Hello. Leo here. Ellouise and I were here alone this long week-end and that was okay. Quiet is good. You can think. Catch up on some work - - or not. Its all choices isn't it. Ellouise has started writing a journal. She put it off until now - just did not want to. I think she's getting better and then she cries. Oh,no - a set-back. But all the books tell her - its not - its normal. That's a crazy kind of normal if you ask me. Even stranger Ellouise does not seem to be fully incharge of when a wave rolls over her she or not. It just happens to her. There are times when I want to tell her to "get a grip" but if she is not in charge - give the woman a break - she can't do anything about it. It doesn't last more than a few minutes. How bad is that? Its late. I want to get some sleep. Ellouise is going to work on her taxes tomorrow so I think its going to get tough around here for awhile. Taxes is not her usual job and she is math challenged. Just thinking about it makes her a little nervous. Not that she can't do it, she says, its that "I hate it." Someone told Ellouise about widows (or widowers) having to start doing double duty - taking over the things the "missing" partner had done. It explains she says why Jim's mother kept asking, "who's going to clean the pool?" Look I am glad Ellouise doesn't have a pool - she might start looking at me for help with that.
Fourteen years ago Jim and I went to Vermont on a bit of vacation where I was also attending my first long workshop taught by premier storyteller Donald Davis. That was the first time I heard Donald ask workshop participants to "take us somewhere we can't go if you don't take us." I have never forgotten that assignment and often use it when I am working on a personal story or just time traveling. I have been time-traveling a lot this week-end. Revisiting Brooklyn, New York in 1957 when Jim I lived there while he was an intern at Kings County Hospital. Even started writing a memoir journal about that period. I have been surprised by how many details I recall and how vivid the images are. Perhaps some of that is due to my reading and working with the exercises in Marilu Henner's book, Total Memory Makeover. In this video Henner talks about the phenomenon of her extraordinary autobiographical memory. As I wrote things I had not thought about in years surfaced. For instance: Early in his internship one of Jim's patients, a Choctaw Chief, was so grateful for the care Jim had given him that he asked Jim to become his "blood brother". They had a small ceremony at the Chief's bedside. Jim asked me to bring our son to the ward so he could show Jimmy to Chief Two Bears. Everyone was taken with Jimmy. The Ward Secretary, an older woman, came up to Jim who was holding Jimmy. She patted Jimmy's hands and told Jim, "Doctor Schoettler you make good babies." Love remembering that and sharing it with our three "good babies."
Sorting some pictures last night I came across this one which is a favorite of mine.
On a truly hot August day in Paris (1976) even the candles in Notre Dame Cathedral were melting.
This was my first trip to Europe. When Jim returned home after our two week sojourn in London I took the train to Paris to meet my friend Marie. We were starting a month long jaunt to five countries. We had Eurail passes, a teensy bit of money, and lots of energy. We had not bargained for the hottest August in many many years.
Since I was a Master Degree Candidate in painting at American University (DC) I came to Paris to see the art. And I did. Walking through the Louvre checking off the "masterpieces" I realized I was so intent on the "count" that I was missing the paintings. I put the art history book back in my suitcase and began see the art works. It was fabulous. After five years of Art History classes the works jumped off the page and came to life.
Is that really 36 years ago? Seems like yesterday and I can still see those wonderful paintings.
Isn't it wonderful the way snapshots and photos can send you zooming back through time?
Yesterday on our return from PA I pulled off Hwy 95 at exit 53 and drove directly to the Johns Hopkins Hospital for a tour of the neighborhood where Jim and I lived when we were first married.
Talk about making it hard on yourself! Some would say, "what were you thinking?"
This empty parking lot was the location for the Eddie's Grocery Store four blocks from our apartment on North Washington Street. The large colorful wall mural is certainly a new addition.
Traveling back into memory takes a lot of work - but I could see it as it was. Some of that is comforting and some hurtful. However, for me, its necessary. Why people ask me. Its early. Its too soon. Maybe so - if you have lots of time to put off feeling your way through these hard times.
Process takes work and coming through the mine field that loss and grief creates is all about process.
Or I might be in the midst of a group of laughing young student nurses, all wearing light blue uniforms and white caps - but he could pick me out of any crowd.
Believe it or not, in the midst of all the many Hopkins renovations this section of the corridor that circles through all the buildings is the same - and that is such a comfort.
For me - that was not an empty hallway - it was a connecting link of memories. Of stories.
Leo is taking a nap -
so I will write for myself.
Since Jim died in March nothing is the same and grief teaches me new lessons every day. Some lessons are tougher than others.
About memories: I love memories and in the past I have wandered through that space, relishing the remembering of happy times and making stories out of them.
Now, I still do wander there - very carefully - but sometimes the memories, no matter how loving and lovely, cut right to the bone. Its really a strange thing. For the time being I have to be careful where I walk.
About watching out for yourself: Every day is challenging because life is like a black icy road with invisible pot holes. You cannot predict what will bring up a memory - a longing - an aching feeling of loss - that will knock you flat.
Last week I went downtown to a meeting of reps from large women's organizations to market my Capital Fringe show, Pushing Boundaries. It was interesting and I learned a lot. It was also in a building where, 30 years ago, I regularly attended meetings during my days as ERA Campaign Director for the League of Women Voters. I parked in the same parking lot I used most days back then. Days I shared with Jim. I often rode to and from work with him and we talked over our days.
On the way home I was feeling pleased with how things had gone until I realized over again that he was not waiting at home. I could not tell him about the day. And, I drove up Connecticut Avenue weeping. I had not expected this. I had not protected myself by walking through it beforehand - - practicing walking that walk.
Some days, the simplest thing - like rolling the grocery cart into the familiar supermarket produce department where Jim and I shopped together regularly for 40 years - are dangerous as it - brings on a wave of loss and wishing.
Going out into the world is tiring and dangerous. I bump into someone and they ask, "how's Jim?" because they do not know he has died. So I tell them and I hold onto my own feelings as I watch their eyes fill with tears. They are hearing this news for the first time.
Yesterday in a doctor's office I ran into a woman I once worked with. "Didn't your husband die?"
She asked it kindly, making the connection with reading Jim's obituary in the Washington Post. "Yes". After a moment, "How are you making out?"
"I have been better." is my usual answer.
Someone told me. "You are amazing. You are doing so well!"
Ah, good, my act is working.
I have learned one important thing - you have to tell your story to someone to start the healing.
Since March I have talked it out to a hospice bereavement councilor - over the phone - never seeing her face - being comforted by her mellow understanding voice.
This week I visited a therapist. We sat face to face in her comfortable office. I looked into her understanding eyes and began to tell my story.
I left feeling relieved. And, grateful for her listening.
This is what Jim for his patients. I always knew it.
Now I Got it.
Handmade - a story about my mother for Mother's Day. This version was taped in 2010. It is dated by the color of my hair and the old set at Chanel 16 -- which suggests its time to tape it again. I would not surprised to hear the story change now that my life has changed so dramatically. Our stories have a life of their own and shift with our lives. That's a storyteller's truth isn't it? When we storytellers draw the story from our life and our experience - - Nothing stands still. What would it say - if the stories didn't change?
Yesterday at Team America Rocketry Challenge (TARC) I met met this team of joyous teenagers from Presidio, Texas who almost missed their plane. "We had to drive four hours to the airport - security took so long we did not have time to get our shoes back on and had to run barefoot to the plane."
This morning we watched their "story" on Sunday Morning - - They finished a very respectable 11th place in the field of 100 competitors.
This morning we watched their "story" on Sunday Morning - - They finished a very respectable 11th place in the field of 100 competitors.
Hello, there. Leo here.
I would have been back sooner but Ellouise would not let me write anything. "No. Nobody wants to hear about a grieving woman who is trying to figure out how to make a new life."
or another time - she was down right rude.
"Are you crazy? What are you thinking?
Don't you know that storytellers are supposed to be happy not sad. They make people laugh.
People will be afraid of me - I might slip up and tell a story that will make them cry."
Maybe so. Maybe so.
But I am the watcher here - and I know what I see.
Grief is totally unpredictable.
One day Ellouise is up and the next day she could be flat on her ass. (Pardon me, but truth is truth.) Its rather like pumping a play ground swing higher and higher, feeling like you could fly, --- and then BLAM - right on your ass.
Its hard for Ellouise to guard against the falls - because there is no telling what will pull the rug out from under her "stiff upper lip." Anything from a familiar smell, going someplace she and Jim frequented, a song, a TV show - there are pots holes and traps everywhere so the world feels a bit dangerous. Ellouise stopped wearing mascara shortly after Jim died. Those sudden tears left her face looking like a racoon.
People don't really know what to say to someone who has lost someone they love. " Did you hear what they said - -. " Sometimes their awkwardness is funny and other times it is just "duh - dumb". And, lets's face it, sometimes it is courageous to open your mouth to say anything because a kind word can bring on a gully washer flood of tears. Grief is worse than PMS on the emotions and its not calendared. I heard Ellouise telling someone, "I never knew what to say either - - now I do. I am sorry for your loss, is all you need to say. "
Some people are curious. What happened? What do you think happened....Jim left. And, it has finally sunk in on Ellouise - he is not coming back.
A widow friend says to Ellouise, "Oh, damn, that's where you are." Widow friends are essential guardian angels because they know this walk and it looks to me like a newbie widow really needs a hand-holding guide as she starts down this path.
Because Jim was under Hospice Care - Ellouise now has a Bereavement Counselor to talk to if she wants to. At first she wasn't sure about that. But now she values the faceless phone time with her counselor - who has a soothing voice and is a skilled listener. I listen to what Ellouise says into her pink iPhone and I don't think she would tell just anyone the truth of what she's feeling like she tells this person she has never seen.
Yesterday for instance, she told her, "I cry about Jim. I miss him. My heart hurts with missing him. What about him? Have you ever thought about this? We send our loved ones off to some magical place where they are healed and happy.
And never ask - if they look back while they are dancing in the Elysian Fields? Does he miss me? "
There are no answers.
Ellouise is reading "grief" books. Some she found on her own. Other books were recommended. All say essentially the same thing,
Yesterday I bought this tea pot at a thrift shop in near-by Kensington. I first saw it there several weeks again and resisted buying it.
But I kept thinking about it. Why? I have a lovely tea pot my friend Bernadette Nason gave Jim and me. I love it. I do not need another tea pot.
When I went back to the shop the tea pot was no longer on the large table in the front room. I thought it had been sold. "Oh, well" I thought. Then I saw it on a shelf in a back room. It was waiting for me and this time I bought it.
Now I know why I did not forget it.
My memory has been pricked. My grandmother had one like it. Color and shape. As I examine and look carefully I am back in her breakfast room. The tea pot is taking me somewhere I could not go without it. Its a portal to a new set of memories and I hope - more stories.
Marilu Henner's book encourages me that those hidden memories are waiting just below the surface.
We have a line of large flower pots on the deck planted with an assortment of blooming plants which are flourishing. Seeing the flashes of color through out the day lifts spirits. I love the vibrant yellow because it catches my eye everytime I come into the kitchen.
Introducing Princess Leia.
Although eight years ago I wanted to being her home - maybe I had visions of a sweet loving lap dog - anyway - she became Jim's dog - totally devoted to him.
He took care of her and trained her. She even danced - for him.
These days she is a bit lost and sad - still wandering the house looking for Jim - hoping she has not really been left here - alone - with me.
Everyone tells me that we will bond as its clear I am the one that feeds her. So far they are wrong.
Shih Tzus are not just smart dogs - they are opinionated and stubborn. On top of that, Leia is an alpha female - let's just say - we are hestitantly making - do with our new relationship.
Today book-work dominated me and the kitchen table - where I can enjoy the sunlight and the encouragement of the blooming flowers on the deck.
Bills ofcourse, still changing accounts from Jim to me, scheduling appointments and chatting with folks who call to "touch-base."
Plus storytelling stuff - working on the marketing for the Capital Fringe, scheduling guests for the Focus TV show, and working on stories. A good day really.
When Karen and I went to PA to check on things at our house there I had no idea I would find a surprise. A treasure.
As we prepared to leave to return to MD I stepped into Jim's and my bedroom, for no particular reason. I looked around. Thinking. Then I spied this box on the bottom shelf of the computer table. It was not mine. But it looked familiar. I started to leave but something pulled me back and I retrieved the box. When I opened it I was startled to find it filled with old photos. What?
These are old pictures of Jim's family - his father, his grandfather, mother, brothers and sisters. Pictures his mother gave him years ago.
So few names. But I have been through them before with Jim and I remember many of them - - - but not all. I hope they are not lost.
One of Jim's favorite photos of he and his brothers bedded down together when staying at their cabin at Bass Lake.
I recognize that the tallest altar-boy is Jim's Dad, Hal Schoettler. I think that's Hal's mother.
Jim's uncle Bob Schoettler holding his oldest daughter when he returned from overseas after WWII.
There is a strong resemblance between Bob and Jim.
I have no doubts why I found these pictures now - - - before they are lost completely.
Its a message.
I have a job to do.
Family history work to complete for Jim and for me.
For our children and grandchildren.
Genealogy and family history brought me to storytelling more than twenty years ago. Looks like its time to touch base with those roots to gather more stories.
Jim and I worked these connections together - seems he is nudging me back to it.
This time I will write names on the back of all the pictures. Hope you already are.
When West Virginia storyteller Susanna Holstein came to town we had a fun conversation on Stories in Focus at Channel 16.