I am almost finished writing my book, Coming Alive After Death, and here, present a couple of chapters to whet your appetite, should you choose to explore more after it is published. These are not the opening chapters of the book.
We were so blessed to have my sweet husband in our lives, escorting us through this foray into uncharted territory with my daughter so sick. My husband is one of the most accepting people I've ever met, next to my sweet and gentle grandfather. He doesn't judge people, and he believes the best in them. He has faith that they can work out their troubles and though he is always available to talk with, and his perspectives are always generous and enlightened, he's not a meddler or a controlling person. Raising our four kids with him was amazing. We were a blended family, both of us having experienced divorce when our respective spouses became bored with us.
It was magical when we got together and has been pretty magical ever since.
When I moved from Colorado to Pennsylvania with my children as a single
mother, we lived in a three-bedroom apartment for a couple of years. We found
ourselves surrounded by lots of other single mother families, and many
students. And I found that most of these mothers were bitter towards men and
not really the kind of people I enjoyed spending time with. I love men. I
believe the world is full of really good ones, and I can't sit around dissing
them just because the one in my first marriage was not trustworthy.
|My Littles in our tiny house in Colorado |
when I first became a single Mom xoxo
Jess was 7 and Torey was 9 years old.
So I started looking for a place to live that offered more of a neighborhood environment, with a mix of families. It had to allow pets, since I had a cat and wanted a dog, and it had to be small enough for me to comfortably afford the heat in winter, and easy to take care of and maintain both inside and out. I came across an ad in the paper for a duplex and arranged to see it early one morning.
When I walked into the modest living room just inside the front door, I heard myself saying "I'll take it!"
This is exactly when divine forces clicked into motion, though I didn't
know it at the time.
|All I had seen was the floor, the windows, and the empty bookshelves when I heard myself say, |
"I'll take it!"
|Life-sustaining forces are everywhere.|
The current tenant, who was showing me around said, "But don't you want to see the rest of it?"
I said, "Yes, but I'm sure I'll take it," because I had fallen in love with the immaculately finished gorgeous wooden floors, the wall of built-in bookshelves along the back of the living room, and the beautiful, very large, wooden, multi-paned windows punctuating the walls of every room in the house.
The tenant showed me around the rest of the duplex and though the third bedroom was very small, the place was just as beautiful upstairs as down. The backyard was small, but had a very old weeping cherry tree in one corner, and the cherry tree, viewable from the kitchen and dining rooms, bloomed fragrant white blossoms whose petals fluttered down and across the yard like springtime snowflakes. It was a dream come true to find an affordable place that felt like home. Outside my bedroom window was a tall, sturdy sugar maple tree that made the room glow pink as its leaves turned color with the cold winds of the coming winter. There were kids in the neighborhood, and lots of retired folks, single moms with dogs, and starter families. It was good.
My two children and I lived there for three years, and it was a very good home for us. I loved cooking in the tiny kitchen that overlooked the backyard, and the children and I ate at the dining room table I'd inherited from my grandparents when they passed away. Spaghetti dinners, late Sunday brunches, giggles and songs and stories. There was much laughter at that table, lots of crafting, homework, puzzle building, and so much of the sweetness of life.
|Living room in the duplex was cozy.|
|Me at my desk in the little duplex living room.|
"Oh!," I said, "no, I'll go do that right away. Thanks so much for letting me know." For the next few seconds we stared at each other awkwardly. Then he said goodnight and slipped away to join his beautiful family. As he left and I trotted out with my keys to turn off the headlights, I felt my solitude keenly, wondering if ever I would feel the wholeness of family again.
During the first year we lived there, I said hi to the neighbors once, and the mother drove my children to school a couple of times when it was thundering in the morning and I had to be at work by 8 a.m. Usually my children walked to school. I so appreciated the kindnesses of my little community. Though we didn't socialize, I'd sometimes find my driveway shoveled out after a hard snow, and once the father neighbor came over and sprayed a huge ant nest that was in our backyard, because the ants were finding their way into their kitchen next door.
One night while the family was out in their backyard barbecuing, my children came to me with a dead bird they had found. Together, we picked tiny wildflowers and a couple of nice big green leaves, and I gave them a garden trowel and went with them to the far corner of our yard, underneath the cherry tree. We dug a little hole and lined it with the leaves and flowers, and laid the bird to rest. I asked the children if they could think of something nice to say to send it on its way. They each, with very solemn faces, blessed the little bird and I did too. We gently covered the bird with soft earth, and I went to sit on the steps by the kitchen door that overlooked the backyard and my two lovely children stayed with the bird for a while longer. My daughter was about nine years old at the time, and my son, 11.
As I sat contemplating death so close to the life that was happening right next door, I heard my children start to sing, and I had to run inside to keep them from hearing the laughter that erupted from my belly, for they were singing, at the top of their lungs, with all the passion of innocent youth "FooOOOOr he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fellow, for he's a jolly good fe-e-e-llow, which nobody can deny!"
Oh Lord, I'll never forget that delightfully sweet moment. What a treasure.
Were they too young to understand the solemnity of death? Or were they young enough to remember it's a time for celebration?
As I am writing this book, I take little breaks, to go out on the porch and feel the warm sunshine, sniff the wind, and stretch my eyes across the expanse of trees in the distance. As I live and breathe, here is what happened to me just now.
I'm standing on the back porch, basking and sniffing and stretching my eyes, when I roll them down and what do I see? A little chipmunk, quite dead, that my kitty has brought to me. It's a gift, he thinks. And my heart sinks just a little. So I go into the garage and get my garden trowel and then I pick some lovely little flowers and a long, fat green leaf, and I pick up the chippy and carry everything out to the front of the house. I can't bury it in the backyard because I'm afraid the pups would be too interested.
The neighbors think I'm gardening. I dig the hole, line it with the lovely green leaf and tuck the little chippy into its soft bed. I place the flowers around it and check to make double sure it won't be awakening, miraculously recovered, before I push earth's blanket of soil over it. Nope. No chance of recovery.
|Joey Max when he was a kitten xo|
Our lives went on, working, working, working, dreaming, sleeping, growing, and I would often sit outside on the steps with my coffee on Sunday mornings, soaking up the dappled sunshine and enjoying the peace of nature.
One morning the father from the other side of the duplex came out his back door, which was only a few feet to the side of my back door, and he said "Can I talk with you?"
I was in my bathrobe, which was perfectly decent, but my hair was a mess and I had not had my shower yet, so was not at my best for entertaining neighborly conversation, but something about him was quietly urgent, so I said yes, come on over. He sat on the step with me and shattered my illusions when he announced "My wife has asked me for a divorce." Oh, my heart sank to my toes to hear this, as I had thought them the most perfectly wonderful example of family. They were the stuff of my hopes and dreams, and I never would have imagined anything wrong. I didn't want for them to go through what our family had experienced!
He said, "I know you're a single mother, and you know more than I do about this kind of situation, so I'd like to ask you a question." I said, "Of course, however I can help you, I'm happy to share what I know."
"Do you think that the children need both a mother and a father when a marriage dissolves?" he asked.
"If at all possible, and if it doesn't harm them, most certainly," I replied.
We talked for a bit longer and he went back home, and I went inside my little home, each to our separate chores and duties.
And that was the beginning, though I didn't know it. The beginning of Becoming Cinderella with divine forces at work.
We both had dogs. His family had a golden retriever and my beautiful sheltie loved to jump over the fence between our yards to go and play with their pup. The dogs would run shoulder-to-shoulder through the neighbor's backyard, chasing the children and running after balls, and whenever this happened I felt embarrassed that my dog was so shameless about trotting around where he didn't belong. To make sure that the dogs would be friendly to each other, I took to giving them dog biscuits whenever I saw them together. It was the first bond of friendship, the love that those two pups developed for each other.
Though the father had told me his wife wanted a divorce, she continued to live platonically in the duplex with them for many months, and one day she came out to sit on the steps outside her kitchen door. I spent a lot of time on my steps, and so I went to sit beside her and asked how things were going. I asked her if there was any chance of reconciliation between them and she adamantly replied that there was no chance of it. "I'm done with him," she said.
And as I went back into my home after our conversation, into my little kitchen, I felt so confused that she would reject a man like him. He seemed so very kind. Well it wasn't any of my business, so I stayed out of it until one day in the late, late summer, the father stood awkwardly outside of his kitchen door and said to me, "There's a little art festival in a town nearby, and I was thinking of going. Do you want to go?"
I had decided after my gut-wrenching, life-shattering divorce that I had no interest in any kind of a permanent relationship, and was not at all actively looking for a relationship, and I knew he was feeling vulnerable. I got ready to politely decline, but the words that came out of my mouth were not my own and I heard myself saying, "Yes. Let's go."
What?! My brain was completely surprised at my response to his invitation and I went inside to change and get ready to go explore the little town I knew nothing about. Ah, to be around some art and music, after all the relentless hard work of the past year. I scrimped and saved and the children and I only went out for free things, like beautiful hikes. The only money I spent on entertainment was to rent movies, and we practically kept Blockbuster in business for that time, since it was affordable, and it was a fun way to spend time with the children.
The little neighborhood was good for my children, and they made friends, sometimes doing sleepovers, and I was grateful for their experience of normalcy in other people's homes.
This was a sleepover day for them both, so my neighbor and I headed for the festival in the early afternoon. As I sat in his car while he drove, it felt awkward, since I was so used to driving myself everywhere and being both the man and the woman in my household. My children's father was mostly absent, living in another state, having relationships with women, partying, and spending his leisure hours as though he'd always been single with no responsibilities. He paid only half of the child-support the courts had awarded me each month. I had no knowledge of how to press for the whole amount, and truth to tell, didn't want any contact with him that wasn't absolutely necessary, as he was unstable in character and behavior.
When my neighbor and I arrived at the festival, he parked and we stepped out into the warm sunshine to walk through the streets, which were lined with booths of beautiful craftware. There were puppet shows and street entertainers doing skits, and coffee and wonderful foods and for a little while I forgot the toil of rebuilding life for my little lopsided family. I felt grateful for the reprieve.
My neighbor and I walked down to the beautiful gazebo located in a park at the bottom of the hill in this charming little town, and there we sat, alone, together, quiet in the twilight. It was a romantic setting, with tiny white lights twinkling all around the roof of the gazebo and couples strolling around the park. But he was not yet divorced, and so we did not kiss. Not then. We did not touch, all day.
And when we got back to our duplex we went into our separate front doors and slept alone, knowing the other was not far away, but unreachable for oh so many reasons.
|One of those dog-walkin' days just after a fresh snow.|
After several weeks of this, we returned from our walks dreaming of a time when perhaps we would not have separate front doors.
Finally they divorced, she moved out, and shortly after that, we held hands for the first time. I remember we were walking the pups through a paved alleyway in a neighborhood not far from ours when he reached out and grabbed hold of my hand and my body shivered inside the whole way home. It was the best kind of shivers.
I remember the moment when I fell in love with him. We were in the woods with the dogs, and by this time, his two sons and my two children hiked with us, and we were talking about the beautiful, thick moss that covered the rocks and boulders. He laid his hand on top of some deep green, thick moss, and as I looked at that hand, I suddenly knew inside that I loved him. That I would love him forever. No matter what.
We had the most romantic courtship that ever the world has known, living beside each other in our duplex after his wife went off to pursue her dreams. He raised his kids, and I raised mine, and we lived parallel lives for two years. We never had to call each other on the phone because we were right next door, and as the relationship grew, we shared our spaces with all of the children, sometimes barbecuing in his backyard, sometimes eating together in my little dining room. The children were able to get to know each other without the enforced confinement of mutual territory, and it worked well for us all.
We wrote love letters, which I still have, and he would tuck a single purple flower from the butterfly bush in his backyard into each envelope. He would open my kitchen door just a crack and tuck my love letter into the door as he closed it, and it would be the first thing I'd see when I woke in the mornings, with time to read and reread as I sipped my coffee. I loved getting his letters and I loved writing to him.
|The antique desk where he wrote my love letters xoxo|
|Vases and more vases!|
|Yep, that's Jess on the right : P|
|Sillies in the kitchen having a cake fight|
|Torey and Jess|
|Torey and Jess right before Jess moved to Portland|
|Alex and Danielle with Joey Max|
|Rob and Jess|
To this day, 18 years after that first time, we always attend the annual art festival in the little town of Bellefonte, where our magic first began.
Magic man. Wonderful man. Lovely flower man. My man. My beautiful, kind, generous, loving man.
So you see, my book is not so much about death as about life. It is not an easy read, as there is pain, but there is such beauty, and there is hope, faith, connection, and some mindblowing revelations as well as true comfort. I will post when it becomes available.