Friday, August 29, 2008

Equal time

After venting about my family yesterday, I should probably give equal time to the good stuff!

Mother and I were out all day yesterday shopping for recliners. She's just not comfortable sitting for long periods of time on a sofa anymore. After 5 hours in two stores, we found the one she wanted, but it was time to pick the boys up. We went back today, spent another 2 hours, and she chose a different one. She's very happy with her purchase -- and so am I, because she bought me one too!

I have a great and wonderful "elephant chair" -- so named for its impressive girth -- but it IS forty years old. I've had it for 23 years, Mother had it 5 years, and she found it at an antique store in West Virginia. So, 40 years is a rough guess at its age.

It's been an integral part of my life for years: I've spent countless hours sitting in it, enjoying the deepest quiet of the night with a glass of wine or B&B. Nick and I could sit side-by-side in it. Both boys can sit next to me in it. I've actually sat in it reading to four toddlers on my lap. But it's time... The bottom is starting to sag, the back doesn't support me any more, and the current upholstery (the third since it's been in my family) is worn through in several places.

Mother can't stand the sight of my beloved chair anymore and has nagged me for years to get rid of it. I won't let go of the elephant, but I do have to admit that as I get older, it gets less comfortable. So I was willing to let her pay for a replacement.
I am SO excited. This is a nice, soft, comfy chair, big enough to allow me to curl up or stretch out as I please. And I love the rich wine color. It arrives Wednesday.

Is it Wednesday yet?

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Recovery

It has taken me a lot longer to start feeling better than I expected it to. I have been so sluggish, with occasional twinges of pain. I was worried, until I remembered what my pharmacist said when she filled my prescriptions: Each of the two medications might make me drowsy. Well, taking two meds that might make me drowsy goes a long way toward explaining my lethargy. Psychologically, I felt better right away when I figured that out.

My apologies to those of you anxious for my return to blogging. Yes, Sandy, I'm talking to you! I simply couldn't do it. I've also been very lax about reading other blogs, so I have no idea what's going on with my cyberfriends. I hope I didn't miss anything fun, and I hope I haven't failed to be there for someone who could have used my support.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch...

The boys are into their third week of school, and we're all settling into a good routine. Rock has been reasonably well behaved; he's been placed in the most advanced reading group, and the teacher says that she's going to give him extra work, because boredom is part of his problem. That works for me. HardPlace is also doing well so far: It seems as though he has made a developmental leap. Last year, he struggled with double-digit multiplication; this year, he's breezing through triple-digits. Last year, he struggled with cursive; this year, his penmanship is really nice. Last year, he struggled with basic spelling words; this year ... okay, he still struggles. At any rate, the new school year is off to an optimistic start.

My mom is doing pretty well, considering what she's been through. She's getting her strength back and is back to being her endearing interfering self. She still hasn't decided whether she will go back for more chemo. Neither Jane nor I will tell her what we think she should do: She has to decide that she wants to do this for herself, not for one of us. Sometimes she says she will have more chemo, because if she doesn't it will feel like she's just sitting back to wait for the cancer to do its thing. Other times, she says it doesn't feel like its worth it. There's a fair bit of pain in that statement for Jane and me: If her daughters and grandsons aren't "worth it" ... But what do we know? We're not the ones with the needle of poison coursing through our veins.

Jane, on the other hand, is doing amazingly well. The latest scans came back absolutely clean again, and her numbers dropped for the first time since diagnosis -- and they dropped significantly. She and my BIL are in Russia right now, as part of their "senior year abroad." They've been to Turkey, Scotland, Norway, Denmark, France, and Belgium. A week after they got back from Europe, Pierre found a half-price 3-week tour to Moscow, Kiev, and St. Petersburg if they were willing to leave the following week. So they did.

I am really glad that they have been given the time together that neither expected them to have when Jane was diagnosed. And I'm glad that they have the resources to make the most of this gift of time. But I'd be lying if I said that I didn't also have some resentment toward them for all this traveling. I uprooted my life and my boys' lives to take some of the burden of caring for and being with our mother off of Jane's shoulders, because she couldn't do it all. I sometimes feel like I'm being asked to shoulder the whole burden. Hell! I'm not even being asked. I'm being told.

And there has been precious little reciprocity. All the promises of spending quality time with the boys, of giving me time away from them, of helping with the day-to-day stuff... all those promises have faded away. And that just p*sses me off.

I really am glad to be here with my family. I am so grateful to have time with my mother and and sister. I just wish that I didn't have to pay such a high price for this time with them.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Relief

She's pretty intuitive, my friend Sandy.

I've been sick and in pain. Really sick and in a lot of pain. Sicker and in more pain than I can ever remember. Sicker and in more pain than I ever want to be again. And, when I saw blood in the toilet, more filled with dread and fear than words can describe.

Ten hours in the ER on Monday brought me a diagnosis, treatment, and relief.

Diverticulitis is a brutally painful, lifelong, irritating (pun intended) condition. But it is treatable and manageable. And it isn't cancer -- for which I am profoundly grateful.

Monday, August 18, 2008

A simple prayer

Oh, my Nicholas,
Hold me -- if not in your arms,
from your heart to God's.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Cross-stitch

I have just completed my first line of cross-stitching (107 little black xs) in more than 15 years. Don't ask me why I stopped; don't ask me why I bought this kit; don't ask me why I started it today.

It was surprising how good it felt to start, how relaxing the act of stitching was, how very soothing.

That's all. No major revelation or profound thoughts. Just a simple pleasure long forgotten.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Yabba dabba doo!

I'm off to take the boys to school.

Yahoooooo!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Quirky? Me? Naaaaaa....

KMY tagged me last week with the meme that's been going all around the widowblogs.

The Rules:
  1. Link to the person who tagged you.
  2. Mention the rules on your blog.
  3. Tell about six unspectacular quirks of yours.
  4. Tag six fellow bloggers by linking them.
  5. Leave a comment on each of the six blogger’s blogs letting them know they’ve been tagged.
Now, for my unspectacular quirks:

1. Unless I am really hot, I prefer room-temperature Coke to cold (and yes, it has to be Coke, not Pepsi).

2. I prefer to shower in the dark, or at least with no lights on in the bathroom. Light from the bedroom is fine.

3. Open cupboards in the kitchen make me crazy. The kitchen itself can be a disaster area, but close the dang doors!

4. Every towel must be folded the same way, so that you can tell relative size.

5. My legs are seldom still. When I sit at a desk, I am always lifting my heels up and down -- not tapping my toes, bouncing my heels. If I have the laptop on my legs, I'm wiggling my feet.

6. I hate socks -- always have, always will. I wear them reluctantly in the winter, but only because I hate cold feet more than I hate socks.

I'm not sure who's left to tag. And I'm not in the mood to tag anyone. So I won't. So there.

Saturday, August 09, 2008

Four years

Four years have gone by in both a lifetime and a heartbeat. I remember Nick's death as though it were yesterday; but the life he and I shared is long gone, except in eternal memory.

These last few weeks leading up to August 8 (and beyond) have been so different from the weeks of anticipatory anxiety of the past three years. I didn't need to recount the days of horror; I could choose to tell the stories of laughter. And it was wonderful to do so, to tell the story of our courtship, to remember the things I admired about him, the simple delight we had in each other. Telling those stories changed my experience of this last week. Instead of being tormented by the gut-wrenching thoughts of 1 week in 2004, I was embraced by the love and happiness of the 13 years that came before.

The sadness can still be pervasive sometimes, all-encompassing; other times, the gratitude washes over me, fills me, satisfies me. I have needed Nick so much, especially this last year or so with my brother's death and my sister's and mother's illnesses; and yet I have found reserves of strength and understanding that I didn't know I had.

I can truly say that I am building a good life for the boys and myself, that we have a good life, that our little family is strong and happy. Much is unsettled and uncertain, but the center remains firm and secure.


Ubi caritas et amor deus ibi est.
Where charity and love are, there is God.

Friday, August 08, 2008

No words on this day

Just love



and sorrow.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Turning points, part two

"Go East, young man, go East!"

Part of the course on Music and Liturgy that we took in the Winter of 1993 was a field trip to Holy Transfiguration Melkite Greek Catholic Church for a Liturgy of the Presanctified during Great Lent. Wow! All the things that we loved about music, all the things we loved about worship, all the things we were learning about the two ... it was all there.

It took a year or so, but we eventually left our parish and started going to Holy Transfiguration: It was so RIGHT. When I walked out of liturgy, I knew that I had prayed and worshiped to the best of my human ability. We'd been going to HT regularly for only a few months when Nick was asked to be an acolyte. But I'm not Melkite! That's okay; you have the attitude of attentive reverence. After his first experience as an acolyte, he served whenever he could. And if he wasn't needed at the altar, he was standing by the Reader, learning the chants. It wasn't long before someone told him he should be a Deacon. But I'm not Melkite! Oh. Too bad.

After about 3 or 4 months, Nick was made an acolyte team leader. It may not sound like a big deal, but an awful lot goes on behind the iconostasis, and the team leader has to be ready to cue the next action, has to be ready to step in if someone forgets his responsibility. Nick loved it. He would come out after liturgy beaming, reflecting the holy mysteries, the incense clinging to him. Smell my hair! Isn't it wonderful?

Even though we went to Holy Transfiguration every week, even though we tithed there, even though we volunteered for the food festival and parish cleanup days, even though Nick was an acolyte and regular in the choir -- we never really intended to leave Rome behind. Nick was raised Catholic, and I was a convert: We both loved the Church and considered it our home. But when HardPlace was born, it made no sense to go back to our old parish to baptize him. And it made no sense to baptize him into a church that was not our own. So, we filed the necessary paperwork for a change of rite and became bona fide Melkite Greek Catholics.

About a year later, we were having dinner with one of the parish priests and Nick said that he wanted to talk to him about becoming a deacon. Wonderful! Father Joseph has been wondering when you would realize you had a vocation! Nick was flabbergasted and humbled by that response, and I was not at all surprised. The next thing Nick knew, he was filling out the application for seminary, committing himself to four years of study, and floating on air.

I wish you could have seen him serving at the altar: He really was transformed by the mysteries he was serving; he really did transcend the human and put on the divine. And afterward, he simply glowed. One great comfort I have had after Nick's death is the absolute knowledge that he is now where he always wanted to be: Serving at the Altar of the Lord. Smell my hair! Isn't it wonderful?

Click to read about August 7, 2004.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Turning points, part one

Nick was a scientist, a husband, a father, a deacon. I've pretty much told you about the turning points that led to his becoming a husband; let me tell you more about him.

His first course of study in college was geared toward medical school. He breezed through the math and science requirements until he met physics. It was hard, and he didn't understand it. So he did the only logical thing he could: He left the pre-med program and became a physics major. Then he got his master's in physics, and his PhD as well; He was courted by a few research labs for his post-doc position, including a top-notch facility in Chalk River, Canada; but he wanted to be at NIST, the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Turning point.

He'd been at NIST about 6 months when our whirlwind started. He loved his job, the research, the people. He did, however, have other things he wanted to do. Research was his first career; he wanted to be a crotchety old essayist for his third career; in between, he wanted to teach physics at the university level. A big shift in his plans occurred one summer afternoon in 1995 (at least I THINK it was 1995). He came home grinning from ear to ear. What would you think if your husband was put in charge of building a multimillion-dollar spectrometer? He spent the next several years building the only neutron spin-echo spectrometer in the Americas. He loved that machine and was looking forward to designing, building, and operating the next-generation version.

The turning point on his road to fatherhood was not nearly as exciting or wonderful. The technical term is premature ovarian failure (leave it to the men of medicine to slip that word failure in there), but it's more commonly called early menopause. I was 31 when Nick and I married in 1992; by the time we started trying to get pregnant one year later, it was too late. Nick was amazing: He let me grieve and cry and be sad and frustrated.

The decision for adoption was so easy for both of us: my sister Jane and I used to talk about "having 2 and adopting 2," and when Nick was a teenager, he told his father that he wanted to adopt all his kids. Nick's dad laughed at him and said that wife might have something to say about that. Nick's dad was right, of course: I said, Amen!

One of my strongest visual images of Nick is from the middle of the night on February 23, 1998. HardPlace was 3 days old, and we had been his parents for about 12 hours. It was Nick's turn to go into the sweet boy's room and get him back to sleep. After a while, I got out of bed to see what was up. Nick was sitting on the floor cross-legged with HardPlace on his lap. HardPlace was crying, and Nick was sobbing. What if we can't do this? Oh, honey... What if we mess up? He was so happy and so afraid. The two people I loved beyond all telling were both crying: I got on the floor with them and held them both in my arms.

Turning points: Our lives were going in unforeseen directions, and oh -- how wonderful it was. I'll tell you about his journey to the deaconate tomorrow. The events of August 6, 2004, are told here.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Like a kid in a candy store

That's how Nick was about his vocations, both to physics and to faith.

2:00 a.m., sometime in the summer of 1992 -- Wake up! Wake up! You have to see this! bluduhhuhwha?

Nick had been struggling with a problem in the lab for a few weeks, and he'd finally figured out how to solve it. He was a condensed matter physicist, examining the atomic structures of chemical compounds at very cold temperatures. Specifically, he did experiments using nuclear spectrometry: pointing a beam of neutrons at a sample and studying the images made when the neutrons bounce off the sample to learn something about the compound's molecular structure. Very cool stuff.

This particular experiment used a new method of analyzing the data, and he'd finally figured out how to get the image that he wanted. So he drove from the lab to my place, let himself in, and woke me up to show me the pretty colors. The colors were indeed pretty: a nice hexagonal array of cyan, magenta, and yellow. That's all I saw, anyway! His peers, however, saw much more, and that image was published in Science magazine, which is something many scientists never achieve, let alone 32-year-old post docs.

10:00 p.m., sometime in January 1993 -- Oh, Alicia, it was amazing! You should have been there! You are going to love this class!

The priest who celebrated our wedding was a professor at one of the seminaries in DC; he was teaching a course on Music and Liturgy and invited Nick and me to sit in as unofficial auditors. I happened to be sick the first week, so Nick went alone. He was bouncing up and down on his toes with excitement as he told me what he'd learned.

He'd always had an abiding love for church and the liturgy, and he'd always been a wonderful musician. Taking this class brought together the intuitive and analytic parts of his mind. It literally changed his direction -- more on that later -- because it allowed him to integrate two very important parts of his life. It gave the prayerful soul the language he needed to articulate his thoughts on faith, and it gave the precise mind the tools he needed to analyze and synthesize his experience of faith.

Faith and science were milk and honey to Nick: wondrous mysteries that could nourish him and delight him the more he explored and savored them.


Read about the events of August 5, 2004, here.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Jubilate deo

We finally got a real monsoon at my house last night. I sat on the patio reveling in the smell, the sound, the lightning. I'd been wondering what to post next -- what memory, what piece of Nick's life, of our life -- when a song I had not heard nor thought about for over a decade filled my spirit, and I began to sing.


Nick got to have his cantata at our wedding -- actually, by then it was "our cantata," because we spent hours singing the duet to and with each other. Since we were both in the choir, everyone in the choir wanted to sing at the service, and it was glorious.

But I had also found this piece from the Taize community in France: It filled the small country church where we married, rolling around the rafters during communion, surely a foretaste of the heavenly choirs.

Jubilate deo Rejoice in God,
Omnis terra All the earth.
Servite domino in laetitia. Serve the Lord in gladness.
Aleluia, aleluia, in laetitia. Aleluia, aleluia, in gladness.

This little song, perhaps more than anything else, sums up who Nick was, what our marriage was. We were so grateful to have found each other, to have been so incredibly blessed. Nick always said, We've been given so much; much will be asked of us. Nick taught me so much about generosity of spirit; he taught me hospitality of the heart, not just of the home.

I think it is no coincidence that I was given this song today of all days, the day that I have to point you to the events of August 4, 2004We've been given so much; much will be asked of us. He had no idea.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

Whirlwind

I guess we should go out sometime. So we did. That night.

After dinner, as he walked me up the stairs to my apartment, Nick said, You have to know one thing: My work is very important to me. I spend a lot of time at the office and in the lab. I think to myself, Ummm ... okay. Why are you telling me this? The next night, I cooked dinner for him. I can still see the huge grin on his face, the delight and surprise as he whirled around from my bookshelf exclaiming, You like Robertson Davies! I'm reading The Diary of Samuel Marchbanks right now! He brought over a CD of Sweet Honey and the Rock. This one! Here! I've always loved this song. At the end -- Listen: "You are my For. Ever." I think to myself, Ummm ... okay. Why are you playing this for me?

I cooked dinner for him again the next night. He brought over a CD of Bach cantatas. This one! Here! I've always wanted to have this piece played at my wedding. Wouldn't it be perfect? Thinking again, Ummm ... okay. Why are you telling me this? The next night, he cooked dinner for me. Actually, except when he was out of town, Nick and I had dinner together every night for the rest of his life.

Thanksgiving was two weeks after the church retreat, and Nick went to see grad school friends in Massachusetts. In our phone call the first night he was gone, he said I love you for the first time. The next day, Thanksgiving Day, he said, So are you going to come to Wichita for Christmas with me? or do I have to drag you? I laughed and said I'd go. We agreed that my going to Wichita would be my Christmas present to him, and his present to me would be my ticket OUT of Wichita. (If you've read much of this blog, you appreciate the humor in that.)

I introduced Nick to my family the first Saturday in December, three weeks after the retreat. He joined us on the Christmas tree chopping expedition. My mother's first private comment was Why didn't you tell me he was so good looking? At dinner, he was properly interrogated by each member of my family in turn. He won my mother's heart by daring to disagree with her about classical pianists: He called Rudolf Serkin "Old Hammerhands" and said he preferred the gentle touch of Glenn Gould. Oh! Glenn Gould! Well, of course... but I still like Hammerhands. My brother-in-law the engineer asked him about his scientific research and related questions; my stepfather the civil servant discussed the issues of working for the Federal Government; and my sister the teacher got into a heated debate about the US educational system. Poor Nick. In the years to come, Nick would say, You haven't been through the gauntlet until you've met Alicia's family!

The first chance Mother had to pull me into the kitchen, she said He's wonderful! Can I marry him? No. I'm going to. Later that night, Jane called me twice to tell me how much she and Pierre liked Nick and he was welcome in their house ANYtime. (They weren't too crazy about the bank robber. Go figure)

When we got back from Kansas, we had New Year's dinner at my mom's. My stepfather lifted the wine glass for a toast and said, Here's to -- here's to -- he looked at Nick and asked if we were drinking to anything special. No. Here's to the New Year. Laughter abounds.

On January 31, 1992, 10 weeks after the choir retreat, we were sitting on my living room sofa bickering. Well, the Church makes us wait 6 months, so the 4th of July would be perfect. But Thanksgiving weekend would give people coming in from out of town more time to work with. But that's so far away! I just don't think July 4th would be right. But but... Well, let's see what the catechism says. I pulled the book off my shelf, flipped to the section on marriage, and read aloud: "Ideally, people should marry as soon as both are decided." To his dying day (literally, I'm afraid), Nick swore I set him up for that.

In the midst of our bickering and laughter, Nick put up his hand and stopped us, saying, You know, there's one question we haven't asked yet. Heartbeat. Heartbeat. Will you marry me? Yes. Yup. I proposed to him.

We made our first compromise that night: We agreed on Labor Day weekend for the wedding.



August 3, 2004

Saturday, August 02, 2008

"I guess we should go out sometime"

On Saturday, November 16, 1991, the church choir went on a retreat to Daylesford Abbey in Paoli, Pennsylvania. It was 3 hours away, and we'd chartered two buses for the trip. On the way to Paoli, Nick was sitting quietly in the front of the bus, and I was in back with the rowdies. (This was quite a change for me: In high school I'd been the outcast misfit who had no idea how to talk to people. But I had a very visible leadership role in the choir and huge amounts of self-confidence.)

I was talking with one of my good friends about this rotten relationship I was in -- by "rotten," I mean that I had just found out the guy was a convicted felon. Okaaaay, then. Well, what about Nick Rxxxx? What about him? I think he likes you. You do? Of course he does, and you know it, too! You're the only person here he ever talks to. Well... Do you think I should give him a chance? Sure! Why not? Okay, I will.

The choir gathered around the steps of the church before going in. One of the retreat leaders said that we were getting ready to enter sacred space and time and told us to exchange the greeting of peace with one another before we embarked on this journey. When Nick and I greeted each other ... wow ... that's all I can say: Wow. A powerful connection was formed, and it was all I could do not to follow him around for the rest of the day.

As we boarded the bus for the drive back to Maryland, another alto -- the one who had nudged me and pointed Nick out -- grabbed him and dragged him to the back of the bus: You're sitting with us! The only empty seat in back was .... next to me! The choir provided sandwiches for dinner, and we had been told to bring our own beverages. It should come as no surprise to anyone reading this that I brought a bottle of good red wine; naturally, I shared it with my seatmate.

At first we were part of the rowdy party; but really, we talked only to each other, sharing our life stories. I do have a vague recollection of turning around and serenading everyone with a few verses of London Homesick Blues -- sung in my best Texas twang. (Alicia, your voice! OMG, listen to her voice!) By the last 45 minutes of the drive, I'd given up trying to be discreet; I leaned my head on Nick's shoulder and fell asleep.

All eyes were on us at liturgy the next morning, with giggles and whispers. My best friend, who had been on the other bus, said that she'd been told by the woman who sat behind Nick and me that "they just kept sinking lower and lower and lower." After the service, Nick came up to me and said, I guess we should go out sometime.

Ya' think?


The events of August 2, 2004 are here.

Friday, August 01, 2008

So let me tell you how we met

In July 1991 a series of business trips made me miss a few weeks of choir rehearsal at my parish. When I got back, the alto sitting next to me nudged me and said, Have you seen the new tenor? I looked at him. His boyish face (in spite of his beard and mustache) and messy hair were sort of cute, but eh ... not so much. Nahhh; he's not my type. And he's too young for me. As it turned out, he was just my type ... and he was a year, a week, and a day older than I.

On a rainy Tuesday night in October, I wore a brown trench coat to rehearsal. One of the older tenors told me I looked like Columbo. A voice behind me said, Oh, no! She's much better looking than Columbo! I turned around, and there was Nick, grinning at me. What a smile he had!

A few weeks later, Nick came up to me after rehearsal ... Alicia, there's something I really have to ask you. Yes? Are you going to dress as Columbo for Halloween?

Thus began tentative flirting and furtive exchanges of glances during rehearsals and liturgies.
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.
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Each day this week, as I tell you about our joyful story, I will provide a link to the terrible part of our love story. Read about Nick's diagnosis on this date in 2004 here.

Telling our story...

Betsy doesn't blog anymore, but a few years ago she told, day by day, the story of her husband's sudden illness and terrible death. I did the same thing on a private blog and last year I posted the chronicle of my "week from hell" here. This past April, Betsy struggled with whether or not to tell Joe's story yet again. During the comment discussion that followed, I realized what I want to do.

I don't want to tell the terrible story: I want to tell the wonderful story.

A song from my childhood was on my mind last night, a song by the Spanish singer Joan Manuel Serrat, La Saeta. (My translation is more literal than poetic.)


Dijo una voz popular: A voice of the people spoke:
¿ Quién me presta una escalera
Who will give me a ladder
para subir al madero,
to climb the wood
para quitarle los clavos
to remove the nails
a Jesús el Nazareno?
from Jesus the Nazarene?

¡Oh, la saeta, el cantar
Oh, the saeta is singing
al Cristo de los gitanos,
to the Christ of the gypsies,
siempre con sangre en las manos,
always with blood on the hands
siempre por desenclavar!
always removing the nails!
¡Cantar del pueblo andaluz,
Singing of the Andalusian town
que todas las primaveras
which every spring
anda pidiendo escaleras
walks asking for ladders
para subir a la cruz!
to climb the cross!
¡Cantar de la tierra mía,
Singing of my land
que hecha flores
which makes flowers
al Jesús de la agonía,
for Jesus of the agony
y es la fe de mis mayores!
and which is the faith of my elders!

¡Oh, no eres tú mi cantar!
Oh, it is not to you I sing!
¡No puedo cantar, ni quiero
I cannot sing, nor do I want to
a ese Jesús del madero,
to this Jesus of the wood
sino al que anduvo en el mar!
but rather to the one who walked on the sea!

I repeat: I don't want to tell the terrible story. I want to tell the wonderful story.