Unleashed and Remembering my prince

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the 10th anniversary of my husband Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ten years! For two years before he died, he lived in a series of nursing homes. At the end, he did not know who I was. But oh, the years of love we had before that. As time goes by, it’s easier to celebrate the good and let go of the bad.

Since 2009, I have been living alone with my dog. When I named this blog and the subsequent book Unleashed in Oregon, I was not talking about that. I was thinking more of Fred and I escaping our lives in the Bay Area and being set free at the beach, sans jobs, history or family. I was thinking of my dogs. I was not thinking of being a widow. I didn’t expect that to happen so soon, that Fred would only enjoy our Oregon coast dream for six years before he got sick, for 15 before he died. And here I am, alone and unleashed, like a dog whose human partner unhooked her, walked away, and didn’t come back.

Annie is still here, thank God, but her time will come, too.

Living alone is not for sissies. A great deal has been made of living solo since the pandemic hit, but the truth is some of us were already doing it for a long time before that. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980.

Living alone is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful for the freedom to eat, watch or do whatever you want. Terrible because there’s no one to hug, to talk to, or to help when the plumbing goes awry or a tree falls on the house. And yes, the pandemic makes it worse because all those social things we might do to plug the holes—clubs, choirs, gyms, yoga, concerts, meals, parties, classes, etc.–are not available. Nor does it feel safe to travel these days. I guess that’s why so many of my poet friends are writing about the birds and flowers in their yards.

Here on the blog, I’m going to be writing more about living alone because that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in the early stages of writing a book about it. If you who are reading this are also alone and would like to talk about it, feel free to email me at sufalick@gmail.com or start the discussion in the comments.

Many of us enjoy our solitude and are not necessarily lonely. But there are times when it gets tough. If you are not alone, think for a moment about what’s it’s like to see no other human being 24 hours a day. Experts say loneliness can be as bad for one’s health as smoking. It can lead to all kinds of health problems and cut years off one’s life. We’ll talk about that in another post. Meanwhile, if you know someone living alone and haven’t talked to them in a while, how about making a phone call?

Today I’ll be remembering Fred. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was smart, handsome, funny, loving, and just plain good. He treated me like a princess. In return, I did the best I could to love my prince, especially during his long illness. We had love. We were blessed. Rest in peace, dear Fred. We all miss you. I bought a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will open tomorrow night. I wish you were here to share it.

Success! You're on the list.

I’m moving back to where I started

img_20161017_094617032_hdr1Got your attention, didn’t I? Especially those church people who just panicked for fear I won’t be there to play the piano. No worries. I’m just moving down the hall.

You see, when my late husband’s Alzheimer’s got bad, I couldn’t sleep with him anymore. My insomnia and his hallucinations were a bad match. So, in November 2007, after nine years sharing the master bedroom, I moved into the guest room. I moved my furniture in there, bought new linens, and decorated the room in bright oranges, reds and yellows, anchored in brown. Warm colors. My colors. I hung my crucifix over the bed, something I had not done before because Fred was not Catholic. I filled the closet and drawers with my stuff. After Fred moved to the nursing home, I stayed in the guest room and filled his closet with suitcases, memories and empty hangers. It was cold in there, farthest from the pellet stove. Some of his shoes and ties had mildewed. I threw them away.

After Fred died, I hung his photo  from the funeral above his nightstand. I set up a little shrine with my Lady of Fatima statue, a prayer book, a candle and our matching wedding rings.

I only entered that room to pack for trips and to get to the bathtub in the master bathroom. I tried sleeping there a couple times, but the memories made me weep. That was OUR bed, OUR room. Fred slept beside me with our old dog Sadie at the foot of the bed. I couldn’t do it.

My bedroom, the former guest room, was a busy place. I not only slept and dressed there–wary of the neighbors who might see me through the street-facing window–but watched TV, paid bills, read, wrote, sewed and played music. Something loud was always on–TV, radio, cell phone with its games, music, texts and occasional calls. It simply got too loud in there. I couldn’t sleep.

My bed, purchased cheap, had sunk down on the side where I slept. I flipped it over and wore another trough into the other side. With my restless legs, I rubbed holes in all my fitted sheets, so I turned them upside down, too. Eventually I bought another set.

Light was a problem in the guest room. The street lamp pushed through the blinds and lace curtains. The moon, when it was full, shone in like a spotlight. Adding to the light show were the red numbers on my clock radio and the yellow and green lights on the Wi-Fi box.

In contrast, the master bedroom started calling out to me as a quiet oasis in cool whites and pastels. No electronics. No phone. Firm queen-sized bed. Because it was at the back of the house, no lights intruded, just the darkness of the woods.

Over the nine years that have passed since I moved out of the guest room, I have offered the master bedroom and bathroom to my dad who always declined, to guests who chose hotels, and to other guests who never come. I have considered renting out the room, but I want my bathtub and my privacy. I have never liked to share. I’m also afraid of who I’d get.

Now I think the room was waiting for me to come back. The memories are still there, but they are often sweet. I remember snuggling in that bed after making love. I remember times when Fred and I shut ourselves in there away from guests, feeling safe and happy together.

It’s time. No one else is taking that room, so I’m taking it back, making it my room, moving as few of my things as possible. I want to keep the volume down. No more red numbers screaming the time. No more reaching to turn on NPR news in the middle of the night or checking my phone the second I wake up. Just sleep. If I can’t sleep, I’ll take a bubble bath or read a book.

I’m still transferring stuff. The stacked-up boxes in the picture all hold quilt fabric, which I plan to use now that my sewing machine has been relocated to the former guest room.  Annie discovered my new hangout last night. Frightened by thunder and lightning, she decided she had to sleep with me. It was nice. New dog, new start.


Loving the music, missing my barbershopper

See that picture? There’s something missing: Fred. My husband sang with the Coastal Aires barbershop chorus for seven years. He had a rich bass voice, and he loved to sing. I have mostly avoided the group’s concerts the last few years because they bring back so many memories. I can still feel Fred resting his hands on my shoulders as I fastened his bow tie. I can hear him practicing his “bum bum bum bum’s.” And, as I watched the chorus yesterday, I could still see Fred standing in the back row to the right of his buddy Roy, the white-bearded guy who looks like Santa Claus.
When Fred got too sick to sing with the Coastal Aires, we still attended their concerts. We’d sit in our favorite back row seats at the Newport Performing Arts Center, and Fred would sing along with every song. Alzheimer’s made it hard for him to deal with sheet music, schedules or knowing where to stand, but it never took away the music.
I’ve been missing my guy a lot lately. My life is good. I know he’s been dead for three years and out of the house for five, but I often think about what it would be like if Fred were here. Sometimes I feel a pain that runs from my chest down to my guts. It will never show up on an x-ray, but it’s there.  For those who have not lost a loved one, God has blessed you. Those who have know that it doesn’t matter how many years pass; you’re still going to miss them.
The concert brought back other memories, too. Joining the men was a women’s group called Women of Note. The eight women do mostly a capella (unaccompanied) harmony. I was an original member when we were called Octet Plus. Now the only remaining original member is the director, Mary Lee Scoville. The current group of women sang so beautifully I wanted to join their fan club and buy their CD. I remember what it was like feeling our voices merging so perfectly that the high, medium and low notes formed a perfect braid of sound that resonated through the building. There’s nothing like human voices singing together.
It was a musical day. I sang with the choir at church, attended the barbershop concert, scooted to our South Beach jam session for two hours of folk, country and whatever, ate a quick dinner and settled in for the Tony Awards on TV. A good day, but I wish Fred had been there to share it. I hope he heard the music from wherever he is. The Coastal Aires sounded great, especially the basses.

The Ring Finger is Bare

Yesterday I took off my wedding ring. This may not seem like a big deal, but it has been a part of my body for 26 years and four months. The jeweler made our rings snug. After all these years, mine was tight, with puffy skin above it and calluses above and below. Every day since my husband Fred died in April, I have thought about how I need to take it off. I love the ring, love the way it shines in the light, but I’m not married anymore.

Finally in the shower, when my hand was soapy, I forced the ring off. As I shoved, my finger turned red and puffy. It hurt. It would have been so easy to just push the ring back into the place where the skin is white against the tan, but I kept pushing until it finally slid over the knuckle and came off.
Now the ring sits in the guest room on the nightstand next to Fred’s. I have tried on other rings to cover the blank spot, but none fits well, so I will work on making that finger the same color as the others.
Our rings were unique, created by a Los Angeles jeweler whom we met at an art and wine festival in Cupertino, California. We had been looking at various festivals and antique shops for something different. We brought the jeweler a bag full of old gold jewelry that Fred’s mother had given us to lower the price. After looking through her designs, we came up with antiqued filigreed bands with smooth borders, one in size 7 and one in size 10.
Fred was still wearing his ring when he died. My friend slipped it off his finger. He had lost so much weight it was loose by then. I knew mine needed to come off, too. You might wonder why. I could wear it forever if I wanted to. But the ring says I’m married, and I’m not. I needed to remove it to move on.
So far no one has mentioned the absence of my ring. I am surprised at how often I touched it, turned it, fingered its rough edges. I reach for it now, and there’s nothing there. My finger feels cold, as if I just took its coat off. It feels light as if it will just fly up in the air on its own.
Married twice, I have worn a wedding ring most of my adult life. Will I ever wear one again? I don’t know.
It will be four months on Tuesday since Fred died. One-third of a year. Most people have stopped coming up to say how sorry they are. Now they’re congratulating me on my new book. (Shoes Full of Sand).
But I am all too aware that a piece of me is missing. And not just jewelry.
%d bloggers like this: