I stepped from Plank to Plank
A slow and cautious way
The Stars about my Head I felt
About my feet the Sea.

I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch -
This gave me that precarious Gait
Some call Experience.

Emily Dickinson, c. 1864

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Florida in February

BetMar Retirement Community grounds on a foggy morning
Last February I spent three weeks in Florida with my sister Norma Jean. It's been almost a year since my brother-in-law Pete died on February 10. His death was not unexpected, since he knew he was dying of emphysema and COPD. At the young age of 67, no less. He was a lifelong smoker and was unable to give it up, even though he knew it would cost him his life. Pete started a blog in 2010 and wrote over a hundred posts, a legacy of his writing and viewpoints that I cherish. Nobody could write quite like Pete, and he wrote several of them while he was suffering from low oxygen levels. Nevertheless, they are still very well written and give a little taste of who he was. Here's one of the last ones, called "Hop, Skip, and Off to Hospice We Go!" -- I just now re-read it and Pete's character jumped off the page and into my heart. I didn't expect to make this post into a remembrance of him, but sometimes you've just got to go with the flow.

I didn't intend to go to Florida, but a few days after he passed, my niece Allison (who was there with her mom when he died) called to tell me that Norma Jean's little long-haired chihuahua Moose had been run over and killed right in front of her house, and she was simply devastated by the double whammy. That happened on the 15th and I arrived on the 17th. I slept on the couch on her back porch, while Allison with her infant daughter Lexie slept in Norma Jean's bedroom together, and Peter (her son) slept in Pete's office. One by one they would leave; first Peter, then Allison and Lexie, and finally I was alone with Norma Jean. But before they went back to their lives, we had a celebration of Pete's life. Pete did not want a funeral or any fuss made over him, but we pondered the whole idea of holding something for those of us left behind. A celebration of his life seemed appropriate. On the 20th, we carried some of his art (he was a gifted photographer) to one of the clubhouses located on the BetMar Retirement Community grounds. His motorcycle friends and many people from around the community showed up.
His son Peter constructed a slide show that rotated hundreds of pictures of Pete during his life. One of Pete's most successful photographs is displayed above the monitor, "Sunrise over Tampa Bay." It was a very fitting celebration, but it was also very hard on all of us. We trudged through day after day, just trying to make it through the hardest part of the grief. I would wake in the middle of the night to the flickering of images reflected on the wall, and I'd realize that Norma Jean couldn't sleep and was up watching TV. She used headphones so I wouldn't have known except for the light. I wasn't sleeping all that well, either. I'd get up and we would talk, for hours. We would talk, laugh, and cry together and watch the sun come up. But the three weeks finally passed and it was time for me to return home.

Many of the family members felt it was important to get Norma Jean another dog, and she and I went to websites to figure out how to get a rescue dog. Before long we ended up with two of them, and I hoped that when I left it would give her something to fill her days. She eventually decided to go to Michigan and spend three months in the town where her son Peter lived. She turned the dogs back to the rescue organization (you are required to do that) traveled first to visit her daughter Allison and then soon after for those three months in Michigan. It was too soon to bring those dogs into her life, I know that now, and I suspected it while I was there. She needed more time.

Now she has a wonderful little dog, a Papillon puppy she named Icarus (because of the ears, you see) but it has been shortened to Icky. A bit unfortunate, maybe, but the dog is perfect for her now. And her son Peter was laid off from his job in Michigan and is living with her temporarily. He brought HIS dog with him, a little Jack Russell terrier named Zen, and so two dogs run and play again in the house. I am familiar with them because of the changes that happened in my own life because of my three weeks in Florida.

First, Norma Jean swims every day for exercise, so I began to join her. She had not been swimming since Pete died, and as normality began to return in her life, she decided to start swimming again. I myself had not swum laps for exercise in decades, so I was at a disadvantage, but I remembered how to breathe and just... started. It was incredibly hard to find a pace I could maintain, and at first I couldn't go more than a few lengths before I had to catch my breath. Before I left Florida, however, I could swim ten laps without stopping. When I returned home, I decided to use the pool at the YMCA (where I work out) and see how it progressed. Now swimming laps once or twice a week is part of my repertoire.

The other major change is that I talk with Norma Jean two or three times a week on iChat. Now that I've been there with her, it's easy to fall into the same routine we had then: somehow we never seem to run out of things to say, to share, to talk about. And recently I discovered how to send her pictures while we're chatting, and now I save them up so she can see the birds or other scenery I want to share with her. Of course she reads my blogs, but it's so much nicer when I'm looking at her and we are doing things together. The added bonus of seeing her makes it seem very much more immediate and intimate. I miss being with her, but nowhere near as much as I would have without iChat or Skype.

Looking back at the past year, I realize how incredibly full it was. The new year, 2012, is likely (God willing) to be much less so. I traveled twice in a year's time because of major loss, and I'm hoping that nothing like that will happen this year. It's a Leap Year, too. Smart Guy and I will both turn 70 this year, and of course it's also supposed to be the end of the world in December. I'm hoping I'll get to have a satisfying retrospective in January 2013. Most likely I will.

In March 2011 I got to visit my family in Texas and had another reunion. I'll revisit that trip next week. Until then, I hope that you have a wonderful week, filled with sunshine and even snow, if that's what you want. It's almost 7:00am and I'm getting hungry and ready to start the rest of my Sunday.


Anonymous said...

I laughed when I read about Icky. What a name! Think he would take offense if he knew what it meant? Lol.

Sometimes, I wish I could communicate with my 4 yr old granddaughter via Skype. I hardly ever see her, though she lives on the same island! I wish now that I had babysat her when she was a baby. Maybe then, she wouldn't seem like such a stranger to me, and vice-versa. Thank goodness, I babysit her little brother!

Linda Reeder said...

I had Skype to communicate with my grandkids, but now they are here, so my web cam goes unused. I was just thinking about that as I dusted it yesterday.:-)

CrazyCris said...

Poor Icky! Although I do like the name Icarus!

Isn't it wonderful how things like Skype and Facetime have allowed us to feel closer to family and friends who live far away? We spent almost an hour after dinner on Christmas Eve chatting with my sister in New Zealand, for her it was just after breakfast on Christmas Morning! We all opened our presents together on camera, it was a lot of fun, and made us miss her a little bit less.

It was wonderful you got to spend those 3 weeks with Norma Jean last year! I hope you get to do it again this year, under happier circumstances.

Rita said...

What a wonderful post! I read the linked post and he sounded like a hoot!
So glad you had that time together with your sister. Now I know how you got started on the swimming routine, too. ;) So great that you get that personal time via iChat every week. This post just made me feel calm and content reading it. So happy you are close to Norma Jean. Hope you're having a great weekend, lady! :):)

Stella Jones said...

I remember your trip to Florida and the changes that those two deaths made to your lives. I'm glad to hear that Norma Jean is piecing back together the jigsaw of her life and wish her much happiness for 2012. One thing is for sure, life goes on and we go with it, whether we want to or not.
I never like the New Year turning very much. I always enter every new year with trepidation, wondering what will happen. I'm much happier once we get into February and March, when all feels normal again.

June said...

I went and read Pete's post. He must've been quite a guy . . . must've left quite a hole after he'd gone.

I love the image of the two little dogs playing together, unexpected best buddies getting together. :-)

Friko said...

You have had a bitter-sweet year indeed. I remember reading about your bil's death and being touched by your words then.

It's good that we can all communicate so easily now, Skype is a great boon. Blogging and the internet and technology have brought so many of each nearer to each other, perhaps there is hope for the human race. We understand so much more about each other.

I don't believe in any end-of-the-world scenarios, I think there have been so many since the new millennium started that I've lost count.

See you next January and many times in between!

Tom said...

I've seen you around various blogs, and decided to come over for a visit. Read Pete's last post. He seems like quite a guy -- bet you miss him. I remember, from my mom and dad, that they tell you it's 6 months when the hospice people come in -- but it's really a few weeks or even, in my mom's case, a few days. But for that brief time, they do a wonderful job.

Glad your sister got a new dog.

Red said...

Pete was one of those people who was an influence on people's lives. He certainly impressed me for the short time I knew him on his blog. He was certainly someone who I could admire. Yes I knew the date of his passing was coming up.
All the best to you and Pete's family at this anniversary time.

#1Nana said...

Boy, time flies. I didn't realize that it had been a year. I need to get my granddaughters to call via Skype. We did it once a few months ago, but they have a hard time sitting still and sort of bounced in and out of the picture.

Rubye Jack said...

Pete was an impressive guy DJan.
It sounds like you and Norma Jean have a great relationship. I'm glad she was able to find a new puppy. Go Icky.

Arkansas Patti said...

I read Pete's impressive post. What a marvelous attitude he had. Hospice and hospice workers are angels in my book.
So glad some of the pain has eased and the beautiful memories are in the forefront.

Nancy said...

You had a full year last year. I do hope you do not experience loss this year. I don't think the world will end in December. The sun will come up and the world will go on. The changes are happening already. Revelations are happening every day. The hidden is being revealed, the masks are falling.

I love how you have such a wonderful relationship with your sister.

The Retired One said...

Love the picture...we went to Florida last year and there were a bunch at a road stop...I just love them....love that you got them captured in some fog too!

Dee Ready said...

Dear DJan,
Thank you for the link to Pete's blog and his story of beginning the hospice part of his life. His attitude was inspiring--he could be flippant about this ending. I so admire that.

How empty your sister's life must have been after his death last February. And the thing about losing a beloved is that always--for the rest of our lives-- we miss that person. Always there is an empty space within us.

Ultimately, I suppose we fill that space of longing with memory and with our own courage in placing one foot in front of the other to go on. As Dulcy said, at the end, "all that matters is love" and I believe love spans the distance between the beloved and the be-loved.

I'm so glad that you could go to Florida and be with your sister. The two of you seem to share a great devotion to one another. Life is good.


Trish said...

Beautiful post, as always. Love the dog names!

And yes, I suspect we'll all still be round on 12/22/12, wondering and laughing about the fact that the world didn't end.

Whitney Lee said...

It doesn't seem like nearly a year has passed. I remember all of the loss last year. I hope this one proves to be less eventful.

It's so wonderful that you and Norma Jean share so much now. When my sister and I lived states apart we did the same thing-similar activities or whatnot that made us feel we were doing something together even if we really were doing the same thing miles apart. I look at my future and see my relationship with my sister being much as it is now, much as yours is with Norma Jean. What a blessing that is.

Jean said...

Your blog is such a pleasure to read. You're an excellent writer.

Jean said...

Your blog is such a pleasure to read. You're an excellent writer.

Robert the Skeptic said...

I remember Pete's blog and particularly his photos he would post. Remarkable images. I enjoyed his sense of humor as well.

Crazy Life of a Writing Mom said...

I loved that line about the end of the world. It took me so off guard. I laughed and laughed.

I'm sorry for your losses, but proud of the way you handled everything and helped those around you.

icedgurl said...

trekking your superb blog! keep blogging and inspiring people!


CiCi said...

I always like hearing about Pete, even now. He sure was full of life and talent. He probably didn't realize how precious his blog would be to the family and friends he said good bye to.

I remember when you were swimming while you were in Florida last year. It showed your determination and your athletic ability to jump in so to speak and push yourself to swim laps after being away from swimming many years. A Papillon was my last pet four years ago. I think I might rescue a kitten some day. Thanks for sharing the memories in this post, DJan. You write well and as always your words are interesting.