on becoming a widow
New Beginnings
By Joan Graham

THE MONTHS following my husband’s death on Christmas Eve, 2002, were a time of new beginnings—not positive, planned ones, but the ones forced upon me by circumstance.  It was the beginning of many adjustments to every aspect of my life, changes that tore me away from the familiar.  Loss and grief ripped me from the safe shore of love and habit and thrust me into a sea of the unknown.
     Although I will never forget my husband or the life we shared, I have gradually reached a new place.  I am finally able to enthusiastically embrace many positive new beginnings. 
    One of the means I have chosen to pave the way to new beginnings is to get rid of anything—trauma with a small t— that has kept me from participating fully in my life.  I have had the remarkable experience of exploring EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) which has been, for me, a powerful way to excise my particular demons (with a small d).  I feel like my soul has been scrubbed clean of any sadness it was holding onto.
    There are those who might consider that my reaching retirement age on my birthday this month would be reason enough to avoid new beginnings, but I don’t subscribe to that idea. I have just completed my fifth and final semester of a creative arts therapy certificate program at The New School in New York.  Art therapy is the ultimate combination of my interests and going to New York weekly was just the tonic I needed. With a little help from Peter Pan (the bus, not the sprite) I traveled 30,000 miles. What exactly do I want to do when I grow up? Like Peter Pan (the sprite, not the bus) I don’t know; I’ll let you know when I find out.
    After 30 years, I am going to sell my house, which for 25 years was our house. At first the idea was sad and depressing, stripping me of what I thought was my identity, but it’s not. My identity, like a turtle’s shell, travels with me and is not connected to wood or wallpaper. A real estate broker, I go into new listings wondering, “is this going to be my new home?”
    Two and a half months after my husband died, I started a weekly event called Sunday at Six, a gathering of friends for dinner, laughter and friendship. Initially a group of my friends who didn’t know each other, we’ve become family. Last week we celebrated our fifth anniversary. Our cookbook will be out in time for us to give as Christmas gifts.
    Just as the day my wedding ring went on my finger had been worthy of celebration, I decided I needed a ceremony to take my ring off after 38 years of marriage and two-and-a-half years of widowhood. I dressed up, displayed our wedding picture, and in the presence of a trusted person, I took my ring off as I read aloud a letter I had written to my husband and poetry chosen for the occasion. My ring now rests, and nests, inside my husband’s ring in a tiny box we bought together.  I am ready for a new beginning.
    Five years ago, I pondered the question of whether I could learn to live again after a life was cut off, much as someone might learn to walk again after a limb is cut off. In the same way, gradually, and step by step, I have. In a video called “Strong at the Broken Places,” someone says, “You’re not the person you were and don’t know the person you’re going to be.”  I know who that person is now and she is okay.

Joan Graham, MA, is a Brewster resident and independent real estate broker. She is a weaver and recently completed a certificate program in creative arts therapy at The New School in New York. She is currently working on a mystery, her first non-fiction. 

Photo by Katie O'Sullivan

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Women in Transition

From  Feng  Shui  Expert  to Innkeeper
Would You Like More Coffee?
by Sheryll Hirschberger Reichwein

"Success is going straight—around the circle."
Chinese Proverb, as quoted in Zen and the Art of Management


ON A GOOD MORNING, twenty-five cents a person was what I earned serving breakfast at The Pancake Man, a restaurant that used to be on Route 132 in Hyannis. It was 1974 and I had just graduated from Barnstable High School. My father knew the owner and got me the job to earn spending money for college. He said the girls there made “Good Money.”
   Twenty-five cents a person. Do you know how many cups of coffee I had to pour, how many buttermilk pancakes I had to serve, how many slices of toast I had to burn to make that “good money?” My entire body still aches at the memory.
   Fast forward to 2008. This morning I poured lots of coffee, flipped lots of pancakes, and tried to remember not to burn the toast. I’m an innkeeper. And while I love our sweet corner of West Falmouth, with our ten guest rooms and twelve-and-a-half baths, I have to admit that I find it more than a little bit odd when guests rave about my breakfasts.
   “Have you always wanted to be a cook?” they often ask.
I smile. “Not in a million years,” I think to myself.
   Since the last publication of Cape Women, in 2003, my life has radically changed. In the fall of 2003, The Feng Shui Deck: 50 Ways to Create a Healthy and Harmonious Home, which I co-authored with Olivia Miller, was published by Chronicle Books.
   Shortly thereafter, I moved to Nantucket to live with my fiancé, Douglas. I tried to continue teaching communications at Cape Cod Community College, something I’d been doing since 1989, but the unpredictable commute from Nantucket wore me down.
   For a time, I was an unemployed bride-to-be with lots of time to plan table settings and seating arrangements for my wedding in the fall of 2004. After the honeymoon, I took a job running a small folk art museum with big bureaucratic intrigue. Life on the Faraway Island was stressful in ways that I could never have anticipated, but I hung in there until 2006 when we bought The Beach Rose Inn in Falmouth, and I became an innkeeper.
   “Have you always wanted to own an inn?” is another question our guests often ask.
   Again, I smile. I smile a lot at The Beach Rose Inn. I’m happily married to a wonderful man. He is also my business partner and is incredibly talented in many ways that I am not. He can fix a plugged toilet on the spot, build a patio, create a waterfall, redesign a front entry, and much more.
   So I easily smile and tell our guests, “No, I haven’t always wanted to own an inn. I couldn’t imagine owning an inn without Douglas. He makes everything possible.”
   It’s a truthful answer—but not the whole answer. The whole answer goes something like this, “I never thought about owning an inn because I was busy planning to become a world famous teacher, author and Feng Shui expert. Perhaps you’ve heard of me?”
   Ouch. An ego craving attention can be terribly unattractive. Wisely, I keep the whole answer to myself. And pour more coffee.
When I was eighteen, and serving breakfast for twenty-five cents a head, I thought life moved in a straight line. I would go to college, pursue a career and achieve great things. My resume, like my life, would make logical, linear sense.
   Today, soon-to-be 52, I know differently. Life moves in a circular motion, full of beginnings, middles, and endings – leading to new beginnings. My life experience has shown me these circles. And my study of Eastern philosophy has confirmed them. Feng Shui is grounded in the Five Element Cycle, each element giving birth to the next in an endless, dynamic circle. Time and again I have witnessed the profound, reliable wisdom of the Five Elements in my life and the lives of my clients.
   And yet, a stubborn part of me still expects life to unfold in a straight line. Like a high school algebraic equation, I want it all to add up in equal balance. I want to account for every x factor and define every y and z.
   I want to quantify my existence to prove my worth.
   And, when it doesn’t all add up, I feel like something is lost. If I’m an innkeeper, then I’m no longer a teacher, writer, or healer. I’ve lost those parts of me the way an inn guest loses a jacket or a shoe, absentmindedly left behind under the bed or in a closet. Parts of me are strewn in another place and time.
   Yet I know that if I could magically rearrange my professional life so that it would add up in some linear, logical fashion, I would still not achieve what I desire— proof of worthiness. A wounded ego is never satisfied. The seduction of the perfect resume is a trick that keeps me striving to become. When, in truth, I already am the sum total of all of my experiences—past, present, and future.
    I do know that all of me is here, in this now. I understand that life is really more like quantum physics than theoretical algebra. Well, almost all of me knows this—all of me except that young woman who worked her butt off for pennies and dreamed of being someone more. She’s still alive inside of me. We serve coffee together every morning. And some days, when she feels like nothing has changed, I have to remind her. Today, the coffee is fresh roasted organic. The pancakes are gourmet apple oat. The toast never burns. The guests are always pleasant and appreciative.
    And we make a lot more than twenty-five cents
a head.

A native Cape Codder, Sheryll Hirschberger Reichwein has been an innkeeper since the fall of 2006, when she and her husband Douglas purchased The Beach Rose Inn in West Falmouth. Prior to that, Sheryll was an Adjunct Professor of Communications at Cape Cod Community College. She is a certified Feng Shui consultant and a widely published writer whose work was often featured in Cape Women magazine. 

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The following poem is from the anthology of poetry, fiction and memoir about Cape Cod entitled "World of Water, World of Sand," published by Shank Painter Publishing.


The Big Day

by Susan Denison

Fussing with the buttons on my dress
Securing each one just so
In honor of the sacredness
of this day
I wonder what you are thinking right now,
What it is like for you
To get ready for
This day

I hope the flowers are okay
I chose daisies because they are our favorite
My smile takes me back to that day so long ago
We played hooky from school, escaped into the forbidden sunshine
Ending up in the field behind the new motel
Picked daisies and cried because Anwar Sadat was assassinated
We knew things would never be the same
They never are when a good man dies

You were the first man that ever cried with me and
I knew then that I would always love you

Hearing the clock in the other room
Pounding out the minutes
Knowing time moves at its own pace
Despite the clock’s demand

I am nervous

No matter how you plan
You never know how things will go
Family and friends gather together hopefully putting squabbles aside

I see your mother first and we hug each other
As tears escape our disobedient eyes
Your mom and dad hold my hands and walk me down the aisle
To you

A slight gasp escapes me as I see you for the first time
You are dressed in your favorite blue suit with the precision of
A Marine on parade

Your beauty always amazes me
I told you once that I thought you were beautiful
It made you feel awkward
Everyone said you were a handsome man but never beautiful

I feel your parents’ hands slip away and
I am alone with you
As the sounds of the guests dissipate into the background

I kneel at your casket expecting you to wake so we can go and dance
I start to cry knowing I will never be the same again
Things never are when a good man dies

Susan Denison considers the sacred shores of Cape Cod home. She remains captivated by the energy of its landscape and feels deeply connected to this place. Her intimate knowledge of the Cape deepened dramatically through her relationship with her mentor and friend, nature writer Nan Turner Waldron, author of  "Journey to Outermost House." A frequent attendee of the Cape Cod Writer’s Conference annual writing seminar, she is currently working on a novel set in and around Cape Cod.

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P. O. Box 720, North Eastham, Cape Cod, MA 02651
Telephone: (508) 255-5084

Gillian Drake, Publisher

Nicola Burnell, Editor

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