Thursday, February 26, 2015

Bitter Sweet

It's a quiet night, midweek. It's been a tough few days. A tough winter. Bitter cold. It's one of those weeks where you feel like you just could be coming down with something. The cough is worse, the throat a little sore and the fatigue never ending. One of Lizzie's birds has taken to huddling close to the bird feeder for long periods of time. At first I thought it might be because he was sick but I really think he was using the glass to shelter from the wind.

I had bad news the week before last when I learned that a friend had died after a long and courageous battle with cancer. He lives across the sea and I've felt helpless that all I can do is offer words -- no doubt redundant -- to his wife, who was his greatest champion and advocate. I didn't know him all that well, but some of the best evenings of my life were spent at their dining table, sharing stories, drinking wine, eating bread and cheese. I would like to bring flowers. Or a cake. Just sit and be present. And I feel helpless.

And so, I have the flowers and I made the cake. In truth, the flowers (a lovely plant, really) and cake (a decadent flourless chocolate cake with only four ingredients) are to take to dinner when Rick and I join friends who recently sold their longtime home of more than 20 years and downsized into a smaller space. While I saw it during the moving process, they've since done renovations and I'm eager to see how it changed.

They, too, have had their share of struggles, most importantly the death of their son when he was 12. I cannot begin to imagine the depths of grief that accompany such a loss. Their new home is a step toward new experiences, not in any way leaving the memory of their son behind, but moving those memories to a new spot, waiting for new experiences and memories that will take them through the next two decades.

I look at the beautiful plant sitting in my family room. It's a white one -- I'm not really sure what it is, and I suppose it doesn't matter. I'm just relieved I haven't killed it yet. Between forgetting to water and the lack of good sunlight in my house, I am akin to the death squad for all plants that enter. It is why I take such good care of my Valentine flowers from Rick. Yes, they will die -- they are supposed to. But at least it will be natural, not from my own hand.

I'd love to keep that plant. The white flowers remind me of spring, something that they tell me will come here to Michigan sooner or later. At the moment I'm skeptical, but then I'm always skeptical in February. I just want this month over.

Only I know that isn't really true. I don't want time to go too fast. It seems to fly more rapidly than ever before. It's been nearly 20 years since Rick and I have been together and in that time I have seen the boys grow from cute little kids into handsome young men. I've had a good career, a boatload of sickness and a wonderful retirement. But it seems the years that will be left will bring changes. Hands stiffening from arthritis, knees that don't work the way they did before and who knows what will happen with the lungs. One day something will happen -- internally or externally -- that will change everything. And how I will long for that frigid day in February when I bundled up like Nanook of the North just to run to the store.

I'm sure Gretel wanted another day or week or month when she left us late last month. She was waiting for the birth of her two grandchildren. Gretel was a professor when I was studying theatre at MSU, teaching costume design. But we became better friends decades later, after her retirement. Her cancer was quick and unexpected and it turned her world upside down so rapidly it was a shock. Before she moved north to be with her son, we had some good visits and conversations, conversations that continued on the phone as she shared some of her holiday traditions, her hopes, her concerns. Gretel would grab onto this frozen day and hold it tight if she could.

I whip the eggs for my cake with fury -- five minutes, fast. They're large, light and fluffy. Then I melt the chocolate and butter for the cake slowly, add a bit of strong coffee and gently stir it together, pouring into the springform pan I felt lucky to find in the basement. (But I couldn't find the roaster for the water bath. I bet it's at Rick's. Well, a jelly roll sheet pan will have to do.) I take a good lick from the spatula and the leftovers in the bowl (precious few!). It's creamy and sweet -- but not too sweet. Bitter sweet. The day is bitter sweet.

I knew Bernie from my time at WKAR. She and her son were volunteers and you never saw two more dedicated people. When RJ was old enough, he became a hired student employee. Her heart was as big as her smile and there was never a task she didn't take on. When I saw her up north last summer, she said she expected not to see things through the winter. There was little more they could do for her cancer and she wanted to focus on the quality of life. Another life too short, I learned from today's Facebook posts. No, it hasn't been a good month for news.

Tomorrow (which by the time this posts will probably be last week) we will have dinner with our friends and share in their joy of starting something new. The conversation will be lively and I'll hear about their new grandchild, enjoy the warmth of a shared meal and a darned remarkable flourless chocolate cake, if I do say so myself! We'll see the house and leave full and happy for them.

But I think it's going to take me some time to really get my happy going again. Maybe I need to go buy some flowers. I suspect the Valentine bouquet won't last forever. Just the Valentine. Which, really, is the most important.

Photos of Judy and me and me with the cake by Judy Winter.


Jenny Woolf said...

I am sorry that things have closed in temporarily for a while. I know you will regain your good spirits very soon but perhaps you are right in sweetening this time with that yummy looking cake. And sharing with friends. And the flowers - they are beautiful! I wish I could enlighten you what they are called, but I am afraid I can't!
One reason I have officially "changed" my birthday from January 14 to May 14 is that I have realised winter is not a great time to celebrate. I have lost too many people at this dark, cold time of year, (and it clear it is nothing like as cold as you have right now.)
For me it is so encouraging to be out and hear the birds singing, and see the snowdrops and first crocuses. Spring is on the way!

Jeanie said...

A good reminder to me this morning (as I wake up to 4 degree temps and 10 or so new inches of snow) to appreciate all the good in this day and my life. Each day of health and well being is indeed a blessing.
...and I wish I could deliver those flowers to your door.

angie said...

I'm so sorry that in the circle of acquaintances was such a sad event.
I find their pictures and the cake so sweet !!!!!
I wish them a great Thursday and I hope I can soon read them again and see !!!
love all of angie from Germany

Joanne Huffman said...

Sadly, once we reach a certain age we are often reminded of the mortality of our friends and ourselves. I am sorry for the losses in your life. I hope you had delicious cake and that you got some beautiful spring flowers.

littleRamstudio said...

That bittersweet feeling rings so true with me just at present. Memories of my Mum and Dad tumble into my thoughts when least expected. I think loosing both within 14 months means I didn't get time to mourn my Dad before I suddenly lost Mum too. And they both went in the depths of those grey months of winter.
This spring we need to set to and scatter their ashes. Not chosen where yet but hope that once this final task is done and the spring finally brings blue skies and flowers that I can move on and celebrate the seemingly brief time we all have to enjoy this world.
Sending hugs across the ocean to you Jeanie.
Heather :)

Mae Travels said...

I wish you a quick transition to spring, both in season and in mood!

psychelyn said...

This post is kind of emotional. I felt emotional reading it. I've imagined things. I am truly SORRY for the bitter news. I know how hard it is to reach out overseas when you really want to, especially in times of someone's loss.

I don't know why lately there is a topic about life and death around me. Maybe it is just a strong coincidence. Last Saturday we spoke about "living & existing, yesterday we spoke about what is there after death, we had a discussion about whether very old people really get tired of living (as we've heard some people said so).

Maybe it's spring when people naturally feel the changes. The feeling that nature is coming back to life. People probably feel the same. Afterall we are all part of nature.

Thank you for this honest post - made me think 'bout life and stuff.

And by the way I think I we're in the same boat with plants :) whew, I felt relieved knowing I'm not alone.

I hope you feel better soon.

Bella Rum said...

I'm so sorry, Jeanie. Loss is the hardest hurdle in life. I know you miss your fiends.

Your friend will love that flower and that cake. Both are beautiful. Enjoy the company of your friends. I hope you stay well. My thoughts are with you.

Beth Leintz said...

This long dreary winter has been hard for so many. Your post really captures that. I wish I had some pithy comment to sum it all up, but I like what Mae said. I wish you a quick transition to spring and to a lighter mood.

Barb said...

Bittersweet, indeed, Jeanie. I guess that's how life tends to be, though for long months of sweetness, we forget it. So sorry for your losses but am glad for the friendships you've cherished and for your memories. That cake - I believe it will be delicious!

Mary said...

I'm so sorry for the loss of your friend, Jeanie. Big comforting hug..

I think the plant is stephanotis. I'm not sure what its other name is though. It's beautiful. :) I'm glad it's bringing you joy in the cold wintertime. Cake looks absolutely, sinfully yummy!

Beth M. said...

Being honest with ourselves in the present moment can be unfairly wicked when a great deal of the "now" hurts. But that honesty and awareness keeps us sharp and at-the-ready to feel whatever the tides offer up next. And, I sincerely hope for you that it brings warmth, inside and out. :)

Tante Mali said...

Dear Jeanie,
loosing a friend is so dreadful. And if I read your lines I know what you're are writing about. So I send you a big and warm conforting hug and all my good thoughts. Wish you warmer days filled with sunshine and love. Spring is just around the corner - for sure!!! Thank you so much for your visit and your charming words! Happy to have you around. All my best to you

Tante Mali said...

Dear Jeanie,
loosing a friend is so dreadful. And if I read your lines I know what you're are writing about. So I send you a big and warm conforting hug and all my good thoughts. Wish you warmer days filled with sunshine and love. Spring is just around the corner - for sure!!! Thank you so much for your visit and your charming words! Happy to have you around. All my best to you

Tracy said...

LOVE YOU, Jeanie! :o) Oh, but I'm so sorry you're facing loss once again. It's the hard part of growing older, isn't it? So much sweetness gets snatched away... But so much sweetness remains. It's all so heavy on the heart. Thankfully the heart keeps beating, and loving... ;o) There is something about February, though it can be a hard month, and not least because it does seem like a time when we/many loss our loved ones... Oh, it hurts... Thinking of you, and wishing I could sit with you and enjoy a piece and chat. Doing so in my mind, across the miles... ((LOVE & BIG HUGS)) P.S. Your plant--it's a Kalanchoe. It's sometimes called a Florist Kalanchoe, or Christmas Kalanchoe as it's a good house plant in winter.

Castles Crowns and Cottages said...

YEP. I say, hold on to what never changes. Like a gorgeous bouquet, the petals are so fragile, so fragrant, but they fall off. But the giver of the life and the love is what lasts. Nothing, not even death can take that away.

But our "happy" is also a fleeting character. Happy is the result of the peace within that cannot be snatched away from outside forces. Peace is that pilot light inside that no wind of adversity can blow out, UNLESS we let it. It's a struggle to hold on, that is for sure. But the faith to keep it lit is what we jump start every day, every moment.

Peace to you always, dearest Jeanie. Anita

Lisa from Lisa's Yarns said...

I'm so sorry to hear that February is another month that is tinged with sad news of friends passing. :( This post is a good reminder to not wish the days away and to make the most of every one we have as, like you said, I'm sure the ones we've lost would give anything to have another day on earth, even if it was a bitterly cold day.

The French Hutch said...

Dear Jeanie, Loss is always hard and I'm sorry you are faced with this again so soon. Cherish your memories to help you through.
How nice you will be with friends and help celebrate their new home, a new beginning for them.
Flowers are a must for February, they brighten the days and give hope that spring will indeed come.
Love the sweet photo.........
Hugs to you dear friend.

Anonymous said...

My condolences to you, Jeanie.
Hope the dinner with Rick and your friends made you happy.
Yes, do go and buy fresh flowers.

Janet said...

Once again most of the country has had a long, difficult winter so no wonder you are feeling a bit low. Buying some fresh flowers might just be the thing you need. They always seem to brighten even the darkest day. And maybe go back and read some of your wonderful posts from warmer times...there are so many good ones. Sending you a hug and the hope of warmer weather.

Friko said...

No, not a good month for news. How sad it all is. A dreary cold month and sad news arriving.

We can do nothing except make what we can of every day. I am not one of those who advocate relentless positivity, in fact, I hate it, and hate the people who prescribe it, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t feel that life must be lived consciously.

And living consciously means that sad things happen and must be accepted into our life too. Remembering good friends may be bitter-sweet, but at least we remember them and what they did while they were alive.

Stay as you are, enjoy and feel and mourn, it’s human.

Victoria Zigler said...

I'm sorry there's been so much sad news lately, and that this Winter is seeming like a long and miserable one. Treasure the memories, and enjoy the cake. Hugs!

Dr. Kathy McCoy said...

Oh, Jeanie, I'm so sorry you've had such bad news along with the dark and cold of winter. At this stage in our lives, I think life is so often bitter sweet. I'm seeing three people close to me -- and only five to six years older -- declining rapidly and realize even more how precious and short the days are. Maybe we need to focus even more on the sweet in our lives -- like your long and loving relationship with Rick and long-time friends and blissful evenings of stories and good food and good friends -- both present and departed.

Shelia said...

Oh, Jeanie, I'm so sorry to hear of your losses. The older we get it seems the more our friends and loved ones leave us. This cold winter can certainly help make us feel a little depressed! This is my first time to deal with such cold and snow. I don't get out too much but I try to keep my hands busy. Just know I'm praying for you, sweet one.
Shelia ;)

Retired English Teacher said...

This post makes me sad for you. Your dear heart has just had way too much sad news. Winter is such a hard time to deal with things. Your spirt comes through when you admire and enjoy the flowers intended for someone else and then bake that incredible cake. A bittersweet cake seems like just the ticket for moving on with life and for celebrating an event in a friend's life. I like the thought that you couldn't make a cake and take flowers to one friend, so you did what you could for another.

Sadness sometimes floods our hearts. They way forward is to feel that sadness and express it. You have expressed your sadness in so many beautiful ways. I hope these expressions bring some balm to you soul. XO

Kitty said...

Dearest Jeanie, I cry with you as I feel the pain in your words. Life can seem so long and so short all at the same time. May God put spring and peace in your heart soon.
You are a very special person, and as the bird found shelter by the feeder, may you find shelter in the love of those who surround you.

Esme said...

Jeanie, what a horrible week. I am so sorry for the loss of your friend. It seems that you have suffered a lot of loss. I wish I could offer you some solace and peace in your life. You deserve it. My thoughts are with you and you look lovely in the photo. I am sure that your friend treasured your friendship. xoxo hugs and kisses.

Houseelf said...

Hugs Jeanie. This monochrome time of introspection is often hardest on the vulnerable and elderly. It's only right that your thoughts will dwell on the friendships which have sadly come to an end. With the Spring will come new growth, new beginnings, new thoughts and ideas.

I have plants in my garden to remind me of old friends as I have planted them in their memories. When they flower is my time for remembering the past joy with that person. At the moment the Kerria is in flower so I remember my grandmother with joy.

I hope you find something which works for you. Hugs. It does get easier.

Anonymous said...

Sorry you have been having such a hard - and sad - winter Jeanie. Nothing is forever, however good or bad - Spring will come and friends and family will continue to leave us, just as we will leave them some day. But what wonderful memories are left behind for us all. We are so lucky to be free to make such wonderful connections in life.
As you are struggling with the winter, I am with our summer - seriously OVER it still being 30 degrees (Centigrade) at midnight - roll on Autumn!
Here's to more tea and cake!
Best wishes from Bendigo in Australia Jeanie and keep smiling.

Anonymous said...

Jeanie, I'm so sorry that your heart has had to bear yet another loss. Sometimes it seems the world is closing in on us that way, and yet it keeps on turning, the sun keeps rising, and we make it through another day.

Your cake and the beautiful flowering plant was a lovely offering, and I'm sure brought a ray of warm sunshine to your friend. Here's hoping for more warming rays of sunshine to brighten all our days.


Marilyn said...

Oh Jeanie, I am sorry I am so slow at reading this post and so very sorry for all the losses in February. I can't even imagine losing a son at 12, I do hope their new home brings some joy and new memories. Sending hugs to you.

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