“You can train for all kinds of emergencies as a pilot. Like losing an engine, for example.
Now, it’s one thing if you stall one of your huge Rolls-Royces or Merlins if you have four of them hanging off your flying fortress or your Lancaster. You could be loaded with fuel, ordinance and dignitaries (i.e. useless added weight) and still make a big sweeping turn back to the field on three and stick the landing. It’s a little different story in a single-engine two-seater.
You can land without wheels if your gear gets jammed. You can ditch in the water. You can train how to know when it’s time to take a wild-ass guess at what to do next when all other options have failed. You can bail out.
You don’t exactly train for your co-pilot getting killed while you’re flying.”
Bob got real quiet right after he said that, and looked out the window of the café and up into the clouds for what seemed like a full minute before taking a sip of coffee and continuing.
“But you do train how to pilot a two-seater solo.“
–Captain “Hopping Bob” Shannon
I didn’t train for this.
We train for a lot of things in our lives. Basic training before deployment. We train to be a refrigeration mechanic or a teacher or a nurse. We are trained to ride a bicycle, trained to drive a car. We are trained how to train.
We plan for a lot of things in our lives. We plan vacation trips. We plan weddings. We plan for a baby. (Sometimes we plan to have a baby, and sometimes we plan how to take care of the baby we just found out about.)
We plan for kids’ college if fortunate enough to do so. We plan for retirement.
We even plan our own funerals and pay for them in advance.
I might do that, and also write my own obituary so they don’t miss anything.
I didn’t plan for this.
Honestly, my late wife and I were quite comfortable with and accustomed to, planning on, actually, the typical odds for men and women. That I would go before she did. The wills were made. All the important things were in line on the property deed and the retirement fund to make it easier for her and the kids when I went. We didn’t plan any funerals although we talked in a broad sense about our preference for cremation. We did talk about the fact that she would not want to stay on at the Ark alone. It’s a big house and you need to be a family or a recluse monk artist to live here.
Also it’s 115 years old, and hasn’t been updated in, oh, 115 years or so. So it has ancient single-pane windows and a hand-laid stone bulkhead and missing bits of mortar and a pellet stove and gas pilots and a whole rasher of things that make it a dream for a tinkerer but a nightmare for a widow.
We are easily lulled into the sense that tomorrow will be like today. If summer, we expect summer. In winter, winter. And tomorrow will follow on to the day after, and in its most generalized sense, life will just keep going.
That’s what we built our lives on for the last decade or more. The empty-nesters with the paid mortgage and a home and property to do as they please. We talked of how we loved so many things about this place. The big windows in particular. Bright, airy rooms. We vowed, each of us, to stay here “for as long as we can.”.
Somehow I imagined that being until the time I was too old to haul wood pellets and plow the driveway and shovel snow off the roof and mow and trim a 3-acre lawn. We’d move on to “Roland Arms”, as we called the neat, handicapped-accessible senior apartments down on Roland Way.
Or, perhaps, that time would be when my wife found herself alone, and would sell the home we had shared for forty years. Probably move in with a daughter, as her mother had done before her. Mary lived with us for about ten years before she died. We were certainly fortunate, having space in our home for her.
“Man plans. God laughs.”
The proverb hung on my mother’s wall.
“Such fools these mortals be.”
Having really made no plan to be sixty-two and flying solo, I’m making it up as I go along, I guess. Some things are easy and obvious. His & hers towels, for example.
Some things were just oddities that sprang from who woulda thought it. The kitchen, for instance, which had been primarily her domain for 35 years, equipped and stocked to her liking. I need to use the kitchen myself now, and don’t need to accommodate sharing. Some things were just too much for a single man. Pots and pans and utensils.
Other things are just not my cup of tea. An air fryer, a pressure cooker. Other things I was wanting for. Did she not have a set of measuring spoons somewhere?
And so a period ensued when I envisioned this new future in the Ark, just the three of us including the dog and cat. I started to move some furniture around. Open the space up a little. I needed space. Quiet space. And light. A few changes in window dressings.
At first I suffered from a certain survivor’s guilt, I suppose. It felt like an insult to her memory to remove the recliner in which she sat, to take down the blackout shades on the east-facing window in the bedroom.
The things of the household are pretty well settled for now. At least on the first story.
Time, however, is totally out of control.
Like so many riding the slowing currents into and through the delta on our river of life, sleep patterns began to change over the last couple of years. After the 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week, month-and-a-half odyssey that was the deathbed vigil I sat for my wife, I seem to have suffered a bit of post-traumatic stress and battle fatigue. Like shifting from night shift to day shift, it took quite a while to get back to a normal sleep cycle. It’s still not right, and combines with a certain hyperactivity and a propensity to “get in the zone” (or maybe more like “zone out”) while burying my nose in some industrious but detailed activity such as cleaning all the balusters of the banister. Next thing I know it’s 2 o’clock in the morning and I need to rise for work in a few hours. Thankfully, work has been only 3 days a week since my return from family leave, and my job is not difficult.
On the plus side, it has made for a lot of clean things besides the banister.
Of course there’s a lot more to these things than one would frame up in a blog post.
I’m not the first person that has gone through this. It’s what we do.
It is, however, the first time it has happened to me.
It’s coming back quickly, but it has been a long time since I’ve flown solo.
I hadn’t planned for this.
Take care and keep in touch,
As you see, I am quite behind on my reading. The death of a loved one must be the hardest thing this life holds. I have always worked and cleaned in difficult times, as you are doing. There is no harm in it and at least, you have a tidy environment. >Words just do not do justice, in such seasons as this. If they did, I would write you the longest letter ever written. About the house . . .well that is between you and your children, but I will say . . .for now settle yourself, get your course steady and nurture your soul as you never have. You must heal your heart. You must learn to fly solo. I wish it were easy, but there is no manual. You are still a father and grandfather and you must show them what to do with heartbreak. That has always been very motivating for me. When I needed to act poorly. or throw a raging tantrum, I did so when they weren’t looking. Just now, I have even shared that with them, so they know that grief and fear and loneliness are downright ugly. Time . . .that awful measurement of our life , must have its’ way. Until it does-and when you can -you will know what to do with your beloved ark(says someone struggling like the dickens, with an old rabbitpatch). The good news, is you will smile and laugh again-you will see the beauty of life again and you will enjoy living again . . one day. Until then, may sparrows attend you. x Michele
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Your comments, as always, hit the mark like Tell’s arrow.
That grief and sorrow “must have its way”, and that time “must have its way” are two rich patches for the quilt that is my life, and truly valued.
That I bear a duty to show my children and grandchildren that these things are real and part of life, and demonstrate the ways they are navigated…a clarity that rings true from the heart of Old Me, and awakens New Me to this most sacred calling.
The Ark is yet another clarity. A rock and home port, a safe harbor. Moorings in a beloved bay.
Now more than ever I am seeing and counting the things of this world that remain steadfastly by my side. The important touchstones of my life that show me the way and the path of the future.
My children and their childhood home chief among them, my cornucopia overflows with beauty and bounty. Nature, art, wildlife, my writing, music, walks with Sassy June, and dear friends such as yourself.
With June, I feel a bend in the river. A calm and steady current, ushering me into the next stretch.