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Sunday, November 16, 2014

Stepping Back in Order to Step Forward

     About a year ago, a few months after I moved home to Saint Simons Island, still staggering under the weight of the loss to my dear husband, Clint, I scheduled an appointment with my psychiatrist in Macon, where we lived for most of our marriage. I never loved Macon; I never even liked it very much. I had wonderful friends there and still do, but since we had a home here on The Island for all but four years of our married life, I claimed dual citizenship and never felt as though Macon were truly my home. It happened that I loved Clint more than I disliked Macon, so life was good there as long as I had him. In the years after his death, I began to feel like an exile, homeless in my own house. Riddled with an unrelenting and complicated grief, it would be four years before I came to the realization that I needed to move back home, back to the place where I attended elementary school and graduated from high school. My roots are here, and as you know if you read my last post, and I am again grounded and content.
     As the day of my appointment approached last November, I got so anxious that I cancelled the trip. I simply could not make myself go, so I began having phone visits with my doctor, and I relied on phone calls and social media to keep up with my friends and family.
     Several weeks ago, after what turned out to be a difficult summer and early fall with my son’s brain disorder and alcohol addiction, I scheduled a phone appointment with my doctor for November 13. 
     I was in the final stages of settling into my house, and one of the chores I had been putting off was going through the boxes of things that were in Clint’s desk when he died. As I sifted through the boxes and began replacing things in the desk, I had what I can only describe an epiphany, a moment of clarity and realization that most of the items should not be here with me. I painstakingly sifted through old photos and slides of Clint’s children, photos of him as a boy, his medical school class pictures, and newspaper clippings touting his youthful football prowess and his surgical role in the first kidney transplant in Southeast Asia. There were letters from his daughters when they were young, greeting cards he saved over the years, and all manner of memorabilia that predated our marriage. I came to the knowledge that these things to which I had been clinging so tightly are not mine - and they are not Clint. They predate the incredible time during which we fell in love and began a life together.
     Keeping only those things that are a part of my life with Clint, I began to repack the boxes with all those items that I wanted to give to his children, grandchildren and yes, his great-grandchildren. I broke down and wept, big chocking sobs that shook me to my very center, each tear representing the dissolution of an unrealistic and unhealthy tie to a past that isn’t even my own. There was freedom and healing in those tears. Will I ever be completely healed? I think not, but I am confident in the knowledge that my wounds no longer continually ooze emptiness and sorrow and loss. They are real but they are no longer white hot reminders of everything I lost on June 8, 2009. I am learning to accept them as part of me without Clint in my life, reminders of the devotion we shared, the love that bound us together.
     After tearfully rereading the dozens of cards and notes we shared over the years and the poems I wrote and dedicated to him, I tucked them into the desk drawer along with his love letters to me. I polished his brass statue of a laughing Buddha and placed it on an end table in the living room. His hole-in-one trophy is on a shelf in the den. Photos, some organized in albums, some not, of us traveling together to see Europe and watch whales in the Sea of Cortez and explore Alaska’s Southeast Passage as well albums of other trips - with and without family - are safely stashed away in the desk drawers. 
     Several days later, it occurred to me that I should actually go to Macon, to see my psychiatrist and deliver the family treasures to their rightful owners. But it was with some sense of dread that I changed my appointment to a face-to-face. In the days leading up to the trip, I became anxious, but I didn’t cancel. I had to revisit my past in order to move completely into the present.
     So, on Wednesday afternoon, I drove to Macon. I was there for two nights, and while I was in town, I saw my dearest and oldest friends, Nancy and Frances, and my stepdaughters, Gretchen and Kristy. I had time with Marnie and with Sophie, the Angel who has been looking after me for over 40 years. I saw my doctor. After literally being unable to make the trip a year ago, the time was right and my anxiety faded. I gave Kristy the boxes of memories with a sense of purpose and completion and even joy, and I arrived home having delivered myself of an emotional load I didn’t even know I was carrying.
     The parts of me that have been so locked down for five and a half years are emerging. I’m willing to venture outside  the safety of my widowhood, and I’m eager to continue my quest for a life well lived as a individual, not as half of a couple. I harbor no belief that my wounds will ever completely close, but then again, they probably shouldn’t. They are a big part of who I am today and who I will be in the future. They are part of my story.
     For today, Parrish is sober and stable, and we are looking forward to our first Thanksgiving in this house. Marnie will be joining us for our family tradition - a seafood feast of oysters and jambalaya with sweet potatoes and green bean casserole. We don’t really like turkey.

Copyright 2014
cj Schlottman


Monday, November 3, 2014

Home At Last

          It has been along time since my post back in June, but that doesn’t mean I haven't been writing. I’m in the organizational stage of my memoir and will soon be ready to begin to bring it together into what I hope will be a good book, a valuable book about the challenges and rewards of having an adult child with a brain disorder, it’s impact on all of those who love him so much. It was a long, hot and arduous summer, but it is behind us, and I pray for continued peace. But, that’s a story for another time. 
     Fall has brought with it the departure of the Hummingbirds who graced my deck from the time I first hung the feeder. We moved into our new house on August 8, and three months later, we are finally settled, art on the walls, furniture placed - after several false starts. I am happy here. Our street is quiet, nestled under a canopy of live oaks and flanked by the marsh and a lovely tidal pond where Great Blue Herons and Great Egrets regularly fish for their dinner. Our bird feeder is a flurry of activity. Carolina Chickadees and Tufted Titmouse (there doesn’t seem to be a plural), Pine Warblers and all manner of Sparrows frequent the feeder. At this time of year, even Red-bellied Woodpeckers feed off the seed, and the ubiquitous Cardinal is a regular visitor. As I write, the Chickadees are buzzing down, one after another and in pairs, sometimes landing on the top of the feeder hook to position themselves for a run to fish out the sunflower seeds. The squirrels are happy with the corn we provide for them at the other end of the yard. Honey takes a sunbath nearly every day in our fenced back yard, which is just the right size.
     On this chilly morning (50-something degrees), the sun is bright and the sky is a cloudless blue, shimmering like stained glass. After a windy weekend, the air is moving gently, just enough to ruffle the leaves on our evergreens. The neighborhood is rich in ligustrum, wax myrtle, oleander and old tall pine trees. It’s the perfect day for a bike ride, and we have one planned for later this morning. The Island is covered with bike paths, and we can pedal for miles on them.
     The summer tourists have departed and the Georgia-Florida football onslaught of students and alumni and other rabid fans is behind us. The Island is quiet and peaceful and the pace of living has returned to its languid norm. 
     With “The Holidays” looming, I’m in cooking mode and ready to take down the Christmas China and start baking cheese straws and wedding cookies. This house feels like home, and I, after a little over a year back on The Island, finally feel grounded and settled and dug in. It’s a wonderful feeling, and I am grateful for it.