Sunday, June 23, 2024

A Story of Survival

hologram on window at
Jacksonville International Airport

Today's post will be memories from the past 7 years, punctuated with pictures. I have found that although the past is past, gentle re-visiting that past is normal and often is a good way to figure out what has happened so we can move forward.

borrowed from Pam at
Closed Doors, Open Windows


The past few days have lured my thoughts to a time in 2017 when my late husband and I began a much bigger adventure than we expected -- relocating ourselves (meaning since he was retired, there was no corporate employer to pay expenses) from Colorado to Florida. 

mug purchased at Jacksonville airport gift shop

The move was an uncharacteristically impulsive idea from my husband; but I (always up for adventure) eagerly agreed and in the span of just over two months from the suggestion to the moving van, the deed was done.

beach walk to the Atlantic

At the time we already had 14 family members living in Florida (which eventually increased to 19), but we chose to live hours away from them so as to not disturb their everyday lives with new expectations with our close proximity. 

Jacksonville Beach on the Atlantic Ocean

I was excited to live on an ocean coast since eight of my girlhood years were spent in California's Los Angeles, Orange County, and San Fernando Valley.

our house in Mandarin, Duval County

To be accurate, we did not buy a house on the beach, instead unloading our furniture some 30-minutes away by freeway. But this was still a huge change from living in Colorado's Front Range (for the geographically challenged, that means we had lived on the east side of the Rocky Mountains).

Dames Point Bridge

In addition to visiting the thundering ocean waves, Jacksonville provided us with many bridges across the St. Johns River, some quite high and breath-taking to traverse. 

This past week (even today) marks the 7th anniversary of that move to Jacksonville.


However, as can sometimes be the case with impulsive actions, a time comes when more pensive thoughts edge their way into reality. Jacksonville was a great place but for several reasons we decided to move a couple hour's drive south and west, more to the center of Florida's peninsula. Facing reality can usher in change, or at least, that's what happened with us.

my late husband (aka "Beloved" on my blog posts),
just under 2 months before his passing

Those who have been following my blogs for years know what came next. We had been in our new house in North Central Florida only 20 months when my husband suddenly passed away from COVID, along with a lot of other people. 

How does one describe how it feels to lose her mate from the past 50 years? In 2008 I took a very hard fall that shattered my left shoulder, requiring surgical replacement and a long recovery with permanent reduction in range of motion. For a time I could do extremely little with my left arm and hand. But I am right-handed, so my handicap did not leave me totally helpless.

first cemetery visit after headstone was installed; 
engraving in stone is intense, so final

But when Tom died, it was like I had lost my right arm completely; I was at a loss to do much more than dress myself and rummage through the fridge to find something to eat. The shock and helpless feelings were new and frightening, so unexpected.

one of my current reads

One could say I was in "good company" since the pandemic took many loved ones but since we had not lived here for all that long, my roots in this new community were shallow. Thank God for the friends and neighbors who did rise (very quickly even) to the occasion to minister to me. My family, still hours away, also spent a lot of time, money, and certainly emotional energy, to help me through the toughest experience of my 70 years of life thus far. I am deeply grateful. 


It was scripture, Bible verses, messages from Holy God Himself that helped me the most. I was living in a big house, alone, just me, so I could do anything I wanted. Typed verses in a very large font were taped to bathroom mirrors, plantation shutters, doors -- everywhere my eyes would see to minister to my broken heart.

a gift of verses from blogging friend,
Lea from Ciciscorner.com

While I had been through the loss of family and friends before that time, this was profound (to use a word from my GriefShare support group). Decisions I made in the ensuing months were a little like a child throwing darts and hitting marks in every direction labeled terrified, impulsive, thoughtful, smart, and a lot of places in-between. 

In all of this grief, I always knew God had not forgotten me. I accepted Him as my Savior and Lord at the tender age of six and had grown up in a very strong Christian family, so the Lord and I had a long history before this ever happened. But I did feel lost. 

a new favorite place:
Crumps' Landing June 20, 2024
Homosassa, Florida

Advancing now to a later chapter in my story ..... the passage of time has proven to me (very convincingly) that God never forgot me. It was just time, in His purpose for my life, to leave some things behind, change to other interests (even hobbies), other places, and other people. 

the day Natalie and Bryan 
introduced us

One day nearly a year to the day after Tom's passing, a friend introduced me to another of her hurting friends, a man who was widowed at just about the same time as me. There is the saying, "misery loves company," but for us it was a case of "I have a good idea of how you feel." Gary brought a smile to my face like nobody else could and he seemed to enjoy my company.

what was so funny?
I have no idea....

We found not only shared feelings but quickly learned we could make each other laugh loud and long. Our first outing together, which we now refer to as our first date, was a trip to the cemetery where our late spouses are both buried. As much as we still love them, we all understand the living need to continue doing just that -- living. 

visiting Edith's grave

We continue to visit the cemetery every month or so, usually taking florals with us. We sit at both locations in our lawn chairs, quietly sharing about the good times, absorbing nature's beauty that comforts pain.

going to the Christmas party

Not long after that first date, we dressed festively for a neighbor's Christmas party. And my long-time readers know all about the classic car in Gary's garage that just added more fun to the first blush of our romance.

Us with Gary's 2002 Ford Thunderbird,
 from camera of blogging friend,
Terri at Your Friend From Florida

Good times had come back into both of our lives, peppered with the occasional reminders of real life. Even before we sealed our commitment to each other with rings, Gary had to take me to the Emergency Room twice, and in later months I've sat beside his hospital bed three times. (not to worry, we both have recovered) As my blogging friend Linda likes to say, "Just keepin' it real!" But these ups and downs have verified the truth that it's good to not be alone.

laughing (again) at grandson's wedding

A consummate romantic, Gary has put on soft music many times, pulling me in to his arms to slow dance us around the lanai. He's taken me on adventures I've never (ever!!) thought I'd enjoy, he does most of the cooking, and if that's not enough, this man does his own laundry!


To wrap this up, the memories this past week of my move from Colorado to Florida sobered me for a time. But life does go on. We bring joy to God when we make the best of what He allows into our lives. While grief hurts like the dickens, the Lord is not done with us at the grave site. 

He has shown me His compassion for the brokenhearted and given me the desire to dance again. My hope is that the lessons I've learned through these past few years stay with me so I can be of encouragement to others who are in a world of grief.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
In all your ways acknowledge Him
And He will direct your paths.
Proverbs 3:5-6
---------------------------------------------------------

What personal grief has taught me:

- listen to people with not only the ears but with the heart
- don't judge, even if they seem misguided at the time
- give people space to work things out
- forgive those who handle my feelings roughly
- grief is a wound felt most deeply and takes time to get better
- grief doesn't completely go away but the pain lessens over time
- and more ....

Saturday, June 15, 2024

Proceeding to Father's Day

 

junk vehicles in New Mexico
(source: FaceBook)

This past week has been a reminder of how un-common common sense is and how forethought is becoming rare. I won't give explanations except to say things seemed as far-fetched as the above snapshot. 🙄 But the past few days have had some highlights. 



Our new furniture was delivered early on Wednesday morning, coming from a warehouse in St. Petersburg. Although heavy rains were dominating the TV news reports from Florida that day, by the time the truck reached our county, all was dry dry dry. We need the rain badly, but it has escaped us almost entirely. So with that said, transporting the couches from the truck to our living room was no problem, for which we were glad.

We now have two love seats made up of a total of four recliners -- VERY comfortable. (i.e. they nap well! 😴) We opted to get the kind that has manual operation (nothing electric) and immediately discovered the store's [well-used] floor model was a lot easier to push down the foot rests than these brand-new pieces. 

shopping in Kane's Furniture

I didn't expect my recliner would be an instrument of body-building, but then, that's not a bad thing, is it?!


Other random purchases were made, including this pretty tray from our community's on-line Marketplace. We have hot beverages nearly every afternoon at 3pm (de-caf green tea for me, and de-caf coffee for Gary). I have been serving the mugs on a plain black tray while casually keeping an eye out for something more attractive. $3. Money well-spent.

I also declared for myself a solitary holiday one afternoon by spending an hour or so in Barnes and Noble. Among other things, my shopping bag held the following:


Here's a thought-provoking quote from page 48: 

"God often allows shaking up to occur 

in our lives for the purpose of 

getting rid of some things that 

keep us from being fully His." 

And there was this on page 46: [regarding how God speaks to us] 

"His pattern is to say things 

more than once, 

in more than one way..."

I've been ruminating over that. In my experience, this has been true.


And this. I enjoy self-help books although I am careful to avoid anything that smacks of new-age or contrary to biblical teachings. When life gets kinda crazy, sometimes I need to be reminded of basic actions (even common sense) I can take to unwind. 

One other  purchase made recently, although not from the bookstore, was a battery-powered neck fan:


I ordered two, one for Gary for Father's Day and one for me. Amazon for about $30. It has 3 speeds, but for the oppressively humid heat we've had recently (sans rain!), the high speed was my choice. It's re-chargeable with the [included] USB cord. I used it on one of our walks in the neighborhood, easily carrying on conversation with Gary (the fan was not too loud), and it was comfortable on my collar bone.


On the eve of Father's Day, this is my segue into the celebration. I was collecting my thoughts to compose this post when Gary came to the doorway to ask if I had ordered something for him. No, but there he was with a large, shoe-box-sized package he had found on our front porch.


It was a bouquet of beef jerky flowers!! Here is a close-up:



Isn't this clever?!!! This is the perfect flower bouquet for a guy! (a "Manly Man").  I've never seen anything like it before but this particular couple has a reputation for great thoughtfulness and the ability to find truly unique gifts. Manly Man Company (click for link to the website) The jerky is delicious! A glass with their logo was included.


The gift came from Tony and Mary on Gary's side of the family. We don't get to see them often enough (which is true of all our family) but when we do, it's always a treat.


While I'm on the subject of Gary's family, this snapshot was taken a couple of months ago when Michael flew down to see for himself that his dad had survived the big surgery. This picture taken after a hearty steak dinner at Long Horn Steak House shows both father and son in great health. Michael calls his dad almost every week, keeping in close touch in spite of the miles between our homes. All of Gary's family are attentive to him and have welcomed me warmly to the family. 


Of course I want to share something about my late husband and the father of my children. He's been gone now for over 3 1/2 years, a fact that still quiets me with a measure of disbelief. Not only is this good man now physically separated from me but I have been transported in other ways different from what I had known for 50 years.

my family

The death of a mate in a healthy marriage alters a person whether they want to be changed or not. In some ways I am not the same person. In other ways I am more of who I am than I ever was before. 

Daddy ~ 1984 or 1985?

I wish that my father could have met Gary. Daddy passed away from cancer at the age of 58 in 1986. He was a good man, a strong Christian, devoted to his family, and an accomplished pilot first with the air lines and then in corporate aviation. I loved and admired him very much. God used him to shape my life for good in many ways.


The Lord has blessed me beyond my imagination with Gary. While we will never have growing children out of our union in our shared home, early in our relationship I admired his loyalty to family and his devotion to me. Even in retirement, he is hard-working and enjoys having projects to keep him challenged. I can tell from the descriptions of his own father that the man was a powerful influence in Gary's work ethic, morals, and family values.

"... a true man is vigilant against danger,

faithful to the truth,

brave in the face of opposition,

persistent through trials, and

above all, loving."

With all of this said, I wish my readers a Happy Father's Day. If your loved ones are still here, enjoy them. If they are not, thank God for how their lives helped shape you into who you are today.

Until next time, grace and peace.


Thursday, June 6, 2024

Do It Afraid

 

greeting card from Sister; 
designer greetings

Those who read my last blog post (Reaching May's Finish Line) may remember my comments regarding the benefits of having friends, based on scripture and our experiences:

Two are better than one,

because they have a good return for their labor:

If either of them falls down, 

one can help the other up. 

But pity anyone who falls and 

has no one to help them up. 

Also, if two lie down together,

they will keep warm.

But how can one keep warm alone?

Though one may be overpowered,

two can defend themselves. 

A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.

Ecclesiastes 4:9-12

At the time of that writing, I did not know that truth was going to be illustrated in my life yet again.

Gary had been doing extremely well recovering from his major abdominal surgery a couple of months ago. Then last weekend a problem showed up. While we were concerned, we really didn't know if it was a serious matter or not. Our inquiries for help from people in a position to really know were limited since it was a weekend; we hoped the matter could wait until the following Monday. 


As it turned out, by late Sunday afternoon we realized help was needed. We were hesitant to go to one of the local hospitals because the special nature of his surgery is not a common technique with the doctors in our town. But the drive 90 miles to where he had the surgery often includes serious traffic delays. 

We chose to try the local hospital's emergency room that is in the same health network as the faraway hospital. In that emergency room we spent some five hours before it was determined he needed to be transported to the bigger facility so far away.

I left Gary at the ER with the expectation he would be transported soon, during the wee hours of the morning. I was heading home and would join him the next day. We had left his cell phone at home, so our means of communication would be complicated.

In the morning I had to pack some things for both of us and make several phone calls to re-schedule appointments, including my second cataract surgery that was supposed to be that very day. My tidy calendar transformed into a mess as I crossed off 'what was' in place of 'what was to be.' Then I got onto the highway, headed to Orlando. 

Well into that drive, a nurse from the ER where I had left Gary the night before called to say his transport had been delayed and he would be leaving our town AFTER I had already arrived at the big hospital. 

TJr's snapshot of a bee on a Lilac bush

With things starting to feel a little crazy, I had no choice but to breathe deep and just keep my foot on the gas pedal. Yes, prayer was my immediate resource for instruction and peace. I was grateful for that!

Banana bread mix baked in
cast iron wedge pan

How could it be that just the day before I was cheerfully baking something yummy in our kitchen while everything seemed so calm?As I drove, I contemplated the possibilities ahead of me/us and prayed it would turn out better than it looked. I suspected another surgery would have to be the solution.


Since I was arriving a couple of hours before Gary, I made an unannounced visit at the home of some special people and then drove on to find lunch. I was hoping for a slice of pizza but that was proving hard to find, so I opted for two hot dogs at the Walmart across the street from the hospital. 

Stepping up to the desk of the emergency room at the big hospital, I was told Gary had not yet arrived, but they had pre-registered him and could send me up to his room to wait. (oh the blessings of technology and staying within the same hospital network!!)

It was then that I also learned he was assigned to a room with two beds; another male patient would be his roommate. It turned out this room was in the old part of the hospital where the rooms were smaller yet had two beds in each. 

For Gary's surgery a couple of months ago, it was one large, single-occupancy room with both a couch and a recliner so I could stay overnights with him. We were there for three nights and it worked out very well. 

To add to the strangeness of everything, when I arrived in this room, the roommate was in the bathroom, so when he came out, there I was, sitting in the chair beside what would be Gary's bed. Blessedly, a nurse had forewarned him that I was on my way up, so my presence did not unnerve him. Also a blessing, he was a pleasant man and we later realized, a Believer, too.

But a big problem was looming rather quickly in my mind. Where would I spend the night(s)? It was against this hospital's rules for me to overnight in that room with the other man there, too. Also, the room was sooo tight that the recliner did not (did not recline). I was pretty sure that it was also against the rules for me to snooze in the main lobby overnight..... 🥱😴

Being a mature woman in my 70s, short of stature, and not menacing in appearance in any way, I absolutely reject the idea of staying in a hotel by myself which would also suggest I should come and go in broad daylight (meaning I would be spending less time at Gary's bedside). Again, I resorted to prayer (desperate prayer, not without tears, crying into a folded towel to hide my fear from others). 

I made an inquiry to stay in the home of people I know; but to make a long story short, they suggested I stay in the guest house of their friend and gave me the necessary contact information. I met the people I know for dinner and then proceeded to the guest house of a female stranger I had never met. 

I am not a brave woman. But in the months after Beloved died, I read a book by Joyce Meyer:

Do It Afraid

Repeating myself: I am not a brave person. Maybe a little for small things, but not for the big stuff of life. And when Beloved died, my fear became vividly evident to me and my family. Really. I honestly did not know before then what a fraidy cat I was, and I may have surprised my family, too.

After Beloved's passing, I came across this book at Barnes and Noble. I knew immediately that I should read it, but I didn't want to. I made the purchase but then was a little slow in getting to the reading of it. 

"Courage is not the absence of fear; 

it is moving forward in the presence of fear.

Courageous people do 

what they believe in their hearts they should do, 

no matter how they feel or 

what kinds of doubts and 

fearful thoughts fill their minds." 

~ Joyce Meyer

Happily, my hostess was a very pleasant, as well as generous, young woman who shares her abundant blessings easily. The guest house was in a historical part of the city with traditional architecture, huge shade trees along brick residential streets, quiet, and it felt safe. 

As I snuggled into sleep that night, I knew Gary and I were being cared for very well in spite of all the strangeness that had enveloped us over the previous 24 hours. 

For the sake of the privacy of those I don't know well, I did not take any pictures of my host's property, but suffice it to say, all was very nice. I was in a place I had never been before, but the Lord was providing what was needed.


Of course, when I had met up with Gary the previous day in his hospital room, I gave him his phone (and the charger), so we were able to keep in touch easily after that. After I left him for supper that night, he texted me to say his surgeon had finally made it to his room only 5 minutes after I had to leave. Surgery was not necessary. The doctor tended to the problem with relative ease and a precise skill about which the ER people knew nothing. WHAT A BLESSING!


Gary was kept overnight in the hospital while I slept in the luxury of the guest house. The next afternoon, when it appeared the problem was indeed fixed, he was released to go home. 

While the surgeon doesn't know the cause of the problem, it's not an unusual situation with this particular kind of surgery. We just have to be aware and careful. 


Now we are relaxing at home. It is the 80th anniversary of D Day and we have watched a lot of the programs on TV of the observances in France. Talk about "Do It Afraid," those men set an excellent example for the rest of us.

My re-scheduled cataract surgery on the second eye is tomorrow. It appears we are back on track for normal life, but with that said, I am meditating on Philippians 4:13, 

"I can do anything I have to do through Christ, 

who gives me strength."

Until next time, grace and peace.



Saturday, June 1, 2024

Reaching May's Finish Line


We passed a notable anniversary this week. It's been a year since Gary fell from a ladder while trimming one of our palm trees. The fall broke 4 of his ribs, entitling him to an ambulance ride to Hospital Number One. ER pretty quickly designated his injury as "trauma" and then loaded him into a second ambulance for transport to Hospital Number Two, which is where the ambulance cases take trauma victims and can therefore handle such things better. After three nights in ICU, he was released to come home, instead of rehab, because I was there to help him (he was not going home to an empty house).


This morning we took our usual walk outside, which takes about 45 minutes and I followed that with 4 miles on my bicycle. As is our habit, Gary sat on the front porch, waving to me each time I went past. With my thumb I flipped the Ka-ching! bell on my handlebar several times since I don't have enough confidence in my balance to let go and wave with one hand. After my ride was done, I joined Gary on the porch with a hand-held fan and a big jug of water, cooling down from all the exercise in hot weather.


While sitting there we saw one of our neighbors down the street in front of our house. He was one of several who came running to our aid after Gary's fall from the ladder. Now this man was hauling out his own ladder and proceeding to climb it, with nobody else standing near by. 
How many times did those in our generation tell us, after Gary's accident, that they have been advised to not climb ladders any more? I've lost count. We are in good company.

Because of our experience and because that neighbor was the one who dialed 911 for us that day, today I felt an obligation to watch him until it appeared he was done. We think he may have been changing a bulb in the light fixture outside his garage door. This story ended well.

My second cataract surgery is scheduled for this next week. Recovery from the first procedure has gone even better than I expected. Having Gary here to help with the many eye drops (which will total six weeks by the time both eyes have recovered). I can tell a wonderful difference already in my eyesight, for which I am relieved and grateful.


On to other shared experiences of late.... We visited the graves of our late spouses on Memorial Day. Although our weather has been very hot, we stopped en route to buy small bouquets of fresh flowers to place at the graves. 


The two graves are not far from each other, although we do drive from one to the other. We usually sit in our lawn chairs for a time at each grave to quietly reflect, but since it was Memorial Day and there was a program to attend, we did not sit at the graves this time.


We easily found the site for the service because of the states' flags lined up along a walkway. While I did not see all 50 states represented, I was pleased to see Colorado had shown up. 


Horses lined up with flags for each of the military services, and of course, there were small American flags at every single headstone in the cemetery. That, in itself, was a moving sight. My snapshots weren't able to do the scene justice.



The program lasted just under one hour with presentation of the colors, the pledge of allegiance, music, speeches, the 21-gun salute, and taps. 


With another reference to horses, on another day this week, we had two of them visit our +55 community. Our county has mounted police officers who are needed for more than just parades and engendering a positive public image for law enforcement. In certain circumstances, the horses enable police to see what's going on from a better perspective than when on foot and can navigate tricky terrain for search and rescue.


Another adventure this week took us to Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park. The attraction for me was the underwater observatory of manatees.


These large, lovable-looking water mammals could be seen from both above and below the surface of the river. The natural spring water maintains a constant temperature of 72-74 degrees year around, which keeps the manatees happy.


This park is not a zoo but a refuge for birds, animals, and sea life that have met with injury, mistreatment and illness. They are well-cared for here, including this female hippopotamus, the oldest one living in the USA. She seems very content at 64 years of age.


We also saw other members of the animal kingdom, including perhaps my favorite of the day, at least a dozen Flamingos who stood on one leg as they dozed in the mid-morning heat.


The park was pedestrian-friendly with a lot of shade and informational signage along the way.


To get from the parking lot and the visitors' center to the animals, we had a choice of a tram ride or a boat. We chose the boat, which took a few minutes longer, but the peaceful glide through jungle-lined water was the best. 


After our return to the visitors' center, we ordered lunch above the boat launch area. The restaurant gave us a view of the aquatic comings and goings as we enjoyed Meatball Marinara sub sandwiches, onion rings and coleslaw.

The Lord has been so good to us this month in spite of the helplessness we sometimes feel with the discouraging news of our world,  our country, and even our town. 

Now June is here. What does this month hold for us?

Thanks for stopping by! Until next time, grace and peace.

Whups!

Mary Engelbreit Something troubling has been pointed out to me, an issue about which I did not know there was a problem. Becki, of Field Lil...