Friday, May 06, 2016

New York 2016

It was my birthday weekend and just by chance Eric Kunze was performing with the New York Pops at the same time.  I hadn't been to the city since 2004 with my niece Jessica and this was the perfect opportunity to return.  I had traveled alone before but always had Georg at home in case I needed him.  Surprisingly I was less uncomfortable than I thought I would be, eating at restaurants by myself and finding my way around.

My hotel, the Park Central lived up to its name - right across the street from Carnegie Hall, next to the restaurant I was meeting at with my friends and three blocks from Central Park.  I signed up for Lyft, an alternative to Uber and received five free $10 rides, so I could move about easily.

My friend Mary was meeting me on Sunday, so in the meantime I was able to explore the city, going to Central Park where spring blossoms were in bloom and seeing the musical, Tuck Everlasting. In the cast were Terrance Mann and Kathy Voytko, both of whom I had met and spent time with through Eric.  New York is a foodies mecca and I enjoyed eating nearby at Petrossian and Cognac, both French food restaurants, and Red Eye Grill.

Sunday was rainy and I took Lyft to Times Square Church, originally founded by David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade", friend and coworker in the faith of our Pastor Alex Silva.  David is deceased now, but the church has continued to be wildly successful with attendance on a Sunday at various services numbering 6000 to 7000 people.  The church purchased the former Mark Hellinger Theatre, built in 1930 and has kept it in original condition.

Mary met me on Sunday and we had dinner with Eric and his friends who were in town from California to attend the performance.  Dinner was at Carmine's, a favorite of Eric's when he lived in New York during his Broadway performance period in the 90's.  We were joined by his friends Gina, Danny, Anthony and Allison and Broadway pals Norm Lewis (the first black Phantom) and Keith Bearden, currently in Wicked.

Eric was busy Monday with rehearsals, so Mary and I took Lyft downtown to the World Trade Center site.  We were immediately moved as we stepped onto the monument grounds.  The sense of grief and tragedy was palpable and the mood was quiet and somber as people stood respectfully at the waterfall pool with the names of the lost engraved in granite all around the pool.  We would have liked to go into the museum but there was a very long line and we decided to save it for another trip.

Our next stop was lunch at ABC Kitchen at the ABC Carpet and Home store.  We swooned over the fresh menu and afterward at the fantastic home decor items on six floors of the largest carpet and home store in the world, dubbed "Disneyland for rich adults".

After freshening up at the hotel we met my oldest friend Ingrid (her parents and mine brought us over on the boat together from Germany in the 50's so they could work in the US) .  Ingrid and her daughter and daughter-in-law were attending the concert with us.  We had a wonderful meal at Red Eye Grill, right across the street from Carnegie Hall.

After dinner we proceded to the concert hall.  It was my first visit to Carnegie, which presented its first performance in 1891 and I was starstruck.  So many of the greats have appeared on that stage including George Gershwin, Benny Goodman, Maria Callas and the Beatles.  The New York Pops, led by conductor Steven Reineke, was celebrating it's 33rd anniversary and chose that occasion to honor Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg, composers of many musicals including Les Miserables, Miss Saigon, the Pirate Queen, Martin Guerre and others.  Eric was among other great performers who joined the Pops in singing selections from these musicals.  It was a great honor and a thrill to be there to witness it.

After the concert I was able to go backstage to congratulate Eric and the cast, including Lea Salonga, who was Eric's co-star in Les Miserables in 1993. Also present were Alain Boublil and his wife and co-performer Marie Zamora, as well as the dinner friends from the night before.

I topped off the evening with a nice long visit at my hotel with Anita Riggio and her husband Roland.  Anita has written a groundbreaking new musical called "Brindlebeast" which is to star Eric someday.  She has been working very hard to get it up and running. I headed home the next day, but not before making plans to return soon.  On the agenda for next time is walking the Brooklyn Bridge, seeing the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon and visiting the 911 Museum.

To see a slide show of the full album

Saturday, April 02, 2016

A New Normal

It's been three months and there has still not been one day when I don't cry at least once for Georg.  I read an article last year that touched me so deeply I saved it to my desktop.  It means even more to me now.  It was written by Sheryl Sandberg (see credit below) and I have personalized it to reflect my own experience.

A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing my husband. Now I do.
I think when tragedy occurs, it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning...I have spent many of my moments lost in that void. And I know that many future moments will be consumed by the vast emptiness as well.
But when I can, I want to choose life and meaning.
I have learned that I never really knew what to say to others in need. I think I got this all wrong before; I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend of mine with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was “It is going to be okay.” That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not. When people say to me, “You will find happiness again,” my heart tells me, Yes, I believe that, but I know I will never feel pure joy again. Those who have said, “You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good” comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. Even a simple “How are you?”—almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with “How are you today?”
I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds.
I miss Georg and want him back in the worst way. As a friend said: “Option A is not available. So let’s just kick the shit out of option B.” So, to honor Georg I promise to do all I can to kick the shit out of option B. But I will always mourn for option A.
As Bono sang, “There is no end to grief . . . and there is no end to love.” I miss you Georg.
(Sheryl Sandberg is a chief operating officer at Facebook. Read her story and the full essay here.)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

My Cup Overflows

It's been a month and half since my beloved Georg left this earth.  Grief has not diminished, but rather grown.  Not a day goes by that I am not brought to tears.  It might be a picture, a movie, something a friend says, an article of clothing.  A few weeks ago it was when a friend surprised me with a card from Georg on Valentine's Day.  He had asked her to bring it to him in the hospital so he could sign it. She told me he was hardly able to hold the pen.  In shaky writing he wrote: "My cup runneth over".  Love, Georg.

It was the devastating last missive of hundreds of letters, notes and cards I got from him since we were kids, all of which I have saved.  I could only wonder what he meant by writing that and I supposed I would never find out, at least in this lifetime.  Why would someone write "My cup runneth over" when they were in pain and dying?

I have not been able to bring myself to go downstairs, to his home theater where he sat for hours in his easy chair watching TV and playing games on his laptop.  But tonight something drew me down there and I had an overwhelming need to sit in that chair.  As I sat, I looked at his collection of pens, puzzle books, laptops, miscellaneous scraps of paper.  I picked one up.  It had writing all over it: doctor's appointments, dates, phone numbers.  In one corner something he wrote caught my eye:  "My cup runneth over. Psalm 23".  Psalm 23, the one always read at funerals. Slowly the realization came to me: somehow he led me to discover that scrap of paper to let me know he "dwells in the house of the Lord forever."

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Remembering Georg

Who Was He? (written by Georg Wunschl, 1968, age 19)

He did not think of yesterday or tomorrow
He did not dream of the day after he lived
It was the way of a man to be indifferent,
To be sought, not to seek
To be alive was good
To ride far on a day like this,
With the sun shining, the sky cloudless,
And the tall buttes of red rock rising into the blue,
Was to live.

Life as I have known it for the last 46 years has come to end.  My childhood sweetheart, lover, partner, friend and husband as gone on to his reward.  After almost a month sitting by his bedside in the hospital and a memorial service on Sunday I am back now in a house that is crushingly empty.  I automatically set a place for him at the table, save DVR TV programs for him to watch later, wonder what I am making him for dinner.  Now begins a new chapter of my life and for the first time I can't imagine my future.  I am a single, not a couple.  Will my relationships change with all of my couple friends we used to socialize with?  I have a newfound insight for many other women friends who lost their husbands and have become widows.  Did I do enough to help them through this process?  Probably not, and I regret that.

The memorial service was a celebration of his life, attended by over 250 people.  I wanted no sadness, only a chance to convey what a special person he was: kind, listening, caring, always ready to enjoy life.  He would never argue or fight with me, even when I wanted to.  He never said a bad word about anyone and hated gossip.  He called his elderly mother every day at noon, visiting her every Wednesday and together with me every Sunday.  Because he never interrupted and only spoke when he was 100% sure of what he was saying, some people might describe him as "simple", not knowing how deep he really was.  He wrote poetry when he was younger.  I saved all his poems and every scrap of paper we wrote to each other over the years, starting when we wrote notes to each other in high school every day because our parents wouldn't let us see one another.  Rereading those notes now I am touched by how much he loved me.  One takes that for granted after 46 years of marriage.  It brings to mind the song, "Do You Love Me?" from the musical Fiddler on the Roof.

One of his early teenage poems, echoes my feelings exactly now that I don't have him anymore.

What Am I Without You

a baby without a blanket
in the cold
old night of loneliness
a christmas with
no santa
or no snow
the harsh winds blow
i am nothing
i am no one
i have no place to go
i am lonely in a crowd
i'm sad
no, mad
but where am I to go?
i sit down by a bus stop
on a cold
old worn down step
i wave goodbye to people
i say my stop is next
i live for every sunday
sunday never comes
and now
and i fear it will never...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Our last vacation together

Our son and his family vacation in Florida every Thanksgiving on Hutchinson Island.  This year they invited us to join them.  Georg and I have had many fantastic trips over the years, but this one proved to be a very special and memorable family time.  It was to be our last trip together.

Thursday, October 15, 2015

Glamping in Ludington

Glamping:  "Glamorous Camping"

Our days of roughing it in nature are long gone.  We had many tent camping vacations when we were first married and when our kids were little.  Setting up camp or breaking it down in the rain.  Making a spit out of branches and cooking a rotisserie chicken over a campfire.  Fighting off hoards of mosquitoes with smoke from damp logs.  Trying to sleep on air mattresses that lost air during the night.  On the other hand, getting up at at the crack of dawn and waking my husband and two little boys to watch the golden sunrise at the rim of the Grand Canyon.  Filled with amazement as the sun turned a simple maple tree into the burning bush with a double rainbow behind it.

Nostalgic for the wonder that only spending time in glorious nature can provide, but wanting to do it in comfort, I found a company, Hammond Rentals, that would deliver a 30 foot RV to the state campground, set it up and have it in ready to move-in condition\ for us.  We did have to bring everything we might need, from sheets, blankets, pillows to dishes, pots and pans, plates and tableware.  This is where the "glamping" part comes in:  we had a queen bedroom with a flat screen TV that swiveled from the living area to the bedroom, DVD player, microwave, stove, oven and even a shower.

Michigan is a beautiful state, especially for waterfront vacations.  It borders four great lakes and has over 60,000 inland lakes.  We chose Ludington, on Lake Michigan for this trip, as much for the fantastic beach as for the Silver Lake Sand Dunes nearby. The entire western coast is dotted with little beach towns, each with their own unique lighthouse. The sunsets here, enhanced by a colorful cloud formations, are second to none.

We felt like kids again as we took the Mac Woods dune ride, as the driver raced up and down the dunes, sliding sideways around curves in the sand.  Another side trip was to Ember Elk Ranch in Silver Lake where we could feed the elk by hand and admired their stag, which had a 30 pt rack, totalling 600 inches, which will someday sell for $10,000.  Elk shed and produce a new rack every year.

Last year, in the same park I experienced the thrill of photographing my first American bald eagles.  We spotted them in a tree and my patience was rewarded when they took flight twenty minutes later.

Our friends brought their own RV and had the campsite next to us, so we had the best of both worlds: our privacy and great companionship.