What compels me to stay the course with our memoir, Together Through Korea and Alzheimer's?
It has become crystal clear to me, based upon the broad variety of comments from readers, that Dick's life inspires people.
"I find myself gravitating closer to him, and actually becoming friends with him through his touching words and boundless love for his family."
"How very blessed you (Joyce) are to have been adored by such a man . . . "
"Dick's letters are individual marriage counseling sessions for us all. I could not help but be inspired to be a far better husband, partner and father than I have been. Dick's passion, unplumbed depth of love for Joyce, fidelity and ethical conduct amidst the stress of a grim wartime environment are the qualities we as Americans need to emulate."
"Dick's letters are some of the most poetic expressions of love I've ever read."
There are those who react to the depth and devotion of the sixty-four year love story that somehow survived countless obstacles. For others, it is the military history and the yearning of a young soldier writing from Korea. Some connect to the brief description of Alzheimer's effect on our relationship. A few comment on the mother-daughter conflict and the discovery they are not alone—nor guilty—in their struggle.
There are now seventeen five-star reviews on Amazon, also on Goodreads and other sites. Readers' Favorite has given it five-stars. On September 24, Ebay named it Our Top Pick.
One woman purchased twelve copies and considers her Christmas shopping well on its way.
Encouraged by the success of Dick's story, the book remains the focal point of my life. It is available on Amazon in both print and eBook, and on order from bookstores.
I am deeply grateful to all readers and particularly to those who have reviewed the book.
I have been a widow for almost three years. And yet, the early days sometimes feel like yesterday. While I have acquired skills to cope with life on my own, I have not forgotten. I share my illogical thinking during those days with the hope it will be useful to others, whether they are grieving and need reassurance or whether they want to understand the bereaved.
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On June 24, three days after Dick's death, the research center had released his body to the mortuary. Our son and a grandson took me there to authorize cremation of the man who had lived at the heart of my existence since we were barely sixteen. I chose a plain—yet elegant in its simplicity—black box, which I knew he would have preferred, for his ashes.
I saw Dick's body for the last time that day. He wasn't 'there' but I ached at the prospect of him being left alone at the end of the work day. Beseeching the staff to schedule the cremation immediately did no good. An indisputable schedule, set for July 8, exacerbated my feelings of powerlessness.
I suffered over the long July 4th holiday, thinking of him lying there all alone.
On July 8, the mortuary phoned to say cremation had occurred early, on July 3! Our youngest daughter and I rushed to pick up Dick's ashes.
Holding the remains of my beloved in the black box, another layer of awareness peeled away leaving me raw and vulnerable to despair. And yet, I felt contentment because he was no longer alone.
The Payson Book Festival is on July 23, from 4 - 6, at Payson, AZ. Ninety (90!) authors will participate. Please go to http://www.paysonbookfestival.org for full details. Try to attend. I'll be there with a huge smile standing (maybe sitting) behind display of Together Through Korea and Alzheimer's. A trip to the mountains sounds pretty inviting in July!
The book was read by Readers' Favorite and won two 5 Star reviews! Also, it has earned 5 star reviews from readers on Amazon and Goodreads. Credit goes to my co-author, my late husband Richard Gale Sorensen, who wrote the poetic letters from which I took excerpts.
On Monday, July 22, 2013, three weeks after Dick's death, and with tears coursing down my cheeks many of my waking hours, I knew I should go to the hospice bereavement group for help. I forced myself to get ready, to leave the apartment, to get into the car—and then, just sat there.
It's only a few miles. Get going.
I forgot to write down the address. I'll go next time.
Just watch for the hotel sign.
I'll go, but if I drive by it, I'll just come back home.
By telling myself I could change my mind at any time, my hands and feet coordinated to take me into a parking space outside the hotel where the group met. Weeping, I just sat there until able to muster courage to exit and lock the car. I preoccupied myself with making certain I had taken the keys with me—having lost keys and forgotten to turn off the car lights in the last few weeks—and found myself in the lobby.
Doubting I would actually attend the meeting, I sat down and pretended interest in a Field and Stream magazine.
Perhaps my anxiety telegraphed to the young woman behind the counter. She walked over and sat beside me. "Can I help you, Ma'am?"
"Ah, I'm just checking out the bereavement group that meets tonight."
"Oh, but they don't meet tonight . . ."
"Yes, they do," I argued. "They meet on Monday nights. I looked it up on the hospice site." All of a sudden, I wanted--desperately needed—to attend that meeting.
"I'm so sorry, but they meet only the first and third Monday nights. This is the fourth Monday."
I gasped. "But . . . but . . ."
She put up her hand, hesitated, and then added, "There are five Mondays this month. The next meeting is two weeks from now on August fifth."
I burst into tears and stumbled outdoors. Grateful I had not locked the keys in the car, I opened the door and, shaking like a leaf in a windstorm, fell into the seat and sobbed.
* * * *
Those who grieve often do not react in a logical manner. Their feelings can shift from moment to moment.
A man entered the emergency room one night, half-carrying a woman. Her tangled hair stuck to the tears that coursed down her face as she stumbled into a chair.
I approached the woman and knelt before her. "Can you tell me what is happening?"
"Charlie . . . He . . ."
Wringing his hands, her husband spoke for her, "Charlie was hit by a car. He didn't make it."
Oh, dear. Their son . . .
"He chased the neighbor kid's ball into the street and ran right into a UPS truck."
Oh. Maybe Charlie was a pet . . .
"We rushed him to the vet but it was too late."
Later, I wondered if the woman would have reacted with as much anguish if her husband had died. Charlie represented, for all intents and purposes, her child.
Can we assume one kind of death is harder to bear than another?
In 2003, soon after Dick's diagnosis of Alzheimer's and ten years prior to his death, he and I began participation in a longitudinal study at the Sun Health Research Institute.
We agreed to continue visits to the research center every year for testing until our deaths when our bodies would be donated for research. He often expressed pleasure in having the opportunity to participate in furthering the understanding of Alzheimer's.
"Be sure they rush me to the research center right away when I die, Honey. They need to study my brain as soon as possible."
After Dick's last breath, the hospice nurse packed his head in ice cubes, held in place with a bath towel, to help preserve his brain.
Our son and granddaughter flanked me, holding my hands, while we walked behind Dick's body. I leaned into the vehicle which would speed him to the research center and quickly kissed him, whispering my love one last time.
Turning to the men who would take him away, I begged them, "Please be gentle with him." They solemnly assured me they would do so.
I had fulfilled my sweetheart's wish to rush him away. He had given his last and greatest gift.
Only then did I comprehend the gaping emptiness in my heart.
Well, the holiday season is almost over. I had a profound experience the other day. In awe, I realized that while I missed Dick so much, a sort of serene joy temporarily replaced the longing I have felt for so long. I want to summon that feeling at will, And I worry I will 'lose' him that way. Something is shifting in me, leaving me feeling
wary of changing emotions.
Speaking of change, let's shift to the subject of this segment.
Who has not said something awkward to a person in grief, and immediately wished the words could be unsaid?
After our dear friends lost their seven-year-old Johnny to Cystic Fibrosis, I thought it would be comforting to say, "At least you still have Billy and Susie." My friend stood up and with fire in her eyes let me know how she felt about my comment. "I want three kids just like you have!" I cringe at the memory all these years later.
Is there anything worse than avoiding eye contact and saying nothing? I've done that, also. A neighbor died suddenly. A few days later, I saw his wife in the grocery story. Not sure if she had seen me and hoping she had not, I turned away, thinking, "I wish I knew what to say." I had no clue.
While I created this site for the benefit of people who grieve, a wise man pointed out the advantage to any readers who wish to increase their knowledge of the grief process. They could be expected to learn more about what to say to a person suffering loss, especially in the early days after the death.
I have demonstrated what not to say. Obviously.
It wasn't helpful to me when people asked me how I was doing since I could never figure out how to answer that without crying.
Probably the most useful comments were not comments at all. A firefighter/relative showed up at my door with a bouquet. After I accepted and thanked him for the flowers, he sat down and indicated I should sit by him. He took my hands and just looked at me. I immediately began talking . . . and talking . . . and talking. He said very little. His eyes did not leave my face. He LISTENED to me.
Upon reflection, I think open comments are a good thing. Readers can talk to each other!
I guess it is possible that an inappropriate comment could be made for all to see. I will monitor the site daily and delete that sort of thing if it occurs.
Please accept my apology for misleading you.
My kind-hearted, patient publisher, Gale Chase of Two Cats Press, prevails when I make mistakes. My gratitude to her is boundless.
I'm not sure why, but it has been difficult for me to write about my experience with the holidays. Perhaps I have fallen into the trap of believing I should have done 'better by now. My best effort follows this section.
Despite what we may have been told, we each grieve in our own way and in our own time-frame. Grief ebbs and flows and I suspect some aspects may remain with us forever .be
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2015 marks my third holiday season alone. I would like to tell you that I have recovered, moved on, and that I don't miss Dick much. The truth? I have recovered some, I have moved on some, and I still miss him a lot, especially during holidays, anniversaries, and birthdays.
Unable to focus at times lately, I have reverted to making mistakes and losing things. I have not decorated—too busy. Maybe I 'should' have done so. Perhaps I still will.
More truth: I'm in no great hurry to recover, move on, and miss Dick less. Sometimes I worry I will forget the nuances of him. The process of writing Together Through Korea and Alzheimer's has kept me focused on him for eighteen months.
A friend asked, "Are you obsessed with him?"
I responded, "Probably. That's okay with me, for now."
My first holiday season alone in 2013 was blessed by an invitation to visit family in Washington. Our grandson and his wife urged me to participate in family and friend celebrations that week only to the extent I chose. What a relief! I would not feel tempted to fake enthusiasm when sadness threatened to drown my face in tears.
In my room, I comforted myself with items I had stowed in my purse: Dick's wedding ring and a few special notes he had written to me over the years. Studying photos of him consoled me even as I cried.
During my second holiday season alone in 2014, with no family present, I enjoyed the major holiday dinner with friends and then rushed home to 'spend the day with Dick' surrounded by reminders of him. I had put up lights outdoors but had done little decorating inside. I played Handel's MESSIAH for the first time and remembered listening during our holidays together. I scaled a hurdle by choosing to hear another piece of our favorite music on that difficult day.