We Are Back
By Lyn May
Thank you to each friend and reader who asked what happened to Wise Women . . .Now.
Here’s the answer:
Lee and I made a major life decision in the winter of 2013. We’d traveled from our Connecticut home to Georgia to share Christmas with our daughter Leslie and grandson Henri. Newly divorced, living in a big house in the Atlanta suburbs that demanded a daily, grueling commute while raising a small boy, our daughter was stressed. She was living the life so many women, and some men, live in many places.
Whether it’s too much traffic, too few support services; no close family or not enough money, raising a family in America today is hard. We could see the toll it was taking on her.
We were quiet as we drove away at the end of our visit, leaving our two small, teary people waving from the driveway. I’m not sure what state we were in when I asked Lee if he could ever consider moving back to Georgia. I think I quickly told him not to answer me but to give it some thought.
We got to Connecticut in the middle of the night to find we couldn’t get up the driveway because of the snow. We happily hauled our stuff in, loving the darkness and the gorgeous white blanket covering trees and bushes. The sky was starlit. We were happily home again.
When we retired to Connecticut in 2001, we thought we’d never move again – and we planted and decorated with that intention.
But, I couldn’t shake the idea of our being in New England, with no concerns beyond enjoying the good, retirement life we’d created while Leslie had so many daily challenges.
Not long after we settled into the new year, I asked my beloved Lee, who’d dug every hole in a garden good enough to be featured in the February 2006 issue of Better Homes & Gardens, if he could leave his garden and move back to Georgia.
He said “yes.”
The next five months were a blur of getting the house ready, selling it in two days, buying a house in Marietta, Georgia, and moving. We felt that we’d gone to sleep in Connecticut and awakened in Georgia. It was the most challenging time in a long, happy marriage.
The house needed work and Lee, who hadn’t helped choose this house, hated just about everything on sight. Looking back on how hard those first few months were for us, I now believe that some of our stress was caused by Lee’s health. He wasn’t feeling great, but he tucked into building a garden – at 72 – in the Georgia heat and humidity.
The house, a bungalow just west of Marietta Square in the city’s historic district, met just about every requirement we each had, but it felt shabby and out of kilter after our pristine, post and beam New England home.
The distinction here between “house” and “home” is important. The Marietta house was the former, not the latter, and it felt alien to us both. This added to trading a small Connecticut village with no traffic lights at all to being half-a-mile from a main intersection, pitched us both into a swoon.
Even the sound of trains passing through town distressed us. We couldn’t see the good things for the bad things.
What was immediately clear, however, was how much our children needed us. We each blended seamlessly into Henri’s and Leslie’s schedules so, while our hearts struggled, our minds were clear about making the right decision.
Leslie suffered with and for us, feeling we’d disrupted and ruined our lives in an effort to make hers easier. The three of us consoled each other. I once looked out to our ungardened back yard to see Leslie and Lee, who loved each other greatly, talking quietly together. I knew he was reassuring her that we really did know what we were doing, but that we just hadn’t anticipated it would be so hard.
Despite our distress, we pulled ourselves together and got to work. Lee disappeared into the yard and began to create a garden. I made mad dashes from the house to Goodwill, to our storage unit and back again, culling, culling, culling - something I thought I’d done a good job of before leaving New England.
With the help of an amazing group of professionals, including Handyman Paul who came three or four days a week for nearly six months, we began a transformation. From pulling a railroad spike out of a bathroom wall to patching huge holes left by an antique security system, and just about everything between, Paul worked with us steadily and never lost his patience or his compassion.
Early in our move, Atlanta’s gardening community learned he was back and Lee was swooped right into the flow of speaking requests, calls for advice and garden visits. This in addition to writing about this major life change on his gardening website, Leemaysgardeninglife.
The summer was hot and we both lost weight, but Lee lost more than seemed normal to us. We chalked it up to age, heat and an underwhelming appetite. Together we worked our way straight into 2014 with hardly a breath taken.
By early spring I realized I couldn’t keep up with Wise Women . . . Now, too. My writing heart and editing eyes were weary. I’d happily tended this website and shared stories, essays and reviews with our hardy band of writers. Most of them were there at the very beginning in 2010 when this website was launched. We had shared four busy and productive years.
But I needed a break and, in early spring, I put Wise Women . . .Now on hiatus.
We kept working, and we started to see results. One day in late spring Lee stood in the middle of the kitchen with his hands on his hips – his signal for thoughtful satisfaction – and looked around at what we’d accomplished in less than a year. Then he looked at me and said quietly, “You done good, Lynie.” It was only then I accepted and began to release the weight I’d been carrying like a boulder for asking him to do so much at a time in his life when he could have done so much less.
It was a sea change for us both.
Finally, with fewer visits from Paul and the workers all but gone, we really began to live in our house. But now, it felt like our home. When my daughter Camian, son-in-law John and twin grandsons, Nick and Alex visited, one of the twins said, “Yes, this is Gran and Granlee’s house.” No endorsement was better than this.
While I began to gain back some of my lost weight, Lee’s continued to slip, as did his appetite. In August we began a round of doctor’s visits that is all too familiar to so many of us. In early October, on the worst day of our lives, he was diagnosed with bile duct cancer that had spread to many of his organs, including his lungs. He was given weeks to a few months to live.
The mind and body are amazing when you need them to be – as are families. Those weeks are compressed for me into doctors’ visits, a short-lived attempt at chemo to give him more time, and family coming to care for us.
My beloved husband was as elegant and gracious in his dying as he was in the way he lived. I was fortunate to have hospice care for him in the last two weeks of his life, and he died at home early in the morning on December 3, with me holding his hand.
So many widows and some widowers have written about the death of a spouse, and every story is universal and unique. It can only be fully understood by those of us who live it, but we feel the deepest gratitude to those who help us live through it. It is compassion we need, and I’ve gotten it from friends, family and neighbors, and from people who knew Lee but not me.
We live because we’re expected to; first just breathing in and out, getting up, getting dressed and doing what must be done. I cannot imagine going through it alone. No matter how much you think you know, or how well you think you’ve planned, every post-death experience holds surprise and pitfalls.
Managing grief and the electric bill live side by side in your heart, and sometimes they seem to have equal importance. You find a way to make room for both.
What is truest is that you are forever changed. I am changed. But I am alive, and I am learning how to embrace that reality. After two marriages, helping to raise two children who are now busy adults, and a series of satisfying jobs over the last five decades, for the first time in my life it is up to me to shape a new, satisfying life.
There can be funny things about learning to be alone. Lee and I had a great friendship and we laughed a lot. The first time I laughed alone after his death was on a Friday evening. In our halcyon days, Friday evening was the best. It was Martini night. We’d tell each other stories from our week, have a late dinner and get happily tipsy together. We called this special time “show & tell.” After Lee got hepatitis C, the Martini’s stopped, but the fun didn’t. So, I especially miss him on Friday nights.
On a recent Friday evening I was having a drink and reading when I stopped to look around the room and marvel, once again, that it was just me. My eye fell on a huge plant Lee put close to a doorway. I didn’t like it when he did it because I felt it crowded the space, but I had shrugged and said nothing. Suddenly, all I could see was this huge, room-dominating plant.
Drink down, I leaped up and hauled it out of that room into what will always be called “Lee’s office” though I now use it. I laughed as I imagined his reaction to the change. I got it settled and headed back to my drink, I toasted him and said, “I love you, Lee, but that plant had to go.”
I laughed again, and took another step toward a new life.
And that new life includes a fine, new Friday night tradition. Every working person can use a meal fixed by the hands of others. So, on Fridays I spring Henri from his homework and bring him to my house and let him eat as much junk food (an amazing amount) as he can hold and run as many of his gadgets at the same time as he can, including the TV. I fix dinner for Leslie and a fabulous neighbor – also a hard-working woman.
Leslie, who has Lee’s gift for magical drinks, fixes something we call “the usual,” and Leslie and Lisa share stories from their week while I fix them dinner. I look forward to this special time with these good women.
Restarting Wise Women Now is another important step for me in shaping a new, happy life. I gave it a lot of thought, considering whether I could afford it, get at least some of the site’s writers back, and whether I still believed in the idea of women writing and sharing their lives with one another.
Yes is the answer to all these questions, and here we are.