Ginkgo

November 20, 2017

Our leaf, our symbol of New York City and a reminder of our bond. This is the second ginkgo leaf that has just shown up at my feet in the past few days.

The first one appeared after a late night at my gym. It was raining, and I was walking fast to my car with my head down avoiding small puddles and dodging cold, delicate raindrops. About halfway to my car, I almost stepped directly on something I first thought to be a wrapper of some kind, but I shortened my stride which then placed my foot right behind it like an arrow, now pointing directly at it. What snapped into my view was a single flattened ginkgo leaf. Its shape pressed perfectly flat with the weight of the wet, and it was cast with a soft bluish-white color reflecting the parking lot lights. It seemed to just pop-up, right off of the black-tarred parking lot surface on a dimension layer of its own. The rain was falling just hard enough to make a pattern of vibration around it in the black, but the edges of the leaf were defined and crisp, and it almost had a “heart” shape.

I found myself refocusing my eyes on it, asking myself if what I was seeing was real. I glance around, I do not see a single ginkgo tree here. You see, I was having one of those philosophical moments with myself as I was leaving the gym, and as I was walking to my car, I was thinking hard about my self-worth, that I have gifts to give, but I just don’t know what my purpose in life will be now shadowed by grief. Who am I really becoming? Exercising has a way of getting those kinds of thoughts going in me, besides getting a good workout and breaking a sweat. I’m back to including the stationary bike as part of my workout, still keeping up with running and of course the free-weights. The weather has not cooperated for an outdoor bike ride recently, and I’m just not ready to commit to the winter layers yet! Never too much of one thing at my gym, but the need to do those things: running, cycling, weights, is like a checklist of logical steps I must take. The fact that I had to bend over a bit now to take a closer look at the leaf, reminded me that I left my glasses in the car. I found myself feeling raindrops on my back, and suddenly I’m continuing to walk through the rain.

Just as I reached out to my car door handle, I stopped short and turned around to go back to the leaf. I don’t take a picture, instead I peeled it off of the ground, and carried it back to my car. My fingertips are coated in rain and have quickly become cold, but I don’t remember feeling the cold and wet anywhere else. I put the leaf on my dashboard, and there it remains, and today its edges are now slightly curling. I accepted it as a “sign” that my thoughts at the time I was walking to my car were positive, good things to think of, and to recognize when I feel “good” and remember what that feels like. The “bad” feelings I have pop in whenever, that’s just a fact, but this leaf is a reminder that good feelings also happen.

This leaf I saw today is a bit like “dejavu.” I was walking out of my dentist’s office building shortly after the noon time hour, and just like a couple of nights ago, my foot stops short, this time pointing to a lovely butter-yellow ginkgo leaf. My thoughts today were of absolutely nothing. That happens sometimes, too. As I take in the sighting of this leaf and felt myself smiling down at it, I decided to take a picture because these colors together make me feel happy and peaceful. As I continued to walk to my car, I look around, almost in doubt of this “lightening striking twice” and of course there isn’t a ginkgo tree anywhere in sight. ~Paula

Feeling

Feeling the naked truth about grief – reading It’s OK That You’re Not Okay: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by #MeganDevine – a clean perspective about what’s really messy. #grief

“Some things in life cannot be fixed, they can only be carried.”~Megan Devine

#FridayFeeling #griefrevolution #itsOKthatyourenotOK #MeganDevine

Reunion – Rabbit Pt 02

October 6, 2017

Only the truth being told, I have delayed finishing the writing of this particular story about my reunion trip. “Rabbit” is about my last ride on the east coast in Maine, before I drove inland for my return trip west and back to Michigan. To recall this day, this meal, and this cycling experience is overwhelming to me. Why, you ask? Because like a life itself, it cannot be done again. What was pure “bike magic” that afternoon and now to recall it, is to miss it terribly that it is over and gone. I am choosing to write about it now because ‘now’ is the time to remember it, to savor in the joy of what I found at a simple country kitchen in Maine, now a part of my heart and a symbol of so many things. The tears I will cry in writing about it now, will be tears of longing, remembering sights, tastes, and smells, and my gratefulness to have had such a time. Such is the same of missing so very much and remembering my husband, who had died one year ago as of today. 

In real-time, on July 25th, I had posted pictures and brief descriptions on my Facebook, Twitter, and Strava accounts of a condensed version of my lovely visit to The Spurwink Country Kitchen. I was so excited to share what had happened. Now, please read the full story, really the “full plate,” all about delicious food and meeting Chef Uncle Don. You are invited to the table. Bon appetit. ❤️ ~P.

July 25, 2017 (continued)


For the first half of this story, please read Reunion – Rabbit Pt 01.

Upon entering the Spurwink Country Kitchen, I am greeted by two hostesses. Both are casually dressed, and one of them I immediately notice is wearing an orange polo shirt under an orange zippered sweatshirt: orange! Not many people have the confidence to wear orange. Instantly, I connect with her, and as I’m walking in and looking at her, my left biking-gloved hand whips out and I’m doing this pointing back and forth gesture from her to me and back, and I say, “hey, nice color you’re wearing, we match!” referring to my bright orange vest I wear for cycling. This is instantly followed by our exchanging big smiles and then our conversation begins. I keep eye contact with her as my senses explore the quaint diner-like atmosphere around me.

We are talking as she is walking me now through the length of this homey space to my table, and medium warm-toned, pine wood-paneled walls seem to glow around me as natural light streams through windows like that of a tidy cabin in the woods. I am brought to a table that could seat four, I choose the seat putting my back against the wall, an oil painting of sailing ships in soft blue hues hangs behind me, and I set my backpack in the navy blue fabric and metal chair to my right. The wooden tables themselves here are unassuming and their nakedness matches the cheery wood glow of the walls. I suddenly notice the decor is quintessential country in all its glory, down to the plaid window valances, open shelving with glassware in a corner, and metal-detailed wall light sconces. I can’t stop smiling, I feel like I live here, and just like at my motel room, if I did not have responsibilities to return to, this place could be home. 

Adjusting my chair at this table, I feel like I’m a kid who just came down the stairs to see that Santa had delivered gifts under a fully lit Christmas tree, complete with the smell of warm sweet treats. Even music is playing in the background. The music here is piano-only music, it doesn’t matter that I can’t quite recognize the tune and I can’t find the speakers where it’s coming from. There is a real piano across the room, someone must play for special occasions. I sigh, marveling at these comforts, and then I see on the menu it reads “comfort food in a country setting”: if ever there was truth in advertising, here it is, and I’m laughing to myself half in disbelief at this plain truth. The second hostess wearing a navy blue t-shirt comes now, snapping me out of my daydreaming, and she tells me about the specials and asks what I would like to drink. Of course the iced tea is brewed fresh here, no question, my father-in-law would be so proud to know. I order Uncle Don’s meatloaf lunch special, and of course an unsweetened iced tea. 

Sitting here now and waiting for my meal to come, I realize I still have on all of my biking gear, so I remove my orange biking vest, helmet, and reluctantly my gloves. My gloves can be tricky to peel off, as they are now, but I think it would be considered bad table manners if I left them on here. My phone is out, put to the side of the table in front of the empty seat next to me, filled by my backpack. I carefully pull out my little black and white notebook for writing now, and I immediately start jotting down my thoughts about today’s adventure so far. The addition of a notebook to use on this reunion trip has been really nice, especially when the phone seems to take too long to retrieve, the immediacy of pen to paper helps my thoughts come to life more easily, and I’m less likely to lose a phrase or detail I want to remember in words. The memories and impressions just flow. I also have a fine point click-pen I bought to use also, and of course I have a back up pen just in case this one gets lost. Keeping track of my biking things is very important now, all part of the steps and things that I like to do, that I can rely on, to be there. 

Right now there are less than ten people seated around me, maybe 60 people or so could fit in here at best, so I am especially intrigued by a group of four across the width of the room to my left, maybe fifteen feet away at most from my table. They seem to be family, all adults, and reminiscing about this-and-that, mostly about who was doing what in the 1950s. I am not lingering on details of their conversation, but it is the feeling heard in each of their voices that I find fascinating. The lightness and excitement as they each add to the back-and-forth discussion. I’m suddenly back at the TKE reunion in Pennsylvania from just a few days ago, having heard the same musical notes and patterns of shared stories sprinkled with laughter. The ‘knowing’ of one another, even if time and location has separated them for some time is clearly heard, and I am wondering how is that exactly? How can people be suddenly back together in the present moment, maybe now so different in appearance from the passing of time, but find that commonality and comfort in the shared reminiscing, each adding a layer to the story being told like the making of stone soup? Stone soup: the recipe where people in a village each contribute a bit of something to nothing, making a huge batch of everything that can be shared and enjoyed by all. 

As I continue to listen and think about all of this, my eyes are still wandering around the room, and I notice the movement of the second hostess who is briskly walking on her way over to me with my lunch in hand. What she sets before me is something that I can’t yet touch. It’s the most beautiful plate of food, I want to take it all in with my eyes first for just a few short minutes. I tell my hostess how wonderful this looks. She smiles and says “that’s Chef Uncle Don, he makes it himself,” and I immediately follow with “oh, please thank him, this looks amazing!” After her “thank you, he’d love to hear that,” we exchange smiles and I return my eyes to my plate. The temperature heat of the hot food comes up to meet my face as I gaze on perfectly plated slices of meatloaf piled high in a white baking dish. It needed to be served in something with high sides to nestle the slices in the rich, brown gravy. Set beside the dish is a small side bowl of shiny, fresh green peas. Both the meatloaf and peas are fitted on a blue-rimmed dinner plate which holds the whipped mashed potatoes topped with more of the molten gravy. Someone please pinch me. This man, Uncle Don, must be an artist, and his medium is food. What he created here is a comfort food masterpiece, and I am so honored now to have the pleasure of experiencing his work. 

In the summer of 2016, when Jon was really having difficulty eating because of his cancer, I too, tried to be a food artist of sorts. Instead of heaping a large plate high with generous portions, I was creating tiny vignettes on a salad-sized plate several times a day to feed him. I tried to make the quarter of a sandwich look like a whole sandwich by cutting it diagonally then dressing each area of the plate with complementary flavors and colors, little bite-sized somethings, all in miniature. When he would take even one bite, it would appear as though he had eaten more than he had. I think he felt terrible about his inability to eat, so my job was to make him feel like he ate a whole plate, even if that meant his only eating with his eyes by seeing pretty colors and designs, with his nose by smelling the most appealing flavors, and with what did touch his tongue would be his absolute favorites. Since Jon died, food has been a painful reminder of his cancer struggle, and every bite now that I eat has to be for good reason, and sometimes it is difficult for me to swallow with the sadness I feel so often of my missing him. Hunger is something I now know too well, and having watched the life of the man I love waste away under its grip, his being more fearful of the pain of having eaten more-so than not having swallowed a single thing, broke my heart.

My food anxieties are put aside, out of my view now, because I’m focused on this lunch in front of me: comfort food and it’s called Uncle Don’s Meatloaf Special. I put my tiny notebook and pen aside and take a few pictures of the meal with my phone before picking up my fork. I don’t waste any time trying the meatloaf first, its flavor is so savory and beefy. Each of the flavors placed in my mouth tastes like a long time ago before all of life’s madness began, back to a time of being innocently happy and very content. The group next to me are also eating now, I wondered if any of them ordered the meatloaf, too. Somehow I feel we are all guests at the same table, our silverware and plates clinking merrily in a funny, unified melody. I continue to look down-and-up from my plate to other parts of the room, enjoying every bite. There is a small dessert menu on my table aptly titled ‘Uncle Don’s Desserts.’ I begin reading the full list of assorted pies, puddings, cakes, even an ice cream sundae is offered. Surprisingly, I’m thinking about ordering dessert, not even having finished my main lunch. As I’m imagining what dessert sounds best while reading the menu and deep into working on my meatloaf, I hear a man’s voice say “I can’t hear the music, is it on?” And the next thing I know as I look up, the server in the navy blue t-shirt is walking toward me with a man who has the nicest smile and kindest face behind her. She smiles brightly to me and says, “This is Chef Uncle Don,” and I’m simultaneously shaking his hand and almost jumping up from my seat to chat, first and foremost telling him that this is so delicious and the best meatloaf I have ever had. It needs to be noted that I should know a good meatloaf, because I grew up in Pittsburgh, and I have eaten my fair share of different meatloaf recipes. (Y’unz, truth!) 

I want to be eye-to-eye with this man, I want to make sure I look straight in to his eyes and that he hears my compliments, so I speak slowly and lean a bit to his right ear to make sure he hears me. He has salt-and-pepper hair, a boyish grin, and a twinkle in his eyes. Our conversation is heart-warming to me, I’m saying how thankful I am for his food, and as he asks me questions, I tell him about my adventures of biking in Maine and on the coast. I feel comfortable to tell him the why: my husband died last year, so I’m doing these ashes events, biking, and I write about my grief and all of it. He takes my telling him of this in stride and keeps a wide smile, our chat moves along and back to the topic of his food, of course. I feel comfortable enough to ask if we could take a picture together, he smiles and says “well, sure!” and the hostess takes our picture with my phone. Memory captured, we shake hands, and it’s back to the kitchen for Chef Uncle Don, and for me, back to eating my lunch.

Continuing to read the dessert menu, I finally notice that the name ‘Uncle Don’ is on everything, and honestly, now having met him, I feel him everywhere here. Even his plaid shirt seemed to have matched the valance curtains! I’m heartily eating, nearly finishing everything in front of me. I take a picture just to remind myself of this feat and being so relaxed here. I can’t remember the last time I ate this much food at one sitting. Most of the time, my eyes are bigger than my stomach, or I’ll eat a few bites of what’s there, but it just loses its appeal very quickly. I also have found that I am a slow eater, because if I eat with someone, I’d rather do the talking or sit with fork in hand watching other people eat. Sometimes food just cannot be swallowed if the table conversation turns to subjects that rattle my emotions, and in my effort to hold it together, my throat tightens and feels paralyzed and I’m only able hold the food in my mouth.

My cheerful hostess returns, and I have questions for her about the desserts, specifically asking “what is the pie of the day and the crisp of the day?” The funniest answer: strawberry rhubarb. Both the pie and the crisp are the same, and I think this is so humorous because Chef Uncle Don doesn’t do all fancy, just delicious and simple. Still a tough choice, but I decide on the crisp, and then I am asked if I would like whipped cream. Normally, I am not a fan of whipped cream, but I say “yes, please” because I know it’s going to be good and I think it will be homemade here. Soon after, a bowl of hot strawberry rhubarb crisp arrives with a large plop of whipped cream on top, almost equal in proportion as the crisp, and cream is melting and pooling around the edges in the bowl, and I can’t take time for a picture because it needs to be enjoyed right now. Every. Bite. Eaten.

I really don’t know how long I have been at the Spurwink Country Kitchen. I don’t feel rushed, but I know I should be getting back to my parked car at the trailhead. My original destination of Cape Elizabeth will not happen today, and I’m okay with that because of what I found here, plus I’m determined to come back to Maine in the future. I happily pay my bill, and it’s time to think about those biking steps again: bathroom, charge phone, put on biking gear. I forgot to charge my phone while eating, so I find an outlet next to the piano, and while I use the bathroom, I leave the phone tucked out of sight on the carpeted floor. A little too trusting under normal circumstances, but none of this seems normal, so I go with my gut. Phone charged a bit and my personal needs managed, I click and zip on my gear last and say goodbye to my hostesses, Chef Uncle Don does not make an appearance now, but I have my photo of us, so I’m good. Out the door I go, it’s creaking seems a little less harsh on my ears, and I carefully clack down the two steps to my bike. 

As I’m unlocking my bike, I notice an suv in the corner of the parking lot and a couple hitching their two bikes to the back. As I ride out of the lot in their direction, I find myself talking to this couple, and I say “Good afternoon, have you eaten here before?” For the next several minutes, I come to learn they are from Pennsylvania, and are new at doing bicycle touring. Suddenly, even though I am a novice myself, I’m gushing about my own little adventure and we are talking about Pittsburgh, Maine, bikes, and packing for trips. I’m showing off my new, black-zippered pouch I added to my bike frame for this trip, and as I’m doing show-and-tell, I notice the lady has a little dog. She tells me her dog’s name is Stella, and I really wanted to ask if their dog rides on the bike too, but I did not want to extend our conversation for another hour. That can happen when you ask details about people’s beloved pets. What a nice couple, but I really need to be riding back, having spent quite a bit of the afternoon enjoying lunch. We wish each other well, and I part with saying that if they have a chance to eat here, see Chef Uncle Don because he makes the best food. As the lady is holding her dog and they are getting into their car, I hear her say, “well, we’ll have to get one of those packs like that, she knew a lot…” her voice trailed off as I cycled back on to the road. I’m literally humbled by the thought of someone thinking I knew something about biking, as I feel I’m still so new to it and learning new things myself every day. The cycling community as-a-whole has been so overwhelmingly welcoming, and there’s something special about passing on to others shared information that I think I have learned so far.

The first thing I notice once back on the road is that the clouds have really broken up and a medium blue sky now meets with most of the treetops and landscapes as I cycle past, it just feels brighter. Sights look familiar, I’m trying remember which spots I told myself I would stop on the return trip to take a picture. The marsh for sure, that was near the beginning of the ride out. As I cycle along now, I’m thinking about my conversation with the couple in the parking lot, and especially about my bike. I like telling people that I bought it used, I’m happy that it doesn’t have every-single-thing strapped to it. I feel so much like it is a form of me, we are the same in having more life to live, despite a few scratches, and new things are added only if-and-when needed for a purpose. There is a strength I feel from-and-with Ariel, my bike, knowing if I ride through rough road or have a fall, I will be able to go on or get up because she is with me and understands: it’s what I do, what we do. 

At my first turn from Spurwink Road back onto 207, I’m feeling a brief moment of that elusive thing called ‘certainty’ about the ride back. After making this right turn, I know that the next one will be a while, so I can ride at a faster speed, focus on what’s right in front of me, and not worry about missing a street sign. Maybe I’ll even get clipped in! Most of the time on my bike routes, I feel ‘uncertainty’ of knowing there is a turn I need to make coming up, but not knowing quite when I will see it. I’m in a steady state of anticipation, afraid to miss that turn and as a result, lose my pace, have to turn around, or become lost entirely. 

I’m concentrating on what I see, taking in the colors, and the wind is filling my ears, when I realize that I may have made a turn when I should have stayed straight. Maybe it’s my mind having been lulled by a full belly of comfort food or just a dumb mistake, but suddenly things looked unfamiliar, it just felt wrong. Grateful for this feeling now, I turn around and continue back on the correct road. I’m nervous about missing my next turn to the left coming up, so I slow down to methodically keep an eye out for Eastern Road Marsh on the left, which I also nearly missed. With great relief, the ‘certainty’ of knowing that this path now will take me straight to the trailhead and my car fills me with calm and energy at the same time. I’m pedaling along, but once again this path has multiple walkers spreading across its width. I am thankful to find my ‘marsh photo’ opportunity which when I stop to do this, returns a sense of calm to me. Taking photos during my bike rides has its own steps involved, and I am happy now to do the standard shots: biking selfie, down the road, and the traditional landscape. I love the rich greens here, and the sky reflects delicately on the water’s surface. Before I know it, I’m back to riding with the crunch of packed gravel under my tires and I see the trailhead where my adventure began.

As I load up my bike, I begin to feel compelled to change out of my biking clothes, in particular these biking shorts. After a week of riding with only two pairs and despite the daily airing of them and washing them out mid-week, they carry a week’s worth of sweat, the road, and adventures on them. And I don’t wear underwear, so yeah, it finally hit me, off with them! Impulsively now, after checking that no one else is here except the dead in the cemetery behind me, I find myself having stripped down only to my sports bra, and I unzip that too. I’m standing basically buck-naked in the parking lot with the sun kissing my ass and all other parts of me. There is a soft breeze that has slowed time for me to just be here now in this state, raw and open. As I keep an eye out for people, I really don’t care who sees me, I’m taking my time standing at my car with both driver’s side doors open, routing through my biking bag and choosing what to wear for the drive on to Boston. 

I feel warm now not only from my lunch, but from the sunshine that seems to have melted away all those clouds from earlier. Blue sky and my bare butt, I could be here like this for the rest of the afternoon, but the drive needs to be done sooner than later, so I get dressed very slowly, having chosen the new white board shorts bought in the Poconos and a raspberry pink tank top. Slip on shoes with no socks is mandatory to complete my driving ensemble. Now behind the wheel, my gps is up and I’ve got the address for my sister-in-law’s house loading. Seeing her and her family was a spontaneous decision made earlier today, she is unknowingly now a part of my adventure of seeing what I see. As I pull out of the parking lot, I give one last glance to my driver’s side mirror and my eyes pause on the cemetery view behind. I quickly bring my eyes back forward to the road ahead, concentrating now on the living, the next turn coming up, and wondering about what I might find to eat for a late dinner. ~Paula

It’s OK That You’re Not OK

I am reading and recommending:


It’s OK That You’re Not OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand by Megan Devine



I’m on “Part II: What To Do With Your Grief” and it’s a helpful and welcomed addition to #writing #cycling and #bikingtanlines – Thank you Megan Devine for this essential guide to grief that does NOT suck. #ItsOKThatYoureNotOK #MeganDevine #grief

Reunion – Rabbit Pt. 01

Dear Reader, If I sanitized the telling of my story and did not reference grief, I would be lying to you and myself. Read on, enjoy every bite. ~P.



July 25, 2017


Old Orchard Beach



I’ve been awake since 5:20 a.m., and my last morning in Maine is here. Today it is overcast, but at least no rain. I’m looking forward to being able to ride my bike. As I pack my bags, I have my second floor motel room door fully open again, to feel the ocean breeze and to hear waves and birds droning a tune that dances in my ears. I’m craving to hear every detail and put it in my memory to take with me, a part of the packing. I’m still undressed as I sit on the corner of my bed, the doorway view is a portrait image full of some of my favorite colors: hushed-blues, soft greens, and those stony-greys. If I could live my life from this room now, if I didn’t have to be responsible for other people or need to return to my current life, I’d happily call this simple space home. It’s nearly 10:00 a.m. by the time I reluctantly dress and get to walking down the open wooden steps with tacked on utility carpet one more time to check-out and to put my small suitcase, biking duffle bag, and light-blue backpack in my car.


More of Old Orchard Beach

I’m wearing my cycling gear for my last coastal bike ride on this reunion trip, and I feel confident I will return to this lovely state in particular for more adventures sooner than later. It’s one of my first location choices for moving to in my future, yet to unfold. I hope to be back before then though, there are more roads and beaches I want to explore. I walked down to the little West Grand Market, barely two blocks away, to pick up a pre-ride coffee. Upon my return, I meandered in between buildings, then over the dune through what seemed like an organized processional with grasses on each side of the sandy aisle. Old Orchard Beach, even in the cloudy-overcast light of today, has a glossy, pristine feel to it. Clean, calm lines along its shoreline, I don’t even bother to take off my slip-on shoes to wade in to the surf. I like how the seaweed gets tangled in my toes, feet, and straps of my shoes. It feels like soft feathers wrapping themselves around my ankles and even an occasional cat’s tongue licking in between my toes. I make sure to take my customary pictures of looking up and down the beach, several straight-out shots paying attention to the horizon line, and of course my feet next to my coffee cup.

Per my usual of this trip so far, I don’t have set plans or reservations for the next thing, just an idea of what I’d like to do and a bit of confidence that it will all work out. I wish I could apply that relaxed attitude to the rest of my life, dare I evoke the “practice makes progress” saying now as an attempt to reassure myself to start trying. The pessimistic-skeptic in me says it’s such a stupid thing to say now about “things working out” when it comes to my long-term health, finding a place to call a forever home, and *gasp* a partner to share some version of happiness: all of this wrapped up in a fat grief ball. If there is one thing I have discovered about grief, it’s that planned logic and expected outcomes now make absolutely no sense, and the opposite in the form of a “knee-jerk response” or a “decision on the fly” is much more satisfying. The way I can explain how that is, is this: for me there was such an abruptness to when death and loss had come, even though anticipated, the logic and order-side of thought now holds little meaning anymore because it does not agree with what I have now experienced. There is no answer for “why” this all has happened, only that it has, my whole world has changed, and I need to somehow deal. My confidence in good things coming is fleeting at best, it just feels wrong to expect a good outcome, I’ve now been trained to think the result will be most likely not good or definitely not in my favor.

This is my new language now, and I’m learning it’s not easily understood by others too far outside of the loss circle. I’ve found that even between other grievers sharing a loss, there can be misunderstandings or an unequal balance, kind of like the difference between Spanish and Portuguese. More learning and more interpretation required for all of it. The calling of my own grief tells me what feels right to me, and I am compelled to do it. Label it “self preservation” or “personal needs,” when the mood or moment strikes me, I’m doing it, whatever “it” is to work through a wave of grief. Even if this doesn’t make sense to you, it does to me. It’s my way of balancing and holding on to a version of my own sanity. Remember, I will lean toward the things that give me a feeling of a “happy” and avoid other things that cause tears and more pain. Tears and pain come anyway, and “happy” is like looking for a lost dog: as I call for it, I can hear it’s chain jingling, but it remains out of sight, all the while teasing me with its distance. Sometimes sadness is the only thing that comes.

Today’s ride will begin at an entry point on the Eastern Trail, Maine’s segment of the East Coast Greenway. I drove to the trailhead on Old Blue Point Road with its much-needed adjacent parking lot, within a ten-minute drive from my motel. After my rain delay day-off, I am anxious to have a long, all-day-type ride, but will be happy to make it from Old Orchard Beach to Cape Elizabeth. I’m thinking anywhere from two to three hours round-trip total. After this ride, I will be driving from Maine to Boston, about two hours south, for a short stop to see my sister-in-law and her family before driving on another four hours west and ending up somewhere along the New Jersey/Pennsylvania border for the night. My next, and final bike ride of this trip will figured out once I get there.

After parking my car in the lot just off of Old Blue Point Road which happened to be adjacent to Scarborough Cemetery tucked in the background, I find myself doing those familiar, comforting steps preparing for my ride. I’m ready to start. My friend here in Maine told me about this route, the East Coast Greenway in its entirety stretches a total of 3,000 miles starting in Maine, connects 15 states, and goes all the way south to Florida. I was looking forward to experiencing it here, maybe future travels would involve cycling along more of it: a possible bucket list item. The path was mostly packed crushed gravel. It was funny to me that I felt like I was on my way to Watch Hill Lighthouse again, Lighthouse Road to be exact, where people walking were the obstacles and everyone forgot to share the road. I’m giving out my sing-song “on your left” as several different groups of people had stretched across the entire width of the path. To continue on towards Cape Elizabeth, it’s a right turn back out into paved road. No more extra people, I feel like I can breathe again, and I’m back to my private thoughts.

Pedaling along 207 Black Point Road, I am getting hungry and hopeful that a cafe or restaurant will come along somewhere. As I’m thinking about food, another cyclist suddenly comes up on my left, he’s going at a faster pace than me. He says “on your left, hi” to which in my shock, all I get out of my mouth is a “ehyeeeeee-eeeee” kind of like I’m Arthur Fonzarelli aka “The Fonz” from Happy Days. I think the most ridiculous part was as I was bearing down on an incline, both of my hands were busy squeezing my handle bars, so my head did the snap-up-head “hello” gesture to my left side at the same time that my Fonzie imitation erupted from my mouth. Idiot me, my social skills feel non-existent. Suddenly though, I see this cyclist as my ‘rabbit,’ convincing myself that I could catch up to him and match his pace. Maybe at the very moment I catch up, we would come upon a cafe and I could ask him to have lunch with me. I can’t help it that I’m a sucker for wanting companionship, my ever-hopeful fantasy-brain kicking in auto-pilot pushing out my idiot hello-move and subduing my grief thoughts. That’s okay, I need a break from what’s not here, and I would most certainly welcome an impromptu lunch date.

Focusing on my rabbit who is wearing a white shirt, I now round a curve to the right and head into a downhill. I start pedaling with renewed enthusiasm, plus I’m ready for lunch! I follow him as best I can, trying to match his pedaling rhythm. I’m thinking about my long-term goal to be a better cyclist: to ride farther, ride faster, and if I’m lucky “do epic shit” which I had read on a cool pair of biking socks. If he pauses his pace and I keep up with mine, I could meet up with him in under two minutes. One more blind curve of this road, and suddenly he is nowhere in sight. He must have made a turn, but there are a couple directions he could have taken. I’m willing to follow a rabbit, but not willing to go down a rabbit hole, so *sigh* I’ve lost him, boo. The first priority is still food, so onward I go, keeping to my route, and wondering about what may come up ahead. I arrive at an intersection that needs my full attention, and after checking the map on my phone, I finally figure to make a left turn here, and straight on will take me to my desired destination.

The sun seems to be finding its way out from behind mottled grey and white clouds. The blue sky blotches in between are a pleasant backdrop for deep green trees lining Spurwink Road, equally pretty but so unlike the more-fully overcast, soft-beach colors of earlier this morning. I’m wondering how much longer it will be until I arrive in downtown Cape Elizabeth. The road seems to open up and be wider now, and just as I notice this, I see on my left a cheerful yellow and white building surrounded by a paved parking lot. The building appears more like a double-wide trailer, just kind of plunked down out of nowhere, all very Wizard of Oz. The sign post at the road tells me all I need to know: Spurwink Country Kitchen with a red, white, and blue flag that reads ‘Open.’ Looks like I’ve found my lunch spot.

Adding to my checklist of travel necessities, first and foremost locating a public bathroom, a place to lock my bike gets mentally noted along side the need to not miss an outlet to charge my phone. These, I’m learning, are very important details to help my travels be more pleasant, just a part of those ‘steps.’ My bike now finds its hitch along rusted black-iron railing that flanks simple steps leading up to the doorway. There is a moment of uncertainty as I open the door, hearing it creak mercilessly and my bike shoes making that funny ‘clack’ sound on the step inside drowns out my fears. “Just go on in,” I tell myself, “whatever it’s like inside, all will be okay.” From the stark exterior of this place, I am instantly transported to the coziest home-away-from-home interior space. Suddenly, I’m in someone’s welcoming large living room, dining room all-in-one. This is what I like best about that diner experience: its personal because it’s like walking in as the unexpected ‘where-have-you-been-all-this-time’ guest, sitting at their casual dining room table and you feel like you know the people and the place so well. I want so much to feel the familiar, to feel welcomed. This place wrapped itself around me now, and eased my sense of my feeling like I’m falling off of some precipice. [Rabbit Pt. 02 to follow soon, thank you, again, for reading.] ~Paula

Dimension

September 20, 2017


Dear Reader, 


Grief is a wall I have crashed into, sending me in unexpected directions. How many directions I will go, have yet to be determined, I’m just trying to figure it out as I go. There are so many ways I have come to experience loss. I am just one person, this is just my point of view of telling it how it is for me. It has been hard to acknowledge my own thoughts and feelings, and even more difficult to take in those feelings of others who also share loss. Writing out the breadth of my highs and lows reminds me that this is my life, acknowledges I’m still alive, and this isn’t some messed up dream I’m in where I can’t wake up. I thank you for reading and for holding on through my journey. Need I remind you, this is a love story after all, and grief is a form of love itself. If you find anything here, I hope it is this love that you hear most through my words and stories.~P.



A poem of transformation. 


Fingertips

The former me has been burned away,

the blackened charred pieces of me,

torn in large crusts.

Underneath, my flesh is hot and pink,

blood flow has ceased,

only a tear-like fluid erupts, 

out of cracks in between. 

My fingernails with their shredded edges, have clawed and scraped,

at the burnt remnants, 

they are useless to me now.

What remains is a human being in the shape of former me,

but forever changed, 

but forever marked,

but forever scarred.

To see me now standing is quite a shock,

my head is lowered staring at my planted feet.

I can feel your gaze and sense the tension in your mind,

wondering how this happened to me.

You’ve already seen me naked, 

I no longer need clothes.

I hide nothing.

I feel nothing.

I am nothing.

From this spot, I take my first steps, 

finding footing in the crunch of ash and wisps of smoke in my path,

my hands that see very little reach out now, 

steadied only by my weakened state. 

It’s time for me to look with my eyes,

at what lies ahead of me,

I already know what’s behind me.

My head is too heavy.

My neck is too tight.

My back is too broken.

Only my eyes can do the work,

slowly opening and lifting them now,

to find the horizon,

focusing on somewhere in the distance.

The murmur of voices surrounds me,

my name sounds unfamiliar in the chatter,

but I know it is us about whom

they are talking,

they are worrying,

they are crying.

Rain drops come now,

stinging, cooling, and soothing what is raw and tender,

this sensation evokes a memory of fingertips,

that once knew every part of the former me.

I stumble as my legs give way to the wash of emotion buried,

now returning to the surface of my new skin, 

helpless to stop it, 

swollen from the pressure of too much to bear.

The others reach out to catch me, they take hold of

my shoulders,

my hands,

my waist. 

Breath is heaving from my lungs, 

sound escapes from lips, 

tense under taut skin.

I don’t know how, but I am now walking, 

hearing my feet scuffing the cinders and feeling the pricks of shards through my soles worn from too much heat,

from too much everything.

I am bare.

I am tattered.

I am scorched.

Wet hair now hangs in limp ropes, 

silently drips while clinging to my neck,

draping on my chest and arched back.

I feel cold from every direction,

ignited by a wind that has now come, 

to blow away remaining ash and char, 

sealing every surface, 

and pressing my face smooth. 

Who will I become? 

What will I do?

Where will I go?

I am somehow able to walk on,

heavy enough to brace the wind,

light enough to withstand the rain,

the others are losing their grip on me,

my new thickened skin is slippery and cannot be held,

they stand behind me now with squinted eyes, 

eyes that do not see what I see.

My own reflection is of what surrounds me, 

it has made me invisible to them,

but to know I am still here, just listen

for my heartbeat,

for my breath, 

for my footsteps. 
~Paula

Dimension




For almost a whole year now, I’ve been exercising nearly every day. In those early months after he died, I’d even work out three times in the same day if I really needed it: cycling, weight lifting, running, or occasional tennis. It’s how I’ve dealt with my racing heartbeat and all of this anxiety in the dimension that me and my family now live. And now today, I’m making it official, I’m adding another kind of exercise program: my house. For so much of this past year, it’s been put aside, the innocent bystander to loss, now one of the most neglected in this healing process to a new normal. Piles of paperwork to be filed, shelving not dusted, things in place for him who will no longer be coming home. It’s time to get this place in shape and in good working order.

So it has begun: nearly three weeks ago in my closet. No longer our closet, he is gone and now he has been moved out. Distributed, reclaimed, shifted to those who will take on new ownership of the things that were once his. There seems to be invisible deeds and titles that have been signed by all parties to make it official. It feels right. My master bedroom and bathroom are also now just that, mine. It’s been a lot of hard work to make this happen so far. I’m checking in with my parents, my kids, and of course me, saying “I’m thinking of doing this, I need to put him in a proper place, the time has come.” The consensus I received was that ready or not, change was needed, mostly for my own sanity. What I see around me needed to calm my mind, and find that visual order my eyes demand.

Some parts of grieving are an ever-writhing sea, up and down the waves never cease, if I did not make this space in which I live comfortable, I was going to continue slipping under the water’s surface more often than I could stand. I’m no longer continuously gasping for air, and my heartbeat is just a bit more steady. Do not think that this is some grand solution “one and done” deal. As I clean up tools and little vignettes of his unfinished projects and things he last touched, the hurt and his absence overtake me, and I’m sobbing and sometimes collapsing on the spot. It’s kind of like a badly sprained ankle: I have to rest it, but I also have to use it despite feeling pain, it’s not going to be re-sprained, I will only feel the swelling, and every time I walk on it, it may hurt just a little less. Maybe if I’m lucky in the future, it will hurt and twinge only as a sign when rain is coming. Ah, if grief itself could actually be managed: not.

So now my kids are back in school. It was a long, sad summer. My relationship with them continues to be very fragile, and we are taking things slowly. I’m not the only stubborn one who lives here, and our trust in one another is starting from zero. I am the sole-surviving parent, and for them to trust me and to love me now is taking a risk for more loss of losing me, too. Besides, they see I am not the same mom they grew up with, they are in many ways looking at a new person. They are still wondering and skeptical of where that other mom has gone, I sense so much of their uncertainty. The three of us are all growing up under this one roof. And under this roof, I’m now exercising the acts of cleaning up, reorganizing, and honestly catching up with where our lives are right now. Most days it’s like skipping rocks on a lake. I keep trying to find that perfect stone to toss. I’m whipping it out with hopes of two to three skips, but truthfully I’ll just be happy if it lands in the water. Belief and hope are half the part of trying, success in the attempt itself in the very least. There is such truth to the difference between living in a house versus making it feel and be a home. As me and my two teenagers attempt to find our own truths here, so I hope to continue to put in the work of finding the new dimension in this house: this house that will now be made into our home. ~Paula

IrmaCane

September 9, 2017

So many people loved him. At times I think they loved this man more than I did. They certainly knew him for longer than I did, so it actually makes sense that they would. Just tonight, I popped on to Facebook, to see that Boo Kitty had posted a video today about Hurricane Irma, or so I thought. Suddenly, it’s about Jon’s ashes and I’m watching Boo’s private, yet public video from a dock in Florida of his sprinkling him into Tampa Bay, all the while loud winds are whipping Boo’s hair and ominous clouds are not far off in the background. 

I keep receiving texts, emails, and Facebook posts of these tributes by his beloved friends who received ashes I delivered in small packets to the TKE reunion in July. They are each having their own ashes event, a place of their choosing where they can say “see you later” and visit often to remember him. Not only is Jon now located in the three places he requested, but now pieces of him are everywhere. 

What’s funny is, at this point, I have given all of Jon away, but he keeps coming back to me through these messages. I’m honored, often tearful, and grateful he had these amazing people in his life. Slowly over this past year, several of these bonds of brotherhood and friendship have been transferred over to me and my kids. It’s kind of like his things in the closet: what was once exclusively his, we’ve taken new ownership of, and now it’s people that we are claiming as ours that once seemed to be only belonging to him. These new bonds and connections are becoming complete, seemingly one ashes packet at a time. ~Paula