Wednesday, September 22, 2010

A Real Man, A Gentleman, A Man's Man

In 1985 I watched the movie Murphy's Romance for the first time.  I enjoyed it, thought it was a cute, entertaining benign love story with a happy ending, albeit a little predictable.  The theme of success followed by a hard fought struggle continues in this film from Sally Field's previous 1979 movie, Norma Rae.   In Murphy's Romance the main character, Emma Moriarity captures the audience's sympathy as she tries to make a new life for herself and her 12-year-old son after divorcing her deadbeat husband.   Arriving in Eunice, Arizona with little money in her purse and a few belongings from her home in Modesto, California, Emma toils day and night to transform a rundown ranch house and barn into her dream ranch where she aspires to board and train horses.  She is denied a bank loan, recieves no business despite her efforts to advertise, and can barely put food on the table.  Finally, she meets an older widower who befriends her and gives her help by boarding his horse with her and bringing customers to her.  A rivalry ensues between Emma's ex-husband and the widower.  Eventually Emma and the widower win one another's hearts.

A few evenings ago, I viewed this film for the second time through a different lens.  No longer a young happily married woman, but now a mature widow, this film spoke to me very differently.  The protagonist, played by James Garner is the older childless widower.  I remember James Garner being from Norman, Oklahoma, not far from my late husband's parents' childhood homes--places I fondly remember visiting many years ago.  Garner's smooth Oklahoma accent has always been comforting to me and I took delight in listening to him again.  His character, Murphy Jones, is a well respected lifelong resident of the town of Eunice.  He owns the town drugstore, plays in a band, is a member of the Elks Lodge, and is an anomaly of sorts because of his liberal politics.  He is also well sought after by the older single women and widows not only because of his status, but because of his manliness, charisma, dapper appeal, and tragic history.  These women remember the tragedy of his wife's sudden unexpected death and the deep, dark grief that consumed Murphy for a few years.  As the film unfolds so does Murphy's character as a principled, no bullshit, opinionated yet polite, wise, honest gentleman who treats women with respect and puts deadbeats like Emma's ex-husband in their places. 

In Murphy I see myself, the widow.  I drew a lot of similarities between Murphy's experience as a widower and my own.  I was happily married, never had children, have liberal political beliefs, and am relatively well-known where I work as a teacher.  Like Murphy, I busy myself with several hobbies and interests, I have several friends of the opposite sex, I am "mature," and I experienced those same dark days that Murphy described during the surprise birthday party scene.  Like Murphy, I also know what I want in the opposite sex and what I don't want.  He said that happy marriages are rare.  He was right. 

The man Murphy also reminded me a lot of my late husband.  Generous, helpful, always on the side of the less fortunate, never one to put up with bullshit, rugged yet sensitive, wise and measured in thought and action, true to his word, well-mannered and respectful, a model of integrity, and a well-respected leader, Steve was a lot like Murphy.  Even though I am a much different person now than I was over three years ago when I was thrust into widowhood, Murphy's Romance reminded me of the qualities in a man that remain so important to me.  They are the qualities of a real man, a gentleman, a man's man.

Friday, September 17, 2010

The Don't Get Its

Well over three years on this journey I am still amazed at some comments I hear from friends and acquaintenances.  I'm not talking about the innocent references from my married friends concerning my single status, being "manless," or not having to "put up" with negotiating decisions on home improvement projects, finances, or vacations with a spouse.  I am not that thin-skinned.  Walk on eggshells around me?  No need for that.  I am proud of and comfortable with who I have become.  I am secure with who I am.  I see my independence as an asset.  Sure, I would have rather have not become widowed, but as a result of it I have changed for the better.

I was recently caught by surprise when a friend told me that I was very unpleasant to be around during the first couple of years of my widow journey.  I was told that I was angry then.  I was told that I wasn't any fun to be around.  Really?  No shit!  Since when are the newly widowed, who are shocked beyond the realm of reality, raw in the very depths of grief, experiencing the deepest, darkest hell of their lives, supposed to be perky, bubbly, and fun? My response was a very calm, "Yes, and rightfully so." In the world of widowhood we often say,  "DGI--don't get it," when we hear something like this.  What was said was true.  What I don't get is why this even had to be said.  Duh!  Of course I was angry.  Of course I wasn't a lot of fun.  Tell me something I don't know.  Perhaps this was said more for the benefit of the messenger.  Don't get me wrong.  Deep down I believe my friend was well-intentioned, but on the surface the comment was like nails on a chalkboard to my ears.  The conversation continued amicably as does the friendship.  I'm going to chalk this comment up to being human and a case of DGI.

Yes, my how I've changed.  Good thing this wasn't said three years ago!  This journey has made me more forgiving with those who matter in my life and less tolerant of those who don't.  And so my friends, you do not need to tip-toe around me.  If you do say something that you later feel awkward or embarassed about, just let me know.  I always appreciate your consideration for my feelings even though I am not as sensitive as you may think.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

One Helluva Summer

Looking at the calendar, I am reminded there are less than two weeks of summer left.  As a teacher I always look forward to summer. It is the reward for a long, hard school year.  This summer has been different.  I had regarded it as a lot of empty stolen time chained to my spine surgery.  While others were relaxing and vacationing, I found myself thrust into all things connected to my spine-- the intense pain, the diagnosis to my health problem, the plan of action,  preparation to surgery, the surgery experience itself, the recovery period, and grieving the loss of long-distance running.

It wasn't until recently, I had to honestly say to myself that stuck in between the pages of the book of the spine surgery summer, are a lot of reminders that it wasn't all about my aching back.  There was the ACOE graduation in which I once again presented a deserving student with the Steven L. Butler Memorial Scholarship. The wedding of my youngest niece, Melissa and her beloved Steve was beautiful--a traditonal Catholic wedding in Sonoma, California complete with a priest from Scotland and a gorgeous reception at the groom's parents' home, flanked by beautiful vineyards. I was also reminded of the gift of family and friendship with visits in the hospital and at home, help with meals, and help with household chores.  The opportunity to attend Camp Widow once again in San Diego provided me with a much needed change of scenery, inspiration, and the chance to meet new widows/ers and cultivate the friendships that were established a year ago.  New friendships outside my widow circle were also forged.  Being tied to home for most of the summer also gave me the chance to have more home improvements made.  I was able to oversee the installation of new windows, an irrigation system, tree work, a new deck railing to replace the year-old one damaged by my oak tree, and the redecorating of my family room.  My parents celebrated their 61st wedding anniversary.  I was able to attend a dinner concert with Asleep at the Wheel at Rancho Nicasio and a couple of day trips with friends to the wine country.  I caught up on reading and started new hobbies like bread baking and jewelry making.

With over three years of widowhood behind me, this summer provided some unexpected "firsts" for me that were frightening.  One in particular was experiencing a major health issue without a life partner.  Even though I had a great deal of support from family and friends, there remained that feeling of aloneness, vulnerability, and isolation without a soulmate to confide those thoughts and fears.  Now I can look back at those "firsts" and feel proud of my courage and grace during those challenging "firsts."  They were not easy, but I got through them unscathed.  I know there will be more "firsts" ahead of me and I am reminded of what my late husband always used to tell me when I was faced with challenging times, "You're tough......Go get 'em champ!"  The good times and the strength I have gained from the not-so-good times have made this one helluva summer.  And while my spine surgery is foremost in my thoughts, this summer was thankfully full with the stuff that makes for good memories and healthy self-discovery.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010



I stand here
In a frozen wasteland,
A tundra where
Icy winds cut
Against my
Exposed soul,
A soul that was once
Wrapped in the warmth
Of your love,
Your friendship.
Your presence,
Your comfort,
Your care,
Your good advice,
Your encouragement,
Your laughter,
Your acceptance of me,
Including my faults.
When the angel of death appeared to you
The layers of your cloak
Were ripped from me
Like a body stripped naked
Left in the middle of nowhere....

In memory of Steven L. Butler whom I wed on September 13, 1980.  Our last wedding anniversary was in 2006.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Labor Day

Labor Day.
It's not just one day,
But three long days
That are supposed to be
The grand finale to the summer.

It's a weekend for families
To camp, picnic, or hold barbeques.
It's a weekend for families
To hike, swim, and fish
As they toast summer's end.

Labor Day,
Like all the other three-day holiday weekends
Is exclusive, tight, and bonding
For families and couples,
Sans the widowed.

Labor Day,
Like all other three-day holidays
For those with intact family
Is planned, fun, lively, and busy,
Not like the long dead-end weekend for the widow.

Labor Day,
For the widow is like all other three-day holidays,
Long vacant, isolated wastelands
Where one is not included
And where one does not fit in.....

Labor Day,
It's not just one day,
But a stinging reminder
Of how we are forever changed
And how we long to belong once again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Rainbow Journey

Rainbow Journey

The rainbow....
Yeah, the rainbow is that magical thing,

The thing that we want to transcend
Because of all it promises to deliver

Once we get to the other side of it,
If and when we do.

I have never forgotten a single rainbow--
Those spied as a kid at home or even in the old sod of Erin.

Rainbows give us hope and promise--
Something to cling to like a teddy bear at night

That says, "Everything is going to be alright."
They are like that hot cup of cocoa on a cold winter morning,

Or like the hug you so desperately need in your deepest abyss of grief.
Rainbows are what keep us afloat in the seas of uncertainty.

Rainbows are the bridge between strife and life
At its worst and its best.

A life unfulfilled and stuck
Looks to the rainbow for a shred of possibility

That maybe there is a brighter future,
A promise of something better.....

The path to a rainbow is part faith, part innocence, and part adventure
To get to the other side of that beautiful array of color,

You must open your heart and believe and never give up
Even though the terrain to the other side is steep and rugged.

The journey to the other side of the rainbow is long and hard.
The pot of gold is there waiting for you.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Twenty-Six Feathers

Twenty-Six Feathers

The phoenix rose up above me
Jerking herself in sudden flight.

I asked her, "What are you doing?
Where are you going?"

She said. "I am on a journey.
I have a lot to do."

I asked, "Where are you going?
What do you have to do?"

She was impatient and only said,
"I have things to do.  You will see..."

I felt abandoned.
No answers.  No help.

I always knew the Phoenix promised
A new life grown from the ashes of old.....

Every day I searched the ashes and rubble
For signs of life, signs of hope, signs of renewal.....

Suddenly a few feathers began to drop from the sky.
Those feathers were family and friends present in my deepest canyons of grief!

Time went on and I didn't find any feathers dropping my way,
Sure that my chance encounter with this mystical bird was a hoax or a hallucination.

New personal committments and a lot of hard work kept my mind off
Of any hope or expectations from the bird of fire.

Over time and through perserverance, many finish lines were crossed
Alone, yes alone with no expectations. 

So often I would reflect, looking into the mirror,
Asking all of those questions and wonder,

What is the point?  What is next?
Then a single feather droppped down upon my face.

It told me to look down, to look around.
I counted the feathers around my feet.

There were twenty-six feathers.
Each represented a person, an accomplishment, a victory.

She did not abandon me.
Her long flight had a purpose.

The bird said,
"Those were not my feathers, but yours.

Twenty-six feathers,
Each one for every one who loves you.

And one for every time you believed in yourself,
For courage, for strength, and for what you gave,

I gave back to you
For every year you had with your beloved."

Twenty-six feathers burn eternally
As a sign that I am renewed, alive, and live on.....