Hibernating

A cold snap with possible sleet and ice has shut this part of Texas down for a day or two. (We’re not weenies; we just don’t have the infrastructure or skill for unusually cold or icy weather.) Luckily, I went to the grocery store Sunday (when it was 75F), and my calendar is mostly blank this week for the first time in many months.

This period of quiet and reflection is just what I need. The last couple of years have been really intense, with weather disasters, moving, family health issues and finally, of course, my husband’s death in July. The holiday season was stressful, with travel and more health stuff, including several visits to the ER.

So this week it’s all about rest, renewal and catching up on a few chores. I did an online stitch workshop a few weeks ago and finally finished the piece I created:

The project started with painting the off-white fabric with red and purple paint, then cutting it up and putting it together with stitchery and other forms of decoration. It’s not my favorite creation, but it was a fun challenge, and I got to spend time with my dear friend Helen, who got me into stitching and meditation squares, as we shared ideas.

Chorale rehearsal was canceled last night, but the repertoire is quite challenging, so I will practice at home this week. I’m very grateful for the gift of an electronic keyboard from a fellow singer, since I gave away my piano when we moved into this smaller house. Singing and music are therapeutic for me. I have also returned to meditation, using Eric Whitacre’s “Sing Gently,” with an online choir of more than 17,000 singers Whitacre put together virtually during the pandemic. I burn incense and a candle; Junior curls up beside me. Because of spine issues, regular Zumba was causing leg pain, so now I do chair Zumba with a YouTube video.

I just read Michelle Obama’s “Becoming,” so I have reserved “The Light We Carry” at the library. She is such a genuine, warm and inspiring woman. Also on my reading pile are “Galileo’s Daughter,” by Dava Sobel, “The Power of Coincidence,” by David Richo, Marianne Williamson’s “A Year of Miracles,” and “Walking in Wonder,” by John O’Donohue.

While stitching and knitting I have plenty to watch: HGTV is my comfort TV; I never miss Jeopardy! Netflix provided “The Glass Onion,” (which I liked much better than “Knives Out”), “You People,” with a great cast and a really thought-provoking (and cringe inducing) story; and the wonderful documentary “Leonard Cohen: Hallelujah.” That one made me sad because Gary and I loved Leonard Cohen and he would have enjoyed the documentary. “All Creatures Great and Small” on PBS is another must-see. I got into a 90s PBS kids’ show I had never heard of, “Wishbone,” about a cute little dog that becomes characters in classic literature. Seeing this adorable hound as Romeo, Ulysses and the Hunchdog of Notre Dame is hilarious.

Once this cold snap ends I will probably be ready to get back into society. I hope the weather doesn’t cancel my Thursday art group! I love those people so much I would go even if I didn’t have anything to work on, just to visit.

I made soup made from the frozen Thanksgiving turkey stock. But first I must wrap up and walk Junior, while looking forward to returning to a warm fire and hot soup.

Dear 2022,

Good riddance.

What a year it was, and it has taken me nine days into 2023 to pull together the resources to write this. (I was going to try to do Bloganuary, but daily blogging just isn’t going to happen.)

After a nice Christmas week, the end of the year was a lot like the rest of ’22–challenging.

On Christmas Day, granddaughter and I went to Austin to visit various family members and friends. The next day I headed north to the Dallas-Fort Worth area to spend time with family and old friends I was blessed to “inherit” from Gary. It was a relaxing week, hanging out with dear friends Linda and Kenneth. Linda is recovering from double knee replacement. Kenneth and I took a few pleasant morning walks, and we all went out for a great Mexican dinner one evening, but mostly we sat and talked and watched TV. (I knitted or stitched, not being able to be completely still.)

On Thursday evening we had a gathering of Gary’s old friends (high school, college, theater) and family members at a bar in Arlington. The organizers were Gary’s brother and a friend who used to organize receptions after his shows, long before he and I met. It was nice meeting people whose names I had heard (and nicknames–“The Bomber” is an old friend who is actually an ophthalmologist!) Even the “other” Gary P—-, whose sharing of names often caused confusion in the DFW theater community. I told Shirley, who did much of the organizing, that it was just perfect: the people, the food and drinks, and especially the sharing of stories and memories.

The next morning I packed up, loaded the car and prepared to go first to Austin to pick up the dog at my daughter’s, then home.

In mid-November I was diagnosied with a superficial vein thrombosis (aka SVT) in my left ankle. While not considered as serious as a DVT, it was somewhat painful and required compression socks. During Christmas week I suspected another in my right leg. (Which was confirmed by an ultrasound since I returned home.)

All the years I’ve made this trip, it was the first time without Gary, and I find driving in the DFW metroplex to be very stressful. But with the help of GPS I got out of Fort Worth, headed south on I-35, and felt so short of breath I thought I might pass out. Not wanting to wreck and kill myself or someone else, I took an exit, pulled into a shopping center and called 911. My biggest fear was a DVT, which can cause shortness of breath and even death.

Two very sweet young female EMTs soon arrived and took me to a Fort Worth hospital, where I spent five-and-a-half hours getting pretty much every test known to medicine (and regularly texting my friends, who said they would be taking me back to their house for another night once I was discharged.)

The nurse who put the IV in asked me what I was there for. I told him I had been having vein problems, shortness of breath, and I was worried about a DVT. He said, “I think maybe you’re too smart.” I laughed and told him that I worked for the medical board for 12 years and, yes, I probably knew just enough to cause trouble.

After an EKG, bloodwork, a chest X-ray, an ultrasound and a CT scan, the doctor declared that everything was normal–my heart, lungs, oxygen levels all looked good. He deteremined that it was anxiety caused by a combination of grief and stress. “But,” I told him, “I really couldn’t get air in. I thought I was going to die.” He assured me that it as real, and that I was ok.

My friends came to get me and brought a nephew who would drive my car. When he put the key in it wouldn’t start. I had turned the engine off and locked the car, but I must have forgotten to turn the emergency flashers off. By this time it was about 5:30, so we all agreed we’d wait till the next day to get it jumped. I informed family members I’d be a day late getting home.

Saturday morning: after breakfast, we loaded up Kenneth’s vehicle, and he took me to my car. (One advantage of this was that I didn’t have to negotiate my way through the DFW spaghetti bowl another time.) I called road service, and while I waited I went into the mall to find a restroom. It was amazing! Almost entirely Hispanic, with colorful shops and arcades and everything in Spanish. The restroom was at the farthest opposite end, and when I came out I got totally lost. The road service guy called and said he was almost there. Fortunately Kenneth was with the car. By the time I found my way back the guy had come and gone and the car was running.

While we were waiting, I noticed these clouds and thought maybe I had a guardian angel.

The Conn’s parking lot in the Plaza de Fort Worth became my haven for a little while, watched over by this angel cloud.

I drove home without incident, except for fighting my way through a huge, crowded Buc-ee’s in Temple, Texas, on New Year’s Eve! At least the car started after I had lunch and got gas. I made it to my daughter’s and got the dog, and I was home before dark.

Needless to say I had a very quiet New Year’s Eve and January 1. Didn’t even hear any fireworks. I did return to singing in the locale community chorale on January 2. I last sang with them in February, 2020. Singing should help improve my breathing.

I have seen the vein doctor, and have another appointment next week. I asked the ultrasound tech if she knew why this was happening, and she said, “Um, maybe age?” Yup. My arthritic hip and wonky L4 and L5 discs are causing pain, too. But I’m here! And grateful!

Happy New Year. Hoping for everyone’s sake that it’s better than 2020, 2021 and 2022!

Another Farewell

Yesterday was another day of saying goodbye to Gary, with a memorial service at our former church–the church where we were married 26 years ago. It was wonderful to see so many old friends and theater colleagues, and it was bittersweet, and it was draining. Today I’m resting and reflecting.

The service was similar to the one we did here at our small church, with dear friend Freddy Carnes providing the most amazing selection of songs: The opening was “Here Comes the Sun,” the meditation music was a hummed version of “Over the Rainbow,” and the closing song was the only one I specifically requested, “Beyond the Blue Horizon.” It was perfect. Readings were Shakespeare’s Sonnet #116, read by my daughter Melissa, who also read it at our wedding, and “God Speaks,” by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Many people shared memories of Gary in the murder mystery business, the theater, as a golfer and as an always welcoming presence in the church.

Here is what I said:

At our beautiful service in Kerrville in October I shared some funny stories about life in the theater and murder mystery business with Gary. I know there are lots of people here who probably have even better stories, so today I’m going to tell you something else about Gary that even I didn’t realize until after he was gone: the gifts he gave me. And I’m not talking about jewelry or beautiful art, although he did give me those as well.

First, he gave me the peaceful life of living in Kerrville. Around 20 years ago we agreed that Austin was getting too busy, too crowded and too expensive, and in 2017 we decided to move to Kerrville. It was a good choice because it’s only two hours away from Austin, an hour from San Antonio; it’s in the gorgeous Hill Country, on the Guadalupe River, with trails and parks; there is a good art, theater and music scene; and a nice UU congregation, We sold our Austin condo and were able to buy a house with a big yard and pool, in a pleasant, walkable neighborhood near several parks.

I love living in Kerrville. Even though it is politically and socially conservative, I have found my tribe, in the arts community, in our church, and in other activities. But I don’t think Gary ever felt as good about it, partly because, even though I didn’t know it, he already had Parkinson’s symptoms as early as 2016. That means he did the Darrow show—unprompted for all the performances except the last few—suspecting (or knowing) he had Parkinson’s.

He did make friends through golf and at our church, and carried his passion for greeting and membership into our new congregation, but I know he missed this church, Austin, theater, and the many choices of golf courses, which he didn’t have in Kerrville.

After he was diagnosed in 2018 and his health continued to deteriorate, the big house with the big yard and pool became too much for me. I convinced him we needed to downsize. We got through the Freeze of 2021, during which Gary spent the time with his feet on the hearth, feeding the fireplace.

That spring we found a smaller house nearby, with very little yard and no trees. The move was difficult for him, and he didn’t like the house as much, but it would have been worse if we had put it off longer.

I know Gary missed being able to sit in the big yard and toss balls for Junior. But as he became more disabled I was so grateful to have a comfortable, lower maintenance home, in a lovely neighborhood, quiet and easy to care for. We frequently went to an off-leash dog park on the river, where Gary had space to throw tennis balls. I’m sure Junior misses that arm, because I am no match for it, and Gary could somehow find the lost green balls in the tall green grass.

Another gift was Gary’s attitude about money. We were both frugal without being stingy, and we never argued about money. But when it came to small household jobs that we might or might not be capable of managing, his attitude was “that’s what we have money for.” Another of his favorites was, when he was doing something that might cause trouble, “It’s better to ask for forgiveness than permission.” That one I didn’t buy because there are times it won’t end well.

One of Gary’s greatest gifts was his amazing friends, here in Austin, in Kerrville, in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and scattered about elsewhere. I have inherited them, and I am receiving so much love from people I otherwise wouldn’t know. Gary kept his friends, he cultivated his friendships like a garden, and it is part of his legacy, along with a long string of amazing theatrical productions.

Finally, this is my gift to you: when someone close to you dies there are many “what-ifs,” regrets and wishes. But the more love we show our loved ones, the fewer the regrets. I am still learning that there are many ways to love and be loved.

The last words I said to Gary were, “I love you. See you tomorrow.” He was in a coma, but he turned his face toward me and I know he heard, and he knew that he was loved.

The flowers I left for Sunday’s service–a screenshot taken from this morning’s streamed service.

(I’ve been having trouble with formatting in WordPress, and I don’t have the mental capacity to try to figure it out today, so forgive the weird layout.)

Memorial; Turning a Burden into a Blessing

We had a beautiful memorial service for Gary. The minister was an old friend, and she honored Gary with a beautiful eulogy. The musician was also an old friend, and the choice of songs was (inadvertently) perfect: “Here Comes the Sun,” “Over the Rainbow,” and my request, “Beyond the Blue Horizon.” The memories shared were sweet and touching, and there was plenty of laughter, remembering the crazy life with an actor, director, and founder of a comedy murder mystery company. The church congregation provided a beautiful reception afterwards, and I got more hugs in one day than I’ve had in a long time!

Me reading a poem (below)

On the day after the service, Halloween, which was his favorite event of the year, especially when he could go to Sixth Street in Austin–in serious costume–for many years, there isn’t much time for letdown. As I announced in a recent post, I am homeschooling two teenagers, my granddaughter and her friend.

Of course it’s a challenge. Of course it’s frustrating. As I write this they are preparing what will be elaborate Halloween costumes with makeup, so that will be art credit. The state core curriculum requirement is math, science, English, and “citizenship,” which I interpret as social studies. A tutor provides their algebra I and II, and chemistry. Their English is covered with reading and writing assignments. This week’s “citizenship” assignment is taking a sample ballot for the upcoming election, researching the candidates and issues, and “voting.” On November 9 we’ll see how their vote compares to the winners.

Yes, it’s tough. Time-management is not their strongest suit, but I know they are bright and curious and they are learning. My goal is for them to become productive, educated, responsible humans, while encouraging their creativity and their differences, something that wasn’t happening in public school.

This morning I got to imagining my life right now without these kids. I told a friend: I think I’m turning a burden into a blessing. Without this to focus on and, yes, worry about, I’d just be a lonely old widow looking for a purpose and wondering which volunteer job might suit me. Now I am free to turn down any request for volunteer work. What a gift, to help shape these amazing, weird young people for their future.

I’m closing with a poem I read at the memorial service. It was the first in a series I wrote and put in a book that I gave to Gary the first Christmas we were together. It came from a dream after we took a day trip to the beautiful Texas state natural area, Enchanted Rock.

Something I shared at the service was that, despite his relative visibility as a performer, producer and director, he always honored my creativity as well, and introduced me as an “artist and poet.” What a team we were.

Finding Peace, and a New Venture

This year has been one of the hardest of my entire life. Long months (four years, actually) of my husband’s illness, then his death and its aftermath, both of us having Covid, and the challenges of a teenage granddaughter.

I don’t know if it was the heat, Covid aftermath, the loss and the challenges, or all of those together, but I found myself constantly exhausted, short of breath, crying without warning and just generally miserable and depressed, even with loving support and pharmaceuticals.

After the first six weeks of school it became obvious that the granddaughter could not manage high school, especially the big, sprawling, noisy high school on the opposite side of town, and grandma sure couldn’t handle the commute. Whoever the numbskulls were who put a middle school and a high school directly across the road from each other obviously never gave traffic a thought. Morning drop-off was tedious, and afternoon pickup was a nightmare. (I have a theory we could end the rise of CO2 in a day by eliminating the miles of idling cars at every school in the country between 3 and 4 p.m. I usually turned off the engine and opened the windows, but on hot days most people leave their cars and AC running.)

Granddaughter’s best friend had similar issues, so the mom and I got together and decided homeschooling was the best option. There are no non-religious private or alternative schools in our little town. The state’s requirements for homeschooling are pretty minimal: math, science, English and “citizenship,” which I call social studies.

We will have a local teacher tutor the kids in math and science. I will guide them in English and social studies, and for electives they can do languages online and find opportunities for art, cooking, PE, music and other enrichment. I have already planned a field trip to an art museum in San Antonio in November, and the kids can join my Thursday morning art group and have fun with a bunch of crazy old ladies, who will likely enjoy the fresh faces of young folks.

We start next week, and I have a working curriculum set up: reading, writing, learning about 20th Century history, following the upcoming midterm elections, and asking them what they’re interested in. I’m calling it the “C alt J Homeschool,” and the the motto is “Flexibility + Accountability + Respect = FAR.”

Cooler weather, perhaps finally being free of the post-Covid symptoms, loving care from friends–I’m not sure why, but my energy and enthusiasm are returning. The big xeriscaping project is finished and will look beautiful when the plants fill out. I’m seeing more butterflies now that there are esparanza, lantana and red yucca still blooming. (I’ll post photos when the plants are more filled in. One died, and the landscaper is coming back.)

I’m doing art and stitching, and just finished knitting a stole, soon to be mailed as a birthday gift. I even went to a gallery show art opening alone yesterday, without being dragged by a friend to get me out of the house. Another friend I met there introduced me to an artist I invited to join our Thursday group.

Feather-and-fan pattern. I love the sparkly yarn. It’s called “Summer Nights.”

I’m also working with the minister (a dear friend, whom Gary told me he wanted for his service) and the musician (another old and dear friend) to put together his memorial service on October 30. Another will follow in Austin in December.

My heart still hurts, I still cry, but I am moving forward through it. I have a wonderful grief support group, and I’m making new friends there.

As I go through boxes I find interesting odds and ends. Looking for something else the other day, I found a wooden box with several trinkets, including Gary’s Kappa Alpha fraternity pin and badge. I stitched a heart for them.

Twenty-eight Years

September 21, 1994, was a beautiful, clear, sunny day. I wore a red dress. He arrived a short time after I did, tall, tanned, with dark hair, and wearing navy linen pants and a crisp white cotton shirt. My first thought was “Oh, this guy is way too smooth for me. He probably drives a BMW with a car phone.”

We met for drinks outside at Austin’s Shady Grove Café, after connecting through an Austin Chronicle personals ad. It was pleasantly bustling but quiet enough for conversation. Like today, it was a Wednesday.

The ad. Photo in front of my daughter’s house with the family dog, Jessie.

Time flew by as we talked, and we decided to order dinner. He told me he had a dance class later but planned to go home first to record Ken Burns’ Baseball documentary. I told him I would record it.

(Two ironies: one, he never did learn to dance, and I somehow messed up the VCR and the program didn’t record.)

It’s a good thing I don’t go by first impressions. That must have been his first-date getup, because he rarely looked that slick again. He drove a somewhat elderly Toyota, and neither of us had cell phones for several years.

By the end of the date I realized this was a genuinely nice man whom I hoped to get to know better. He called a day or two later and we had breakfast at Kirbey Lane Café on Saturday morning. What followed was movies (first one was “Quiz Show,”) a day trip to Pedernales Falls State Park, Enchanted Rock and Johnson City (all in one day–we were so young! We even climbed Enchanted Rock.) We went to music venues, like Antone’s iconic blues club, plays, art galleries, sharing so much that we both enjoyed. We discovered we had recently attended the same jazz festival and had visited the same exhibit of Mayan art at the Kimbell Museum in Fort Worth.

The first photo I took of him. Pedernales Falls State Park, Fall 1994.

For my daughter’s 21st birthday, he invited us to one of his murder mysteries (with dinner) at the Driskill Hotel, one of Austin’s poshest spots. Afterwards I found out that the reservations had been mixed up and they were overbooked. He persuaded someone with a reservation to reschedule! I can just imagine: “My new girlfriend and her daughter are celebrating her birthday, and this is so embarrassing. How about a discount for the next show? Or free?”

We went to Fort Worth for Thanksgiving and Christmas, and I met his wonderful friends and family and felt completely accepted. Our first New Year’s eve was at a hotel where he had a murder mystery. Afterwards we and the cast (all good friends of his) drank champagne, danced and sang karaoke (my one and only ever karaoke experience–it’s harder than it looks! Our friend Linda and I sang “Leader of the Pack.” It was terrible.)

We traveled to Florida in 1995 to visit my mother, who fell in love with Gary. On the way back we stopped in New Orleans and celebrated our first year together on September 21 with hurricanes at Pat O’Brien’s.

We worked, he did shows (and I helped him with everything from costumes to programs), we traveled and just enjoyed our time together. On a visit to a friend’s Rockport cottage, in February of ’95, it was so cold we blew out the power with space heaters. We got the power back on but didn’t dare turn on all the heaters, so it was a snuggly weekend. He told me he thought most women would have insisted on going to a hotel. It’s a sweet memory, among others after years of trips to Rockport.

He proposed, sort of, in March 1996. We were sitting at the table in my apartment and one of us made some comment about getting married–I don’t even remember who. And he said, “I think we should.” And I asked, “Think we should what?” And he said, “Get married.”

I now have a stargazer lily tattoo on my wrist. (The reflections are because I shot the framed photo. There wasn’t really a ceiling fan behind me.)

We were married May 31, 1996, in the First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin, in the presence of 50 or so friends and family members, accompanied by a bagpiper.

My mother stayed over till the next day. We had a big breakfast gathering at Shady Grove. Then my mother accompanied us house-hunting. We both still had our apartments. (Another funny story: I had a photo of Gary on my night table. He was in the office of his apartment complex–in north Austin, while I lived south–and a maintenance man recognized him from the photo! The same company owned both complexes, the only two they had in Austin!)

We found a charming duplex in Barton Hills, one of Austin’s nicest neighborhoods. I think my mother was good luck; the landlord didn’t even ask us to fill out an application. We lived there for a couple of years until we bought our condo.

After mom left we spent a few days in a different cottage in Rockport. This time there was no gas, so we had no hot water and no way to cook except a coffee maker and an electric skillet. It was our honeymoon and we didn’t care! I made a delicious one-pot dish in the skillet, which I called “honeymoon chicken.”

That fall we took a real honeymoon to San Francisco, Monterey, Carmel and Muir Woods. We stayed in a hotel that had a cute little café with a Titanic theme. The coffee cups were huge bowls with handles, the coffee was delicious and the bread was sublime. We returned to San Francisco and stayed with friends in 2002, and it was equally wonderful. Who doesn’t love San Francisco?

Over the years we traveled to New Zealand, South America, Canada, England, Scotland, France, and all over the U.S.

Gary was born on a 21st, we met on a 21st, and he died on a 21st. Two months today. Every day for a while is going to bring back all those calendar days of day trips and dates and good times.

The Foreverness of It

Every adult knows that everyone eventually dies. Even four-year-olds begin to learn about death, and ask questions about it. We all lose loved-ones. I have lost my parents, aunts and uncles, my brother and, recently, a niece, as well as two grand-nephews.

But losing a partner of 28 years, the most intimate and intense relationship most people have, is different. It’s transformative. I don’t think we were ever apart for more than a few days, when one of us was traveling, and then we always talked daily. We loved traveling together and visited at least six countries, as well as going all over the U.S.

This is transformative. I never imagined how different this kind of loss and grief would be.

Gary was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2018 (although I recently discovered that he suspected it as early as 2016. This gives me chills. How different our lives might have been. We probably wouldn’t have moved away from Austin, and I wouldn’t have my art tribe, friends and the peaceful life I now enjoy in our little town.)

I knew for four years that the inevitable end was not far off.

Opinions differ on the validity of Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ stages of grief, but soon after Gary died I understood the denial, guilt and bargaining phases.

My therapist reminds me of the difference between guilt and regret: guilt is about things you did, regret about what you didn’t do.

The day after he died a friend was visiting and I told her how guilty I felt about being impatient, being snappy, not always being as kind to Gary as I “should” have been. She said, “You’re human!” As difficult as the final stages of his illness were, it’s not surprising I got frustrated and lost patience, but overall I did my best to keep him safe, comfortable and free of pain.

Denial is subtle, subconscious. I know in my head he’s gone. I know we’ll never talk again, hug or kiss again, except in my memory. But odd little things, like hanging some pictures, made me think, “Gary will like those here.” Or, when I turned on the TV as a golf tournament ended, and I didn’t recognize the name of the winner, I thought I’d ask Gary if he was a familiar with him.

This is where the bargaining comes in. I had a dream in which he had been given a brief release, like from prison, and we stood in a bare room–he was in maroon sweats–and just held each other.

That’s when I think, “Oh, if I could just have one more of those moments.” Bargaining, as if there was something I could give to get that. (I’m reminded of the play, “Our Town,” which Gary directed for Paradox Players in 2007.)

That is the “foreverness” I have trouble getting my head around.

This was his professional headshot and resume, probably taken about 1997 or ’98, which would make him 49 or 50. It’s one of my favorites because of that smile, and the light in his eyes.

No Wrong Way

Twelve days after my husband’s death, I am obviously in the earliest stage of the process of dealing with the loss, and managing the tasks that need to be done.

While awaiting death certificates, I have been able to manage some chores: contacting Social Security, canceling a credit card and some insurance, and the like. But it’s tedious. I spent an hour and 45 minutes with AT&T this morning, getting his line canceled and switching the other phones to my name–105 minutes I’ll never get back (although much of it was hold time, and I paid bills). Then I called the Texas Employees’ Retirement System to notify them, and I was done in five minutes. So much for capitalism being more efficient than government.

But the personal journey is the more complicated one, and the more difficult. An acquaintance (who has experienced more loss than have I) texted me to ask how I was doing, and I replied that I was very busy, “but busy is good.” Although this person doesn’t know me well, she saw fit to gently scold me for staying busy to avoid facing grief.

I have not yet replied, but I’ve given it some thought, and decided that there is no wrong way, and that I’m finding my own way and my own pace. Of course I have moments when a reminder or a memory will bring tears, and I don’t push them away but let the wave flow over me.

As for the “busy” part, I’m doing both what needs to be done and what I enjoy, in equal measure. The chores remain: groceries, dog care, car care, and all the other tasks of modern life. But I’ve been reading, watching Netflix and Prime movies, HGTV (my comfort TV), swimming at the gym, taking the dog to the off-leash park (my happy place) and even making art. One day I was trying to nap and realized I couldn’t sleep, so I said to myself, “I need art!” I got up and made this piece, a meditation card of reminders of Gary’s and my river cruise in France in 2018, with a map, scenes of Giverny, Les Andelys and the boat on the Seine, and the Eiffel Tower–wonderful memories that will never fade.

Memories of France, 2018, collage

When I wonder whether I’m doing it wrong, I think of my art group. If a newcomer says she has no idea how to start a collage. I tell her “There is no wrong way. Play with the materials, and if you don’t like it start again.”

I also came up with three things that help me through the dark moments:

  • A. Gary is not suffering, not in pain, and at peace. He told me through the years that when his time came he did not want to be in pain and he did not want to suffer. With hospice care, I made sure of that.

  • B. I have 28 years of memories to focus on. It’s bittersweet, but looking through photo albums brings smiles.

  • C. My life is easier now that I’m not taking care of someone who had a degenerative neurological disease for more than four years. At around 3:30 or 4 p.m., I still think I need to load the dog in the car and go up to the nursing home, where I went every day from about 4 until Gary had his dinner, for most of the past four months. In the past week I’ve had a doctor’s appointment, done lab work, seen a periodontist (and scheduled oral surgery for next week) and got a haircut.

I’m blessed with good friends, a beautiful community and a comfortable home, which I share with my granddaughter. I am optimistic about the days ahead, while I still honor Gary’s memory and stay in touch with his friends and family.

A Good and Sweet Man

As many readers know, my husband was in hospice care with complications of Parkinson’s disease. On July 11, he tested positive for covid and was placed in the quarantine wing of his facility. A few days later I tested positive, so I was not allowed to see him. He returned to his regular room on the 18th, but I was still positive and still not allowed to go in. We both had mild cases–I’ve had much worse colds–and by Wednesday I had no symptoms but I was still testing positive.

That afternoon the hospice nurse called me and told me to come and don’t mention testing. When I got there the assistant administrator hustled me back to his room and I got to spend several hours with him, also talking to the nurses, the chaplain and the social worker. I was able to hold his hands, and the dog licked him. He was in a coma and non-responsive, but when I kissed him goodbye and told him I loved him, he turned his face toward me. His brother arrived later and put Gary on the phone with two of his oldest friends.

That night I got a call from the hospice nurse that he had passed, and I called his brother. After Doug went to the facility to see Gary off (I chose to remember him as he was that afternoon), Doug came to the house and told me funny stories about their childhood. Gary was the big brother, and I know losing him has been very hard on his brother.

I chose to donate Gary’s body to the U.T. San Antonio Medical School. Since he had Parkinson’s, I hope that they can learn things that might help others in the future. I wish there were a prevention or cure for that horrible disease.

The following is the obituary that has been submitted to our local newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman and the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

This is the most recent picture of Gary that didn’t have the “Parkinson’s face.” It was taken at my birthday lunch last year, May 19, 2021. My granddaughter took the picture. It captures his sweet smile.

Gary R.Payne loved his family and friends, theater and golf. Gary stayed in close touch with his family, including aunts, uncles and cousins, as well as with friends from across the years, throughout his life. He left this life peacefully on July 21, 2022, after a four-year battle with Parkinson’s. He was 73.

He had played golf with his late father and with his brother, Doug, since childhood and loved the game. Only with the onset of Parkinson’s did he stop playing. His life in theater also began in his youth, and he put his whole self into a production, whether he was producing, directing or performing (sometimes all three), and whether it was a theatrical production, a comedy murder mystery, or his occasional movie and TV appearances. His final series of performances was a 90-minute one-man show about Clarence Darrow, which he presented in Austin, Amarillo, Fort Worth, Kerrville and San Antonio.

Gary Ray Payne was born in Fort Worth, Texas, in 1948, to the late Rayford Payne and Alice Ann (Box) Payne. He is survived by his brother, Edward Douglas Payne and wife, Sharon Reynolds Payne, his nephew Raef Payne and wife Nicole Payne and their son Ruckus West Payne. He is also survived by his aunts Mary Campbell, Edwina Garrison and Nancy McIntyre Box, as well as many cousins and his other “family,” the Caesar siblings. He is also survived by his wife of 26 years, Gillian (Jill) Wiggins and her family, as well as many friends in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, Austin, Kerrville and elsewhere. He had many friends in his church communities, First Unitarian Universalist Church of Austin and the Unitarian Universalist Church of the Hill Country.

Gary graduated from Arlington High School in 1967 and received a B.S. and an M.B.A. in marketing from the University of Texas at Arlington. He has played and watched golf all around the country, including qualifying for the California pro-am in the 1970s. After a long career in sales with Motorola, Gary bravely turned away from corporate life and started a murder mystery business in Austin, the Capital City Mystery Players, which entertained thousands in restaurants, hotels, on the Austin steam train, and at private events for 25 years.

After retiring the business, Gary became artistic director of Paradox Players in Austin and produced, directed or performed in many productions, including his own adaptation of “Casablanca,” called “Queso Blanco,” in which Texas had seceded, and confusion and merriment ensued. He was loved by all who worked with him in theater and with whom he played golf. He was meticulous but fair and patient with his casts, and always played by the rules. He was kind, thoughtful, and enjoyed life.

He and his wife, Jill, enjoyed travel to Canada, England, France, New Zealand, Argentina and Uruguay, as well as many locations around the U.S. They enjoyed the outdoors together, hiking in state and national parks, including the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain, Waimea Canyon, Hawaii, and visits to New York, Washington, D.C., Baltimore, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Diego, and much of the southern U.S. They loved the Texas Gulf Coast beaches, especially Rockport and Port Aransas. They also shared a love of art, jazz and live music, theater, movies and playing Gary’s own invention, “Trivial Charades” with friends.

Services will be planned at a future date. A gathering of friends and family in the Arlington area will also be held in the future.

Jill’s and Gary’s families wish to thank staff at Peterson Hospital, Peterson Hospice, and Hilltop Village Nursing and Rehabilitation Center, for their dedicated care.

Those who wish to make a memorial donation please consider the Parkinson’s Foundation, the Davis Phinney Foundation, or other Parkinson’s charities.

A Little Luck in Tough Times

It’s been exactly a month since my last post. In that time I got into a routine of visiting Gary every afternoon for a couple of hours, through his dinnertime. He was eating well and, although not very mobile, seemed to be in pretty good spirits.

Then last Monday he tested positive for Covid and was transferred to the faclility’s quarantine wing. Not being able to visit him, I have relied on reports from staff on his well-being. I usually have to reach out for information, but when I hear nothing I assume that means there is nothing to report. I took his phone to the office and asked for the hospice nurse to have him call me (he can’t manage his phone on his own) but the regular hospice nurse has been off and it hasn’t happened so far. I hope he remembers who I am when we finally get to talk.

Having a little more free time without those two-plus hour visits, I re-started physical therapy for my back problems, as recommended by the spine surgeon. After two sessions, I tested positive for Covid and had to cancel subsequent sessions.

I am a natural introvert, but a “performing introvert,” as one former minister called it, because I can easily be around people, talk to strangers and so forth. But I am content with solitude and re-charge during alone time. I’m seldom lonely and never bored.

I have also been blessed with a very mild case. I’ve had much worse colds. I had three days of a stuffy nose, sneezing, and a fairly bad cough. Last night I slept about nine hours straight with no cough, nose-blowing or sneezing. I felt well enough this morning to take Junior to the dog park.

Me and my shadows
My happy place, where I breathe deeply and slow down.

Granddaughter is still testing negative but figures she’ll probably eventually get it. She’s not huggy or touchy, which helps protect her from me, but we are sharing living quarters. She is so bored she actually cleaned her room! She stays in touch with her friends via phone, and she has multiple streaming services for entertainment. I see her a few times a day when she comes out for food or coffee.

What am I doing with this forced solitude? The things I’ve wished I had more time for: watching HGTV (the TV verson of comfort food–even if I’ve seen an episose I forget whether they’ve decided to “love it” or “list it,” and the Big Reveal always comes in the last 10 minutes); Netflix series (right now “How to Change Your Mind,” based on Michael Pollan’s book about the psychological breakthroughs with psychedelics); TCM movies; my usual “Jeopardy!” and news programs; lots of reading–the online New York Times, the Sunday San Antonio Express-News, some poetry, some meditative stuff, and two books, Sapiens, by Yuval Noah Harari, a fascinating and readable history of our species, and Second Hand, by Adam Minter, about the second lives of all the stuff we re-sell, donate or trash, from appliances to old comics. I have a new craft, “meditation stitching,” making 4×4-inch squares with fabric, ribbons and trims. I love hand-stitching and small projects, so I’m glad one of my art group friends shared this.

A new way to keep my hands busy. Now I have a use for a lifetime of keeping fabric scraps, ribbons and other trim.

I have a couple of knitting projects, including one that is not going well. It’s in time-out right now but I need to lay it out and try to rescue the many, many hours I’ve put into it, especially since it’s supposed to be a gift for an October birthday.

Lace knitting that got a little too lacy. Can I save it? Given that it’s about two feet long, I sure hope so.

Even though I’m feeling better on only the fourth day, I’m still testing positive, so enforced solitude continues

Besides the sorrow of not being able to see Gary during what must be a lonely time for him, I have one huge disappointment: today the local symphony is performing Camille Saint-Saëns’ magnificent organ symphony at a local church. It’s one of my favorite works, and hearing it live with the gorgeous organ I’ve been wanting to hear, is really heartbreaking, because it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. I can listen to recordings of it but that would never replace seeing and hearing the players and the instruments and feeling the literal vibration of the air in that great acoustical space.

I still feel very fortunate. The dog is good company and he gets me out. We are safe, we have food, water, power (assuming the wacky Texas grid doesn’t fail), air conditioning, and entertainment. I know this too shall pass, and nobody ever knows what lies ahead. So I mush on.

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