Sunday, April 28, 2013

trees and good weather

On Friday, Phil the UPS driver came zooming up the driveway while i was putting the finishing touches on a new walkway up to the front door.  My friend Nazgul and I had built it ourselves except for the last bit.  Phil approved as he said " oh good I always hated your walk".  He delivered a long box of apple tree saplings and my new cobra weeder.  Tom had ordered these trees two years ago. They are rare, old heritage cider apple trees and the orchard that grows them is tiny. It is owned ( of course) by an old friend of his.  These trees were long awaited and planned for.  I called my friend Joan who knows everything about trees and learned what to do before planting. As she said.. Birdie it is 5:30 on Friday .. how many you got.  Ten I said.. no sweat  she said.  See you tomorrow.

The day dawned lovely and green as only Vermont can be in Spring.  I took the trees out to the orchard and of course Tom had a stake where each one was to go.  Even the names were on in his loopy funny writing. So he and I dug ten pretty decent holes with the help of the razor back light weight birdie pick ax. Joan came and she showed me how to spread the roots and steady the tree and then cuff the back of the hole. ( if you want more info email me)  It was a bittersweet journey.  Each of those little trees had been carefully selected and on the last day when Tom could talk.. He said Oh Birdie it will be so good to get back in the orchard. The trees should be there after we get home.  And so they were.  I watered them again today, tomorrow I will mulch and mow. 

Friday, April 26, 2013


My goodness there are so many tools that we can avail ourselves from .  On the start Mount sinai ( of course) has some good ideas on grief. Not my favorite topic but worthy of note.  It seems that my second guessing is common. How lovely .  So moving on from there may I recommend tools for women alone. To start everyone needs a good lawyer and accountant, as the immediate medical system in Amurica is impenetrable.  As an example, today I got yet another bill for six grand for which my insurance has paid the same . There seems to be a bit of confusion on the virtual end of things. However when you get a live person send in you copy of the ever present death certificate and  most of this goes away.  How totally inhumane and absurd.  So you , as newly minted widow, get to go through this whole hoopla again and again to make sure some doc already paid a boat load of dough gets his due.. REALLY

On to happier topics. For those of you alone may I suggest the following great tools. The first is the battery powered chain saw . Yep it is awesome. The second is a host of digging tools such as the Trake .. you can order on line . It digs and scratches. You will also need a light weight lopers that can whack away at the debris of bushes etc and not wear your arms out. Also you need a razor back pick ax, a pair of number 8 felco sheers, knee pads and of course a soaker hose from gardener supply .  I suggest you get the kit.    stay tuned more to come

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

second guessing

I have had a serious bout lately of second guessing which is toxic. There is still a part of me that thinks .. well I can change the outcome or I could have changed the outcome if only we had done x or y or z.  This is ridiculous and destructive. However it seems to be a particularly painful part of the process. It is the kind of thing that if you could run away from it you would as if the second guessing piece is an avalanche or a flood - escape is possible.  It just isn't. Tom can't come back as he has crossed the great divide and I can't find him for the same reason.  So if any of you who have been reading this have a cure for second guessing let me know.  So far I can only find physical labor.  I am not used to having something be so well.. out of my control and permanent.   Rationally I know Tom made most of his own decisions and I was the support. We were in this together and I guess we still are . It is just harder.  

Monday, April 22, 2013

5 AM

It is amazing how busy the natural world is at 5 in the morning. Today I woke up to the loud gobble of a big Tom turkey who was happily marching around under my window followed by two hens.  They were fearless,  simply getting on with things such as finding some tender shoots in the yard that were delicious.  I got a cup of tea as was our custom and just watched them. They continued on oblivious.  Even my dog Connor  sat still with not so much as a woof just being awake on a sunny spring morning in Vermont. These are the moments where Tom and I would chat about the projects for the day or the possibility of rain or something equally mundane.  This morning reminded me that life is best savored and that the everyday is more interesting and important than we might of thought. 

Thursday, April 18, 2013


I weary of organization.. pain has steps, grief has steps , terrific.  The bottom line is that the loss of your life's partner is not for the faint of heart.  A friend reminded me that it could be worse.. well of course it can. But I think it is important for all of us to realize that our pain is well .. our pain. One persons is not meant to diminish or trivialize the other.  Loss is loss and as I said recently to a dear friend be it hound or husband does not mediate the grief. We look often for self help books which frankly i plan to burn happily at the bonfire in Tom's honor.. not because they are not helpful but because they do not speak to me. Instead the book I will treasure is for children.. Rabityness .. may i tentatively recommend to all . It is about loss and joy. Can we contain both in the same breath , I surely hope so.   I just passed the one month mark, one month vs. 41 years.  Hmmm is there a recipe for that, I think not.  But there is a recipe for gardens and for staying on an even keel and howling at the moon when the tiny boat of stability puts the lee rail under water and the wind in the rigging rattles the mast and plunges the bow into the sea. 

Tuesday, April 16, 2013


I have the great pleasure of having lots of company all of whom are willing to putter around outside, digging holes and snipping branches. There is a community of work  built around making things grow. It is lovely. I think there may be a tendency in this culture to "give space" to widows or people in peril. The space is meant as a respectful way to let them grieve or recover. I have found the opposite to be true. Last weekend the house was full of buddies, all cooking in the kitchen, rummaging around in the orchard and garden and some just sitting by the fire. It felt good and normal as our house has always been a place for others to gather.  It is a lesson for me that the next time I think - don't intrude- maybe the opposite is true and reach out to work, cook, drink tea, or plant.  We are social creatures after all and much of our sociability is built around the very complicated work of just plain living.

Friday, April 12, 2013

I will see you tomorrow

My cell phone saves unheard messages in a cyber archive. When it decides that I have skipped too many or transgressed in other ways - a mechanical voice reminds me to shape up and listen to my messages.  Take care of business Birdie, get organized, stay on top of things.  Thanks for the tip.

 Yesterday I was admonished by my telephone and dutifully pressed the buttons.  Among messages from verizon, automated pharmacies, and other random things - like a jewel - was a message from tom.  His voice was strong, and he was just calling as we always did when apart to say good night. This was one of those times when i probably heard the phone ring but it was  under the gum drops or doggie bags in a pocket of my jacket in a closet.  I knew it was him so i just called back instead of listening to the message.  His voice was strong and optimistic. His message closed  with his customary - " well birdie i will see you tomorrow. "   The power of the human voice is not be underestimated.  I will save this message to listen to when times are dark and remind myself what a brave and strong man he was and is. That once again, he schooled me and others in grace. 

Thursday, April 11, 2013

notes in the margins

Tom was a prolific note taker. He loved to keep track of things especially if they had to do with growing things or building things. His notes are everywhere on the backs of envelopes, in the margins of catalogs and the back of receipts. The notes range in topics from to do lists such as clean the house and do laundry, to reminders to pick up a repaired piece of machinery to informational such as fertilizer mixes. They are also every where as Tom was not known for tidiness. I am glad actually as these notes are now an on-going conversation. I love finding them in random places and on scattered bits of paper.  It is like he has just stepped out of the room or gone out to the shop to build another beehive.  There are measurements for projects that will remain something of a mystery.  How many times can 2 and 3/8ths be replicated? There are sketches and bits of ideas scribbled on the back of an envelope. He had so many plans and ideas for projects  - adding more grapes or trees or buildings.  Without these notes the clutter of this house would just be clutter instead of conversation. It would  be too clean and too quiet instead he pops in to remind me to water or dig or prune or fertilize.  I am thankful he does . 

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


So far the vegetable garden seems to be the best therapy.  I think part of that is it is a place where we worked together and happily nattered and kivetched about what would go where.  Tom believed that there was no such thing as too many and I am the opposite.  Hence we would tussle on amounts .  Our garden is about 250 square meters and would happily feed a small village in Central Asia.  Three of us have been out there cleaning up, tidying up the strawberry beds, weeding the asparagus and yesterday we put in our first real bed. It was a labor of love as we double dug and picked out stones. The plan is to put in some plots that will divide the 52 foot rows into ten foot sections that are approximately 3 feet wide to accommodate two rows of plants.  There are permanent or nearly so wide paths on either side  of the plots to allow for easy picking and weeding.  We also printed out the Vermont Cooperative Extension guide to times to plant and spacing.  Very handy.  Terry who is English and has garden design genes is master minding this project. He is also my boss in Central Asia and was part of Tom's international buddies.  They would exchange rude comments about the Queen and the Colonists.  Somehow as we worked yesterday digging and planning and weeding.. tom did not seem so far away. 

Sunday, April 7, 2013


Tom's birthday is today.  He would have been 64.   I will make spaghetti, blue berry pie and stack firewood.  seems fitting.   Our buddies will come around 5 .

Saturday, April 6, 2013


Just about every day another piece of mail arrives with a form letter that "expresses condolences" and requests proof of life events.  My brother in law Paul said that i would need lots of death certificates.  I have 20 copies. Yesterday I got a request for our marriage license - a document long since lost or misplaced. Why would I ever  need it anyway. I called the number and talked to a nice young person and found out how to get what I needed on-line.  I hung up and went out to the orchard. There is proof of life and marriage. We planted thirty trees.  They are a mixed offering of apples - cider and eating as well as peaches, plums and pears. We picked out each tree together reading up on the pros and cons. With the help of our buddies we  planted them together , mowed between the rows together, and built a deer fence that rivals the walls separating nations - together.  Spring means it  is time to take off the mouse guards so I began at the top of the orchard and moved slowly from tree to tree. Tom's handmade stakes with his loopy writing were sticking out of the ground. I moved tags, cleared away debris from the winter and cried a lot.  Geese flew overhead honking their way north and small cyclones of leaves whirled in the breeze. The early spring sun felt good .  Proof of life, death, love and commitment, it seems to me at least, does not reside in bits of paper to be found on line, but in orchards and pruning and geese. 

Friday, April 5, 2013

anatomy of memory

When Tom was first diagnosed with this illness and we bought our place in Vermont, I decided that I would need a good counselor who understood the landscape of life threatening disease. Yesterday I went to see her as my first visit since coming home.  We talked a good deal about grief and how it, in the beginning, is simultaneously a searing pain  in your gut and a tidal wave just waiting to thrash your little boat of stability. What to do?   In the course of the conversation we talked about how we remember and how we might act on those memories.  Memory actually comes in two parts.  The first is of course concrete artifacts such as my Tom's flannel shirt and his eye glasses but the second is more ephemeral and that has to do with legacy.  Her question to me which is posted now where i can see it .. for today, how can I move his legacy forward.  It can be little things such as brewing coffee just to smell it or it can be more philosophical such as  responding to a situation differently.  What would Tom do?  The point is that intentionality of memory allows us to move forward without drowning in how adrift and rotten we might feel at any given time.  So in that spirit I bravely planted lettuce.  Today I will water it .  Tom and i always managed to miss planting the "cold crops" but not this year.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

estates and other complexities

Yesterday I spent pretending that I knew what i was doing. Well I don't.  Even with the most careful planning and organization the beginning of estate "stuff" is painful, daunting and triggers the most bizarre behavior. For example, I managed to let my battery go dead on the car as i was headed to our lawyers office. This required a call to AAA.  Then I left all the paper work on the dining room table so had to return to pick it up. Then I did not get all of it so once again back to the house. The hardest part of all is of course this ridiculous death certificate.  That can't be Tom's name there must be some mistake. He was too busy with life to die and we have to prune the fruit trees.  Stamped by the city of New York - really  we live in Vermont.. Wait wait..

There is something so final about this process that it grabs your breath and squeezes your heart.  it also requires you to be really careful, not let your hands tremble and eyes cloud with tears.  There is no room for sentimentality when the financial and legal world are at the helm.  Papers need signatures and you best get it right.

That said, thank God for our family lawyer who has the soul of a poet. We managed to get through it together in his office.  There were a few gliches but I at least have confidence that this will all come together.  As i sit here watching the sun come up over the green mountains on a blue bird day in April - it seems so surreal this turn of our lives.  I heard the owl hoot and said good morning to my man as I went to make tea.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

small victories

I am learning how to see the day in terms of small victories.  I imagine that all who have walked this path before me and have lost there life's partner have this same sense of amputation.  Just as in an amputation there is a learning curve on how to do what the other was an expert in. In my case it is learning, finally to be a "farmer".   So far i have managed to learn how to run the wood stove, bank it at night, order firewood and get it stacked, and have taken on tending the orchard.  Next week Joan Lynch and I are going to prune. 

We walked the orchard yesterday and I had a moment of great joy and sadness. Tom and I and others planted those trees, we built a deer fence that is eleven feet high.  We picked out the trees including the old heritage cider apples.  As we planted one sloggy early spring day , Tom said Oh Birdie I can just taste those apples.  Joan and I looked out over our handiwork and her comment was this is an orchard for generations.  Tom was and still is one of those rare individuals who actually knew what he was doing 99 percent of the time.  So there is a great deal to learn about orchards, and vegetables. Thank god for dirt and heavy lifting and the ability to grow things.  It is the victory of small things that makes the rest of this possible.

Tuesday, April 2, 2013


My Tom died on March 16 at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York.  We had been at the hospital for four months due to complications of a bone marrow transplant to combat his myleofibrosis.  We were married for forty one years. He was only 63.  As I posted on the night of his death, he was the love of my life, my rock, my pain and fury and my passion. We spent a life together in all of its permutations and mystery. The result was two great kids, a strong family, and a close knit circle of friends . For Tom this was a life goal as he came from a tough and often abusive household. So his success as a father and a husband were even more remarkable as he had no role models.  As a friend he was unparalleled.
We live on a lovely piece of land in Vermont that was  our dream for retirement.  The property faces south east with a good view of the green mountains . We used to sit on the porch and watch the sunrise every morning while drinking tea.  That has not changed.   There is a lot to do and as Denny a local Vermonter and friend said to me .. Birdie you can still live the dream.  I am going to try to do that but am well aware that the learning curve is steep. 

I am writing this blog as a way to chronicle this next year - partly for myself and  partly to honor this process.  If you reader, happen upon it and find it helpful then i welcome you along on this journey.