Yesterday, March 1, marked 23 months since Brian died. Sometimes it’s hard to believe he has been gone that long. Other times it feels like he has been gone forever. But, this I do know: Though I still have a long ways to go to get to wherever it is I am going, I have made great progress. And for that I am not only grateful, but extremely proud of myself. So, just as I did those 23 months ago when I had no choice but to face the harsh realization that Brian was not going to survive this last challenge we faced together, I am writing him a letter.
March 1, 2023
6:00 am this morning marked 23 months since you left us here on Earth for bigger and better things in Heaven. In 30 days I will have lived without you for two years. Two years that sometimes seemed longer than the 29 years I knew you. Those years at the beginning, when the “I” we each individually embodied turned into the “We” that, together, we became. And the years that in the end, changed from that comfortable and oh, so satisfying “We” back into just being “Me” once more.
Do I still miss you? Of course, I do. On some level I will always miss you: Miss your smile; your laugh; the sound of your voice saying my name, saying “I love you.” And, while I am sad that you are not here with me anymore, I am overjoyed that you won the final battle over your Parkinson’s. That you not only lived your faith, but that you shared it with countless others in ways that helped them live their faith as well. Most of all, I am so grateful that you are free from all of the pain and suffering, living a glorious new life in Heaven, surrounded by the love of all those who have gone before you. And, I am confident in the truth that one day, when my journey here is over, I will see you again. Until that day comes, whenever that is, I’m going to live my life. Making the most of each day I am given, for I have seen how quickly they can be taken away. I will move forward, and in so doing, continue to write the rest of my story. A story that, even though it will no longer have you physically in it, can still be filled with joy, wonder, hope, and love.
So, here’s to the memories, Brian Gentz. Here’s to the love. Here’s to you and here’s to me . . . to who I was . . . to who I am . . . to who I’ve yet to be. Here’s to all of the love for you that I carry with me in my heart. Here’s to the day when I see you once more, when we’ll never again have to part.”
” Here’s to the ones that we got. Cheers to the wish you were here, but you’re not, ‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories of everything we’ve been through. Toast to the ones here today. Toast to the ones that we lost on the way, ‘Cause the drinks bring back all the memories, And the memories bring back, memories bring back you.” (Memories by Maroon 5)
For Loving YouWritten December 27, 2021: Revised March 1, 2023 . . . Note to self: You've come a long way, baby.
Sometimes when I wake up, lying all alone in bed,
I can't help but remember that you're gone.
Then my mind goes to those places that only our love knew,
and I used to feel like I just could not go on.
Your chair's still empty at the table.
There's still those dreams that won't come true.
Yet, I wouldn't trade the heartache for a thing.
I've found the strength to write my story.
I know it's something I can do,
Because I am who I am today for loving you.
Usually those are the days when I have woken up in the middle of the night crying, and I have no idea why. Sometimes when this happens I feel so damaged, so broken down by grief and sadness that I wonder if I can ever manage to repair things. And then I remember: I don’t repair my broken life . . . I rebuild it. And that takes time. Rebuilding means finding new pieces to replace those damaged beyond repair. It means finding ways to make those new pieces fit into the empty spots, which can sometimes be a real challenge. It means remembering that when things don’t feel quite right, that’s OK. Those new pieces take some getting used to, and, perhaps, some of them are not the right replacement and I need to find new ones.
More than once I have wished that I had those old pieces back, the ones I saw lying at my feet in a million unrecognizable pieces. Maybe that’s why I sometimes wake up at night crying. Maybe my mind is doing some tidying up, gathering up all of those broken hopes, dreams, and oh so familiar routines. Clearing them out and making room for me to stack all of the new pieces of my life I have been collecting over the past two years.
I tell myself that I am a good planner, as well as a skillful builder. A sort of “life architect,” if you will. And, on top of that, I have a great group of workers helping me, ones that we all need on our team if we want to rebuild and move forward. Workers like time, patience, perseverance — and most of all a vision for the future. Because I want a future. Because I know that Brian also wants me to have a future.
So, I dry those tears that have disrupted my sleep, knowing that they are a reminder of what I had, and I use that to give me the strength and courage to continue moving forward. Continue, secure in the knowledge that not only can I do this, I will do it. Let me clarify, however, that I am not “moving on,” as that would mean I am leaving my old life out of the blueprint for my new one. But, the reality is quiet the opposite. For you see, the memories I have of that life provide a strong foundation on which to build. To start over. There is a power beyond words in love that is timeless and endless. It bridges the gap between now and forever. It’s written onto our hearts and is with us always.
I am the architect of my life. The careful planner. The master builder. I am the dreamer of new dreams and the author of my story. And no matter how many set backs that I have, I WILL make this happen. . . And it will be amazing.
by Julieanne Gentz
I am Me.
Whatever that means and whoever that is.
I am Me.
Me in all of my quirkiness, uniqueness, strangeness and beauty.
A one-of-a-kind wonderful combination,
born of that shy, lanky, insecure adolescent.
The one shaped by doubts, fears, and a nagging sense
of never being quite good enough.
I am that girl with dreams and hopes and questions.
The college student, finding her stride in life,
her self-confidence, her inner and outer beauty.
I am the wife, the mother, the teacher, the professor, the divorcee -
I am Me.
The composer of all the songs in my soul,
of all the dreams and hopes in my life.
The architect of my future.
The one responsible for knitting back together
the frayed edges of my life.
I am Me.
The keeper of my dreams.
The artist who paints on the canvas of my life.
I am strong.
am a survivor of the storm.
It is Tuesday, February 14th. I wrote this on Sunday, three days ago, and have been re-reading and re-writing parts of it ever since. I think I have it now. And just in time to be appropriate for the occasion , because it’s . . . .
Another Valentine’s Day with no Brian
So many emotions swirl around this day for me. Many of them warm, happy memories of a love shared by two people for 30 years. Others, equally as poignant, but painful, serve as a cruel reminder that the person who I shared those memories with, will, in six weeks, have been dead for two years. For reasons I won’t go into here, Valentine’s Day was one of my least favorite “Hallmark Holidays.” When I met Brian, I had just fought my way through a painful, drawn out divorce, which left me physically, mentally, and emotionally exhausted. Love was the last thing I was looking for, because I wasn’t even sure I believed it existed any more. But, it would seem that the universe thought otherwise, and it didn’t take long before a chance meeting of two lonely people, both healing from the trauma of divorce, forever changed the emotional landscape for both of them.
I remember telling Brian, when our first Valentine’s Day as a couple approached, that I had issues with the whole concept. I said I didn’t like the fact that it was so scripted. That women would often get angry or be hurt if their sweetheart failed to give them “the perfect expression of love” (whatever that is!), or, God forbid, forgot the day altogether. It seemed to me to be a set up for “high expectations with the distinct chance of significant disappointment.” And, quite frankly, I’d had enough disappointment to last me for a very long time. In the last year before my divorce, I’d had a particularly difficult Valentine’s Day experience that soured my attitude about the whole thing even more. After relating the details of that event to Brian, I said it would not matter to me if he didn’t give me anything on “The Day.” That is, anything other than simply just being with him, which to me, was a gift in and of itself. However, I said I would gladly accept and appreciate any gift he gave me, including, but not limited to, Valentine’s Day. So, when the first Valentine’s together came along I was not expecting anything. What I did get, however, was the best gift I think I have ever had. That is, until this Sunday.
I’ve been an educator all of my life, mostly at the elementary level, and I have four children. So I am well acquainted with “homemade” cards emblazoned with loving messages. Simple and sincere ones inscribed in scrawled handwriting by children. In fact, I still have many of those wonderful cards. They are among my most prized possessions. Even now that my children are all grown and are themselves parents, finding those cards still makes my heart skip a beat and tears fill my eyes. But, even more precious to me than any of those, is the card Brian gave on that first Valentine’s Day. It is a simple yet eloquent card, made from red and pink construction paper. On the front was a large heart with slits cut down the middle through which a red arrow had been carefully woven. And, inside, was a handwritten message which read: “Julie, You are My Fair Lady! Love, Sir Brian.” Simple, sort of corny, I know. . . but still, so beautiful. I have kept it all these years, and, since he died, it has meant more to me than ever, because I now know I will never have a Valentine from him again. Or might I?
And that brings us to today. Sunday. The day that is the hardest day of the week for me. Having been a pastor’s wife for all of those years, Sunday’s were days where my role of “chief support giver and head cheerleader” was most important and appreciated. However, now I am alone on Sunday. While I am used to sitting by myself in the pew at church, Brian was never far away. He was always there, right in front of me, leading worship. After he retired eight years ago, he was right there beside me in the pew. Then he died, and it took me a very long time to be able to even go to church, much less stay for the entire service. There were too many reminders that he was gone, and that was just too painful. I’m pleased to say that I have conquered that at this point, but the nagging emptiness is still with me. And more than once, sitting alone in the pew, I have shed a quiet tear as a fond memory floated through my head. Today was one of those days.
I arrived at church with about fifteen minutes to spare before the service began. The narthex was crowded with parishioners, exchanging greetings and visiting. Hanging up my coat and slinging my purse over my shoulder, I made my way through the chattering, milling crowd and into the sanctuary. Many times Brian and I had laughed about how “territorial” church goers are about “their spot,” so I knew just where my personal spot was, and I marched myself right up to the third pew from the front on the right hand side. Setting my purse down beside me, I started to look for my phone, to make sure it was set on silent. However, before I could get that far, I noticed a pink heart stuck to the front of my purse. My breath caught in a small, jagged, nearly silent gasp when I saw it. Immediately I thought, “How did that get there?!” I looked around the church for others with pink hearts, but there didn’t seem to be anyone. I alone had the mysterious pink heart. It was not there when I’d taken off my coat, but in the short time it took for me to walk to my pew, it seemed to have magically appeared, and this was quite perplexing. My next thought was why had it not simply fallen off without me ever knowing it had been there? And then I started to wonder: Could it be another of the many signs I have had from Brian since he died; Signs, showing me that while he is no longer physically with me, he has not forgotten me and is still right here, every minute of every day, now cheering me on and supporting me as I continue to write the rest of my story? Fighting back tears, I slowly ran my hand over the heart, carefully removed it from my purse, and tucked it safely away inside the front cover of my checkbook. For the first time in a long time, I felt him next to me in the pew, just for a second, but that was all I needed. After church, as I turned from putting on my coat I absentmindedly glanced back towards the sanctuary. There, just a few feet from the door leading into it, was a hand sanitizer posted on a stand. And on the front of it was — you guessed it — another pink heart! I smiled, put my hand on my purse where I knew that MY valentine from Brian was, and walked out to my car.
I never thought I would get a Valentine card from Brian again, handmade or otherwise. But, it looks like he found a way to get one to me today. Small miracles are all around us. You just have to be open to seeing them. I hope you see yours. They are so worth looking for. 💗
A Risk Worth Taking
There are some things in life I'd do over again,
like giving away my heart.
The joy that came with it was worth all the pain
brought by death
when it tore us apart.
The laughter, the tears, the joys and the sorrows were worth
all grief's heartbreak and pain.
And while I knew the whole time
it could all end tomorrow,
in a heartbeat, I'd do it again.
So, if love comes your way, don't pass it by.
The risk is one well worth the taking.
You may live to regret it if you don't even try.
"Love might be a mistake,
but it's worth making."*
* I Hope You Dance, Lee Ann Womack
“Perhaps he was not supposed to be MY happy ever after, but I was HIS? What if our time together was not for me, but for him? He was not supposed to make me feel so happy, so loved; that was just a side effect. What if he was not given to me, but I was given to him? To make the time he had as good as I could. Maybe the blessings I got were not the point of it at all, but his were?What if I was but a tool to make his life all it could be while he walked here among us? It doesn’t make it hurt any less . . . but it changes things a little in my heart, and in my mind. I love him. Always.”
**** **** **** **** **** **** **** ****
I didn’t write that. In fact, I don’t know who did, but it could have been something that came right out of my head. Many times I have thought about that part of the wedding vows that says; “To have and to hold, from this day forward, in joy and in sorrow, in plenty and in want, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish as long as you both shall live.” And that is exactly what happened, only he was the one who left first. Of course, when we said those vows, neither of us even gave the “as long as you both shall live” part much thought because, after all, it was our wedding day, and we, like every other couple on this day, were into our future together, focused only on the happy parts. It never occurred to me then that “as long as you both shall live” would be so short (though, in truth, no amount of time would ever have been long enough). But, it was, and so here I am. He is gone and I am alone. “Happily Ever After” has arrived. Brian got the “Happily” part and I am left sitting in the strange land of the left over”Ever After” part. He spent the rest of his life with me, but now I will spend the rest of my life without him. Still, I am glad for all that we had; the good times and the not so good ones, the joys and the sorrows, the laughter and the tears. And now it’s up to me to write a revised version of “Happily Ever After.” Brian won’t be there beside me, like I’d hoped he would be, but he will be with me in my heart. Best of all, I have no doubt that I am who I am today because of what we had together.
All that said, I’m working on remaking myself — not picking up the broken pieces and trying to put them together again, because that is impossible. So many are gone forever; some died with Brian, others are missing who knows where, and the few pieces I still possess of who I was before he died are damaged beyond repair and unrecognizable. So, no, I’m not putting myself back together again. Rather, I am slowly, thoughtfully, and lovingly building the me that am now. The me that I am for having loved, and lost, him. And how could that not be a wonderful creation after having been molded by my life with him? It’s a long difficult road back, I know. But I also know I will get where I am supposed to go, even if I don’t know right now exactly where that is.
“You may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it.”
~~~ Maya Angelou
And this I did write:
Out of the ashes of your death
I will rise
and lift my eyes up
to the skies.
I'll bow my head and whisper
a silent prayer
to God, who I know
is always there.
I'll ask that the love we pledged on
our wedding day
gives me the strength to
find my way
through life on my own,
without you here,
yet knowing in my heart
you're always near.
Thank you, God for sending
Brian to me.
For changing my life and for
helping me see
that nothing in life which I've yet to do
is for me impossible because
I have You.
To have and to hold 'till death
made us part,
will now move me forward to make
a new start.
The Me I am now, Brian, is because
I loved you .
Dear God, hold my hand. Help me
start life anew.
Today makes 22 months since you died, something I still find confusing, yet I do know that it is real. In fact, I know that all too well. And, while I haven’t written you a letter in a while, we have had some pretty pointed and serious conversations in the interim. Today, however, is one of the special days I remember you even more than usual, so you get to be the feature post on my blog, which I am sure you don’t mind at all.
I am writing this a little after 6 am, the time of your death, almost two years ago. I have been up since 3:00 am (yikes, right?!) I don’t usually wake up that early the first of every month since you died but I have not failed to wake up at least by 6:00. Perhaps because your spirit visits me, or perhaps that time on this day each month has become, for me, a sacred interlude of sorts. Whatever it is, here I am again, bright and early this morning, already having written my thoughts in a poem. I have the distinct feeling that this afternoon I will be borrowing a page from your daily playbook — taking a nap. The concept of napping is something that I never used to do before you died, but have taken up on a sporadic basis since then. I am sure that you approve of this practice and are thinking, “Well, it’s about time she started doing that!” Remember that book about naps that I bought you? I DO, because I eventually came to regret buying it because you were always ready with some quote from it about how good a nap was for you. The book was called “Take a Nap and Change Your Life.” In fact, that book and your penchant for quoting from it became a “family legend” of sorts — so much so that after you died Hans wanted it because it reminded him of you! Perhaps I am hoping that my new “sometimes nap taking” will change my life and help me move forward. In fact, it might be starting to work already. I really have been able to branch out into new things and not only find a break in the dark clouds of grief, but actually see some rays of sunshine peeking through on a good many occasions. Of course, I wonder if that really is sunshine, or if it is you smiling at down at me. I like to think that it is a little of both.
Even though you are no longer here, I will forever carry your memory and the love we shared tucked away safely in the corner of my heart that belongs only to you. I will keep my promise that I won’t quit living: That I will continue to write the very best next chapters in my life that I can. Right now, I my life is passing through the part that is sort of a mystery/suspense story, which I think is pretty common at this point. I am optimistic, however, that the plot will evolve into something a bit more settling with at least more than a modicum of a happy ending.
Thanks for the memories, Brian Gentz. In his song, The Dance, Garth Brooks does a great job of summing up how I feel. It’s become an all-time favorite of mine.
“And now I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could have missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.”
My Favorite Song
I heard the music start to play the day that I met you.
I recognized the melody, but the words were all brand new.
As days turned into weeks and years the melody played on.
And I still hear it even now, long after you've been gone.
Each day there was another verse we added to our song,
and the melody just grew sweeter the more we sang along.
We learned to dance together too, through sunshine, cold and rain.
We shared each other's happiness, our trials, joys, and pain.
Our dance of life continued on until you had to go,
and now I sing the song alone, with words that I don't know.
And though I write my own verses now, I'll never regret the chance
I had to sing our song with you and be your partner in life's dance.
Feb. 1, 2023
“Do your little bit of good where you are: it’s those little bits of good put together that overwhelm the world.” ~ Desmond Tutu
A year ago about this time I attended a concert at the university where my oldest grandchild is a music performance major. Not too long before that I’d read an article about the health benefits of random acts of kindness. The big take away from it was this: Spreading kindness to others turns out not only to be beneficial to the receiver, but also to the giver. It’s just what we all need so much right now: A Win-Win Situation.
Studies have shown that when we are altruistic, putting the well being of others before our own and expecting nothing in return, the reward centers in our brain are stimulated, causing good chemicals to flood our system . . . and, Viola! We get a “Helpers’ High”! But, wait! There’s more! Engaging in these kinds of activities has also been shown to reduce the risk for cognitive impairment, helps us live longer lives, lower blood pressure and improve heart health, as well as lessen pain. Wow! It turns out that by giving of ourselves to others, we not only help to make the world a better, kinder place, but at the same time are giving a gift to ourselves. So, with this background information now firmly seeded in our brains, here is what I wrote in February 2022.
** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ **
“As I read the article it struck me that this kind of thing is what I have been consciously doing to help me deal with the grief around my husband’s death. Some days it seems like every breath I take is surrounded by sadness and missing him. Doing things for others has been a lifeline for me. The more I thought about it the more I realized that a few days ago I had experienced exactly what the author of the article was talking about.
On a recent Saturday I was having one of those bad/sad days. The landscape of life, as well as the weather, seemed bleak. A strong, cold north wind, coupled with the bone chilling temperature, made it feel like -10degrees. There was no sun, and even if there had been, the combination of temperature and wind chill would have negated any warmth that it could have contributed. In short, it was a dreary winter day, both in my mind and outside my door. A day that was not conducive to raising one’s spirits. The constant quietness that seems to pervade my house for the past 10 months only made me even more aware that I was, indeed, alone, and exacerbated the all too real knowledge that my husband was, gone forever. Even writing this now makes me emotionally exhausted.
With more than a little effort, I had gathered up the pieces of myself, stuck them haphazardly together, and managed to get out the door and drive the 35 miles to the concert. I didn’t want to take time to make supper at home, so I decided to grab something at a fast food place once I arrived at my destination. Eating has been a real challenge lately, as about 6 weeks ago I had some oral extensive oral surgery, which has made chewing a challenge for me. Luckily, Arby’s came to the rescue with mac and cheese, which I could eat (hooray!). So I ordered that and a small drink. The drive through line was long, and by the time I got to the takeout window I was running short on time, so even though when I was handed my bag of food I thought it seemed rather light for what I’d ordered, I didn’t take time to check. When I examined it a stop light or two later, I found not what I’d ordered, but a fish sandwich instead. And, while I do like fish sandwiches, it was not something I could manage to eat given my chewing challenge. Not having time to go back and straighten out the mix up, I decided, rather than let it go to waste, to find someone I could give it to. Had it not been so late in the day and so cold, there would have been any number of homeless people along my route to the concert who would have loved to have a nice, hot fish sandwich. But, alas, just when I needed someone to be standing on the corner, there was no one. Still pondering how to give the sandwich away, I parked my car in the ramp, which just happened to be attached to a small shopping mall. I had a light bulb moment then! I knew that the first business inside the door was an art supply store. Fortunately for me it was staffed by college students (who are notoriously hungry creatures!) It was 5:30 pm so I thought my chances of finding a worker in the store who might not have any plans for supper were pretty good. As it turned out, I was not disappointed. Walking into the store a young clerk appeared at the counter and asked how he could be of help. With the thought of “Well, here goes nothing” floating around in my head I launched into my sales pitch: “This is probably going to be the strangest request that you’ve had all day,” I began, “but just hear me out.” And I proceeded to tell an abbreviated version of how I happened to end up with the wrong order and no time to make it right. As I set the Arby’s bag on the counter, I ended my story by saying, “And so, since I don’t want a perfectly good sandwich to go to waste, is there anyone here who would like to have a nice, hot fish sandwich for supper?” Smiling at me, he took the bag and lifted the sandwich out, noting that it was, indeed, still warm. Smiling even broader now, he looked back at me and said, “I was just wondering what I was going to have for supper tonight, and now I know! Thanks!” With that he turned and walked away, bag in hand to enjoy the supper he never knew was coming.
And, just like that, the melancholy mood that had been following me like a gray cloud over my head all day, just waiting to rain on my parade, disappeared. Amazed and relieved, I walked out the door with a little bounce in my step as I crossed the street to the concert hall, feeling for all the world, warm and good inside, despite the bitter cold and biting wind.
As I made the journey home that night, I replayed the whole sandwich incident in my mind, feeling more than just a little proud that I had been able to take a potentially negative situation and turn it into one where I did something unexpected and nice for a total stranger. And, as an added bonus, in the process I had made myself feel good, too. In fact, I thought, it felt almost as good as a hug and a kiss from my husband . . . not quite, but it was still a pretty darned good feeling. And, who knows, according to the article I’d read, perhaps I’d also added a few years to my life, as well as what felt at that minute, like even a bit more life to my years.”
** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ ** ~~ **
And so, remembering the “mistake fish sandwich”, I have continued making a conscious effort to do those “little bits of good” that Desmond Tutu talks about, especially when I am feeling down. Because, in the end, it’s the little things that matter, no matter how small they may seem at the time.
The Little Things
It's the little things we do that make this world go 'round.
They're like the tender sprouts of flowers in the Spring.
They are the breeze that cools our face on a sunny summer's day.
They are the things that touch our hearts and make us sing.
For we can't walk this earth alone, thinking only of ourselves
as we live each day from birth until we die.
We make the world a better place when we share God's love and grace.
The little things can make a difference if you but try.
So, when your heart is feeling sad, and your life feels cold and bleak,
look beyond yourself and help another out.
Then your soul will feel a joy that will make your spirit soar,
because you'll learn what Love is truly all about.
Julieanne Gentz, January 2022
Ah, the wonderful, mighty Internet. Sometimes it’s a source of frustration; other times a distraction from what I need to do, sometimes from what I want to to do. It can be a source of comfort, inspiration, and occasionally even joy. Today the Internet was for me a “light bulb moment,” one of those rare stumbles upon something that sparks a thought in my head. A thought that stopped me in my tracks before I even got going. A catalyst that changed the trajectory of my day before it had barely even begun to take shape in my mind.
I subscribe to a site called “Inspiring Quotes.” If you already know me, you are well aware of how important words are to me — both my words and those of others. Sometimes the words I write have been carefully thought out and chosen; words painstakingly matched with thoughts to express an emotion I am feeling. Other times words just spring up in my head, unceremoniously and unannounced, pouring out of my brain so quickly that I can barely get to my journal fast enough to write them down before they are gone forever. Sometimes they make me smile or laugh. Another time they might make me sad or cry. But, no matter what their end effect on me, words always have their beginning deep inside my soul, snatched from an unknown repository that I myself cannot quantify, much less fully understand. Then, there are those times like this morning when the words of another writer ignite the spark that starts the cogs and wheels of my mind whirring and, just like that, a thought is born. Emotions are put into words. Feelings are better understood. Meaning is given to a question I have been pondering. Today, it would seem, was one of those days.
Marcel Proust was a writer, who, in the period of his life between 1909 when he was 38, and his death in 1922, wrote what is considered a monumental work entitled Lost Time. An impressive 3,200 pages that fill seven volumes, this work would turn out to have an important impact on other writers, such as Virginia Woolf. Though I am aware of this work, I have never read it, per say. I do, however, know that the prominent theme throughout all of those thousands of pages is memory. “Memory,” I think to myself. “It has, for the last nearly two years since my husband died, been the center of my life.” Memories that I have wrestled with, regretted, cried over. Memories that I have sometimes wished would fade into oblivion, but oh so many more that have sustained me through turbulent, troubled times of grief.
And the quote that spoke to me and clicked my mind into writing mode today was this:
We are not provided with wisdom, we must discover it for ourselves, after a journey through the wilderness which no one else can take for us, an effort which no one can spare us. ~Marcel Proust
“So,” I ask myself, “am I wiser now because of what I have gone through since Brian’s death?” Without a moment’s hesitation I would answer, “Yes, most definitely.” If you asked me if it was wisdom I am glad I have gained, I would say, “Yes and No.” YES, because I now understand, or at least am more cognizant of, feelings and thoughts that I never knew existed. Feelings that the “Me Before” was only acquainted with through books and the experiences of others. NO, because there are too many times to count when I have wished I’d never been put in the position to gain the wisdom I now have. Wisdom gained through tears, heartbreak, loneliness and sorrow. Yet, on my very personal “journey through the wilderness” of loss and its ensuing grief, I know I’ve gained wisdom that was previously unthinkable. Wisdom, that though bought at a high emotional cost, will serve me well as I live out the rest of my time here. Wisdom that would not have been possible had life not stopped me in my tracks, forced me to remember, and set me out on an entirely different life path. While I don’t feel I am “There” yet — where ever “There” may be — I am well aware that I may never get “There,” and that if I do, I may not even know I have arrived. What I do know is that I am on my way there, and I am convinced that I can do it— arriving “There” as one, gloriously new Me.
~by Julie Gentz~
Perhaps life is not so much TO DO, as it is
To Be at peace with one’s self.
To Be content with what one has,
yet to never stop being open to what new things come your way.
To Be happy, even when you aren’t sure why, or don’t see happiness around you.
To Be a seeker, yet to not try and see too far beyond your line of sight,
though still far ahead enough to dream.
To Be the best human being you can be for as much of your time
here as you are given.
And, most of all,
To Be a light, not only for your own path,
but for paths of others as well.
To Be whole.
To Be complete.
To Be genuine.
To Be until your being is but a loving memory.
And, to quote Proust one last time:
What matters in life is not whom or what one loves, it is the fact of loving.
It’s my blog’s birthday! In leafing through some of my writings this morning, looking for an inspiration for this week’s post, I came across my “Christmas Letter,” written in January of last year in which I, among other things, talked about the “birth” of this blog. Now that year is over, and I have come a long way in my grief journey. Thinking about this, the wheels in my head began to turn. I decided that since now is when we look back on the old year just past and look forward toward the new one that lay ahead of us, perhaps I should do some reflecting on where I now find myself in my grief journey and where I see myself headed. Revisiting that letter and the year that followed might be just the very thing I should write about today. So, welcome to my head — full of thoughts, memories, dreams, and hopes.
That letter starts out like this:This year I decided to skip the traditional Christmas letter and send New Year’s greetings instead. For me, Christmas 2021 carried with it a deep sadness because not only is there an empty place at my table this year, but an aching, empty place in my heart as well. For those of you who are not already aware of it, Brian’s fight with his Parkinson’s disease ended on April 1 when God said, “Enough” and called him Home. Between the isolation of the pandemic, having to put valuable therapies on hold, and the loss of the all-important socialization piece, all of which, together, helped to control the progression of his PD, his symptoms rapidly worsened between January and April. When, on March 19th, he took the last of many falls, he ended up in the hospital and then eventually home on Hospice for three days before he died, befitting for him, in the early morning hours of Maundy Thursday. It has been a tough journey for me over the last nine months, but I try to keep hearing his voice telling me that, while he wishes he hadn’t had to leave so soon, he has claimed his reward in Heaven. I am eternally grateful for all of the support and comfort everyone has extended to me on my grief journey thus far.
I have always felt that when something negative happens to me, I need to learn from it and then use that knowledge to help others. So, in keeping with that, I have become very active in working with the American Parkinson’s Disease Association, helping to educate others, especially healthcare workers, about dealing with the disease, not just on a daily basis, but in a hospital setting as well. I participated in a 6-week training course to become certified as an Aware in Care Ambassador. As one of only two Ambassadors in Iowa I can help make hospital stays, like Brian’s, safer and less extensive by educating others, including medical professionals, on ways to deal with the many and varied symptoms of Parkinson’s. I was also able to participate in a training for a new program that works with PWP (People With Parkinson’s), helping them manage physical symptoms such as rigidity, smallness of movements, and changes in their ability to use their voice/speech. I also continue to facilitate the PD support group here in Washington that Brian and I started in 2019. This spring I will begin a two-year term as a member of the board for Parkinson’s of the Heartland. While none of these things will bring Brian back, my goal is to use the knowledge I have gained over the past thirteen years of our Parkinson’s journey together to make the journeys of others a bit easier. And last, but certainly not least, as a part of my personal healing, I have been doing a lot of writing and have started a blog. My hope is that, as well as being beneficial for me in my quest for healing, my writing will help others, too.
And that is pretty much all I remember about the past year.I am cautiously optimistic that the new yearwill be a much better one. If I could leave everyone with just one thought, it would be this: “We are all merely cogs in the great circle of life. How many trips around the sun we are granted is up for grabs, so enjoy the ride — no matter how bumpy it gets.” (author unknown) And, I might also add, don’t take any day or anyone for granted.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And now, here I am. It’s January 2023. I haven’t written that New Year’s letter yet, not because I don’t want to, but because it seems like there has been so much to do. It has been a year of accomplishments for me, that, when I think about the place I was in the grieving process last year, seems nothing short of a miracle. So, I’ve dug back in the archives of things that I have written over the past 20 months. While these were written in October of 2021, just six short months after Brian died, I can see that, even then, I knew the path I needed to take to move forward . . . I just had to convince myself to do it. That is were I am now, at the beginning of this new year; finding my way and carving out a new life, taking with me memories that I wouldn’t trade for all the world, even if they are sometimes painful. I have come to appreciate this great quote by Drew Barrymore: “In the end, some of your greatest pains become your greatest strengths.”
As we all work to find our way forward,
we march to our own personal drum.
Some of us are ready to break out in song
while others can still only hum.
There is not a "right way,"
nor is there a "wrong."
No grief is too short
or too long.
The secret of living our life where we are
lies not in the "then," but "today."
And the sooner we grasp that this truly is real,
the soon we'll start feeling OK.
For our story's now written on a totally new page,
one devoid of so much from the past.
And if we but listen to the song that life sings,
our heart will be set free at last.
I need you here to hold me close;
to wipe my tears away.
To gently stroke my hair and whisper,
"Sshh . . . it's all OK."
I need you here to share this night,
the sky, the sounds of fall.
But you are gone, and I am here
with none of that at all.
Warm summer nights are memories now,
and autumn days fly fast.
Winter looms, and like our lives,
shows good things just can't last.
So, I'll dry my tears and raise my eyes,
my gaze turned towards the sky,
and hear your voice say softly,
"Hush now, sweetheart, please don't cry.
I may be gone, but that's OK.
My struggles there are past.
But you have life you've yet to live,
and it will fly by fast.
So, make the most of every day.
It's what you have to do.
And when I see your smiling face,
I will be smiling, too."
Here’s to 2023 — May yours be memorable in many wonderful ways!
I have been thinking a lot about where I have been since Brian died, where I am right now in my grief journey, and where I am headed moving forward. New Year’s Day marked 20 months since Brian unexpectedly died. It is hard to believe that in just four more months he will have been gone for two years. I’ve been doing a lot of reading, research, and learning, trying to discern the best way out of this black hole I got sucked into. And I really feel like I am making progress. The kind of progress that Brian would want me to make. The kind that will help me move forward and write the rest of my story . . . the part with him no longer physically in it. One of my favorite quotes is this one: “Your 2nd life begins when you realize you only have One.“ Raphaele Giordano.
With that as my jumping off point, I am going to share two things with you. The first is the letter I wrote, sitting at Brian’s bedside, on March 25th, the day I realized that my new reality was a life without him in it. The second speaks of Active Hope.
March 25, 2021
How did it come to this? You, lying in the bed at the nursing home. Me sitting in the chair beside you. Holding your hand. Watching you sleep. Not a natural sleep, but a deep, profound sleep, brought on by pain killers that make you comfortable, but, in doing so rob you of your ability to communicate me with in any way. Drugs that mask your pain, but that only multiply mine. Do you know how much I love you? How I ache to see you this way? How empty I already feel, knowing that I have such a short time left to have you in my life? At home, my footsteps echo through the house, a cruel reminder of what will soon be your permanent absence. The silence that surrounds me is deafening. No one calls my name. There are no dishes from a meal, because there is no one to cook for, and I don't feel like eating. At night, alone in our house, I read and reread the letters you wrote to me so faithfully for the 2 years we dated, all of those 29 years ago. The love and joy that are in the words you wrote to me warm my heart and tear it apart at the same time. I wish we had more time. But, since that gift will not be ours, I hope you know that I could not have asked for anything better than our time together. I love you, Brian Gentz, and I miss you already.
All my love,
Fast forward to tonight, and I know that, while I have a long way yet to go, and I will never “be over” losing Brian, still, I have come a long way. My hope for this new year is that I am perhaps, starting to realize that I can either waste the rest of my one precious life, wishing I could change things I can’t, or I can make the most of what is mine yet to live. The choice is mine to make. The following piece pretty much sums up where I see my life right now. It uses the term “Active Hope.” Isn’t that a wonderful word?! Here’s the piece. My New Year’s wish for you, dear readers and fellow travelers on the journey of grief, is that you, too, are able to find Active Hope, embrace it, and live the rest of your one life to the fullest. Peace and Hope on your own grief journey.
“Trusting the Spiral
Active Hope is not wishful thinking. Active Hope is not waiting to be rescued by the Lone Ranger or some savior. Active Hope is waking up to the beauty of life on whose behalf we can act. We belong to this world. The web of life is calling us forth at this time. We’ve come a long way and are here to play our part. With Active Hope we realize that there are adventures in store, strengths to discover, and comrades to link arms with. Active Hope is a readiness to engage. Active Hope is a readiness to discover the strengths in ourselves and in others. A readiness to discover the reasons for hope and the occasions for love. A readiness to discover the size and strength of our hearts, our quickness of mind, our steadiness of purpose, our own authority, our love for life, the liveliness of our curiosity, the unsuspected deep well of patience and diligence, the keenness of our senses, and our capacity to lead. None of these can be discovered in an armchair or with out risk.”
–Joanna Macy & Chris Johnstone, “Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy” p. 35
“Grief is a practice, not a problem to be fixed. A practice of holding on and letting go, of letting in and letting out, of falling and rising, of speaking and listening, of honoring and living, of trembling and soothing, of carving out a space for love and loss to co-exist in our heads and in our hearts. . . A practice of being human.”
I am proud of me. And I am proud of you, too. Today marks the beginning of a new year. I am here writing this, and you are here reading it, because in our lives we have all lost something precious to us — the love of the person we were the closest to. And, while we are struggling at times to find our way in this new reality, the fact remains that we are trying. That is all we can do. That is what will help us find our way back onto the dance floor of life: “Dance before the music is over. Live before your life is over.” Today is not just a new day, it is also a brand new year. We all have the opportunity to embark on 365 chances to dance to the music of life, even if the tune does sound unfamiliar to us. So, with that thought in mind, I want to share with you my “theme song” for the year. It’s by one of my favorite groups, Abba, and is called “I Have a Dream.” I encourage you to find your dream. Then find a way to follow it. Find your life again. Rejoin the dance before you miss your chance.