The Natural World

Over the course of my life, and especially during our marriage, we have been fortunate to travel a fair amount. We have seen many of the great cities of Europe, traveled around some (not as much as we’d like) in the United States and Canada, and seen parts of Mexico and Grand Cayman.

In many of those trips, we visited cities. No, don’t get me wrong, I love visiting cities. I love the diversity, the languages and cultures, and especially the museums.

This trip was one without cities. We visited towns that had no roads in or out, everyone needs to arrive and depart by boat or plane. We saw the natural world every minute of every day. Glaciers, mountains, the ocean, bald eagles, sea lions, porpoises, humpback whales, harbor seals, and sea otters. And all of it was glorious! It was far quieter in terms of noise than any trip we’ve taken other than to Gran Manan.

The quiet and beauty did us a world of good. We meditated without realizing it, and gave thanks for the glory of the beauty. I simultaneously hoped for one of the glaciers to break off a little piece so I could see it, and begged the universe to keep those glaciers healthy and whole. I was awed by the facilities of our national parks, their staff, and the natural world they protect — and I gave thanks for the forethought of those before us who protected these lands!

One of the park rangers asked us to think about what moments on this trip made us emotional, and to carry that power of the emotion back with us when we went home. For me? The glaciers made me very emotional. I was so awed by their size and beauty, so thankful for the opportunity to see them, and so greatly saddened and angered that we (as a species) are so negatively impacting the environment. I saw a “dead glacier,” one that no longer gets the snowfall it needs. I mourned for the loss of that glacier, and I mourned for the fact that future generations may never get to see a glacier in real life.

I have always believed in the power of travel. It teaches us, renews us, and impacts us in ways that are hard to explain.

As you travel, think about that question — what have you seen that has impacted you emotionally?

A Writer’s Brain

I have never understood how my writing brain works. Sometimes, I can’t stop writing — the words pour out of my brain. Sometimes, especially when stressed, the words dry up. In the past two months, as we have adjusted to our new reality, my fiction brain completely deserted me. No ideas, no joy in writing, nothing. Yes, I did finish the final editing on novel four before submitting it to the editors at my publishing house, but that was it for fiction.

Sitting on a plane yesterday, my fiction brain came back. Was it the altitude? Was it the taking a step back from the hectic pace of our life lately as we juggle all of these stressful appointments? Was it the hunger from the lack of food on the plane?  I don’t know what the cause was, but the result is that my fiction brain is back in a major way. Yay!

Love All Around

This weekend we traveled to Connecticut for a book signing event in Mystic (thanks to Bank Square Books and Sift Bake Shop). It also was a time to reconnect with family, see someone who grew up with our oldest son and to visit beloved landmarks.

In May of 1992, we honeymooned in Mystic. Several years ago, we returned to Mystic to stay while our youngest participated in the New England Drama Festival. Both of those times, we wandered through Mystic Seaport, loving the old buildings and ships.

This year we returned for the book event, knowing we also wanted to visit the Seaport again but also hoped that we could get together with family, and see the owner of Sift, who grew up just down the road from us. By the end of the day today, we had seen family (one cousin who Paul hasn’t seen since 1991!), shared hugs, laughs and tears, great meals, hung out at Sift and visited with Adam, and just felt the love all around us. I met new readers and made some new friends. Sitting at the Seaport, we met someone who is related to one of my favorite teachers from high school. What a small world!

A little sunburned, a little tired, a little over-emotional, it has been a wonderful trip full of love, love, love.

 

Gratitude? Yes, gratitude.

Today I was struck again by the amazing people in our lives, who bring us love and support every single day. It made me reflect on how fortunate we are.

I am thankful for the gorgeous sunshine. For grown (young) men who still give hugs. For sheep who love to cuddle. For glasses/contacts that allow me to see. For the garden growing. For friends who send text messages to check on us. For friends who ask the hard questions. For friends who come bearing french fries. For people who openly say, “I love you.” For friends who will simultaneously laugh and cry with us. For the smell of the freshly cut hay. For my husband who protects me and comforts me. For our grandchildren thinking we are funny. For love. I am thankful for love.

5 Weeks

It has been just over 5 weeks since we got the ALS diagnosis, and I have to admit, other than Sam’s death, this has been the hardest 5 weeks of my life. We still are exhausted, scared and frustrated. We also are completely and totally surrounded by love and support, which we so appreciate.

We have made a point to “stop and smell the flowers” as much as we can during this time, trying to focus on the positives, the love, the time together, the laughter. We’ve taken more walks, spent time with people we love, and pushed ourselves out of comfort zones.

What have we learned? We have learned to advocate for ourselves when systems don’t work for us. We have learned it is okay to say when we are not okay. We have learned how to admit that some topics are terrifying to broach. We have learned anew that love is all that matters.

 

Ellsy has a purpose (again)

Many of you know that we lost one of our alpacas during the winter. After his death, Ellsy (our remaining alpaca) went into a deep sadness. Clearly he was missing his friend, but also just was lonely and didn’t really have a reason to get up each morning.

Then Lana and Hila came to live with us, and when they got big enough, they moved in with him. Within a day, Ellsy had his purpose again — to protect his little buddies. They go in the pasture? He goes. They go into the barn to sleep? He will stand watch in the barn door, keeping them safe. New people come by the house and want to see the lambs? They better not get too close to his buddies! This sweet, docile, timid alpaca has turned into a fiercely protective guardian of our two sheep.

Last week, we had a friend come take some pictures for us, and some were taken with the sheep, or in the barn area. Every moment, Ellsy watched her, making sure she wasn’t going to bother his lambs.

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All of us need a purpose in life! In protecting those lambs, Ellsy has found his purpose again.

The Envelope

This morning, I received an envelope in my work mailbox. That’s nothing new, I always have mail in that box. The envelope was addressed to me, handwritten, and I didn’t really think about the sender’s name. It was vaguely familiar, but I was in full work mode, and it didn’t fully click.

Ten minutes later, in my office, I opened that manila envelope and pulled the pages from inside, and felt like someone had reached into my rib cage and ripped my heart right out of my chest… And I started to cry.

The pages had picture after picture of Sam, in first grade, taken by the sender who was student teaching then. The pictures are beautiful, full of life, laughter, curiosity. They show Sam measuring, poking, talking and thinking. They are spectacular. And they broke my heart anew. To be clear, it was an incredibly sweet and kind thing the person did in sending them to me, it was a gesture of love, but it still kicked me really hard.

I love pictures of Sam, you all know that. But, I think it was that I was so unprepared for them — at home, in my safe zone, maybe they wouldn’t have hurt so much. In my work zone, it was like being skinned alive. There he was, so beautiful, so full of life — and so not here in person any more.

After getting myself back together the best I could, I thought a lot about the envelope. Was it because it was at work that it hit me so hard? Because I am so raw emotionally right now anyway? Because they were so unexpected? Because I miss him so much? Why did it hit so hard?

The simple answer is love. Grief is love that can’t be shared with the recipient in person any more. I saw those pictures, and the rush of love was so strong, it almost broke me. Now, hours and hours later, I am so thankful for those pictures, and someday, I will be ready to open that envelope again.

Yup, it made me cry…

When I am stressed, I want chocolate and/or french fries. I keep trying to convince myself when I am stressed that I really want a green salad, but no, deep down, I want chocolate or french fries. As I have struggled with the stress the last couple weeks, I have (pretty successfully) fought the urge to eat those things, and instead have eaten them in moderation or not at all. I have listened to my Fitbit when it tells me to take a walk, and I’ve tried to be more cognizant of self-care.

All of that took a hike today when I snagged a small piece of Dove chocolate. I unwrapped the piece of chocolate, and as I always do with Dove, I stopped to read the note inside.

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And that little note almost drove me to my knees, and it made me sit and cry. No, not everyone gets a happy ending! Sam didn’t get that happy ending. He didn’t get to hold that niece he so wanted to meet in his arms. He didn’t get to see his baby brother shine in Anon and Inevitable. He didn’t get to grow old loving, laughing, living. And now with our newest journey, it is hard to find the potential happy ending.

Once I dried my tears, and took a lot of deep breaths, I realized that it is up to us to make our own happy ending, and that is done through love — because no matter what, I believe that love is all that matters. So if we have love, we have happy endings.

An Update

As we have continued to spin around in circles trying to adjust to our new reality, I realize that I haven’t written or posted as much as in the past. First and foremost, we have been running around to appointments, trying to make sure we are taking care of each other, while also having lots of wonderful visitors. It also is, realistically, that in my anger, hurt, sadness with the universe, it has been harder to be positive in outlook, and I have needed to think in a very focused manner about gratitude. And fiction? I have to admit that right now, my characters seem to have taken a hike for a bit, as my fiction brain seems to be on hiatus.

Being thankful? Feeling grateful deep in my bones? Yes, I am thankful and feeling that true and deep gratitude. I feel it for the dinners that have appeared at our house, the phone calls, the text messages, the cards, the silly memes, the hugs, the blunt conversations, the company on hikes, the chocolates and the photos. I am filled with gratitude for the love that has flowed our way, and it means more than I can express.

 

What can you do?

As we have started on our most recent unwanted journey, many people have asked what they can do to help. I keep saying that we don’t know what people can do yet — it is all too new, and we are still getting details and understanding what this all means.

But then we talked about it more, and we came to some conclusions about what people can do to help. They can do the same things that we always suggest in terms of  “Do a Sam.”  Say hello. Make eye contact. Listen. Don’t pretend it isn’t happening. Ask us how we are. Hug us. Those things help — they help a lot.

Thinking more about it, those still are the things that all of us can do for anyone, not just those who you know are struggling.

Thank you all for your support — it matters!