The great Solar Eclipse of August 21, 2017

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This version is edited to show how far the corona (aureole) extended from the edge. Even though it starts with my original photo, I’d call this an illustration since I altered as much as possible to mimic what we actually saw. Photos almost always look way too dark, like when a camera reinterprets a sunset.
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A layered version of several of my photos, and slight manipulation of the sky to try and mimic a bit of the blue that we actually saw, even though the photos usually don’t capture it.
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A raw, unedited version the way the camera captured it moments before the other photos.

 

Part 1: A quick description of the experience (Part 2, below, is my reflection. Also, see the comments for an additional story)

I was so freaked out by grim weather forecasts that I drove much, much farther than was necessary. Hindsight is 20/20. I wasn’t about to rely on luck, though. My brother Kevin, and his wife Ruth, joined me in Casper, Wyoming, and thanks to many hours of driving, we experienced a clear sky. It made me happy they were both with me.

I didn’t really saw any stars, like I was hoping. I think I only saw one planet (Venus?), for certain, but maybe a second. Like millions of others witnessing the same event, I was focused on totality and the corona of the Sun. I couldn’t be bothered to spend time looking at planets or stars.

What really struck me was the sky wasn’t very dark, which is sort-of what I expected after the annular eclipse I saw years ago. It felt like twilight, where the only “stars” you see are actually planets. In fact, usually the first “star” most people see at dusk is Venus or Jupiter. Basically, if you “wish upon a star,” you are likely wishing upon a planet.

To the West, it suddenly looked like a dark storm on the horizon, and maybe 30 seconds later, we were under the shadow of the Moon.

As the eclipse entered totality, the sky remained twilight-blue near where the sun had been only moments before, and the only thing that was actually black was the dark side of the Moon. It really did look like a hole was punched out of the sky. It was stunning and surreal.

There was a 360° sunset all around us. Everywhere you looked at the horizon, it was a dull orange glow as if the sun was just below the horizon. The light was eerie in a way that’s difficult to articulate. It reminded me of that unique and foreboding light you see just before the kind of thunderstorm that births tornadoes. Rather than a wall of green, like accompanies a really nasty thunderstorm, it was an peculiar orange. It was like looking through the heat rising above a desert, or being underwater.

The “diamond ring” you hear about and see in photos was actually minor compared to the massive full corona, which overall, was easily three times the width of the sun. It was bright and much larger than I anticipated, and much larger than even in my corrected photo, above. Photographs, mine included, really don’t do it justice. Photos make the corona seem thin, like the atmosphere around the Earth. Yet, the corona stretched well beyond the width of the Moon. I was hoping for a solar flare, but I didn’t see anything like that. It looked like long wavy bright white lines – the wild mane of an albino lion.

You’ve probably read plenty of descriptions and you’ve seen thousands of photos online.

Naturally, I thought a lot about Beth, and that’s really why I’m writing this.

 


 

Part 2:

Just a few days after my wife’s death, a full lunar eclipse occurred.

At her wake, before the Lunar Eclipse, I asked everyone gathered to honor Beth by looking up at the blood-red moon and thinking fondly of her. A lunar eclipse is nothing compared to a solar eclipse, as a celestial event. I think Beth found it funny and peculiar how I obsessively tracked the planets and stars, so she might have enjoyed it.

It’s now been almost two years since Beth left this world.

As everyone knows, on August 21, 2017, totality occurred from coast-to-coast for a thin swath across the United States, at least, for those in the path, who were also lucky enough to experience clear skies.

There’s a wonderful article you might have read, which compares partial and total solar eclipses to kissing someone versus marrying them, as well as flying in a plane, versus jumping out of one. I encourage you to read it later.

I’d been waiting for this particular eclipse since I was a child. As boy-Tim looked forward to that day, he/I barely gave a second thought to what life I’d lead, just that the year seemed an eternity away. The future-solar-eclipse-day seemed so impossibly far away.

It’s been an indescribably and simultaneously wonderful, yet tragic, ride, and I just wish one specific person were here to have shared the eclipse with.

I’m lucky that my oldest brother, Kevin, and his wife Ruth, stepped up in ways I never would have anticipated. It’s somehow cosmically appropriate that they were with me for totality that afternoon. I was so grateful they were there.

The Sun reappeared after only 2 1/2 minutes, which felt like only 30 seconds, and I wished Beth could so easily and magically appear. The two years since her death has felt like an eternity.

It’s been almost two trips around the Sun since I last held Beth.

The hole in my heart is still as profound, astounding, and empty as the hole which appeared in the sky.

 

The waves never stop coming

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This is from a couple years ago by a Reddit user, GSnow. I’ve redirected people to it so many times that I finally realized I should repost it here for those that have never read it. It is an apt analogy. 

__________

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.

Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

The Only Thing – Sufjan Stevens

The only thing that keeps me from driving this car
Half-light, jack knife into the canyon at night
Signs and wonders: Perseus aligned with the skull
Slain Medusa, Pegasus alight from us all

Do I care if I survive this? Bury the dead where they’re found
In a veil of great surprises; I wonder did you love me at all?

The only thing that keeps me from cutting my arm
Cross hatch, warm bath, Holiday Inn after dark
Signs and wonders: water stain writing the wall
Daniel’s message; blood of the moon on us all

Do I care if I despise this? Nothing else matters, I know
In a veil of great disguises; how do I live with your ghost?

Should I tear my eyes out now?
Everything I see returns to you somehow
Should I tear my heart out now?
Everything I feel returns to you somehow
I want to save you from your sorrow

The only reason why I continue at all
Faith in reason, I wasted my life playing dumb
Signs and wonders: sea lion caves in the dark
Blind faith, God’s grace, nothing else left to impart

Do I care if I survive this, bury the dead where they’re found
In a veil of great surprises; hold to my head till I drown
Should I tear my eyes out now, before I see too much?
Should I tear my arms out now, I wanna feel your touch

Should I tear my eyes out now?
Everything I see returns to you somehow
Should I tear my heart out now?
Everything I feel returns to you somehow

I Can’t Return

Before you read any further, you should read the story published back in April.

Don’t worry, this post will still be here when you return, and it’ll be a lot more meaningful if you read that post, first.

((( Did you stop and read it? Come on. Really, please do that before you read further.)))

•   •   •

OK.

Many months ago, Matt Wilson and John Munson announced a PledgeMusic page for their new Twilight Hours album, so I immediately pledged and pre-ordered the vinyl. I do that kind of thing a lot. I’m a longtime fan. So was Beth. Here are a few of the vinyl records I have from Trip Shakespeare, if you require verification:

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A quote from John, holding up Bacholorette in amazement: “I don’t even have some of these, and I don’t think I’ve ever even seen this one before.”

The Pledge campaign had one intriguing option: An aspiring songwriter could work on a song with Matt; a songwriting workshop, basically.

To be clear, I am no songwriter, although I probably could have pretended to be just to work with him. Instead, I wanted to be honest with Matt and simply tell him I would love for him to write a song, on his own, about Beth. I sent him a message explaining just that.

I reminded him of a letter I sent a couple decades before, asking if Trip Shakespeare could play  Will You Be Found for Beth when they performed at the Ranch Bowl in Omaha. I reminded him about the tragic death of Beth’s sister, Jean, when she lived in Minneapolis, the same year the song came out on their album, Lulu (1991).

He remembered it all very clearly, which was touching. He said the song became more meaningful to him, as well as the band.

Then I told him my wife, the girl they had so loving performed Will You Be Found for, died seven months earlier. I told him how much it would mean to me if he could honor her with a song. I just wanted him to understand the situation before I pledged anything.

He told me he wanted to think about it for a while, since it felt like an overwhelming responsibility. A few weeks later, he got back to me and said, yes, he would take on the challenge.

In May, just before I left to travel around Europe, we set a date to meet in Minneapolis: the July 4th holiday. Luckily, I had not yet purchased my return flight, so I immediately booked a flight from Vienna to Minneapolis just before I hopped on my flight for London.

A month later, at the end of my travel, I landed in Minneapolis.

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Taking Max for a walk in the woods

Matt and I talked and shared beers on his back porch. I befriended his puggle, Max, and we walked Max in the woods near his house. He asked about Beth. He asked about me. He asked how Beth and I met, what we were like back then, he asked what we were like when we were dating, etc. He asked how she died. He asked how I responded to her death. I told him everything he wanted to know.

It was emotional for me to share so much. After a while, he told me he’d like to work on a song that night and the following morning and then meet again the next afternoon.

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Matt playing initial structure of the song as Max looks on

The following day, he sat down at his piano and played the rough skeleton of the song. It didn’t yet have a chorus. There was no end to the song. It was a rough sketch, but it still sounded wonderful.

Afterwards, we chatted a bit more. He let me know that it could take another month for him to rework and finish it.

During this time, a kind woman that went by “Mrs. Brainerd” online (her real name is Jane), contacted me. She explained that she pledged for a concert at her home, and she generously invited me to attend.

I let Matt know I would be there for the September 9th gig, and wondered if Beth’s song might be done by then. If so, could I hear it?

“Yes and yes,” he replied.

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Matt playing me the finished song for the first time

I drove up to Minneapolis on Thursday. On Friday, he played the song for me several times in his backyard so I could hear it before he performed it to the gathering that night.

Then, after helping Matt load his amps into his van, we drove to Jane’s house.

My friend Rebecca attended, as did Maggie’s friend, Kayla. I also met a bunch of other longtime fans of everything Matt-and-John.

They played a bunch of great songs. They played Trip Shakespeare songs, Twilight Hours songs, and some of Matt’s solo work. It was a bit magical, I admit.

Then, as they were about to play Beth’s song, Matt asked me to say something onstage about it, but I was too caught off guard to do it. I declined and focused on recording it, instead.

It sounded even better than it did earlier in the day.

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Matt and John performing Beth’s song live for the first time

The song originally was meant to be about Beth. I told Matt he didn’t have to use her name or make anything obvious, and he could write whatever song he wanted; it would be enough for me to know the song was about Beth, even if no one else knew. Matt decided to write about her from my perspective. Or, as he later explained, from my perspective, and maybe with a bit of Matt’s, as well. To be clear, the finished version is still ultimately about Beth, but I guess it ended up being a song about both of us.

The genesis for the chorus came from the “missing piece” images, which was one of the things I shared with him back in July. I told him about how I was trying to return to places we went to on our honeymoon, as well as other places we traveled to when we dated and after we got married. I explained how I was trying to relive and hold on to those memories. He decided to work that into the song and it ended up becoming the chorus.

By the end of the day, I’d heard the song about a half dozen times. With each performance, the song gripped me more. They actually played it twice during the evening performance at Jane’s. After the first time, they said they might play it a second time, and during the intermission, I asked if they were serious. They were, and they asked again if I could say something before they played it the second time. I decided it was rude not to respond to their request.

And so, that’s what you hear in the audio clip at the bottom of this page (skip to about 2:20, if you don’t want to hear me rambling). I could go on and on about all of this, but I’ll leave the rest to the song.

The next afternoon, he fed me delicious baklava made by his wife, and we chatted about the song and other things.

Afterwards, I left for the six hour drive to my home in Omaha; back to a home without Beth; back to a present, burdened heavy by the past, and with an entirely unclear future. I was headed back to our home, though there is no more “us” to return to – just a lonely house.

There’s one thing Matt reminded me and has now memorialized in song: No matter how far I travel for Beth, or how badly I want to relive the past, I can’t return.

 

“I Can’t Return” lyrics

Can you remind me of those days
before we were two
What was I, what was I thinking
What did I do

We came together in a way
Two into one
We were fine, why am I sinking
what have you done

Who was I
shadow man, troubled man, travel plans
a mouthy child, unkind at night
through the dark into the light
there’s one thing that I’ve had a chance to learn
I can’t return

I see the signs, the words I can’t discern
I can’t return
it seems like my mind got rearranged
two into one
who was I, what was i dreaming
where did I run

A funny boy, a shadow man, mixed up in a moving van
sunny smile, unkind at night
too much darkness, too much light
there’s something that I’ve had my chance to learn
I can’t return.

The streets are gone, the trees are blowing and burn
I can’t return x 7
I can’t return, return, return, return, return

Beth in a magazine & one-of-a-kind book

I am repeatedly told I should collect all of the “missing piece” images into a book. I’ve also been told it should be a screenplay or even an opera. It’s funny how differently people see things from the outside. It’s kind. It’s humbling. It’s generous. But no one would care outside of my friends, so it’s a bit irrelevant.

Regardless, last Spring, an artist by the name of Joseph DeLappe inspired me to take part in an exhibition in London that was using the “My Social Book” printing concept. Most, if not all of the artists in the exhibition, undoubtably used the format as portfolios of their work. However, I chose to simply pick two dates and publish everything in between: September 24th for the first date, and the last day before the books were due for the exhibition. It was essentially an unfiltered look into what I was posting during the first half year after my wife’s death. It is a one-of-a-kind art piece, I suppose, and there will never be another exactly like it. I will likely sell it as I try and decide what to do next.

Tomorrow, the Omaha World Herald is running a piece in the Sunday edition (Aug 28th) about the “missing piece” images, as well as other stuff on this blog. It will be in their Inspired Living magazine. It is written very respectfully and thoughtfully by Kim Carpenter. If you subscribe to the World Herald, look for it with your Sunday paper. It is the September/October issue. I will post the online link after it goes live.

I was very reluctant to be interviewed. Over the span of more than a year, even before Beth died, I had been contacted by about a half dozen reporters. Before she died, the questions were about why I stopped making art. After she died, the questions were about what happened, and how I was publicly dealing with my grief. Time and again, I pushed the reporters away.

I simply did not feel comfortable talking about it.

Trust me, I clearly see the irony.

Here I am, posting my raw emotions on Facebook and an online blog for my friends and family who hate using Facebook; all very public. Yet, I also pushed away a TV reporter, even after she came to my house and began an interview. I did reach out to another writer on the East Coast, Paula Whyman, asking if maybe she could handle a story after I pushed away the first writer. I trusted her, and I thought maybe that was my problem: I needed to talk to a friend. Still, I couldn’t bring myself to go through with it.

I feel a bit ridiculous. A part of me initially only wanted to share with friends, not with strangers. Eventually, a part of me started to realize maybe I should address a wider audience since I was repeatedly told my story was helping others that were also grieving. Honestly, I received countless similar messages on that topic.

I also discovered that Patton Oswalt, who lost his wife only half a year after I did, was directed to this blog by another friend out East.

I hope Patton doesn’t mind me quoting him, because I was honored he would even click on a link, let alone read any of the blog. It turns out, he must have read every post.

His response was, “Well, that just wiped me right the fuck out. But I needed it.”

I now find myself searching for a way to help others struggling with grief. I don’t know how to do it. I don’t know if simply sharing our story is enough.

Probably not, but I’ll keep trying to be as open and honest as I can.

Anything, if it honors Beth.

Anything for her.

 

 

Ring, Pt 2, and introducing Max

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When I traveled to South America, I was afraid to wear Beth’s ring for fear I would lose it. I’ve lost a couple of my wedding rings, already. In fact, the one I wear now I bought in Africa maybe a half dozen years after I lost my previous ring. On this trip to Europe, however, I’m taking the risk.

Don’t get me wrong. I definitely am still very, very afraid of losing her ring.

However, much of this trip is so I can return to places Beth and I went on our honeymoon. So, I really want to have her ring with me.

Originally, the idea was to meet up with my little brother, Max, who will be attending a wedding in Italy, and travel around Europe. Max and I talked about some of the places he’d like to see. After I mentioned it’d be nice to take a few photos in a few of specific cities, his cities combined with mine, and it became a trip with many similarities to our honeymoon.

Sadly, I have so few photos from our honeymoon. We traveled with a small and cheap portable Olympus, and for whatever reason, I rarely took pictures. It’s really sad, now, as you’d imagine. We traveled for weeks and went to a lot of places, too. To have so few images was a failure on my part.

So, here I am, traveling around Europe looking for those places. Unfortunately, we never wrote the locations on the backs of the photos. The good news is, after a lot of research and help from the Internet, and friends, and friends’ friends, we identified many photos I thought I’d never be able to place. Andrew O’Sullivan and his friends, in particular, were amazing at narrowing down a few places for me.

I went to Bath, UK, but only for the two photos I have of Beth in that city. I also traveled to Wales for a handful of images I have from there. I rented a car and drove around Wales, just like we did on our honeymoon. Of all the places we went to, Wales was definitely her favorite.

But, we also went to Cologne for a day. So, Max and I will hit Cologne and take a total of two photos, then spend the remainder of the day relaxing. The same is true for Luxembourg and Maastricht. There’s even an island in north Holland where I hope to take one photo. And there’s a another town in Holland were I’d like to take another photo, even though the round trip would take two hours for that single image. I only have one photo from Amsterdam, but we’ll go there, as well, if we can squeeze it in. It’s a lot of travel for only one or two photos in each location, though it won’t require much time to take them.

Yes, the memories are in the distant past, and Beth is no longer with me to share those memories. Max and I will be making new memories that we can share, though, so this trip will really be more about Max than Beth, once we get to Paris, at least.

It’s insane. They’re just photos.

But, for me, they’re powerful memories. I don’t know how I’ll feel after the trip is over. I only know it’s important to me – Right now.

This could conceivably be my last trip to some of these locations. I simply want to retrieve as many of those memories, and as fully, as I can. I want to reinforce them.

I fear losing them more than I fear losing her ring.

Wedding ring

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When I went to South America, I didn’t take Beth’s wedding ring because I was so afraid I’d lose it (I’ve become amazingly absentminded). Ironically, I’ve now lost the ring I was wearing in South America. I sincerely hope I find that.

I knew I’d be revisiting our honeymoon locations, and taking so many photos of her, so I decided to take the chance and simply try and be more mindful.

It’s something Beth wanted me to be better, at anyway.

Mindfulness – though in a much deeper and bigger sense.

I know it’s been nearly nine months. I know I should stop wearing it. A few people even commented when I stopped wearing it for a few weeks. I mean, commenting in a positive way; that it was good to see I was moving on, or whatever. I know those comments are meant in the kindest and most supportive way.

But, for for this first year, at least, I’m giving myself permission to do whatever the hell I want.

And what I want is this little constant reminder of her; of the love lost; of what was.

And I’m not ashamed to admit I fucking miss her like you could never imagine.

Statistics

Ah, statistics are a silly thing. It appears May will be the lowest viewer count for the blog, ever. Maybe visitors need as much of a break from this as I do. I’m going to take at least 5 days off. I have some work I need to get done, anyway.

I’ll be back.

Have a beautiful week.