Middle March

Strictly speaking it’s not yet mid-March, but the month’s weighty core is everywhere.


March is the month of frantic emergency hospitalizations and hospital rooms with stale, feverish air and windows which neither opened nor allowed a peek of sun or moon.

The smell of hospitals in winter . . . .

It’s the month of death and the dread of death, the late weeks of a winter that cut short my husband’s life and took away our future together.

In Middlemarch, George Eliot wrote of marriage as “still a great beginning, as it was to Adam and Eve, who kept their honeymoon in Eden, but had their first little one among the thorns and thistles of the wilderness. It is still the beginning of the home epic – the gradual conquest or irremediable loss of that complete union which make the advancing years a climax, and age the harvest of sweet memories in common.” 


After Jim’s diagnosis we spent hours in so many medical waiting rooms filled with couples of advanced years.  Wrinkled, white-haired patients sat side-by-side with their spouses in rigid chairs, and I felt myself unjustly resenting them for the comparative good fortune of being afflicted with cancer so much later in their lives.

Maladies and good fortune alike, at that point, seemed suddenly relative.  Scales had shifted.

Jim read my eyes in the first radiology waiting room and whispered in my ear: “Other people are allowed to get older.”

Today thick mud rivers lie between mountains of grimy, slushy ice.  Everything is saturated, densely layered from months of storms.  Nearly each day’s great middle is suffused with white-gray.


This morning, before black broke into hazy gray, I awoke from one of those Schrödinger dreams.  In my dream I was alone and sobbing alone upstairs in our old house.  My conscious self knew I was in that state because Jim had died.   Jim died downstairs, but his death, though a continuous feature of my waking hours, particularly in March, wasn’t part of my dream.

In my dream I was growing more and more upset, wondering why Jim wasn’t coming upstairs.  He was always the one to comfort me.  My dream self simply couldn’t compute why he wasn’t coming.

Sometimes a guy can’t win.

Jim had a couple of foolproof systems for maintaining an even keel in a relationship that included one comparatively volatile person.

His other technique for marital harmony was fairly simple, and foolproof: on the rare occasions when he had done something that upset me, no matter how irrational my perception, he would say, “You’re right.  I’m sorry.”

There’s just no comeback to that.


Once I had a dream in which Jim managed to do something wrong, no doubt minor–perhaps being late to an appointment or forgetting to pick up a prescription.

This had not actually happened.

In a very accusatory way (which comes easily to a prosecutor), when I woke I told my poor, sleepy-eyed husband what he had done only in my dream.   “How could you do that?” I asked.

“I’m sorry, dear.  I don’t know what I was thinking.”

He got me to laugh at myself, and had an uncanny ability to dilute the worst tensions and crises with gentle humor.

I knew we would miss him every day, but didn’t realize I’d even miss being given a hard time–always in the right spirit, and when I needed it.

I wish I’d thanked him for making me laugh.

Learning Curve

December 2012 (c) SMG

Last January one of my daughters shepherded me through the relatively minor technical work needed to begin this blog, giving me a nicely calendared progression of posts upon which to reflect.

Recently I found on my husband’s computer the 500 digital photographs–among tens of thousands he took–that he rated highest.  I studied them to try to discern exactly why these were so special to him.  Some were obvious: pictures of all our children, and other family members, and me (I am a very reluctant subject and he cleverly captured the latter from afar, without my noticing); pictures of nature–from an up-close tiny blue newt on our daughter’s shoe to panoramic mountain ranges–from three continents.

Some–like some of the favorite photographs I am posting here–may require a little bit more interpretation.  One I took at a farmer’s market after depositing a child at school on a gorgeous late August day; another was taken at a wedding, on a boat in Boston Harbor; another, an observer would be unlikely to know, is of flags waving atop a white picket fence in the aftermath of a murderous shooting spree just up the street from our home last spring.  Our little town’s police chief was shot to death, and four other officers grievously wounded.  The town’s lone elementary school’s parking lot had become a staging ground for an armed standoff.

Sometimes the story behind a photograph is nothing like you would imagine.

I decided to take yet another cue from Jim and try to wrap up this year on the blog by finding one photograph and post from each month of this blog’s brief but extremely therapeutic (for me) existence: not necessarily technically the best photograph I took that month, or the best-written post, but the ones which have some special meaning to me.  I may not even know yet why, but I’ll take a stab at it.

January Sky (c) SMG 2012

January is a close call, because the single poem I would want everyone I know to read, Kindness, is found in another of the month’s first dozen posts (The Other Deepest Thing).  But the post to which I return most frequently is The Things He Carried.   The title is a take on Tim O’Brien’s novel (with the intriguing narrator of self-consciously dubious reliability), and writing this post about the few small things my husband–who was not tied to material goods in the way most people are–carried to the end truly helped me to think about the ways in which an object without any monetary value can be rendered priceless, imbued with stories, with love and friendship and the fondest of memories.

February 2012 (c) SMG

I had the sense that I wrote nearly constantly in February, although in fact it appears that my roiling winter mind churned out only a few more posts than it had in January.  Again I have a close runner-up (Renewing Rituals), but it was closely followed by Coletanea de Death Cab–the post in which I reflected on being alone–but not entirely–during the long drive back from a memorial service in New Jersey. Continue reading “Learning Curve”

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