Category Archives: Grief and loss

Reflections on Loss of Loved Ones

A prose poem reflecting on the accelerating pace of losses in the years beyond 50, is shared on the 20th anniversary of April’s National Poetry Month.

Someone Left the Window Open

Someone left the window open and they are slipping through,
One by one, and two by twos –
Loving grandparents – drum majors of a parade –
Uncle Don who drove everywhere looking for little pink pigs like ones in my storybook;
Betty Davis, dear childhood friend, named for a movie star, who survived polio to be felled by its re-awakening in later years;
Uncle Frank, who told scary ghost stories, loved Florida and lived life his way;
Uncle William, who lived a formal life as Presbyterian minister till he retired and put away his suits for blue jeans and bluegrass;
Aunt Ermal, who was dietitian at Cumberland College, loved playing Sorry, and made memories with her fruitcakes;
Aunt Verna, who cared for her town as county public health physician;
Aunt Maggie, who liked brandy alexander’s, managed her own business and parachuted from a plane in her 80’s;
Aunt Shirley, who enjoyed taking care of her home and sang country songs while she washed dishes;
Aunt Fanella, twin sister of my father, who kept kinfolk connected and her faith strong;
Dottie, my 6 foot tall college roommate, who had a big heart, a hearty laugh and was a wonderful nurse;
Sweet Alice, my Indiana University officemate, loyal to her friends, who found love in later life;
Mother-in-law Nora, loving mother and grandmother, who taught first grade for 52 years;
Brother-in-law Don, who went at life in a run, and took good care of my sister;
Dad, a talented and happy man who lived life well, but left under the veil of dementia; and
Mother, who loved Christmas, her family, and her home in Madison, and lived to 91.
Someone left the window open, and we keep slipping through.

Sue Marquis Bishop
Copywrite 2013

THERE ARE MANY BENEFITS to living fully in the years beyond 50.  One of the hard knocks we experience with increasing age, however, is the accelerating pace of loss of significant others in our social networks.

I CONTINUE TO FEEL  the presence and influence of loved ones who are no longer here, in so many ways –  in funny family stories re-told,  sage advice remembered, family talents and traditions passed on. My life has been enriched by knowing them. I feel gratitude and joy, that they were part of my life.

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It’s Time to Downsize and I’m Not Ready!

I HAVE BEEN ON HIATUS from the internet for several weeks, fully engaged in navigating a life transition that I thought I was ready for… but found more difficult than I anticipated.
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WE WERE TWO EMPTY NESTERS in a three story house that continued to grow larger by the month. My husband and I agreed it made sense to simplify our life by selling our “family home”. We came to that conclusion one day when we realized we were using cell phones to find one another…it’s not easy to “shout out” when we are two floors away from one another…and we didn’t need 4.5 bathrooms.

For several years, we have enjoyed spending time in our small vacation house in the NC mountains. When I am there, I realize that we don’t need all the “things” we have in our home in Charlotte. Daily choices are fewer: two sets of sheets only for each bed (when clean set goes on, the other set goes into the washer), two tablecloths for each season, three flower vases, fewer dishes and small kitchen appliances. The closets are smaller there, with less clothes, so there are fewer choices of what to wear. An added bonus is the ease in keeping a smaller space clean and tidy…less floor to sweep and mop. Life seems easier somehow. So, we reasoned, although we really loved our family home in Charlotte, we decided we were ready to sell it and move to a smaller house. After all, we didn’t need all that space, did we?

You would think we had come to grips with selling our home, before we put up a “For Sale” sign…and I guess the answer is “yes” and “no”. Yet, we were surprised in December to receive an offer on the house. The buyers wanted possession right away by December 23, but we had the good sense to say no… taking down the Christmas tree two days before Christmas… No Way!
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I WANTED TO HAVE OUR LAST CHRISTMAS with our children in our home of many years. And, we needed at least 60 days to make the move. After all, we weren’t expecting to sell that soon, and we didn’t have a place to move to. We also had over 4,000 square feet of house spread out on three floors, with furniture, accessories and odds and ends accumulated over many years of marriage. A few pieces of furniture were my parents and some were from my husband’s side of the family.

WE CELEBRATED THE CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS as usual, knowing it was the last holiday in this house. The month of January was an extended time of letting go, as we gave away so many things to friends, family, neighbors, and others who had need of specific items.

There was a flurry of activity for weeks with folks coming and going as items were carted away. We watched the treadmill loaded up and taken away (we will just find a place to walk outside), the barbeque grill, outdoor patio furniture (we don’t need it all), sectional sofa in the family room, tables, bookcases and lamps. The pool table stood as a lonely sentinel in the family room waiting for new owners.
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We donated bags of clothes, books and accessories to Goodwill and Veterans groups. I felt an unexpected loss as I watched my white dresser, with nine drawers, moving out of the house. My sister passed it on to me years ago and I had painted it a shabby chic white. It was my dresser for a few years until it was moved to our guest room. I don’t know why it bothered me so to see it go. I distributed a number of house plants, large and small, to delighted friends.

I WATCHED OUR 12 FOOT CHRISTMAS TREE out of sight as it was carried across the street to the neighbors’ garage. That tree presided over so many happy times in our home. I was comforted by the thought that our tree would reappear in its Christmas finery next December, but this time keeping watch over our house from the window across the street.

AFTER THE INITIAL GIVING AWAY, it occurred to me that there was a life cycle of “things” assigned. My dresser went to a young couple in a new home who didn’t have a dresser… the treadmill to a midlife man who wanted to lose some weight and get healthy…grandpa’s mandolin to our daughter who is the musician in the family and would appreciate it most…dishes to our daughter who is a great cook,…some of my husband’s tools to our son…bookcases to new neighbors who moved in boxes of professional books…our freezer and second refrigerator to a young chef who is developing a catering business… a doll to a 5 year old girl who loved it…and so on. There is a cosmic rightness about it all… passing on… recycling treasured items… and seeing them appreciated all over again.
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A COUPLE WITH A YOUNG FAMILY bought our house. It’s comforting to think that another family will be making new memories there. As we left closing, my husband told the young couple who bought our home, “I hope you’ll love living there as much as we did”. I said, “Take care of our house.”

IN JANUARY, we experienced record breaking cold, snow and ice in North Carolina, as we packed and moved in stages. It was a challenge! (But that is another story.)
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AS A FORMER FAMILY THERAPIST, I know it often helps with closing one chapter of life, to take time to say goodbye to spaces and places (as well as people) that have had meaning. In our final visit, my husband and I walked throughout the house and shared some of the memories we had of each room; happy times with our parents when they were still with us, summer cookouts by our Asian rock garden, dinner parties with friends and holiday gatherings with family. Our steps echoed in the empty rooms now filled with the ghosts of remembering…

I WAS REMINDED of the exciting day we bought the house…and I felt a sense of appreciation for this place and pride that we had, in fact, created a home that we loved and that welcomed others. Although we had some sad times over the years, this home had been a happy place…. And then, we walked away.
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WE ARE IN A RENTED 3-BEDROOM TOWNHOME for 6-8 months, to give us time to decide where we want to create a new home. My dining room furniture is incarcerated in storage temporarily. But, we are unpacked and organized here and are developing a routine in a new place.
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WE SPEND OUR LIVES collecting things…ultimately we enter a time of life when acquiring things is no longer a priority. Sorting out treasured items among a myriad of “things” that have become attached to our lives is difficult under the best circumstances… Maybe it ushers in a sense of freedom as well… especially when collections are dispersed with purpose. I will reserve judgment on that until time brings more perspective.

NOW, IN THE MIDST OF our transition in downsizing, we are following new rules of the house:

1. Don’t bring in anything new, unless we get rid of something else.

2. We can do just as well with fewer options (e.g., I don’t really need 25 different flower vases or kitchen gadgets I never use).

3. Unless we need it, really love it, AND have a place for it, don’t bring it home.

I’LL SHARE MY ADVENTURE from time to time, of finding a place to make a new home… and invite your comments about letting go and moving on….

Sue Marquis Bishop 2014