The Voices in My Head

As fall settles in the leaves turn color; the termination dust starts to stick; the tourists head back to where they came from; and the anniversaries of mom’s passing and my beloved’s passing upcoming, I find myself lost in my thoughts of the past, struggling to find a future that will motivate and inspire me.  I am keenly aware that is not healthy as I watched mom deteriorate with that struggle.  While I am thankful for all the people in my life, I think that the loss of my love continues to overpower me.  I continue to function but seem be to waiting for something.  What is that something? Is it a person, a place, or a thing?

It has been a while since I have sat at the computer composing my thoughts.  Ok, sure I am at the computer every day at work and like so many spend time on social media and reading the news (not fake news), but I have not sat down to really sort through my thoughts. Is this me reaching out or is this a time for me download the voices in my head to release the presser that is building?  So many questions?  I really do not have an answer.  I am just hoping that composing this missive I might be able to figure out how the story ends.

Remaining positive, I should really take stock of all what is good in my life.  My son is amazing and is doing great in school at the University of Alaska Fairbanks.  Of course, I must brag a moment.  He ended his first year on the Dean’s List.  Woot Woot! I have a roof over my head, bills are paid, and do not go hungry.  My job is rewarding and I love it.  Small town Alaska is a caring and giving environment.  What is missing? What is broken?

Even with all of the positives in my life, I am feeling broken.  I think back to past interactions and conversations and am stuck in a what if mode.  I suppose the divisive national discourse overwhelms me as well.  I just do not understand all the hate in the world.  How did we get to this place?  What happened to empathy and caring for others.  I get that thread of consciousness has always been there but how has it been so emboldened?

As an educated person, I understand that to root of the problem is a fear of globalization.  It is a fear of the other.  Although the United States of America is a melting pot, cultural differences, socio-economic differences, political differences and religious difference are all converging into a head-on collision.  We all human beings!  It doesn’t matter what ethnicity, political preference, religious preference, gender preference, or economic back ground you are. We are all human beings and deserve to exist in a respectful environment.

It just dawned on me that I am not the only one struggling with the voices in my head.  As I sit here thinking about the connection to my current situation and compare it to the national divisive discourse, the problem stems from a national struggle with internal voices.  Wow, I think I am on to something here.  A few years ago, my job sent me to Emotional Intelligence training.  This intense week long program breaks you down, builds you back up and sends you back into the world with skills to listen effectively by not internalizing a situation.  The skill of actively listening and engaging with others seems relatively easy, but in reality, human instinct is to react and be defensive.  Instead of immediately responding, take the time to understand where the other person is coming from.  Take the time and effort to engage in a positive manner whereby an effective conversation is to reiterate what you just heard and then there is an opportunity to understand how to respond effectively.  For me, the forty-character Tweet or the Facebook rebuke, is merely a reactive internalized voice that is degrading society.  Do I have a solution for this problem?  I really cannot say that I do, other than, realize that internalizing the voices in your head is destructive.  Take the time to actively listen and realize that being loud and defensive is not the solution.

There are real problems in the world.  I am not minimizing the need to make our voices heard.  I am just saying that there needs to be real conversations that take more time than a forty-character Tweet or a Facebook rebuke.  I am convinced that if people of all walks of life take the time to have a conversation instead of disagreeing for sport, the power of conspiratorial extreme alternative reality websites will be less powerful.  Yes, there are outside forces impacting reality.  Stop and have a conversation with your neighbor, someone from a different political, socio-economic, religious, ethnic, or gender preference instead of allowing propaganda dictate your beliefs.  I tell myself that this will help the world stop internalizing the voices.

Well then, I guess this cathartic missive has brought me to the conclusion that what is broken in my current environment is that I am missing the meaningful conversations with those who have passed away as well as with those who are here today.  The story I am telling myself is that the world outside the safety of my home is struggling with similar issues.  I challenge myself and those around me to take the time to actively listen to people of all walks of life so this down ward spiral does not continue.  Love and understanding trumps hate and fear.

 

 

 

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Letters to my Son

When was the last time you sat down to write a letter, put it in an envelope, placed a stamp on it and went to the post office to send it off? That takes a lot of time and commitment, especially since I actually have to go to the Post Office to send the letter. Even when my love was working remotely on Chenega, a remote island in Prince William Sound, Alaska, we would email regularly as cell phone coverage in that area was not good. Has the art of writing a letter and sending in the mail past? I say no it has not. While many of us stay connected through email, text, Facebook, FaceTime, Skype, cell phone or land line, I have reverted back to a time when we actually wrote letters to one another and my son is the recipient of these streams of consciousness. Ok, so I am not writing the letters by hand because the keyboard has destroyed my penmanship, but I have embraced writing letters once again as a deeper way of communicating to my beloved son who is off in college.

Perplexed, my son said, why are you sending letters? Just a day or two earlier he mentioned that he has been checking his post office box daily so I thought that it would be nice for him to actually get mail. By the time that he receives the letter the information is actually out of date because we have already spoken on the phone or sent a text or two.

So why then am I taking the time to write a letter to my son when we could just as easily stay in touch with so many different forms of communication? Since my son’s departure for college I have spent a lot of time thinking about this past two years. The house is quiet and I reflect on the times where I was sorting through both my loves belongings and my mother’s belongings. In the emotional process of sorting I would come across papers that would include letters. What is it about theses letters that have me so intrigued?

While emails, Tweets, FaceBook posts as well as other forms of electronic communication never go away and make a statement of a moment in time, it is letters of the past that capture a personal state of mind. The day that my love passed away he communicated two things that were very important to him before he was not able to speak anymore. He said that he did not want to be air lifted to Anchorage and told me where the letter he wrote to our son was. This letter still brings me to tears.

Letters like the one that my love composed for our beloved son, while not finished because he passed away before he could complete it, capture feelings that were not verbalized in life. Why is it that we cannot share true feelings in life? Is it fear of what the response might be? Instead of waiting to end, I believe that now is the time to share not only the daily ins and outs but the deeper thoughts that can be shared by a written letter.

I like to believe that my son and I have a good relationship. We communicate well but of course there are things that we don’t share. After all it still is a parent child relationship. Yes, we talk often about daily activities and whom we interacted with. Sure we share superficial comments of what we had for dinner, how work was, how classes are, the weather, a movie, family, friends and other topics, but I find a letter allows an expression that moves away from the superficial verbal interaction.

As I wander through the quiet empty house, occasionally talking with the animals, I find myself having conversations in my head. In an attempt to find an outlet to get these conversations out of my head, writing a letter seems to be working at having those end of the day conversations of old. As I sit at the computer, I start writing about a conversation similar to those I would have had with my love, our son, or my mother at the end of the day; the kind of conversations when the house was full of people; the responses to the “Hi, I’m home, how was your day?”

My hope is that these letters will also help future generations understand the complexities of the past. While going through my mother’s belongings I came across stacks of letters that she received from her mother all the way back to when she first came to the United States. While they were difficult to read because they were hand written on very thin airmail parchment paper, in an older form of Dutch that I am not familiar with, I still took time to read what I could and managed to decipher enough to enjoy the message. Here too, the letters were about the daily events, family updates as well as encouragements that a parent would share with a child that was far away.

For now writing letters to my son seem to satisfy a therapeutic form of figuring out what is next. My hope is that some day the letters that I write to my son will document and shed light on reflections of the day, capturing a moment in time that will submit a greater understanding of the joys and struggles as I navigate an uncertain future.

And Now What?

Ever since the summer of 1982 I have had someone to come home to. I still remember the day my love was sitting on the couch in a house that I lived in Bellingham, Washington. It was an old Craftsman Style house below Western Washington University on Forest Street. The house had been divided up into apartments. My apartment was on the waterside. It was a sunroom with enough room for a bed, a couch and a table. The view was spectacular but just a room, not a home.

 

I came up from the community kitchen where I was chatting with another resident, talking about nothing but everything and looking out over Bellingham Bay. Well the reality was that we were drinking chamomile tea and smoking a little weed while chatting. I went upstairs to get something, maybe a pipe, I don’t remember exactly. Well anyway, there was my love and I said hey and sat down next to him. We had been, well what would you call it, dating or friends with benefits for a while. So I asked what’s up? He thought that we should find a place without roommates. He suggested that we could pool our resources and live a nice place together. I guess that was his way of saying that it was time that we take the next step and live together. Needless to say, I did not go back downstairs. I guess my friend thought I got side tracked.

 

Since that defining day in the summer of 1982, I have had the luxury of coming home at the end of the day to: Hi I am home. How was your day? Like most couples, when we came home from a day of work or from being out and about, there was chitchat about the day, about politics, about a movie, about our families, or about just anything. When our son was born, the house became full and we enjoyed all the glories, anxieties and dramas of parenthood. The conversation grew to discussing hopes and dreams for our beloved baby boy.

 

Over the last two years, coming home has changed drastically. In November of 2014 my love passed away and in August of 2015 my mom passed away. Since that time our baby boy, now a man, has graduated high school and is now off to college, three hundred and fifty miles away. I know that our son will go on to greatness and will find his way in the world. I am so proud of his strength and character.

 

And now as I drove down the Richardson Highway from Fairbanks to Valdez, I spent much of the seven hour drive reflecting on how I go back in time thirty four years to that quaint Craftsman House in Bellingham. Life was simple then. The only person I was responsible for was myself. I just had to work enough to pay the rent, the phone, and have enough money in my pocket so I could go out every night.

 

Now I am responsible for making sure I have renters in my properties; responsible for the Museum and the Visitor’s Center here in Valdez; and all the other adult responsibilities that I could go on about. How do I go back to that simple life? Realistically, I know that it is not possible.

 

And, now what? As I sit here sipping on a glass of wine, looking at Annabelle, the adoring Golden Black Lab who looks at me with those sweet eyes, and the cats around my feet, I wonder if I am going to be that lady that talks to the animals. The problem is that they do not talk back. Oh, I bet Annabelle would if she could.

 

I suppose being an empty nester would not be so difficult if those who passed in the last couple of years were here. I am not the type of person who likes to be a victim, but I am having trouble figuring out what is next. Sure, I will go out to events and be around people. It is the fact that the house is so quiet. I guess my life continues to be a work in progress. I will figure the puzzle out. I just don’t have the answers.

 

I use to say that everything happens for a reason. When my love passed away, our beloved son refused to believe in the statement that everything happens for a reason in that there was no good reason for his dad, my love, to die. So as I embark on this new chapter in my life, I will struggle to find the solution but will find strength in what I can and adapt as needed. I will find my way. I just do not know what it is yet.

A Toast To Those Who Have Passed Away

May the saddest days of your future be no worse than the happiest days of your past. On this one-year anniversary of my loves passing I sit here raising my glass to the good times we once shared. I have wondered how I would handle this day. November 3, 2014 was the beginning of a year that continued to bring death at every turn. I have tried to make sense of the last year but find myself wondering why there has been so much death.

One year ago I came home for lunch and as I entered the house my love was covered in blood walking toward the door with a phone in his hand. He had been vomiting blood all morning. I called down stairs to my mother and nephew saying that we were going to the hospital. When we arrived the nurses immediately brought him to a triage room. Thinking back there was so much I wanted to say but what I remember seems so meaningless. As more vomiting occurred, my love only really had two important items he wanted to get out. First he wanted me to know where the letter he had written to our son was and secondly that he did not want to be air lifted to Anchorage. He had been fighting for five months and he was tired of the fight. He was in so much pain and wanted to be moved into a hospital room. I stepped outside to speak to the doctor and he said this was it. I broke down and started to cry uncontrollably. Thankfully they had a room to move him to.

He was moved to room 100 at Providence Valdez Medical Center in Valdez, Alaska. Holding onto hope that my love would survive the night, I sat there helplessly. When I realized that time was short, I called our son to get to the hospital as soon as possible so he would have an opportunity to say good-bye to his dad. Just before our son arrived, we almost lost my love. I frantically yelled to get help. It seemed like an endless amount of time before the doctor arrived. The medical team was able to revive my love. Thankfully, our son would be able to say good-bye to his dad.

I met our son in the hallway and we shared an emotional moment. Before going into room 100, I warned our son that his dad was weak and not doing well. Because my love had lost so much blood, the doctor asked if we would agree to a blood transfusion. I said sure, if it could help. We had no religious issues with the treatment. That seemed to stabilize him for a while. Although in reality, it was just a sort term solution.

We sat by my loves bedside talking to my love hoping that he could hear us. Occasionally my love would try to speak but no words came out. We would talk to him about family adventures and play music that we knew he would enjoy. The medical team said that he could hear us. I hope that we brought him some kind of comfort and he lay on death’s door. I found myself continuing to look at the monitors checking my loves oxygen level and blood pressure. At some point in the evening a nurse came in a turned the monitor off. He said that time was short and that I should focus on the moment and not the monitor.

At 11:28 pm on November 3, 2014 my life changed. My love took his last breath. The nurse came in and said that in Alaska it took two nurses to proclaim a death. The second nurse came in and it was official. My love had passed away. It had been such an emotional evening. My son and I sat there not knowing what we were supposed to do next. The nurse said we had as much time as we needed. I just didn’t know how much time I needed. I knew this was going to be the last time I would see my love in the physical sense. What would happen to him now?

As Valdez does not have a funeral home or a crematorium, my love would have to stay in the morgue before being transported to Anchorage for cremation. When I went home all I could think about was how lonely my love was in the morgue. I can remember thinking how my love said he did not want to go to Anchorage. Well there was no other choice.

It was after midnight when I finally returned home. I called down to my mom and we spent a while talking about the day. She believed that my love would come home. She could not believe that the last time she would speak to my love was for a phone message. My loves death was hard on my mom. I believe that was the beginning of the end for her on that November day.

The days following my loves death I was numb. I did not know what the future held. My son and were fortunate to have great support from small town Valdez. I was truly surprised with the support that we received. We really appreciated all the well wishes. I wanted to believe that the coming year would bring new hope.

That was not the case. Two months and two days later my loves brother passed away from his batter of kidney and liver failure. What is going on? This cannot be happening again. Why did this happen. My son worried that his family was falling apart. At this point I decided that it was time for me to get healthy. I really got into it and began exercise and get right. We were starting to get on track.

In June of 2015 we honored my loves wishes to do a memorial cruise on the Schooner Zodiac. The cruise brought together family, Up & Up friends, college friends and Zodiac crew. It was an amazing experience. I truly believe my love would have enjoyed the gathering. All was beginning to come together.

Then it happened again. My loves nephew, who had been battling cystic fibrosis for all of his life, passed away in early June. He left behind a young wife and daughter. We now have lost three family members. My son and I went back to Minnesota to attend the funeral. It really was much more than I could handle, three deaths in 8 months.

In the meantime, my mom had been in the hospital for about a month. She had fallen a number of times over the last couple of months. She was no longer able to walk without help. This was more than she could handle. During the summer of 2015 she had been moved into Providence Extended Care Unit. While in the unit she lost all will to live. She had lived a robust life and not being able to walk caused her to give up on life. With out a will to live, she stopped eating. Over a six-week period she developed posttraumatic stress disorder from her time in the Dutch under ground in World War II as well as childhood abuse from her stepfather. Near the end she no longer spoke English. She reverted back to her first language, Dutch. She would call out for help. Her agonizing screams called out to her sister and mother. The nurses would ask me what she was saying. I would translate. The memories that she was reliving were horrific. She never shared any of these events with me. This was all new. I really wish that I could have provided comfort. All I can hope was that she knew that I was there.

My mother passed away on August 17, 2015 in room 118 at Providence Valdez Extended Care Unit. Come to find out, the cousin that she grew up with passed away on August 5, 2015. It was on that day that she began to fade away. Did she know that her beloved cousin passed away? They were so very close but had not spoken in some time. I have to think that they were connected.

In between all of this death, I received a call from a very dear friend in Bellingham. She started the conversation that said she did not want to be so similar. I said Huh? Her husband died in a freak climbing accident. What? No. This could not be. That makes six deaths in nine months. Seriously. What is going on?

So as I sit here thinking about the past year, I raise my glass to those who have passed away. To my love, I embrace the life that we shared. The memories comfort me. To my brother in law, I am so glad that we were able to connect one last time. To my nephew, I will make sure that your daughter is part of the family legacy. To my cousin, I will keep the family heritage alive. To my mother, your pain will not go unnoticed and I will strive to make your memory relevant and tell your story. To my best friends, husband, I will be there for your family. It is this commitment of memory that those who have passed away will be honored and remembered.

It Was a Year

As the era of the bragging Christmas letter comes to an end, Facebook has taken up the charge by offering your friends and family the opportunity to create a slide show of photos they posted for the last year.  I have noticed that all of the slideshows which show up in my newsfeed say it was a great year.  I am curious though, do the images really tell the whole story.  I wonder if there are nuances that are not conveyed.  Similar to the bragging Christmas letter of past years, where fabulous vacations and children’s accomplishments are extolled; hard times are rarely shared, Facebook slideshows don’t seem to tell the whole story.  Was it really a great year?

Since November 3, 2014, I have spent a lot of time thinking over the last year.  Like so many others our family would compose an annual missive to send with a Christmas card.  Each of us shared in writing the letter.  Over the last few years my love would craft the letter.  It typically touched on the highlights of the year without the feel of bragging. My love had a way with words that conveyed a sense of mirth and hope. Typically the letter would be written the weekend after thanksgiving.  For a number of years our son would create the art for the card. This year I just could not find the strength to write a letter.  The events of November 3rd lay heavy in my heart.  How could I craft a letter that conveyed mirth and hope? In the end, a simple photo of the three of us was used to create a card.  On the back, a photo of my love was placed and the caption stated, “Make every moment count as you never know how much time you have left.  In loving memory of our beloved husband and father….”

Creating the illusion of an adequate representation of the past year, have I conveyed the true sense of the year with two images?  In an attempt to better understand the visual language conveyed in an image, I took a step back in time and reread Roland Barthes essay, “Rhetoric of the Image.”  I found comfort in reading Barthes analysis as it conveys the science of being as related to the image presented.  A photograph involves a certain arrangement of a scene.  In order to read the image, all that is needed is the knowledge bound up with our own perceptions.  Barthes state, “the knowledge is not nil, for we need to know what an image is (children only learn this at about the age of four) and what a tomato, a string-bag, a packet of pasta are, but it is a matter of an almost anthropological knowledge.   The message corresponds as it were, to the letter of the image and we can agree to call it the literal message, as opposed to the previous symbolic message.”  (Barthes, Roland, Rhetoric of the Image, The Visual Culture Reader, Routledge, London & New York, 1998, pg. 72) If the reader of the card just looked at the front, they would see a happy family standing outside the bar they use to own.  The reader would see the father and the mother standing on either side of their teenage son, not knowing that this would be the last time the three of them would be together in this place.  If the reader of the card turn it over then a deeper meaning would unfold.  The image on the back consisted of my love wearing a Santa hat and a twinkle in his eye.  What you see is a happy man from a couple a years ago.  The only way the reader would have any idea that all was not right with the world would be from the words written on the card.  Visually thinking, photographs capture a moment in time that is gone.

A photograph can stimulate a range of emotions: love, hate, anxiety, awe, fear and nostalgia, to name a few.  I have been reluctant to allow Facebook to create a slideshow of my year.  Sometimes I am curious what kind of slideshow Facebook will create. The random slideshow that Facebook created included images from our last family trip to Washington State; cruises with our son on Stan Stephens’s glacier Cruises; our trip to Minnesota to bring the brothers together one last time; and a tribute to our cat that died a week after my love.  You would think that these trips were for grand vacation purposes. While they were time away, we were tasked with making sure my love had an opportunity to say good bye to loved ones.   As my love did not want his cancer to be spread out in social media, the only way you would know that he was sick was if you really looked closely at the photos of him.  Instead of a twinkle in his eye, his face was tired and gaunt.  You would not have easily seen that because he did not want people to know how sick he really was.  As a matter of fact, I too did not realize, because he rarely complained (or I did not want to really hear it.)  I truly believed we had more time.  After my love passed away a friend messaged me in shock.  She said she could not figure out what she missed.  She had seen all the trips but did not realize that they were bucket list trips.  I replied, there were hidden messages in the posts for those who knew about the cancer.  The photos of the last year could be perceived as happy family vacations.  The reality is the viewer does not get the whole story which does not convey the true essence of the year.

2014 was not solely about loss.  My struggle is that I do not know if it is ok to share the good with the bad, given that the bad was so intense.  Am I allowed to share that I received the 2014 Governor’s Award for the Humanities; that our son was on the high honor roll in school; that our son received a varsity letter in cross country skiing; that for the first time my love’s family came to visit us in Alaska; that we traveled to Minnesota to bring the three brothers together for the last time; and that our son received a bronze medal in regionals for swimming.  Should I edit the Facebook slideshow to include these moments in time as well?  Should I move on and look to 2015 with a fresh sense of determination?  2014 was a year that was.  I cannot say that is was a great year.  There were moments before and after cancer came into our lives that put a smile on my face.  I just cannot seem to overcome the great sadness that is representative in my Facebook slideshow of 2014.

From Honey Roasted Nuts to Turducken

The Holiday Season was always a time of tradition in our house. After Halloween, we began planning the Thanksgiving feast and then started thinking about cookie baking and Christmas meals. Each year there would always be the favorites and something new. Holiday meals were carefully orchestrated and planned out.

Typically the house would be filled with aromas of baked goods, homemade broth and various other mouth-watering sensations. The refrigerator would be bursting with so many delicacies. We never had enough refrigerator capacity. Even before moving to Alaska, the porch served as a cool spot to store prepped items that would evolve into some kind of entrée. The kitchen sink would be filled with dirty dishes. The counter tops full of food in various stage of preparation. Music playing. A little cussing if something was not going right alternating with whistling. The kitchen was the center of the Holiday Universe.

Over the last 32 years, I have many memories of Thanksgiving. Some of them are a little more vivid than others. Some of them more lavish than others. Each memory centered on the food that was eaten.

In the fall of 1984 we lived on James Street right by the Lakeway Drive off ramp on the I-5. It wasn’t anything special. As a matter of fact there was a hole in the floor right in front of the toilet where cold air would come up. I also remember that the shampoo would freeze in that house. The living room had a Franklin Stove. We heated with wood and only heated the living room. I am so glad we had a heated water-bed; it made it difficult to get out of bed to go to work though. We did not eat at home much because we worked at the University Dining Hall. The Franklin stove not only heated the house but served to heat up more than one meal or pot of coffee.

That fall Bellingham received a rare snowstorm that even Valdez would have taken note of. The thing about Bellingham is that they really do not plan for snow. The year before, because we had no significant snow fall in a number of years, the City of Bellingham sold their snow removal equipment to Whatcom County. We had planned on going to my mom’s house in Arlington for Thanksgiving dinner that year. While we thought we could get out because we had a four-wheel drive truck with chains, we got stuck two blocks from the house. The chains got wrapped around the axle. After lots of cussing and fussing somehow we got back to the house.

Earlier that fall the Ennen’s on Holly, now the Whatcom Educational Credit Union, was having a sale on odd canned goods. It may have been a going out of business sale, but I am not sure. Well, anyway that is not the point. The point is that my love picked up a variety of canned meats, nuts and other odd canned goods. For some reason he thought that we needed to stock up in case of an emergency. Looking back, I guess this was an emergency. I remember building a fire in the Franklin stove and my love in the kitchen opening a variety of canned goods. Thanksgiving of 1984 consisted of honey-roasted nuts, baked beans heated on the Franklin stove and canned wieners. To this day, I cannot eat a honey-roasted nut. I can now eat baked beans and canned wieners, but no honey-roasted nuts.

After my mom moved to Bellingham in 1995, Thanksgiving meals were typically at our house. As time went on each year the turkey and fixings were carefully refined. The turkey never was prepared the same way twice. Whenever there was a new trend, my love would create his own version of it. He would BBQ the bird, smoke the bird, put Cajun spice on the bird and stuff it with a variety of creative stuffing’s.

About ten years ago, a new trend in deep-frying turkey was all the rage. As we owned a bar in those days, my love decided to create his own deep-frying system out of an empty keg of beer. He spent weeks creating the system. He found someone to cut the top off the keg; researched oil temperatures; and developed a harness so he could safely dip the bird in the hot oil. My love had heard of incidents where people caught their house on fire while deep-frying their turkey so he set up the frying station away from the house. He set the propane single burner unit in a brick fire pit. He even conceived of an oil filtration system after the cooking was complete because he did not want to waste the oil for a single use purpose. My love was very resourceful that way. He was set; the system was ready to go.

As always he spent the week leading up to thanksgiving prepping all the dishes, baking rolls, and baking no less than four pies. Timing was everything. All of the side dishes needed various amounts of cooking. His goal was to free up the oven and that year worked out perfectly since his plan was to deep-fry the turkey. So once everything was set inside, the rest of the time he tended the turkey. Once he had the oil the right temperature he placed the bird in the hot oil to cook. When he researched the times for deep-frying he really did not believe it only took about a half hour at most. With anticipation we all hovered around for the turkey to be ready. As I began to put all the food on the table, my love brought the turkey inside. We were all eager to see how it came out. While my love did not burn the house down or get injured from the cooking process, we heard grumbling in the kitchen. With anticipation, we all were eager to taste the turkey. We soon learned why the cussing and fussing. In all the years of delightfully prepared turkey, this one, well I’m trying to be delicate, was over-cooked and would wad up in your mouth as you chewed it. Of course we all tried to be positive. This was the first and only turkey that failed.

As I don’t want my love remembered for the failed deep-fried turkey, I will now tell the story of an all time favorite. A few years ago the Turducken sparked my loves attention. A Turducken is a dish consisting of a de-boned chicken stuffed into a deboned duck, which is in turn stuffed into a deboned turkey. The word Turducken is a combination of turkey, duck, and chicken. The cavity of the chicken/game hen and the rest of the gaps are stuffed, sometimes with a highly seasoned breadcrumb mixture or sausage meat, although some versions have a different stuffing for each bird. The result is a fairly solid layered poultry dish, suitable for cooking by braising, roasting, grilling, or barbecuing. Of course, instead of buying a pre-made version at a specialty store, my love researched, conceptualized and created his own version.

The weeks leading up to Thanksgiving took on a whole new level of preparation. In addition to prepping for all the delicious side dishes, the pies, and rolls, the Turducken required three different kinds of stuffing as well as deboning the turkey, the chicken and the duck. The refrigerator was at capacity and then some. Given the size of our kitchen, the counter space was at a premium. If I recall correctly there was wild rice stuffing in the duck; a cornbread stuffing in the chicken and bread stuffing in the turkey. You might think that the mixture of flavors would compete with one another but I have to say, they blended together well. Each slice contained portions of chicken, duck, and turkey with stuffing in between the layers. It really was not difficult to make, but it is a little time-consuming. The end result was a worthy showstopper.

This year the kitchen was a quiet place. It seemed like we were going through the motions. Instead of buying a full size turkey, I was able to buy a turkey breast. That might seem easy in the “lower 48” but you never know what is available at our Safeway here in Valdez. While we did not have all the traditional favorites, I did make sure that my love’s favorite side was included, scalloped onions. As this was a dish that my love created and made a little different each year, I was uncertain if it would come out. The onions turned out like a rich and thick French onion soup. Fortunately, my love had written down his roll recipe. While the meal was tasty and the kitchen was not a disaster, it just was not the same.

Over the years our son has been the one responsible for setting and creating the table scape. With out thinking about it, he set the table for five instead of four. As I needed more room for the meal, I asked my son to remove the place setting. I think now that the setting should have stayed in place. Although, leaving the place setting might have made it even more difficult.   My love was with us. He was placed at the end of the table.   We raised our glasses to him but could not find anything to be thankful for.

Flash

Spring of 2006 was a time that all was right with the world. We still owned the bar; our son was finishing up 2nd grade; and I was working for the Washington Art Consortium and volunteering as much as I could at Happy Valley Elementary. We had our routine down. The bar was running smoothly so my love was able to come home for dinner and then head back down after our son went to sleep. Our son attended a wonderful school, played out back with the neighbor kids, swam for the Bellingham Bay Blowfish, and just enjoyed life as a kid growing up in Bellingham, WA. In addition to working for the most amazing collective of museums and galleries, I was working on my Masters in Arts Administration. All was right with the world.

The Washington Art Consortium office and collections are stored at the Western Gallery, Western Washington University (WWU). As a graduate of the WWU Art Department in Art History, this was such a familial place for me. The Art Department and the Western Gallery were like home. One day while sitting in my office, I am not sure what I was working on, one of the newer Art History professors announced that a litter of kittens were living near the sculpture studio and their mother had left them. There were many feral cats in the area as the Art Department abutted Sehome Hill, a wonderful place for nature hikes and so much more (our son’s birth ritual was atop of Sehome Hill.) To the chagrin of the lead Art Department Secretary, the professor brought the kittens into the office. Of course many of us gathered around to check them out. I could not resist. Walking back to my office the box of kittens remained in my mind the rest of the day as I devised a plan on how best to convince my love that we should adopt one.

At that point in time I think we just had one pet. It was a big old tomcat named Burky. He was quite the hunter. He would bring home any number of creatures. His favorite thing to do was to bring bunny butts and entrails into the house. Oh man, that would always get me going. Well I thought Burky needed a friend so I began to work on my love to convince him how cute these kittens were. It did not take too much convincing because my love knew he could not win and that I would bring a kitten home if I really wanted to. I suppose it was up for discussion but he was probably right. In the end, I brought two kittens home, one for us and the other for my mom.

The kittens are Norwegian forest Cats. These little lumps of fur were so tiny they could fit in the palm of your hand. While the two had similar features, their personalities were as different as night and day. The female kitten was fierce and fast. The male was timid and careful. Since we already had a male cat, I thought we should have the female kitten. My mom gladly adopted the male. By the way, he is still alive and living with us in Alaska. He actually is probably not too sad that his sister is gone. They never really got along to well. Bear, the name of the male cat lumbers along and still is just a mellow dude. While Bear has always been mellow, the female was always fast and fierce. Given her personality, we named her Flash.

Burky now had a playmate and a friend that he could go hunting out back. Our home in Bellingham was adjacent to a large tract of land that was not developed. It was a great place for neighborhood kids to build forts and for our cats to hunt for any number of creatures. While that might seem ideal, the problem was that in 2000 the City of Bellingham came through and widened our road, causing us to loose ten feet of frontage and creating a road that now could accommodate more traffic. After 2000 the road became a bypass for people who live in the Lake Whatcom area to get to the I-5 easier. Because of the increased traffic we lost a number of pets over the years.

For the first two years, Flash lived life to the fullest. Similar to Burky, she was a great hunter. While Burky had a fascination with Bunny butts, Flash would bring in birds that she had been playing with and that were not dead. The reason they could bring critters in so easily is because we had a pet door for them. I remember a number of times that Flash proudly brought in her prey and the poor bird would fly all around the house. We had lofted ceilings and of course the darn birds would try and find a way out through the skylights. What a spectacle, we would get a broom and duct tape an extension to the handle. That never worked. The bird eventually gave up and died. Birds were not the only critter Flash had a fascination with; mice, moles and bunnies were equally at risk. Flash was a lioness that enjoyed all that life had to offer.

In early summer of 2008 I received a call from my love that Flash had been injured. We really did not know how badly. My love told me that she had jumped over our six-foot fence entered the pet door and fell to the ground at my loves feet. He said she was a mess. I said well we better get her to the veterinarian to have her checked out. Our vet was on the other side of town. My love carefully picked her up and took her in. The Vet told us that Flash had at least nine fractures in her leg. We asked if he thought that he could set the leg. He admitted that while he could treat her, if we wanted it done right we should go to Seattle. We asked the cost difference and decided to give the Bellingham Vet Hospital a try instead. The Vet said that he could preform the surgery for $1,000. If we went to Seattle the surgery would likely cost a minimum of $4,000. We had never spent that much money on fixing a pet before. Flash was part of the family so we thought that we should at least give the Vet in Bellingham a try. So we agreed to the surgery.

During recovery we learned that her injuries were much more extensive then we thought. While we went back East for my grad school graduation, my mom took care of Flash. While cleaning her up she found that Flash had no feeling in her other leg at all and experienced pain in her hips and the first portion of her tail. Come to find out that during the surgery, nerves were pinched causing her non broken leg to be paralyzed and that her tail section near her hips to be paralyzed. Interesting enough, the middle and end section of her tail worked fine.

To make the most out of life, my love decided that Flash needed one of those devices that dogs use when they are missing legs. As I have said before, my love was a conceptual wizard. He designed and fabricated a wheeled carriage for Flash to get around in. My love spent a good amount of time on the carriage and in the end; Flash really would have nothing to do with it. Moving on. My love also created a carpeted step so Flash could perch herself atop and see the world. He made a carpeted playhouse for Flash. For someone who really did not want another cat, my love made every effort to find ways to make Flash’s life better.

While my love tried everything to give Flash a good life, Flash had her own ideas of what life was going to be like now that she had limited capabilities. When we returned home from graduation Flash used the perch that my love made for her and escaped out a window. She disappeared for over two weeks. Well we thought this was it. She went off to die. Working in the yard I heard a tiny meow from the apple orchard across the street. Curious, I walked over and yep, there was Flash, a flea bitten mess. We cleaned her up and moved the perch away from the window so she could not escape again. Probably a year later she managed to escape again. This time she left for only a week. Each time we thought this was it. Flash had gone off to die.

Fast forward to the fall of 2010. I accepted a job in Valdez Alaska. As my love and son sailed off to Desolation Sound off the coast of British Columbia, I packed the house for the trip north to Alaska. By this time Burky met his match with a raccoon. A year earlier my love had talked me into the sweetest golden retriever black lab mix. Her name is Annabelle. In addition to packing the house, I made sure the pets had all their papers so we could drive up the Alcan Highway (that is a story unto itself and I will likely tell it later.) We drove a 26-foot U-Haul and trailered my car. As the cab of the truck was full, the pets traveled in the car on the trailer. Annabelle rode in the front seat and Flash in a pet carry in the back. To ease Flash’s nerves I got some kitty downers for her. As my love had to get back to the boat in less then five days, the trip up the Alcan was going to be one of those quick trips. I had planned on driving myself with our son but my love would not have it. We drove from Bellingham to Valdez in a little over three days. While Flash faired relatively well, Annabelle no longer likes riding in the car. The washed out roads and dust were too much for her.

Once we arrived at our new house it was time to start moving in. Given that doors are left open when moving into a new place, this was yet another opportunity for Flash to wander off into the wild. This time though, there are bigger and meaner predators out there, bears and eagles to name a few. Yes, you got it. While moving in, Flash went on walk about again. Since she has done this before I really was not that worried. Oh, I was a little worried since this was a new neighborhood. The thing she had going for her was that there is thick brush all around the house. There are plenty of places to hide and voles to eat. One week went by and I mentioned to my son, “maybe this is it for Flash.” Then another week went by and I was now certain this was it. Until one afternoon I was in the yard contemplating what I would like to do with it, I hear a tiny meow. Yep, there she was again. While she was a mess, she had no fleas. The nice thing about Alaska, there is no fleas. So once again Flash was home.

Over the next few years Flash was queen of the household. She ruled with a sharp claw. We made sure that both Annabelle and Flash had equal love. We provided two pillows in front of the fireplace, a large one for Annabelle and a small one for Flash. Flash felt the small one did not suit her so she appropriated the large pillow and Annabelle was left with the small pillow. In the end, that worked out for Annabelle as we eventually allowed her to lie on the couch. Here was Flash on a dog bed that she occupied only a mere 5% of the pillow. Also, my mom and her cats now live with us. Flash’s brother Bear and my mom’s other cat Tjtske live on the first floor. As you can imagine, Flash made sure that her brother knew who was boss. Flash was perfectly able to get up the stairs but would scream until someone would come and get her. Flash knew how to play the game.

About six weeks ago Flash managed to find her way outside again. As this was three weeks before the passing of my love, I really had more to think about then Flash. Furthermore, she had done this so many times in the past; I figured she would come back. Although, three weeks is a long time and the snow had begun to fly. My love and I talked numerous times about how this time Flash went off to die. The weekend before my love passed, he had spoken of Flash wondering what had happened to her. The day after his passing, a neighbor who found her in his front yard brought Flash home to us. I took the cat in and scolded her for not coming back a day earlier. My love would have enjoyed knowing that Flash was all right.

She was a mess and so very thin. I cleaned her up and immediately fed her. She seemed to respond well to eating and attempted to clean herself and use the piddle pad that we provided her. A week went by and her health began to deteriorate. She did not eat and her bowel movements and urine were bloody. As I just lived through this with my love, I knew all was not right with the world. I probably should have brought her in days earlier, but I was a mess grieving the loss of my love. Then when I found the strength to call the local vet, they were out of town. The vet and I played phone tag for a week and I finally was able to get an appointment to put Flash out of her misery. Today, November 21, 2014 at 4:30 pm Flash left this world.

Until now, I have never had to deal with taking a beloved pet to the vet to be put to sleep. This is something that my love always handled. All day long I fretted. I reverted to the sobbing mess I was the week my love passed. Then I realized that I had forgotten to take the anti depressant that the doctor prescribed for me. I went home for lunch and found that Flash was in misery. Before going back to work, I took one of those anti depressants and continued on. At 4:05 pm I went home to pick up Flash. I knew this was the right thing to do. The poor animal no longer looked up lovingly. She had a look of pain. I found that inner strength that got me through picking my love up at the post office. I put her in the pet carry and drove off. As you can imagine I had memories of the day I drove my love to the emergency room. Similar to that day, I made sure to avoid the bumps in the road. Upon arriving at the vet office, I was ten minutes early. There were people in the office with their dogs and I thought that I would wait until they left. After they left, I took a deep breath and entered. The front desk clerk was very nice. They asked if I wanted to stay with Flash as they put her to sleep. There was no way I could have handled that as the memories of the day that my loved died are still fervently planted in my brain.

It is now the fall of 2014 and all is not right with the world. Oh, how I would love to go back to the spring of 2006. I know that is not possible. There is so much uncertainty in the world. What will 2015 be like?

Clam Chowder

You do not need to be in New England to enjoy clam chowder. Thick and creamy, clam chowder brings back fond and memorable memories of my love. Oh I have to say they are not all fond but you will learn more about this as the story unfolds. My love was passionate about cooking. He refused to be called a chef. He was a cook and the best around. His clam chowder could not be beat. Whether he made 60 gallons, one gallon or a quart, it was consistently delicious. He really had no use for Manhattan clam chowder. As a matter of fact I do not ever recall if he actually made Manhattan clam chowder.   He may have been forced to make the Manhattan variety when he cooked for Western Washington University (WWU) Food Service but that was just work. Clam chowder was something that stuck to your ribs. His chowder was made with love and never disappointed. It consisted of potatoes, bacon, onions, celery, a generous portion of clams, heavy cream and spices. This chowder was hearty and really was not for the person who was on a diet.

When I first met my love he was the breakfast lunch cook at the Viking Commons Dining Hall at WWU. In those days soups were freshly made daily and shipped out to all the coffee shop eateries throughout campus. Clam chowder was on the menu every Friday. I remember looking forward to a cup of chowder. What I remember more vividly is how large the 60-gallon steam kettles were that the chowder was made in. The coffee shop driver would scoop out five gallon buckets of soup to deliver around campus. But, I digress.

Skip forwards a couple of years. By this time my love and I have moved in together in an apartment overlooking Bellingham Bay. We would work all day at the University and then spend our evenings at our favorite bar, which we eventually bought years later. This bar was an amazing place of good friends. During the holiday season we would all gather for a feast of fried hooligan and clam chowder. A hooligan is a smelt like creature that is scooped out of the Nooksack River. I think that run is all dried up now. One of my most memorable clan chowder memories is the Christmas party of either 1982 or 83.

I really do not remember the actual making of the clam chowder of 1982-83 but I do remember transporting the thick creamy goodness from our wonderful apartment to the bar. In those days I drove a small blue Mazda Truck. I think it was comparable to a Ford Courier. It was a manual without power steering. Bellingham, for those of you who do not know, is a town of hills. That Mazda truck’s clutch would pop at the most inopportune times. It had more issues but that is for another story. Bellingham is also a town of one-way streets. You cannot get anywhere on a straight shot. The drive from our apartment on south State Street to the bar on North State Street required us to drive down one steep hill, down Forest, right on Chestnut (another steep hill), left on Indian, left on Holly, and left on State. All was going well until we reached the right turn up the hill on Chestnut. My love was sitting in the passenger seat with a large stockpot filled to the brim with piping hot clam chowder. As I turned the corner to go up Chestnut, the clutch popped and the chowder exploded out of the pot, spilling hot thick chowder in my loves lap, all over the cab of the truck, everywhere. As you can imagine, my love was not pleased. I pulled over and he left the scene of the chowder fiasco and went to the bar next door. When I arrived at our bar, there really wasn’t that much chowder left. So, given the events I decided I needed a few drinks. When I sold the truck a year or so later, I was still cleaning chowder out of the truck’s cracks and crevasses. Each year from that point on, Christmas parties at our bar became bigger and bigger. I do not think that clam chowder was ever on the menu from that point forward though.

So, why am I fixated on clam chowder? Since my loves passing, friends and neighbors have been so generous by bringing us meals My son and I have received so many wonderful meals of all kinds. As this kindness was a little overwhelming, I decided that I should start freezing some of the delicacies. In addition to wonderful casseroles we have received a variety of chowders, all very yummy by the way. The other night I decided to pull some salmon chowder out of the freezer and stuck it in the microwave. My son was sitting at the counter doing his Algebra II homework and not even complaining. He was actually getting it. All was right with the world. I pulled the chowder out and realized that it still needed another five minutes or so. Here is where things get a little troubling. When I pulled the chowder out for the second time, the bowl was hot and I really did not have a good grip on it. Yep, as you can imagine, I dropped the chowder and it exploded spilling chowder all over the stove, the counter, the floor, on my son’s homework, and all over me. This was too much for my son. He could not stop laughing. We were able to scrape up enough for dinner but what a mess. This weekend I am going to have to pull the stove out because chowder dripped between the stove and the counter. Oh, man what a mess.

As I have had this lingering sense that my love is near by, I retold the chowder story of 1982 to my son. I was standing in the place that my love spent many wonderful hours making homemade bread, pizza, lasagna, stews, pita bread, pastas of every variety, cinnamon rolls, Christmas cookies and a wide variety of other delightful delicacies. At that moment in time I was pretty certain that my love would have been having a good laugh.

Front Porch

Depending on what part of the country you live, the front porch takes on many different characteristics. It can be enclosed to keep in the heat or repel against pesky creatures like mosquitoes. The front porch can be open and spacious where families and friends gather for evening conversation. A front porch can be used for storage or firewood. It could have patio chairs, a table and even a swing. It is a place to welcome guests to your home or hang out for a morning cup of coffee with a loved one. The front porch that my love and I shared was large enough to store firewood at one end and a seating area at the other end. No matter what characteristics a front porch has, for me it is a place of powerful memories that preoccupy my mind.

Have you ever thought there was something out there but then it was gone? Wait, what was that? Did you hear that? Then you look over and there is nothing there. “Our brain decides how we perceive everything around us. It informs our decisions, guiding us carefully through the fog that is the world around us . . . except for when it lies to us. Often, what we think is true is actually just our brains messing with us.” (Gregory Meyers, 10 Weird Ways Your Brain Is Tricking You ) The brain is a wondrous thing, but it isn’t perfect

While I strive for perfection, I now know that the memories that preoccupy me will not allow me to move on. Over the last two weeks I have had this overwhelming sense that my love is sitting on the front porch next to me; sitting in the chair next to the fire; laying on the couch; sitting in the passenger seat of my car; standing by the kitchen stove; or even talking to me. These moments in time are so powerful. The problem is, when I look over no one is there.

It is the front porch that I am having the most trouble with. My love and I would sit on the front porch talking about everything. In the last few months, though, the conversation was primarily about cancer and the impact on our family, financial issues, emotional challenges, the holidays, what we should get our son for Christmas, eventual death and our beloved son. The last conversation I remember having with my love was about whether or not we should travel back to Seattle for the trial he was doing at the Seattle Cancer Care Alliance. I truly wish the conversation was about something other than cancer.

Now, I sit on the front porch by myself. I have a sensation that makes me believe that my love is there. I am afraid to look over because I know he is not. I sit there waiting, thinking that he will be out soon. As time goes on, I realize that he is not coming. This really is not the time of year in Alaska to sit on an open porch waiting, unless you are really bundled up. I still sit on the front porch waiting but have learned to wear a heavier coat. It takes me a while to go back in the house. I feel a strong connection and believe that on some level my love and I are communicating. My love did not ascribe to the belief that he was floating on a cloud looking out over us. He believed that it is the power of memories that live on.

Why does this happen? I have spent some time researching psychology websites and have ascertained that the mind plays tricks on low vision people. According to Deborah Bier, PHD, “…the brain is filling in information where there is none due to diminished vision. A parallel can be drawn to the neurological mixup that occurs with phantom limb.” (Deborah Bier, Charles Bonnet Syndrome: The Mind Plays Tricks with Low Vision Patients) Research suggests that there is clear awareness by the viewer that the visions are not real, though initially he or she may second-guess that conclusion. The combination of memories and my diminished vision in my right eye brings to bear the phenomenon of the “phantom eye” that reaches out to see something that is not there.

How often have you pressured yourself to think positive after an unhappy incident? Over the last two weeks I constantly examine my thoughts to figure out how I am supposed to act. The memories occupy my life as I try to figure out what we could have done differently. While I realize that my love is no longer in the living world, it is the memories of those cherished front porch chats that hold me back. Is it denial? Is it a defense mechanism that buffers me from the shock? Is it a way to block out the words and hide from the facts?

I like to think that my love is living on in my memories, as he would have wanted. The front porch is now a place to communicate on a higher plane. It is not denial or isolation. I am a conduit that allows my love to live on.

Home Again!

In the “lower 48” more often than not, the United States Post Office is a place of scorn.  It is a place of inconvenience.  There never is a place to park. The lines are endless and by the time you get to the counter you are so frustrated that there are only two clerks behind the counter.  (Of course this is the look and feel of big city Post Offices.  I am sure small towns have a different persona.)  If you have a certified letter or a package slip you have to figure when you can find time to go.  If you work that is even a bigger challenge.  The lines during lunch time are even longer, inside as well as waiting for a parking spot.  At every opportunity I always found a way to ship through UPS or FedEx.  There were satellite stations all over town.  Unlike the US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx had better home delivery options.  Until moving to Alaska I avoided going to US Post Office at all costs.

Since moving to a remote rural community in Alaska I have found that the United States Post Office is a lifeline to the outside world.  It is not only a place to pick up your mail, both wanted and unwanted, and packages, it is a place where community events and garage sales are advertised, bake sales, raffle ticket sales, and a time to catch up with a neighbor or co-worker.  Sure there are days and times of the year that the lines are longer but that is ok because there is usually someone there that you can catch up with or even do a little business.  Given that there is no mail delivery, just about everyone needs to go to the Post Office sooner or later.  We had a clerk that recently retired who knew everyone by name as well as your box number.  It really reminds me of the old theme song from the TV show Cheers, “Where Everybody Knows Your Name.”  Rural Alaskan Post Offices serve as the epicenter of life in small town Alaska.

Last week, however, I found myself a little reticent to go to the Post Office.  The thing about remote rural Alaska is that there are few services.  Sure we have a Safeway, a few bars and restaurants, a delightful health food store with a wonderful lunch counter, a car repair guy, a hardware store, a number of gift shops, an emergency medicine hospital, K-12 city schools, a library, three museum facilities, a NAPA, and a few other oddities but the thing we do not have is a funeral home with cremation services. The closest cremation provider is 305 miles away in Anchorage, Alaska.  While my love was transported on a RAVN Air flight to Anchorage I was told that he would be coming home via the United States Post Office.  That truly seemed odd to me.  A man who was not only big in character but big in size seemed too large to ship via the US Postal service.

Each day last week I tentatively went to the Post Office.  Friends and co-workers offered to go to the Post office for me but I really did not want just anyone to pick up this package.  I really felt that I owed it to my love to bring him home myself.  I would run into acquaintances at the Post Office and we would have the typical conversation, “Hey, how’s it going?”  My response would be vague and more often than not I would say “I’m hanging in there.”  On Wednesday I called the Alaska Cremation Society and asked when I could expect my package.  They said that my love would be arriving Thursday morning.

I typically go to the Post Office at lunch time before going home for lunch.  On Thursday I went to the Post Office as I always do but was uncertain how I would react to this package slip.  I knew that I wanted my love at home.  One of the last things I remember him saying is that he did not want to go to Anchorage.  The whole time he was in Anchorage I felt guilty that he was there.  I had no other choice.  So I gathered my strength and went to the Post Office.  I walked slowly to the Post Box and found a bunch of catalogues, bills and two package slips.  I thought hmm two.  I examined both carefully.  A couple of days earlier I spoke with the Post Master to ask him what I could expect the package slip to say.  He stated that it would have the box signature required checked and that the location of the box would say safe.  Well one of the slips had the signature required checked but it need not say safe.  Cremated remains are treated very carefully and are secured in a safe at both ends.  Well I figured this slip had to be the one.  (The second slip was a book club book.)  So before I went to the counter, I put the loose mail in my car because I wanted to have both hands free to carry this precious parcel.

Walking tentatively back in the Post Office with my two package slips, I found that there was no one in line.  There was a new clerk behind the counter.  Oh he had been there for a couple of months but I still did not know his name and he not mine.  I laid both of my package slips on the counter.  Away he went into the back.  First he handed me the book club order and as he did the second package teetered on the counter.  I knew this was my love.  I stated calmly, yet firmly, please do not drop my husband.  Mortified, he said “Oh I’m sorry, I’ll be more careful,” As he input confirmation data into his computer and requested that I sign the pin pad I got to thinking about how much the box weighed.  I had no idea what to expect.  Was my love light and fluffy?  I really did not know.  I mustered the physical and emotional strength to pick this precious package up and said “Oh that is heavier than I thought.”

As I walked away from the counter, a gentleman behind me said, “Did you get a box of quarters?”  I looked at him and said, “No, this is my husband.”  He too was mortified.  Walking back to the car, I thought about the quarters and remembered when my love and I owned a bar.  Each day my love would go to the bank across the street and buy a box of quarters.  For the duration of my walk to the car I tried to figure out if the two were comparable.

When I got to the car, I set my love and the book on the hood of the car.  I did not want to drop my packages.  I threw the book in the back seat.  The last time my love was in the car we were driving to the ER on that final day.  He was sitting in the front passenger seat.  I knew that is where this package should sit.  I placed my love in the seat and began to sob uncontrollably.  I debated whether or not to put his seatbelt on.  I shut his door and went around the car to the driver’s seat.  I sat there for quite a while before I could get it together.  Finally I started the car and I drove my love home.  It seemed weird yet satisfying that I was taking him home.

At home I knew what I had to do.  My love requested until the memorial cruise in the San Juan Islands he wanted to hang out on the dining room table. As my love enjoyed the holidays so much we felt this was a great place for him.  While not with us in full physical being, he would be with us for Thanksgiving and Christmas.  Both holidays he would make lavish meals that would feed no less than 25.  I examined the table with a fancy trivet, napkin holder and a few papers.  My love needed to be placed just right.  I moved the fancy trivet to the center of the table and placed the US Postal Express box on it.  Until my son has time to build something better, I felt that this was a way to elevate my love with a little distinction.

As my son and I have not opened the box, I am assuming that my love is inside.  A couple of times I have asked if he would like to open the shipping box, of course not with a knife because we do not want to break the TSA seal underneath.  Frustrated, my son says “Mom, what are we going to do?  Examine his DNA?  That would break the TSA seal and then we will have trouble getting him on the airplane.”  I am told that this is part of the grief process where I doubt that he is actually in the box.  What if they put the wrong person in the box?  I am certain I will always have doubts.  For now, I will take a leap of faith that my love is indeed in a TSA Pre-approved box.

So, friends where there is life, there is death.  The United States Postal Service is so much more than a place of scorn.  The Post Offices throughout remote rural Alaska serve not only to deliver mail and Amazon orders.  The Post Office is a conveyance of cremated remains.  I will never go into the Post Office with the same light nonchalant feel again.  I will know that this is the place that my love came home to me.