be fabulous if she set the Scottish poem to music.  A trip to Aberdeenshire, Scotland is on my bucket list, but she doesn’t live there anymore.

From high school on I have been interested in my family history, which is Dutch and Scot mostly.  My 9th great-grandfather is the historical figure “Anthony the Turk.”  One of his daughters married my Dutch immigrant 8th great-grandfather in the 17th century in what is now New York City.  I’ve devoured family histories, scoured online resources and even had my DNA analyzed.  The conclusion is that I am the same as most of the world’s population – a mixture of expected and unexpected ethnicities.

Family lore is so interesting.  Over the generations, the tales change.  Some ancestors become larger than life; others simply disappear.  Illegitimacy exists in several of my family trees – fascinating to me in 2017 but surely sources of gossip in previous centuries.  There are other family “secrets” that simply exemplify the customs of the day, which in 2017 are shameful to me.  Both the family tales and the truths enrich my understanding of my ancestors’ lives.

Reality, which is perhaps only perception, is seen differently by each individual.  My mother seemed to only remember proud moments and accomplishments within her family.  My father was more fact-driven, but like the rest of us, preferred to talk about the positives.  I could ask them about the same experience and hear two totally different versions.  A sobering example of this is when I asked them about how they started smoking – my mother asserted that no one initially knew cigarettes were bad, while my father acknowledged that they were called “coffin sticks” even back when.  (This is so sad, as they both died of lung cancer.)

As time goes on, I tend to remember the highlights and the low lights of my parents, both gone.  My memories of my years with Rick remain fresh and accessible for now – I fear the time when the middle ground fades away – the day-to-day rhythm of our life together.


First Anniversary


Breath in
I catch my lip with my teeth,
looking at my man:
my robust, physical husband.
My heart pumps faster as I gaze
at this fine specimen of masculinity
strong arms, big-chested,
gazing down at me.

It seems like yesterday
not two decades ago
that life together began.

Heart beating
Those eyes, so very blue.
They crinkled with warmth and love;
they narrowed in anger,
they closed with trust and intimacy.
Even now I look around our home
and those eyes gaze back at me
from almost everywhere.

Breathe out
I recall adventures so numerous,
often two-up on a motorcycle
across great swaths of the country,
into Canada and the last frontier.
Whatever sparked his curiosity:
engaging people, being outdoors
hiking, kayaking and biking.

Heart beating
Passionate nights.
Love given and received.
Intimate banter between spouses.
The skip in my heart when he
turned those blue eyes on me.
A wide grin, hug and kiss, followed
by his pledge to always love me.

Breathe in
Surgeries, cancer, treatments.
Seeking the best medical care
south, north and even west.
His first words upon waking up
from a seven-hour surgery:
“I told you everything would be OK.”
Just as he said, everything was fine

. . . for three years more.

Heart beating
We both thought he had it beat.
We traveled, made new friends.
Enjoyed time with family.
Built a new home, moved to Florida.
But cancer rose once again.
Bloodied, weary, resilient still,
he fought with every ounce of strength.

Just one year ago today
his heart beat no more.
Breathe out


In/Visible Clubs


There are myriad organizations in the world.  Sports fans follow soccer, football, NASCAR – you name it.  Political entities unite behind their candidates.  Birders show their journals off to other enthusiasts.  Grateful Dead fans and Parrot Heads follow the music.  Huge groups of people which are just so enthralled with particular ideas or activities are all around and yet invisible to the likes of me.

In the past year, I have joined the following groups:

  • Mahjong players
  • Dragon boat racers
  • Widows and widowers
  • Vintage Blues fans (and still Fabulous Rockers fans)
  • United Way Women’s Leadership Council members
  • Americans who have visited Cuba
  • Bloggers
  • Women who think somehow growing their hair out will make it become straight and sleek (Sorry, I digress . . . .)

I joined a new club recently:

  • Joint replacement veterans

Since my hip replacement just a month ago I have been rehabbing.  Besides using some gym equipment, my surgeon directed me to do a series of easy movements in the pool a few times each week.  So I have been going to an indoor pool near my home, joining others as they rehab their knees, hips, shoulders, or backs.  We usually share a quick summary of our surgeries and progress.  I’ve even had people glance at my 5-page workout summary and immediately know my surgeon’s name!

As I go about my business with a heightened awareness of telltale scars, I make eye contact and nod to my fellow joint replacement club members.  We don’t even need to talk; we know we belong to the same club.

Future Present


Earlier this week I was talking to a close friend who has lost both parents, as have most people in my age group.  My focus in this blog so far has been on my loss, my changed status, my challenges as a widow – but really, a loss is a loss.  Father’s Day is soon, and for some, their fathers have been the most important person in their lives.  I miss other family members who have passed on, too, and not just Rick.

The journey is the same.  None of the journeys are alike.

My heart and head have been in pain these last twelve months, and my body as well.  A widow told me almost a year ago that the second year of widowhood is tougher than the first.  The first year is filled with administrivia and constant emotional distress.  By now I know that I have more control than I’d like to admit about how I react to the world, and I am not willing to have my future worse than my present.  Each morning I lay in bed for a while, thinking about my day and collecting the necessary mental fortitude to act in a socially acceptable manner.  Now that I can walk unaided once more, I rise of out of bed and grab onto a bed post, collecting the necessary physical energy to walk closer to my old gait.

Preparation for mental and physical efforts are the same, and yet unalike.

My heart, head and body are better and stronger for this past year. I don’t think I can love in the same way as I did my husband, but I do love my family and friends more than ever.  I don’t think I can ever win a trivia game, but between solitude and therapy I am more aware and forgiving of myself.  I don’t think I will ever be a physical powerhouse, but I have become more athletic.  For those of you who lost loved ones this past year, I hope you find your strengths as well.

Emotions still come in waves and there’s a tsunami due in just ten days.



Back in the old days I liked June.  It meant summer was officially underway and there were fun adventures planned over the next few months.  Sometimes my cousins had gatherings in the West, to which we usually traveled by motorcycle.  Occasionally we traveled overseas, other years we moved from south to north, and back to south again.  In 2001 Rick motorcycled from Michigan to the Arctic Circle in Canada before reaching Anchorage, and back again – he and his buddy racked up more than 10,000 miles that summer.  He loved that trip and always wanted to do it again.

Last year June came on the heels of a special Memorial Day weekend.  For the first time in about a year and a half, Rick had his entire family visiting us in Florida – both daughters, grandchildren and son-in-law.  Although he was weakened by then, his eyes were alight with love and he smiled widely with pleasure.  He was so interested in each family member’s life and thrilled to the promise seen in his grandchildren as they entered adulthood.

It wasn’t easy.  Both of us were exhausted.  I don’t know how Rick remained so resilient, motivated and focused on surviving his cancer, even as his body shrank and failed him.  I was worn by the personal care he required.  Sometimes we hugged each other before sleep, making sure each of us knew how much we were loved.  What I would give today for turning over in my empty bed to see his face resting on the adjacent pillow, smiling at me.

I have cried every day this week.  I remember the joy of that last family weekend and I dread the anniversary of his death later this month.  I don’t know what to do with that day.  I can’t comprehend how long each of the hours in that 24-hour day will feel.  What do I do?

In this past year I have worked to get back to the memories of a strong, robust man filled with life.  Now the memories of the havoc both cancer and cure wreaked on him are what I see.  His head and heart were there until the end; it was the rest of his body that withered.  I know I will get back to remembering better days, but not this month, not June, maybe never in June.