Tuesday, October 29, 2019

Good Grief, Friendship!

Five years ago in late October, I was just a couple of weeks into an eight-week grief support group affiliated with my husband's home-hospice provider. I'd enrolled in the support group at the suggestion of my one-and-only second cousin, Allene. I have to confess, I was dubious that I could find much consolation in sharing my grief with a group of strangers, but based on Allene's gentle urging, I tried it.

Looking back, I could not be more grateful. Those eight weeks of meeting with other people also suffering from the loss of a loved one, and facilitated by a social worker, were immensely helpful. Instead of putting on the 'stiff upper lip' that we imagine our family and friends want to see, we could "let it all hang out" with people we didn't know who, likewise, were members of 'the club no one wants to belong to," widowhood.

Good Grief, Potluck! meets regularly at the home
 of Evelyn (in pink). Also shown: April, Bill, Maureen,
Sallie, Sherri, Lorraine, Jerri. Missing: Lynnette and Mike.
The first session of eight weeks would eventually come to be called Grief 101 by its participants. Why? After moving through the eight week program of thoughtfully planned agendas, attendees had the option of moving into a continuation of support that met monthly (also facilitated by a social worker), but more loosely structured. Some Grief 101 attendees chose to go their separate ways; I chose to continue with the monthly group,.affectionately known as Grief 201.

That group of widows and widowers, most of whom had then been alone for six months to a year, had developed a real coherence. I immediately sensed their comfort with each other and basked in such collegial support . . . discovering how freeing it was not to have to explain loneliness, desolation, or anger. They'd also learned how laughter among grieving people can feel downright redemptive when commentary or a shared anecdote triggered giggles and guffaws  Not only can everyone in the room resonate with shared pain and tribulation, but we could share a burst of silliness--often on a topic an outsider might frown over. Grief 201 proved to be a lifeline that continued through my second year of widowhood.

But with any support endeavor, a time comes when participation doesn't feel as essential as it once did. Other interests and agendas begin to surge ahead of the need to share bereavement experiences. The individuals participating in Grief 201 collectively became emboldened by several years of support and with the blessings of our facilitating social worker, disbanded. Yet the friendships that had developed between us were deep and lasting. So, with the inspiration of humor and good will, the members of Grief 201 formed a potluck group affectionately known as Good Grief, Potluck!

Initially, the potluck group met frequently. Now we've morphed into getting together just a few times a year. There is still a lot of laughter and deep camaraderie. Several members have found new significant others, but there is still a thick rope that connects us, so we never have a problem finding topics to talk about over the yummy midday feast. Sometimes we might not even say the word 'death.' Other times, we dwell on it and the conversation churns up recollections of feelings and anecdotes. Whatever we talk about, shared experience is at the heart of it.

I will always be grateful to my cousin for her suggestion and the gratifying friendships formed on the basis of a devastating event. Good Grief, Potluck! might also be called, Good Grief, Friendship! 

Saturday, October 26, 2019

Dashing through the rain

I generally don't look straight down when I'm walking to my car after a class for Active Older Adults at my local YMCA. I'm much more apt to be chatting with a fellow exerciser as we depart to continue our days engaged in myriad endeavors.

Yesterday, however, as I headed out, the skies darkened and opened up--a dramatic cloudburst drenched the parking lot. I held my jacket over my head in a feeble attempt to keep my glasses dry, and dashed through the parking lot trying to avoid the biggest puddles. Then what to my wondering eyes did I see . . .  

ONE PAPERCLIP. Who takes paperwork to the Y? Maybe some business person who had spent lunch hour exercising was sorting out a briefcase to cram for "the big meeting" after lunch. Or maybe someone interviewing for a volunteer coaching position is organizing her resume. 

ONE SOCK. How did it get there? Probably it was inside a shoe that was being hastily stuffed into a backpack. Or possibly it's a real runaway, not the kind that just hides out in the dryer.

ONE GRAPE.  Why just one on the tarmac? It's probable that it was part of the promised snack a mom offered to her child for being such a good girl/boy in the supervised play zone (while she worked out). As the single grape drops, the mom admonishes, "Leave it!," and there it sits.

Yes, I couldn't help myself. I reached for my phone in the pouring down rain to snap these pictures. Yes, my glasses got wet, but in a weird way, these three items sum up why I like going to the Y: All ages, all reasons, and something for everyone.

Monday, September 30, 2019

Only three more weeks

I've written a lot over the years about how much I love the farmers market in Lake Forest Park. Just twelve minutes away on a Sunday morning, it's my chronic Sunday destination regardless of other activities I've scheduled. This year I've only missed two Sundays since it opened on Mothers' Day--both absences were days I was out of town.

Regular readers of this blog know my penchant for the typewriter poet, but I have lots of favorite vendors with always-dependable produce. Every week for years I've purchased fresh flowers from the same stand, rarely spending more than $10 and always being delighted. Now I'm just looking at some of the photos I've taken over the past few months, thinking about how much I'll miss having locally grown color on my coffee table when the market closes for the season on October 20--just three more weeks. There is nothing like the spectacular variety of bountiful nature, and a gifted grower to bring joy to this old woman. Yeah, I'll start buying color-spots from the grocery store, but it's not the same.

Friday, September 13, 2019

Does Art Imitate Life? Or vice versa?

Janitor by Duane Hanson
photo taken in 2019
One of my all-time favorite works of art owned by the Milwaukee  Art Museum is a lifelike sculpture called Janitor by Duane Hanson (1925-1996). Janitor was a favorite work of everyone in our family, especially our children. Acquired in 1973 by MAM, we always made sure we looked for the piece whenever we visited the museum during the fourteen years we lived in Wisconsin. 

The first glimpse of Janitor is startling. The sight of a museum (or any) employee standing around, obviously doing nothing, makes a person uncomfortable--or maybe even giggle. Does that man's boss know he's slacking off? Only when you get close do you realize this is an exceptionally realistic sculpture and not a real person. You also realize Janitor depicts a man who is not liking his day very much, most likely fatigued--maybe even depressed--wondering how long until he can punch-out on the time clock. Over the years we lived in the Milwaukee area, we had many visits to the museum and inevitably one of us would sidle up (as close as the guards would allow) to Janitor for doing nothing, or maybe pretend to be just as tired as he seems to be.

When Jay and I last visited Milwaukee together in 2013, a visit to the MAM was a priority for both of us because it has a fantastic collection of modern works, among them Kandinsky (one of Jay's favorites), my favorite 19th century angel painting (by Abbott Handerson Thayer), and an amazing collection of modern and German Expressionist works. When we saw Janitor, Jay couldn't resist; he imitated the statue's pose. I know I have more than one photo of Jay similarly imitating Janitor, but I could only easily locate this one.

 Janitor and Jay Glerum photo taken in 2013
Last week I visited Milwaukee alone--my first time since becoming a widow in 2014--and headed to the museum for an afternoon of luxuriating in front of some of my favorite artworks. When I rounded a corner at the museum, I had to cover my mouth so as not to sob aloud. There he was--Janitor--leaning against the wall. Of course, there was no way to know Jay would never be at this museum with me again when I took his photo in 2013, but the realization that Janitor was still holding up his wall, and Jay wasn't holding up anything anymore, nearly undid me for a few minutes. 
It's good we don't know when the last time for any activity is, or we'd be so frozen in our own angst. Maybe we'd feel exactly how Duane Hanson's Janitor looks. 

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Debt Retired; Legs Working

I pride myself in keeping my bills current. I'm generally successful in not to incurring ordinary expenses I can't pay off within thirty days. Imagine my horror when I discovered I'd been carrying a balance at the library for eight months! I've never clicked on the 'account' section of my check-out page online, but when I did I was shocked. I had owed a dime for eight months! Oh, how I love King County Library. No interest charges on my ten-cent debt! Where else does THAT happen!    
Today I walked to the library (it's a little less than a mile from my home) to return another book, which was due today, and put a dime in my pocket to pay it off.  However, that triumph dims in comparison to what happened on my journey there. As I crossed a main drag in Bothell--actually, a state highway with a well-marked pedestrian cross-walk and controlled by a WALK signal (with a robot intoning "WAIT . . . WAIT . . . WAIT" when there's a red light and WALK . . . WALK . . . WALK when the light changes)--I was almost struck by a car whose driver was turning left and apparently didn't realize the crosswalk was occupied. 

I didn't know I could move so fast until this experience today, and my heart pounded the rest of the way to the library. I try to find things to be grateful for every day instead of feeling sorry for myself (it's way to easy for me to fall into a daily pity pot), but today's gratitude becomes GRATITUDE for legs that moved fast enough to get out of the way of the turning car. Amen.

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

Everything is better with a poem

In response to several readers' requests, I asked the poet busker and the butter merchant for permission to publish the poem written by the poet for the merchant at the Farmers Market. (See post from July 28. ) I don't have to tell you his answer:


Distill from that life giving
substance, the essence of all
things flavorful and wholesome

Bring forth the force of other
fields and weave a tapestry
for the palate, eyes one can
only see with from inside

To each dish a special form,
to each viewer a special meaning
this is, of course, the
foundation of art, the spice
of life in food

C. Stavney

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Echos of the Past

Written July 28, 2019 
This won't be news to anyone who's read my blog for a couple years: I am enamored of a particular busker who sits at his portable typewriter and composes poems on the spot, on the whim of the requester, based on any idea, word, or concept offered. In addition to being enamored, I am awed, inspired, impressed and just plain grateful to be acquainted with such a talented person.

This past Sunday, much to my delight and surprise, I ran into C. Stavney, the "busker-poet"at the Lake Forest Park Farmers Market. I hadn't seen Mr. Stavney for more than a year, but I've thought about him consistently when visiting the market. I'd pretty much given up any hope he'd return to the market since he was last there over a year ago. After all, he had finished up his English Degree from the University of Washington, had a full time job in Bellevue and, presumably, a 'life,' as well.

After smiles of delight and general chit-chat, I asked for a poem. Topic?  Two acquaintances encounter each other unexpectedly after more than a year

When he is done tapping out the poem, he pulls the paper out of the typewriter, signs it, snaps a photo of it, then folds it in half and hands it over.  I usually wait to read the poem until I'm home, or--at least--in my car, because my hands are full with purchased produce and flowers. As I walked away from Mr. Stavney's perch, situated between a honey table and a produce grower and across from a merchant who sells flavored butters, the butter merchant beckoned to me.

"Hey, how much do you pay that guy for a poem?" he asked. 

"Whatever feels right," I said and continued. "I'm such a fan, I try to be generous, but I've heard him tell people the poem is free if they can't pay, or if they don't like what he's written. Personally, I try to be generous because it's amazing to suggest a topic and watch him tap out an original poem within minutes to hand it over."  Suddenly inspired, I asked the butter-merchant, "Would you like to hear my poem?"

"Yes, sure!" he replied enthusiastically.  I opened the folded paper, explained what I'd asked the poet to write about, and then read it aloud to the two of us, noting that it was the first time hearing it for me, too.

"Wow," said the butter merchant now grinning broadly. "Do you think he'd write a poem about butter?" I nodded yes. "Then I'm going to ask him to write a poem about butter and then set it out where my customers can read it."  I refolded my poem and tucked it into my produce bag, agreeing with the merchant it was a great idea.

I can hardly wait for next Sunday to read a poem about butter!