My house is cleaner than usual. My kitchen cabinets are sorted. I cleaned the stove. The washing is done. I am organizing bookcases. My desk is cleaned off. Every day it doesn’t rain I plant a hanging basket or a pot and pull some weeds. I have planted peas, carrots, lettuce and shallots in the tubs along the fence and raked mowed grass for Jerry. When I’m not doing those things I check my email, wander around the house looking for something to adjust or clean or straighten. All this is totally out of character for me. Normally the way I function is to become absorbed in some ongoing project and oblivious of everything else. But I can’t concentrate on anything as we wait for death certificates for Bert.

As soon as the death certificates arrive — they are being expedited from the funeral home when they are available from the county — we have to make trips to Friday Harbor and then to eastern Washington to deal with estate matters. These things must be speedily done. There are bank accounts and deeds and titles to vehicles and airplanes and all sorts of complications with many of those. It will take months.

And I try not to picture in my head the moment he shot himself. I wasn’t helped with that effort by having Jerry tell me, after reading the sheriff’s report, that the gun that killed Bert was loaded with hollow point ammunition. What’s hollow point ammunition, I asked. Jerry said this kind of bullet expands on contact and causes maximum tissue damage and bleeding. Thus the mess in the truck where Bert shot himself. Jerry told me not to read the sheriff’s report; it would upset me. I said I had no intention of reading it, that I already knew far more than I wanted to.

Yesterday the post office called to say that there was a registered package from the funeral home in Arizona. Bert’s ashes. Jerry went to get it and came back with a small brown box which he put on a shelf in his closet. “There’s not much left of Bert.” he said softly.

I am thinking about my age and my new decade – the decade of my 80’s. I was active in my 70’s. I backpacked in New Zealand with my friend Penny and I had parties and cooked (I won a chili cook-off here on the island.) I showed paintings and took courses. I took care of my dying friend John and my dying mother. I built a patio and I mowed big lawns. I feel less capable of those things now, and I am often tired. In this trip to New Zealand Jerry and I climbed many hills — we actually looked for hills to climb. They are not hard to find in N.Z. Here’s the view from the top of a hill we climbed in Whangerei.

View of Whangerei

I wonder how much longer I will be able to climb steep hills. I wonder how much longer Jerry and I will be together. Which one of us will join Bert first? Where will our ashes (or our bodies) be finally placed. My friend Polly, who recently died, had negotiated a green burial section of the Lummi church cemetery. Will we all go there? These days I am tired, and I fight a feeling of flatness and boredom that I think is perhaps depression. Or is it just the waiting?

I am going to a painting workshop tomorrow. I have a 24 x 36 inch canvass which is larger than I use these days. In art school I painted big ones, some 4 x 6 feet. But it’s hard to find room for big pictures in my house, and my grandchildren don’t have that kind of space. My subject for tomorrow needs a big surface.

From the past

On the beach in Motueka

I took many photos of this crumbling wreck during the week Jerry and I spent in Motueka, New Zealand. That carcass of a boat spoke of the essence of death, of change, of decay, of transformation, and of new life. I thought about Ariel’s song in The Tempest:

Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.

Here’s the view I plan to paint.

Lit by the evening sun

I will put some seagulls on it from another view, and some sea birds in the foreground.


I may try to incorporate some of the mountain background. I’ll see how it looks. It shouldn’t get too complicated.

And I am thinking about Bert’s ashes. Jerry says Bert didn’t care about what was done with them. But his friend Paul does care; he feels everyone should have a place, and I agree. I will have my friend Basil, here on the island, make a small stone marker and we will put the ashes in a place we all agree on. I am thinking about an epitaph — short and not sentimental. It should say something pithy about Bert. He was quirky, stubborn, pig-headed, creative and solitary. He was a big man. He lived alone but had many friends, some true, some false. He didn’t think much about people and thus never distinguished
the true from the false.

So while we wait I’ll plant and tidy and wash and plan a painting and put this post on my blog.

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17 Responses to Waiting

  1. Jean says:

    Sounds like shock and sadness to me, more than depression or age. Give yourself some time and take the best care of yourself and each other.

  2. Rain says:

    You’ve been traveling a lot recently with weddings, trips to Alaska and New Zealand, maybe this is just a respite. We all need times to slow down and smell the roses. Perhaps it’s more that then old age.

  3. Dale Favier says:

    Yes, what Jean said. I would hate to think of you slowing clear down to something like the pace Martha and I keep in our 50’s 🙂 xo

  4. Tabor says:

    So sorry. Such a sad time in your life and all of us think about the end the closer we get. I am planning on at least two more decades…but one can never really plan too far ahead.

  5. wisewebwoman says:

    It is all about the assimilation of the knowledge. Someone close to me dying always has a profound impact. The knowledge that I can be next, it has nothing to do with age. Our memories die also with the loved/family/friend. Keeping busy is a way of dealing with it. I am so glad you are planting. Grief meanders around. A lot.
    You are amazing Anne, and continue to be.

  6. jan says:

    A powerful post. The shock of Bert’s suicide will undoubtedly take a while to recover from, but you seem to be doing all the right things.

  7. Nancy Gillard says:

    I don’t know where you have to go in eastern Washington but I live in Pullman. If we are your destination you are more than welcome to stay in our extra bedroom. I am sorry for your loss. Nancy

  8. I think the way you’re feeling is a normal reaction to a suicide. Give yourself some time – !! Hugs!

  9. Mage Bailey says:

    Lovely shots. I think I like th eone above it because of the curve in her stern.

    Yes, I wouldn’t want to know the details either. You can do many thing by fax or by post phoning first to verify what they need. I did all this for G’s mother and my stepfather without leaving home. Only one organization argued with me. That was chase bank, and I ended up hiring a lawyer. Hugs….it won’t take long.

  10. Annie says:

    Your shipwreck reminds me of one I saw on a beach in Haida Gwaii, I look forward to seeing the painting you do of it. Lovely that you are planting, I wish I was planting. Your post has a kind of ethereal feeling to it, one foot in the here-and-now, one in the past and one in the future. That’s an interesting comment about Bert, how he never thought much about people so he couldn’t distinguish between true and false friends. And the comfort of the mundane, planting tidying washing while waiting.

  11. Marja-Leena says:

    As the others said, you are suffering the shock of suicide and you are grieving. Keeping busy helps, I know. I love your photos of the shipwreck (just my kind of thing as you know). What a great subject to absorb one in a painting, good therapy I’d say. Look forward to seeing the results. Take care of yourself.

  12. Deborah says:

    Anne, I’ve read this slowly and will not comment much as it’s late at night, and I’m less likely to find the right words at this hour. But actually, I wouldn’t want to say much no matter what time it was. This is something to be read, and heard, and from far away, I just wanted to say that I was listening.

  13. Randy says:

    I really admire how you put it all out there for the world to see. Limping today on a bad knee and cut heel I’m wondering about mountains to climb as well.

  14. Betty says:

    What a gorgeous subject for your painting! such a shark like hull Anne. Spit it out on the canvas if you can.
    take care and thanks again for a wonderful read,

  15. Lucy says:

    I was just reading the post about your granddaughters you wrote before the last one about Bert, which somehow I missed, and how you were dreaming and scheming about getting to the Dominican Republic to visit. It seems to me you could slow down quite a bit and still maintain a level of energy, activity and enthusiasm for life that would put many of us younger than you to shame.

    It’s a bit crass to say we get over things, we absorb them and survive them, for better or worse; you have done so with many many different things, and you will with this. Age is just one factor in how we do it. Suicide, with murder, must be one of the most difficult, I imagine. Others, with closer experiences, have said wiser and better things about it than I can.

    I meant to say before, my sister who died a couple of years ago, lived near Whangerei, her family still do. She had a fancy dress shop there, called Alter Ego, I wonder if your friends there knew of her? They were also involved in a theatre company called Bogwood. We spent some wonderful days when we visited exploring the headlands there, and the beautiful beaches and forests to the north.

    Take care of yourselves, please; and let this dreadful time pass and yourselves be healed.

  16. Dick says:

    A late visitor here. I’m too rarely around the blogs these days. I have nothing to add to the small, clear wisdoms from your other friends so it’s just good hopes to you across the ether for some time, space and comfort within this grim time. Age is no insulation, of course, against the immanence of personal tragedy. But maybe those quiet beliefs and convictions that have accrued over the years provide some support. Look after each other.

  17. Freda says:

    Thank you for sharing all of this. I think you are asking the questions we all ask in the face of growing older and another’s death. Every Blessing

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