Thursday, July 28, 2011

Ashes to Ireland: Part 1

I've had several people already tell me that they expected a long blog entry to follow my recent trip to Ireland, and while it is inevitable (how could it not be when you free the last remaining physical connection to your husband) it is not possible... There is no way I could possibly do such a poignant trip justice in ONE long blog entry.


PART ONE: The Gremlin and The High Cross

When Roger and I went to Ireland for our honeymoon, we very intelligently added a GPS to our car rental. It was our only saving grace on multiple occasions as Irish road maps are, if I'm not mistaken, edited and published by hamsters. (Did you know there is no P in hamster?.... thank you spell check) Remembering the deep gratitude we held for the GPS, I recommended we do the same on this trip.

Our car rental was actually the 3rd in a string of calamities on our venture. The Williams Clan and I joked that if our trip was made into a movie it would be aptly titled "National Lampoon's European Vacation Part 2". Anything that could go wrong did, and even some things that would surely by safe from error or irony were not. Upon arrival at Dublin's Avis, we were dropped off at some foreign model of Ford. My sister in law and I looked at each other, already feeling uneasy about it but hoping that gut reaction was premature.

It was a car.

There were 7 travelers on this journey, and I know of no car that would do the job. To make a very lengthy story palatable, we needed to have reserved a VAN, which is considered a utility vehicle in the most basic of definitions, but it wasn't an option as we looked for passenger vehicles. The car wouldn't hold 7 people along with 7 people's luggage, but after a pretty hefty argument, some negotiating, and of course more money, we were able to trade the car for a van the next day.

The van was a standard...
on the right side of the car...
with the stick shift in the left hand...
while driving on the wrong side of the road...
in a foreign country with poorly marked roads...
in the rain...
with a caramel coating on our windshield...

Ok, that last part didn't happen, but it might as well have. We did add on the Garmin GPS to aid our travels, but it turned out to almost be a hindrance. It insisted that we never wanted to take major roads, which is a problem in a country like Ireland. If you can imagine the narrowest of roads, just wide enough to let two cars "pass", rarely a center stripe, tall trees/bushes held back only by stone fences erected by farmers centuries ago to clear the rock for planting, limited visibility, and lots of tight often >90° turns, then you can imagine the roads the Garmin felt were in our best interest. It got to the point that my sister in law began referring to it as the Gremlin instead.

Wednesday was Roger's 34th birthday. We decided to mark it with the first spreading of ashes. I had chosen three special locations, and the first was a site close to Dublin called Monasterboice (Mon-AS-ter-boyce). Monasterboice is a cemetery at the site of a monastery (hence the name) from the 900s. In addition to a ruined tower, there are two Celtic High Crosses that also date to the early 10th century. We visited the cemetery originally to view the crosses, a form of art as well as an avenue with which monks taught the gospel utilizing the intricate carvings that tell the complete story of Jesus's life. Regardless your religious views, you cannot deny the magnitude and beauty of these monuments, and Roger especially was enamored by the site. He thought it was amazing that adjacent to a cross dating from 922AD there was a grave from 2004. Monasterboice is an active cemetery still today.

Ireland has daylight til around 10pm this time of year. We planned the evening to include an early dinner and a drive to Monasterboice giving us plenty of light for the first spreading. The weather was amazing all day; sunny, clear, and kinda warm (if it can be warm AND call for scarves). However, the second we got in the van, thick dark clouds filled the sky and it began to rain...

Back to the Gremlin... Roger and I had a difficult time finding the cemetery ourselves. The GPS didn't know where it was, and maps gave us conflicting points. It took us a great deal of time find the cemetery, but the huge tower gave it away once we were close. We arrived just as the sun was setting. The light gave it a surreal quality that made our time there even more memorable. It was empty; just us two and the groundskeeper that lived next door.

Knowing that the GPS was incorrect, I navigated what I remembered to be the accurate directions to Monasterboice. I will keep this part of the story short to preserve my dignity and skills as a map reader. Let's just say that what should have been a 45 minute drive turned into something closer to an hour and half and involved stopping at a diner to ask directions from a a seemingly lovely woman who took the time to even walk outside to show me where to go... and then snottily added that maps help. Bitch...

I was really downtrodden at this point. It was raining, dark, and a good 45 minutes later than we planned to arrive. In fact, it was almost 10pm before we saw the tower rising from the beyond the trees. And as we pulled up, I saw the gate: closed.

My heart sank a little deeper than it had already sunk nearly two hours ago when the rain first hit our windshield. I had chosen this wonderful location, and yet again the universe had other plans.

Everyone got out of the van except me. I'll admit it; I was pouting. It wasn't until I heard my name called that we could hop the fence that I begrudgingly got out. Next to the gate, actually built into the stone fence, were STEPS! Please explain to me the point of the gate if there are stairs that allow for entry...

I was the last to climb over the fence. The rain had stopped. It was still cloudy and dark, but somehow the last of the sunlight permeated just enough for us to see. I heard my nephew whisper, "It's just like Harry Potter!" The Williams Clan explored the cemetery while I walked to the back, just past the tower, to have my own moment at a site that held such a different significance not long ago. I did my best to hold back the tears, I'm not even sure why. It wasn't long before I found myself in the company of family, and the moment I didn't know I had been dreading came to be.

Roger's father held the box of ashes. We had to have them put in a plastic box so that they could be scanned at the airport. THAT is a separate story in and of itself, but one I'll leave for telling in person.

Joan, his mother, had memorized a quote that had personal meaning for her, and she recited it by heart as we solemnly listened or perhaps used it as a launching pad for our own thoughts. All the while, his father was trying, yes TRYING, to open the plastic box. I didn't realize there was a problem until I heard a "Hmm..." come from his dad. He couldn't get the box open!

After everything that had happened before, and believe me there was a laundry list (remember, we're talking Griswald trip to Ireland), I was now watching the ashes refuse to open!? I remember thinking this was really funny. Dave, my brother in law, came over to help, but even he couldn't get the box to budge.  Everything in me was laughing, but as soon as my mouth opened the internal laughter exited as blubbering tears.

"We came all the way to Ireland, and the f*cking box won't open!!!!!"

I kid you not... The moment I said f*ck, the box opened. It was noted by all that if ever there was a way Roger could demonstrate his presence, waiting for me to cuss to allow access to his ashes was definitely one way to do it.

Dave held the ashes against his chest and walked to me to grant me the first spread. The last 5 months I had envisioned a small shovel like the kind you use at the beach in my hand, but as that was but another way I was unprepared for this moment, I reached in for a handful.

It was physically nothing I had ever felt before and hope never to feel again. I would like to remember how soft Roger's lips were, how scratchy his 10am five-o'clock shadow was, and what his hugs felt like - not the consistency of his ashes. I completely broke down inside and out. What a horrible task to be set before me. I shook the ashes as I would flour from my hand along the fence that separated us from a grassy field. I shook them around the tower, amongst the crosses. We took turns taking our portions, mingling an ancient past with a painful present, scattering his ashes along with our tears.

Joan and Dave poured some ash around the base of one of the High Crosses, and I was a bit embarrassed I had not thought of it first. I supposed initially the cross seemed too sacred to touch, but it seemed fitting. It seemed perfect.

We took a moment to remember the wonderful things about Roger, circled around the High Cross, and then one by one we headed back to the van. His father walked me out of the cemetery with his arm around my shoulder. My sister in law and the kids were already back in the van by the time the remaining four of us approached the gate. Dave had already climbed over and was waiting to help us do the same.

"Did anyone actually try to open the gate before?" Joan asked.

Silence... Roger's father lifted the latch that held the gate closed, and without a struggle it opened.

"You are kidding me!!!" I cried, but this time it was accompanied by laughter. We all laughed. It was a Roger moment, and I love that those still exist.

Nonetheless, I insisted on hopping the fence.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

And It All Winds Down

My concept of time has changed dramatically since Roger's death. I never know just quite how to explain the reality of time dragging on second by second and rushing by quicker than I can process, all simultaneously. That day feels like forever ago. The day before, though, just happened...

I won't say that we decided to go take his ashes to Ireland. "Decided" is the wrong verb; we knew instantly it was something we had to do. The moment the words, "I guess we're going to Ireland" escaped my brother-in-law's lips was ages ago. So much life has already happened between that moment and this. Our evening trip for the first spreading of ashes was surely far more than just 4 days ago. But in the same, our time in Ireland has flown by, as have the months of re-learning to be me.

Far from a vacation, this trip has been difficult, emotionally draining, and not at all the way I would ever want to visit a country. Nonetheless, as our trip comes to a close, I can honestly not imagine a more perfect and appropriate way to say our final goodbyes than amidst family, the beauty of Ireland, and the truth that Roger is exactly where he wanted to be, though not at all in the capacity we once imagined.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Travel Bug

Travel has always been a priority for me, even before I met Roger. I can’t imagine a better way to spend my money and off-time than by experiencing other cultures, countries,  and food… even if it turns out gross. On my first two European adventures I actually made the trek across the ocean all by myself and then met my travel companions on the other side. It wasn’t until our honeymoon in Ireland that I took a trip with someone. Nothing makes an 11 hour flight better than having someone with you to snuggle with, talk smack about poorly behaved children, and comment on the surprising quality of airline food.

Obviously, with school in full swing, I haven’t travelled since losing Roger. Recently, I took a short jaunt to Seattle with some teacher friends. It was crazy intense travel, trying to fit in a lot in a short amount of time – Roger’s and my favorite way to vacation. I mean, if you have to fly, you might as well see a LOT to make the airfare worth it!

I hadn’t given the Seattle venture much prior thought, nor had I consciously labeled the trip as my first sans husband. At the airport, I had the other people in my group with which to chat, I knew my seat partner on the plane, and meals were of course planned and filled with conversation.

It was the moment I entered my hotel room that I was suddenly struck. The door closed. I set my luggage by the TV, dropped my purse on the bed.


I was the only one there, and the absence of my travel partner became painfully obvious.

For whatever reason, the last week or so my emotions have been on overload. I hold things together really well and am for the most part very positive and optimistic about my life and future, but I’ve had more moments in this last fortnight that have sent me into tears than logic would tell me I should. The empty hotel room was enough to bring the all too familiar hot, wet sting to my cheeks. 

I really miss him.

I cleaned up my face, re-powdered to cover the residual pink, and met the crew downstairs for dinner and pictures in Kerry Park. When I returned to my room that evening, the void was still there, but the shock was more of a dull reminder.

Monday I fly to Ireland. I’m thankful to say I will be travelling with family – my Williams clan. Early on we had decided that when life went back to normal we would take a celebratory trip back to Ireland, the country we fell in love with after our wedding. When it was so horrifyingly and suddenly apparent that life would never be normal for “us” again, it seemed only fitting and even necessary for Roger to have that final adventure to our proverbial light at the end of the tunnel.

Ashes in hand, I’ve selected some of the locations special to “us” to return Roger back to the earth, just as he wanted. While I know there will be great moments in the mix, I cannot even predict how this trip will affect me… how can you.

Kind thoughts and good vibes welcome.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Well, good morning!

An unwelcomed and unintended thing happened this morning. Lucy, in her endless quest for food, woke me up at her disgustingly usual time… 4:15am…. to give me “kisses” in the name of breakfast. Kisses really isn’t the right word as that describes an act of love and affection. Lucy’s tongue, however, acts much in the way my father used to threaten to throw ice water on me to make sure I got out of bed.

Luckily, Lucy is  also fairly obedient to the command “go to bed”, so after asking her to do so, her tiny legs trotting from the big bed to her crate in the kitchen, I scooped up Scarlet to deposit her as well.  This is our routine…. every morning…. at 4:15… I will say that despite such an untimely wake up call, especially for the summer, I usually am successful going back to sleep, at least until the 5:30 whimpering of mistakenly hungry puppies wakes me again. After satisfying their breakfast needs, we all snuggle back down for their post-breakfast nap that can often last until around 9. Psycho doglets…

This morning was no different. The girls fluffed the many blankets in their crate as I stumbled back to bed, half asleep, half wishing I had fish. I crawled back into bed and got comfortable.

…and got comfortable again…
….and again…

I flopped onto my stomach, readjusting the angle of my pillow. I sighed as I sank deeper into the comforter, into the pillows, into the awkward but wonderful position I arrange my legs to sleep face down.

And I lay there.

I flipped on to my back, this time with my right arm bent upwards, hand beneath my head. I popped one foot out of the covers. I turned onto my right side, my left side, back to my back. I crossed my ankles, uncrossed them, bent one knee while keeping the other straight. It didn’t seem to matter how I aligned my body; it was my mind that was in question.

I detest the nights when my body aches for sleep but my mind is aflutter with thought… not even deep thought. It would be tolerable if, in the moments of the night when all sane creatures are recharging for the day ahead, I was mulling over the innermost cogs of the universe or mentally drafting the next great social manifesto. Instead, I am plagued by the fleeting wonderings of no consequence: did I actually put my crochet hook back in the case last night or is it still wound in my new red hat? Do I have any extra crushed granite, or will I need to buy some at Lowe’s? And why is that 40 lbs. of crushed granite is so much heavier than 40 lbs. of potting soil???

After an hour and a half of tossing and pondering all things of little matter, the clock said 5:45… during the summer… on a holiday… a FEDERAL holiday… not even the postal workers are stirring… and I made the uncharacteristic decision to get up.

I wasn’t sure what to do at 5:45am. I thought about turning on the TV, but I was sure the crap that’s on at 5:45 is similar to the crap that was on at midnight when I went to bed. I thought about reading, but my eyes were still heavy despite the energetic leaps of my brain. I realized that the girls hadn’t made their breakfast whimpers yet, so I let them out of the crate and fed them.

I feed them outside on the back porch, and usually I step outside only long enough to make them sit before I present them with breakfast, eyes still blurry, senses not yet rebooted. But this morning, as the girls chomped away, I looked up.

Did you know that at 5:45am in July, there is actually a touch of light in the sky??? Crazy, huh! There are also exactly 2 stars left, one that is crazy bright. At one point I think I could have told you what that was, but that was many years ago. It was so still, so remarkably still. The usual hum of traffic in the distance was silenced. Not even the chirp of birds broke the stillness. Somewhere unbeknownst to me, a fountain was trickling. But beneath the trickling, beneath my breath, there was nothing. It was amazing.

I just stood there for a few minutes, taking in the stillness, taking in the silence, watching the redbud hint of a breeze. The only other time I have memory of such quiet and such a seemingly frozen moment was that day… but it was only because, as I recognize now, my senses, my body, and my mind had shut down – ancient and unconscious modes of protection, providing a temporary escape until a more appropriate moment to process presents itself.

But this calm was inviting, and so I accepted. At 5:45am, I sat in one of the blue Adirondacks on the patio, curled my knees under my chin, and watched and listened as the world awoke. It wasn’t long before I had to make a lap for Scarlet to snuggle. Lucy walked the fence line, inspecting her property. We watched together as the first bird of the morning graced the sky. I actually thought it was a bat at first, and it freaked me out, but I’ve never seen a bat soar without flapping its wings, so I’m going to continue to believe it was a bird. Lucy concurs.

I ran inside for a minute to get my camera. Who knows when the next time I’ll be awake as the sun rises, and I felt it would be irresponsible as a budding photographer no ignore this moment. (At this point Scarlet ran in with me and tried to convince me it was time for post-breakfast nap.) My attempts are recognizably amateur at best, but it was fun to experiment with shutter speed and bracketing in my failed attempts to find the perfect exposure.

Perhaps my shutter was nature’s alarm; it wasn’t long before the chirping of birds replaced the silence along with the first barks of the morning. Somewhere, someone pulled out of their driveway, I’d like to believe going on a kolache run (which is where I’d like to be as well). The sprinklers next door kicked on. The roof of the house to the east was highlighted with the back-glow of a sun ready to start the day… another day of frying my grass and dashing my plans of doing anything outside after 10. It‘s interesting to think that in such an unforgiving climate as the one we find ourselves with no rain, unrelenting heat, and that (often) god forsaken sun, that I’m wearing  a sweater as I write on the porch. How wonderful. J I do love my sweaters.

So as the rest of the world begins to consider joining my unusual state of early morning consciousness, I think I’ll make some coffee – I’m getting markedly better at it – and perhaps take the girls on a never before seen early morning walk before Scarlet dismembers another squeaky squirrel, leaving stuffing in her wake.

Good morning everyone, and happy 4th of July.

I’ll post my exciting pre-sun pictures in a bit, so if they arent’ up yet, check back later. 

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Lucky & Handy

Only brief thoughts today.

I changed the weed eater string on my own today, and not with one of those pansy pre-wrapped spools either... I man-jobbed up and wrapped my own! Although, it did take me several attempts to figure out that the string isn't supposed to be 6" long sticking out of the little hole. I lost several chunks of string while learning that lesson.

The doglets and I took our first extended car trip alone. Ordinarily it would be a puppy in each lap, snuggling and snoozing down the road. The couple of short trips I took with the girls by myself proved unsafe. They are just too inquisitive and demanding of my attention. Two purchases made the trip a success: a booster seat with a harness hook-in that keeps them in one place and definitely safer AND the puppy equivalent of Xanax. They napped calmly both ways and didn't need to pop up to see where we were every time the car came to a stop. That was a huge relief for me as traveling with the girls is important to me.

Finally, I was reminded in a number of ways how lucky I was to have married such a loving man. In a time in which so many of my friends, despite how young we may be, are either divorced, in a tumultuous marriage, or just lacking that sparkle that you see in the eyes of two people who are deeply in love, I am at least thankful for my (however brief) marriage that was exceptional in the best definition of terms.

And now I must resign myself to the creation of a new, RED hat to go with my fancy black and white checked rain-trench that I found for an incredible bargain this past week. :) Ireland is approaching, and that is another blog in and of itself...