My husband and I heard the Ann Arbor Symphony Saturday night at the Michigan Theater. We’ve been going to the symphony for years with my Aunt who lived in Ann Arbor. She attended and supported all sorts of musical venues both professional and at the University of Michigan. We was lucky to be invited to many of them.
This season I bought the tickets, instead of her, two of them, intending that she and I would enjoy the music together until she couldn’t any more, and then my husband would fill in. As most of you know she enjoyed the September concert, but then things took the turn we all knew was coming and she died in October.
Sitting in the audience on Saturday night listening to Mozart I imagined that the woman next to me was my Aunt.
It almost worked. If I squinted and looked up at the ceiling I could, out of the corner of my eye, still see my Aunt’s face turned up to the stage, enraptured by the music, totally immersed.
I tried to feel that way too.
But it wasn’t the same, and at the end of the concert I felt sad. I still feel sad tonight.
I know I should be happy and grateful for all the wonderful memories I have of concerts and musicals and theater we shared together. All the meals and laughs and conversations…but tonight I just feel sad.
And that’s OK. There’s plenty of time to smile about the fun things we did together, and I will someday soon. These early days in the grief process I’m just going to go with the feelings that present themselves. Sad, happy, a little of both, it’s all good.
I had her in my life for 66 years. It’s going to take some time to adjust to having her around in a different sort of way.
I went for a walk this morning, down a neighborhood road I haven’t ventured since Katie left. The road we took our last walk on that day. She and I went up to the first neighbor’s mailbox and then turned around at our usual spot, I remember she met a snapping turtle laying eggs that morning and I let her watch for a bit.
So many memories on that short piece of asphalt.
I went past our turn-around this morning, unleashed from an elderly dog, up the road further and around the corner where she and I had rarely ventured.
“Oh sweetie-girl” I thought.
“It’s OK, mama,” she replied, “next time it won’t hurt so much.”
I wasn’t ready to go home after I visited the Veterans’ Cemetery, so I headed over to a park I don’t get to very often.
I thought maybe I’d wander the trails a bit and see what was there. But when I arrived I was drawn, as usual, to the pier that runs out into the small lake.
It was a cold day, still grey, but I was having fun using the wide angle lens, and that kept me from noticing the cold for awhile.
I took several wide shots of the scenery, but noticed a lot of smaller stuff I thought was interesting, so once I got the big picture out of the way I went back to the car to warm up and change the lens.
Mostly I was interested in the weed and grass reflections in the still, frozen water alongside the pier.
I particularly liked this clump of grass.
And these curves had me too.
I spent a long time out there on the pier, so I didn’t get to the trails. That’s my excuse anyway.
You see, Katie and I used to come here once in awhile and walk the trails…and as I looked toward the woods where we had explored I knew I wasn’t ready to go back without her.
She would have loved the cold, and would fit right in with all the reddish browns I saw that day.
I read the book in the summer of 2016. It remains one of my favorite books, though now in 2022 I remember the feelings I had reading it more than the details of the story itself.
Just this week, while noting the buzz about the new Tom Hanks movie, I learned there had been a movie made in Sweden based on the book, back in 2016, and that that version is available through Amazon Prime right now.
We have Amazon Prime.
But before I get ahead of myself, here’s the review I wrote after reading this lovely book six years ago:
“I loved it. Every bit of it, and especially the crotchety old man Ove. Little by little, baby step by baby step the author explains why Ove is as he is by revealing bits of his past. His relationship with his parents. His love for his wife. The bits of drama and tragedy that shaped him. He is sullen and moody and angry but all of that seems reasonable in an unreasonable sort of way.
I can’t tell you more or it would spoil it for you. Just know that under that gruff exterior is a gentle and loving man who just didn’t know what to do with himself until a crazy neighbor moved into his neighborhood.
The writing is gentle and profound and simple and true.
“And time is a curious thing. Most of us only live for the time that lies right ahead of us. A few days, weeks, years. One of the most painful moments in a person’s life probably comes with the insight that an age has been reached when there is more to look back on than ahead.”
“It is difficult to admit that one is wrong. Particularly when one has been wrong for a very long time.”
“But we are always optimists when it comes to time; we think there will be time to do things with other people. And time to say things to them.”
I didn’t want this one to end. But I knew it had to…everything does, and Ove had been trying to end things for a very long time. It’s just that the neighbors interfered with his plans, and in the process gave him a reason to postpone the inevitable.
Ove had a heart that was too large. You’d never know it when you first met him. But if you let him in you’d know that truth for sure.“
So anyway, with vague memories of a book I loved, my husband and I sat down last night to watch the original movie complete with English subtitles. Some small bits I didn’t remember, but the gist was all there. I remember sighing with tears in my eyes at the end of the book. The tears were running down my face at the end of the movie.
I knew it would be that way…but I was surprised about why my eyes filled with tears. It wasn’t the ending, which I knew, but the fact that I suddenly saw my own parents in Ove and his wife, and I truly, madly, hope that what I saw at the end of the movie is true.
But I can’t tell you what that is, because I don’t want to spoil it for you.
I’ll probably go see the Hanks version, set in the US instead of Sweden. No need for subtitles. I’ll probably enjoy it, maybe even love it. But I doubt it will pack the emotional punch I experienced last night.
Because when you’re expecting it, it’s just not the same.
William H. Badger. Feb 4, 1929 – December 23, 2004.
Eighteen years without you is a long time. And no time.
You should have had more time.
Sometimes it feels like we’ve made no progress at all. And sometimes I know we’ve at least stopped some of the unsafe propositions, maybe even made a few inroads toward safety.
You should have had more time, and we can’t fix that for you or any of the thousands of families trying to move forward with their own grief. Their own new normal. I hate that term.
Eighteen years ago this morning. Last night, laying sleeplessly in bed, I imagined you getting up so very early in the dark morning, making sure the heat was turned down, the water turned off, and the doors locked, putting your suitcase into the trunk of your car and heading toward the airport.
You never got there. You never got to come home.
It’s not right, not for you or for us. Not for the 5,000 plus families that faced similar facts in 2021, or the as yet unnumbered thousands from 2022. And the hundreds of thousands of injured every single year.
We have to keep working, even though we’re all tired.
Anyway, I was reading Quaint Revival’s latest post about all the snow she’s getting over in Wisconsin, and she said it was beginning to look a lot like Christmas…which led her into thoughts about how those lyrics happened to be written and a request for someone to find out for her. Which, being a want-to-be librarian I felt compelled to do.
She thought maybe the lyrics were written by Meredith Wilson in 1951 as he sat beside a pool, hopefully under warm skies. But Wikipedia says it probably was written in Yarmouth, and when I google that I can only find Yarmouth Maine, or Yarmouth British Columbia, neither of which sounds very warm, even in midsummer!
But looking for this information did remind me that we played this very piece of holiday music at our recent concert, so I went to listen to it again. Well, actually, I went and listened to it for the first time. Music sounds very different when you’re sitting in the middle of the band than it does when sitting in the audience, and I haven’t taken time to listen to our concert until now. (I recommend listening to this with a good set of earphones…it sounds a LOT better with earbuds than just using your laptop speakers.)
Last Sunday I had a couple friends come for lunch and painting. Well, truthfully, they brought most of the lunch (roasted tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches) and most of their own painting supplies too. After we ate the yummy lunch we settled in to paint Christmas cards. It was so much fun to experiment together. Plus it increased my stock of cards waiting to be mailed out to unsuspecting friends and family. I should do this on a larger scale next year!
We have a little bit of snow, enough to make things look pretty, but not enough to interfere with driving. Not that I’m driving much. One of the benefits of retirement is not having to go out unless I want to. When it’s cold and snowing I rarely want to. And though I miss my Katie-girl soooo much, I am kind of glad to roll over in bed and go back to sleep in the dark early hours of these winter mornings.
Speaking of not traveling, we’re staying home this Christmas. We have had invites to holiday gatherings, but this year we just can’t quite make ourselves wander out. Twenty Twenty-two has been a long, hard year for us. Instead of going out this year I’ll fix some of the family mealtime favorites, and we’ll snuggle up on the couch to enjoy the quiet.
Though it might not be entirely quiet. We’re going to have a houseguest for awhile, a little 10 year old doggie will be staying with us while his mom is visiting family out of town. We’ve practiced him being here without his mom a couple of times and I think he’s going to settle in, but he sure does love his mom.
I saw a movie trailer this morning for something staring Tom Hanks. There was a year, a long time ago, when my husband and I watched several movies, unusual for us, realizing later that all of them were Tom Hanks movies. You know, Castaway, Green Mile, Saving Private Ryan. This movie is called something like A Man called Otis. While I was watching the trailer something felt familiar…and then I remembered one of my favorite books, A Man Called Ove, by Fredrik Backman, about an elderly man who’s quiet life is interrupted by a family that moves in next door. I think the movie is based on this book, and I think I really need to go see it. Maybe during the Christmas holiday week, as a gift from me to me.
I did get out to feed the birds at Kensington this morning. A lot of the photos in this post are from that visit. I didn’t look at the weather, or even the temperature before I left home when it was still dark. By the time I got to the park the wind was blowing the snow sideways. Not surprisingly no one else was around.
I went out to the boardwalk to see if I could entice the Queen to my hand, but she wasn’t having any of it. In fact none of the birds were willing to get too close, though they were happy enough to come to the railing if I’d leave my treats and back off.
I wandered in the woods a little, to get out of the wind, and even there things were very quiet. And then I stood still and waited.
And soon enough I heard the flutter of wings and saw, through the trees, the fast moving little bodies of hungry birds. So fun. Even though my hands were freezing and my toes were freezing I stood around out there for a long time.
I stood there just smiling and watching them, all puffed up against the cold.
Merry Christmas to my little birds, and to all of you too. May you all enjoy this holiday season, in whatever way seems right for you this year.
Friday night we attended the Ann Arbor Symphony’s Christmas Pops at Hill Auditorium where I’ve enjoyed many AA Symphony concerts with my aunt. Friday my husband sat on one side of me but there was an empty seat on the other side.
I was lucky enough to hear Sleighride and Christmas Festival again, pieces I play every year with my own community band. I have to say I think CCB’s whip instrument was more effective than the one used Friday night, but having strings really makes those pieces extra wonderful.
At one point Silent Night was filling the auditorium, voices and instruments singing softly, the sound rising up to hover near the ceiling and I thought about my aunt and how she would have loved this concert. I wished she could be there, I could imagine her, dressed in holiday red, grinning back at me as we silently acknowledged just how good it all was.
I got sort of misty-eyed.
Then I noticed some movement in the lights up near the stage. One of the big round lights near the ceiling was flickering faintly. And, as I watched, it blinked. Twice.
And I grinned.
Because I knew right then and there that my aunt had figured out a new way to grin back at me. Merry Christmas, Aunt Becky, I think you had the best seat in the house.
I woke up this morning feeling so wistful. Even before the sky lightened I was watching the trees silhouettes through the window blinds and remembering other holiday seasons, years and years ago, when as a kid I was excited for some time off school, for big fancy meals with family favorites, for lots of company and grownup conversations.
I haven’t felt that excitement for a very long time. Maybe you haven’t either.
Mostly holidays seem like extra work and grownup conversations leave me frustrated and sad. And though I realize I can’t get those childhood days back, I wonder….how do we bring a little bit of joyful excitement to our lives these days? What small things could we do to experience a tiny bit of the wonder of the season?
What suggestions do you have? Let’s share with each other and spread a little hopeful joy around. Tis the season after all.
How many of us are lucky? I feel like I am, lucky to be born into the family I was, to be given the opportunities I’ve had. To never wonder where my next meal would come from or where I’d sleep for the night. Nothing really bad ever happened to me or my family.
And when the unimaginable happened and Dad was killed by a sleepy semi driver we were not equipped to know what to do. We found the Truck Safety Coalition who helped us make the initial decisions, and who provided us education later on when we started to ask all the whys about what had happened.
That was almost eighteen years ago. Today I sit on the board and we’re working hard to provide the same services to other new families. Sadly there are always new families.
We’re struggling, as always, to raise funds to support our work. We don’t have pictures of cute elderly folks who need transportation to appointments or the grocery store. No sweet puppies that need adopting, no kids looking for someone to hang out with. No, all we’ve got are the faces of those we’ve lost and those injured in crashes with semi trucks.
Last year over 5,000 were killed and over 145,000 injured in crashes with large trucks. Stop a minute and think about that. How many people does the football stadium of your favorite team seat? What if all of those people were run over by a truck? Plus everyone out in the parking lot? Wouldn’t the nation take notice?
But people are dying and getting injured one by one, two by two, on highways and little back roads, spread out across the country. It doesn’t usually make the news. Even if it does the next news story buries it and no one remembers. Except the families.
We have so much work to do. So a week from tomorrow, on Giving Tuesday I’ll be asking for your help again. Over on Facebook I’ll be posting my request for donations. It’s easy to donate there, click a button, send us a few dollars. Last year you all astounded me and doubled my goal. This year I guess I should just start where I left off.
I hope you can help, every dollar counts. Everysingle dollar.
If you’re not into Facebook, you can donate directly through our website, trucksafety.org. There’s a green donate button, and an address if you’d rather send a check. And it’s there, on the website, that you can read some of the thousands of stories. It will break your heart, so have tissues ready.
If you don’t have time to go over to the website, here’ just a few of the thousands of faces of those directly affected by large truck crashes. Dad is 3 rows down, four pictures from the left, right next to Anna who is paralyzed from and lost her best friend in a semitruck crash. I know the names and stories of all these people and so many more. It makes me mad and sad and frustrated because it doesn’t have to be this way.
I thank you all for your support, both emotional and financial, over these many years. They say it gets easier. It doesn’t. It just gets different.
Help us help another family get through their new different. Change is hard.