My New Year’s Eve Miracle

The holidays will never be what they once were for those of us suffering from the recent loss of a loved one. The time of year that used to bring anticipation of presents and Santa and the Baby Jesus and sweets in our stockings and “Auld Lang Syne,” becomes an unwelcome ghost in the face of grief.  Each mourner finds a way to get through the holidays with the help of family and friends, or maybe with a creative plan to shake things up a bit and do something different.  Some escape on a cruise ship or take a plane, train or automobile somewhere warm or scenic.

I threw a party for Christmas and invited my neighbors and new Florida friends.  It was just what I needed.  My piano teacher played Christmas Carols and everyone dutifully sang.  I beamed with joy, so grateful that my plan to escape the emptiness was working.

And yes, that story is a miracle itself, but it was on New Year’s Eve that I was visited by an angel. Before you call the paramedics to rush me into therapy, read on.

I figured a distraction plan worked for Christmas, so I thought: “Better figure out some strategy for New Year’s Eve as well.”  The holiday was not one that my late husband Gene and I celebrated too frequently, although we had a great time one year at Camelback Ski Area when they hosted a party in their lodge. But mostly we would just toast the New Year at about 9 pm and drift off to sleep before the ball dropped. But I was determined to do something festive.

sharkeys at sunsetI thought I’d begin with sunset on the beach at Sharkey’s pier in Venice. Sharkey’s advertised a New Year’s Eve beach bash, but doing that solo was risky.  As I watched the sun sneak below the earth, taking pictures with my phone and sending them to friends and relatives, wishing everyone a Happy New Year from the beach, I weighed the pros and cons of bar hopping to maybe “Sharkey’s,” “The Crows’s Nest,” and “Pops Sunset Grill.” I realized “…oops, I have no driver.”  Drinking and driving was also too risky.

Coming off the beach and swishing the sand off my feet, I climbed into the Subaru and headed to “The Crow’s Nest”, still sober.  I couldn’t find a parking space, so I drove on to the south Jetty, where I parked, sat and stared at the stars in the sky and I began to get all nostalgic.  A deep sadness crept like a thief into my heart, taking a wrecking ball to my big plan. The tears welled up and I thought my night was over, then the phone rang.  It was my friend, Margie.  God bless Margie.  We talked and laughed and my mood improved as I struggled to hear because there were loud noises behind me.  Margie and I ended our call offering each other best wishes for the New Year and I turned the car around.  Fireworks!!  There were beautiful fireworks shooting up directly behind the North Jetty Fish Camp.  This was Gene’s favorite place in Florida!  Our old fishing pier.fireworks

Things were looking up.  Next I knew I had to go to Pops.  This was our favorite restaurant and bar in Florida!! Situated on the Intercoastal Waterway, Pops is the best place to relax and watch boats motor by, drink something tropical, wine, or a beer, and listen to some fantastic local band. I never thought I’d get a parking space on New Year’s Eve, but there it was, second space, right in front of the door.  What are the odds?

I felt a little out of place, but asked the waitress if I could sit at the bar and she welcomed me and ushered me inside. Pops Sunset GrillI ordered a glass of wine.  A bench in the common area looked more roomy than a bar stool and several people were already seated there.  I slid into a vacant spot and began to listen to the music as the flames flickered from the fire pits burning at each table and the holiday lights blinked red and green, illuminating the palm trees and making them seem magical. The band was R.P.M. with Dan and Mary.  They played a mix of 1960’s folk rock and rock tunes including Janis Joplin’s “Bobby McGee.” This was followed by a Beatles set and I had the thought that maybe I’d request our wedding song, The Beatles, “In My Life.”  Then I thought about that again.  “No way, I’ll fall apart if I hear that song tonight.  Can’t do that.” The Band played McCartney’s “The Long and Winding Road.” Oh my God. So beautiful, so apropos, so heart-wrenchingly sad. I wondered “Why God?” I was soon to have an answer.

As I finished the thought and recovered from McCartney’s lyrics, guess what the band played next?  Yes.  They played “In My Life.”  I couldn’t bear it..  As I broke down in tears, I remembered so clearly the glory of our fall wedding day and the quirkiness of the backyard ceremony. I recalled the local folksinger who crooned this Beatles song despite her laryngitis and played guitar so sweetly.  I smiled and began to feel warm as if the sun was shining down on me.  It occurred to me to be embarrassed, wondering if the servers or patrons were staring at me and if I was spoiling the party for them. But to my surprise, no one reacted to me.  It was as if I were in a bubble in time, separated from everyone, allowed to grieve without interruption and without disturbing or penetrating the world of anyone around me.  That is….. except for one person.

Earlier in the evening, when I first found my seat on the bench, I did a bit of “people-watching.” I noticed an American family, a father, mother, daughter and one who appeared to be a boyfriend, laughing and singing and dancing.  Next to them stood a young man who didn’t seem to fit.  He was Middle Eastern, dark hair and eyes, very young, maybe late teens or early 20’s, and to me he looked very ill at ease.  His movements seemed to be practiced, and I thought he might be pretending he was having a good time, but maybe not feeling quite as “cool” as he would have liked.

The family sat on the bench, and this young man sat next to me.

As I sobbed, I looked up at him to see if I was disturbing his revery, and he spoke to me: Quite clearly and with a wide smile, he said: “God Bless You.”

Just then the music reached a crescendo, “…In my life, I love you more…” followed by the touching instrumental interlude. That line always makes me sob, whenever I hear it. The young man next to me must wonder, and I felt I owed him an explanation.  I wiped my eyes and turned. Gently, I laid my hand on his and I apologized.  I explained that I lost my love this year, and that this was our wedding song, and I was overcome with grief. I was sorry but I lost control.

He smiled again, an amazing smile that lit up his entire face.  And he said simply and again, “God Bless You.”
I stared in disbelief but accepted the blessing in my heart.
The family rose to leave and he followed.

Whoever you were, young man, for this New Year’s Eve, you were an angel who comforted me. Thank you.

 

Happy Thanksgiving with Biscotti memories

Thanksgiving memoriesTomorrow will be the first Thanksgiving I spend without Gene and without a loving family around my table. As a poor substitute, I am baking biscotti today (recipe link, I substitute walnuts for pistachios), in the hopes that the scent of these yummy breakfast morsels baking in my kitchen will fill my heart with warm memories of Thanksgiving turkey dinner and all the trimmings that we enjoyed with our cousins and moms, year after year.  Gene and I both lost our dads in the late ’80s, so you won’t see them in most of our photos. But for many years, we hosted Thanksgiving for our cousins, who in turn hosted Christmas, and our moms joined us until they passed away. It was tough watching the Thanksgiving crowd dwindle over the years.

I can tell so many funny stories of turkeys that took forever to cook, and perogies that exploded on the stove top (I forgot I had them in a glass casserole and the burner was ON! Duh!).  When Jake was a puppy, Gene walked him for hours in the rain to try to tire him out before dinner so he wouldn’t make mischief.  (No matter how many times we were told that you can’t tire out a young Brittany hunting dog, we still tried). And no matter how much I screwed up the turkey, everyone always LOVED my sausage and onion stuffing!  And the pies were always delicious too, whether I baked or bought them.

No matter what the menu, it was assured there would be TOO MUCH FOOD, and everyone would enjoy taking some home for next-day leftovers.

So tomorrow, instead of whining about what I don’t have this year, I will give thanks to God for all the years of Thanksgiving blessings that I did have and that Gene and I were blessed to have together.  And tomorrow, I will celebrate with a new friend I met here in Florida. Her name is Carole and we met at the dog park.  Our pups get along great together, Megan and Jake.  Carole and I will celebrate the holiday aboard the Marina Jack II, a sightseeing vessel that motors around Sarasota Bay while serving up a gourmet feast.  No cooking, no clean up, and no crying, please.  There will be entertainment and the weather promises to be sunny and warm.  How lucky am I?

I’m not really kidding myself or anyone else though.  No amount of counting my blessings can erase or lessen the amount of grief and sadness that finds its way into my heart and ambushes me at inopportune times during the day, mostly early morning and night.  But I pray, as I do every day, that the joy I find in my new life by extending myself to others and doing things to contribute in some way to my new community, will make it possible for me to get to the next hour, the next day, the next holiday and even the new year.

I wish you all the blessings of fond memories, funny stories, and precious moments.  Happy Thanksgiving!
Julianne and Jake

OLMC Book Club – a stimulating way to connect…

Our Lady of Mt. Carmel windowsYou know, my move to Florida was intense.  It took some chutzpah to pick up and move over 1,000 miles with my dog, Jake, in tow so soon after my loving husband Gene passed away from cancer. But here I am.  I survived the move and so did Jake.  The biggest challenge of course is not fixing up the house or finding my way around, but rather forging new relationships and friendships.  That’s the stuff that keeps me going.  The human connections keep me sane.  The alternative is to exist as if in a space walk, where I float freely with nothing to hang on to.

One of the ways I found to connect is through the local Catholic Church, Our Lady of Mt. Carmel in Osprey. I’ve always loved palm trees and when I walked into this church, I was surprised by the stained glass windows adorned with stately palms.  At OLMC, I found my way back to my religion and my God and I was welcomed into a community that embraced me.  Through a Grief Support Group facilitated by Darwin Reeck, OLMC Pastoral Minister, I met others who are going through the grieving process, and I found a safe place to cry with the support of those who know exactly how I feel. I also joined the OLMC Book Club, and that is where I went today.

When I was married, we socialized mostly with friends, usually other couples, and I didn’t spend a lot of time in the company of women.  This Book Club is attended by some of the most intelligent, inspiring, and compassionate women I have ever met and I honestly feel blessed to be welcomed and to participate in the lively discussions.

The group is facilitated by Doris Brodeur, Ph.D. Adult Faith Development, whose depth of experience, love for reading and knowledge of culture enriches me as I listen to her stories and anecdotes when she elaborates about the setting of the book or the author. Along with other volunteers, Doris organizes the group, helps us select the books and provides handouts and refreshments.  Doris and other volunteers generally make each meeting a true joy for all who attend. Each woman in the group has a unique background and experience, and from what I can tell, all of the members are honest and straightforward in expressing their views and impressions.  The books on the reading list have been engaging and offer many topics of discussion.

Today we discussed the book by Joan Chittister, The Gift of Years.  Frankly, I didn’t really enjoy or appreciate this book. Each chapter delves deeply into the issues of aging, like loneliness, solitude, memories, regrets, success, tale-telling, and many others.  You’d think such a book would be “right up my alley,” but while reading it, I felt only pressure.  The pressure that comes with expectations.  Let me explain.

When I turned 65, I felt I was officially a “senior citizen,” even though I had been receiving AARP magazines for years prior. Of all the privileges that come with age, traditionally many looked forward to the retirement years when we are free from the constraints of the working world and where all we are expected to do is play golf, relax in the shade, read, knit, take bike rides at dusk, and maybe bake a few cookies.  My mom and dad had that kind of retirement.  They enjoyed Florida and all its gifts. They swam in the Gulf; my dad played golf and bought a boat so he could fish.  They cared for their home and took trips around the world and with their grandchildren, they enjoyed Disney, Busch Gardens and all the Florida attractions.  No one expected them to find any special meaning in their older years or to contribute much to the world. They did their part and now they deserved to relax.

Today’s retirement is undefined.  When life spans have lengthened for many to 90 or 100 years, we have the responsibility to continue.  How we continue can be perceived as an opportunity or a chore, depending on what we are going through and how we feel emotionally and physically. Right now, I’m stressed by the role of “grieving widow.”  Continuing for another 30 years or more is not a pleasant prospect to me now.  I pray that changes.  I have some skills, lots of interests and passions, and I want to continue to express myself through whatever number of “retirement” years are granted me.

But not today.  Today I need to relax.  Thank you ladies, for welcoming me and for your caring thoughts and insights.

How about you? What are your retirement plans?

–Julianne, your Lifetime Writer

 

Living in the Dots…

star of dotsDay after day, by some miracle, I go on.  Living without Gene is something I don’t know how to do, but I know I have to learn.  Because I’m moving, I have lots to do and the days are filled with tasks, neatly arranged into checklists, that I dutifully monitor and adjust, as I remember a new one or complete something that was pending.

Living this way is what I call, “living in the dots.” When you view a newspaper print photo from a distance, you see the entire thing.  It makes sense to you.  But hold a magnifying glass to the page, and all you will see are the halftone “dots” created by the old dot matrix printers and now we call them pixels. That’s just what this life has become.  I’ve lost perspective.  I no longer see the big picture.  All I see are the details.  There is no meaning, and I don’t recognize a pattern.

With the grace of God, this will change and I will find a purpose once again. With determination, I will write another chapter in my lifetime book.  For those experiencing a similar loss, I wish you the same.

Happy Birthday Gene

My husband Gene passed away on February 5th, 2016.  I take notes every day as I experience his presence in my life in so many ways. He visits me in the wind, through birds that fly in and out of our bird feeder, and in the hugs and kisses made by cloud formations in the sky.  Am I going crazy?  No, I just love him deeply with …”a love that lasts forever.”

Gene’s birthday is May 18th and we were born in the same year, 1951.  I wanted to grow old with Gene but God gave him only 64 years.  My years with Gene were the best years of my life.  Thank you, my love, for the memories, and Happy Birthday.

Our pup, Jake, will be 12 years old on May 11.  He is my comfort and my baby.  Happy Birthday, Jake.

 

Self-Publishing Program for Teen Authors, Chester Library

Writers Workshop: Self-Publishing for Teen Authors
Wednesday, July 23rd  6:30 pm
For Tweens & Teens
Got a story to tell? Learn how to publish your stories for free in this special workshop.  You will learn the 3 major steps of self-publishing online in an E-book, a Flipbook, or a printed book.  Julianne Weinmann, self-published author and consultant, will demonstrate how easy it is using the self-publishing program on the LULU.com website. Bring some of your work and get started at the workshop. 
This summer, read and share your story online or in print:  “Your Story” by YOU, the author! Please register online at chesterlib.org or call 908 879-7612.

Older Then, Younger Now….PUBLISHED!

Well Ladies and Germs, I FINALLY finished my very own LifeTime Book entitled Older Then, Younger Now.

Older Then, Younger Now.After fixing errors that I found in the proof copy, I revised my work and finally published it for the general public.  The issue of cover design was especially perplexing because I am not a graphic artist and although I have learned to use Photoshop pretty well, creating an image size that would fit within the boundaries of the printed cover was a significant challenge for me, who is untrained in digital graphic arts.

On www.LULU.com, you can download a copy of my book or purchase the hard cover printed version. I haven’t created an e-book version, and probably won’t, but LULU.com provides a preview for those who just want to read a few pages.

I don’t consider this my last revision.  There are many more life chapters to go.  But I feel great that I have a start on the story of my life.  Reading it over now, it looks like I’ve skipped over so many personal adventures and details, so I anticipate writing many more chapters for later editions to fill in the past and to document new life events as they occur.

If you would like to create a Lifetime Book of your own, contact me to get started today! It would be a wonderful gift for Mom, Dad or grandparents.

Remembering Lakewood

Lakewood NJLakewood New Jersey.  Nestled in the pine forests of south Jersey, Lakewood was a short distance from Lakehurst, “Airship Capital of the World.” Here, in the early 1950’s my parents bought a former “army barracks,” complete with two entrances, a large kitchen, and several bedrooms off both sides radiating from a long hallway.  In July of 1969, my family huddled around our RCA Victor TV to watch Neil and Buzz land on the moon.

I returned to Lakewood with Gene…..oh maybe 5 or 10 years ago and I was thrilled to show him where I grew up in summers, swimming in Lake Carasaljo, watching the July 4th fireworks on the lake, picking blueberries in the woods and flirting with lifeguards.Those summers flew by way too fast.  Returning to these places where childhood was carefree and every day was filled with adventure brought forth a flood of conflicted feelings.

The feeling of the sand between my toes, the sweet scent of bright white water lillies, the gutterel sounds of horny bullfrogs, and the rough feel and wintergreen aroma of the bark of pine trees bring me back to very specific days and times. Closing my eyes, I can recall conversations with friends, the cold tingle in my feet while I wade in the water on a chilly June day, and the feeling of the soft mud I would dig as a child, way deep below the sand.  Mud that felt so smooth and pliable that I could make mud pies that appeared good enough to eat.

The memories bring tears to my eyes….and I wonder why it makes me sad.  I think because of the loss of innocence, the days I can never recapture, but more likely the thought that the best times of my life are behind me.  I don’t know for sure, but I do feel lucky to have had “Lakewood,” in which to live two months out of the year in my childhood and adolescent years.

Proof Copy Cringes

I was so excited that I finally FINISHED my Lifetime Book.  I thought for sure that my next blog entry would be an announcement. But wait…..then I ordered the proof copy.

Now don’t get me wrong, it looks really good. All the pages were in the right places and the photos looked fine….maybe some were a bit small…but then there are the typos, undetected grammar errors, and in my case, the cover art was corrupted by the cover wrap.

But this is all a learning experience.  Even though I’ve self-published many times, there is always room for improvement in every project.

coverHere’s how the cover art looks, which shows the correct margins.  The title words, “Then” and “Now” are both cut off.  So I’m going back to Photoshop to move the text left and to change the “L” in Lifetime to an upper case “L.”

Work and learn.