These Gray Days of December

~~By InsightAnalytical-GRL

It’s nearly winter in southern New Mexico.  For the most part we’ve had sunny days, but lately we’ve had our share of gray.  Earlier in the week we actually had rain and there was snow up in the St. Augustin pass and the peaks.  A couple of weeks ago I took my short trip up to The Other Side of the Mountain…these days, that excursion wouldn’t be so inviting.

First Snow on Organ Peaks 12/08

First Snow on Organ Peaks 12/08

It’s always shock when the gray sets in this time of year because it feels so PROFOUNDLY gray.  Growing up in New Jersey, going to college in Ithaca, New York, and spending a year in Milwaukee, Wisconsin I accepted the rain, the snow, and the raw weather.  The occasional blizzard, too. By March, however, it was downright depressing. Sure, spring was around the corner and a 40° F day seemed warm. But it was the continuous gray that got to me.  It just hung like a shroud…

A series of gray days or days that start out sunny and turn gray with a low cloud cover is hard to take here in southern New Mexico. Maybe I’m just older. Maybe I’ve just gotten spoiled. But when what I call “Jersey weather” descends, so do my spirits.  A single day of completely gray weather affects my mood to the point where I am praying for the Sun’s return so that I don’t have to feel like I need to curl up into a ball and hide. I often wonder how I managed to tolerate the winters back East and the one in Milwaukee, which was just plain brutal!

The webcam has been showing the back and forth between bright blue skies, wispy clouds, and heavy clouds that look like it will rain any minute. By Christmas, the really “bad” days of winter set in. Sometimes we will have a rip-roaring wind and rain storm or perhaps an inch or so of snow that melts almost immediately.  It will feel like winter back East for about a week, then we get usually pleasant days with very cold nights through January and into February.  As long as the days are dry and sunny, I don’t care much about the nights, except for what the coldest spells might do to my garden under the “greenhouse.”  In that case, I throw a few blankets over the vegetables for a bit more protection.

The dogs know the weather has changed. Tico hates this time of year.  We adopted him on February 1, 2002, the same day that he was dumped in the cage outside the animal shelter after being kept for a month by people who had found him by the side of a road.  We had our name on a list for a small dog to be a companion for Toro, and when the shelter called I rushed right over. Tico was sitting in a box of shredded paper, alternating between shaking like a leaf or growling with bared teeth.  The attendant begged us to take him, as he wasn’t making a very good impression and most likely would wind up being put to sleep within a few days.   Once I held him, that was it.  Since it was a Friday, he couldn’t be picked up until the next Monday after his neutering surgery, so we brought Toro over to play with him and the two seemed to get along.  We took Tico home and since then we’ve seen that winters are hard on him. He curls up as if he’s hibernating and refuses to go out when he senses a change of the weather. He’s as sensitive as a precision barometer.  He is so upset that it’s even hard to keep him on a schedule to go out to the bathroom. He must have some very bad memories from being out on a cold road during the winter as a pup. Toro, on the other hand, is a New Jersey native who grew up playing in the snow and has no problems during the winter.

Slick, of course, was rescued from the streets at the end of 2002  just as the weather turned cold.  Now that he’s older, he doesn’t protest too much when I put on his little “jackie” for his early morning walk or his nighttime pj’s made of a cut-up sweat pants leg.   As a min pin, he really feels the cold to the point of shivering and it’s not unusual for me to wake up in the morning to find him out of his bed and under the covers with me.

This year there’s a real difference in how I’m feeling as winter approaches.  It’s just a few days shy of the two-month anniversary of the death of my ex-pat friend who lived in England.  Sharon and I never met in-person, although we talked on the phone and then via Skype.  We  first “met” while I was doing columns over at Buzzflash (ca. 2001). We started corresponding and kept at it until this October.

I  knew she had been having health problems, but she was very private. She told me she had pneumonia (which turned out not to be true) and that she was getting better. But her emails, which had been an almost a daily ritual, became less and less frequent.

Suddenly, she wrote and told me that she loved me.  A few days later, I received an email that she had died.

After talking to her husband and finding out what had happened I was very shaken.  The months of wondering what was wrong with her became clearer.  She hadn’t had pneumonia but she was dying for months and we didn’t even know it…

Sharon was very bright, wrote beautifully, and had a wonderful cultural background.  She loved her dogs and made them liver treats. We  had a regular exchange of magazines and other items. She enjoyed seeing things from the States because she seemed to be homesick sometimes. I loved receiving papers and magazines from the UK since I had spent long vacations there and finally had lived and worked in London for a time. She complained about the constant rain. I started checking out the Lincolnshire webcams and BBC weather to keep up with what she was experiencing. It brought back memories of  the rain and the gray and the wind I knew from London in the winter.

She was distraught about the Presidential campaign, not happy with any of the candidates, which is exactly what I was feeling.  She told me she had filled out her absentee ballot and that it was sitting on the hall table. I don’t know who she voted for.  I don’t even know if the ballot actually got into the mail. I’m pretty sure that she would still be distraught at this point about the fate of American, no matter whom she had voted for.

The morning that I found out that Sharon had died, I had to go to the Healthplex for a blood test. The building faces the mountains and there was a beautiful sunrise. I picked up one of the free papers in the lobby–on the front page there was a story by a local writer about the new opera house in Oslo, Norway.  I started to cry…Sharon was proud of her Norwegian heritage and was a devoted opera fan.  It was like she had spoken to me from wherever she had gone.  I saved that piece and included it in a card I sent which was place in Sharon’s coffin before her cremation.

Since Sharon’s passing nearly two months ago, I’ve had her with me every day.  I still have the habit of seeing something like a magazine or one of the many free publications around town that I pick up for myself and thinking I should take one for Sharon.  In the past, I would pick one up and save it until I had a stack to choose from.  These days I still find myself picking up two copies of something, only to remember that Sharon can no longer receive one of them.

So, I put the second copy down and  take only one magazine or newspaper or flyer now. There are no more trips to the post office to send off the latest “packet.”

About this time last year I received a big box crammed with all sorts of delightful gifts from Sharon. Some were obviously sent as a result of my interests and passions that I had talked to Sharon about in my emails.  I have them all tucked away and am going to take them out and cherish them. There won’t be any presents going back and forth this year, but the gifts that Sharon chose for me last year will be brightening the season again.

Thank you, Sharon, for being here with me during these gray days…

6 Responses

  1. May Sharon rest in peace Grl. And may you find peace with the absense of your friend.

    Peace with it may come in time. Being okay with it will not. We are all a little less of who and what we are and can be with the loss of a friend. Hopefully that will make us cherish the ones that are still with us even more. My condolences on you loss.

  2. GRL,

    That was very touching! Sharon could not have asked for a better memorial, or a better friend. It made me cry just reading it – I can only imagine how hard it was to write.

    I sat here laughing at your description of “Jersey weather” as I look out the window at the blanket of new fallen snow covering everything and looking downright fluffy. The past few years we haven’t had much snow until January, so it’s actually helping to get me “in the spirit” for the holidays. My last dog (a Labrador Retriever) used to love the snow and would have had a blast on a day like this. I’ll make a snowball for you and Toro!

  3. I’ve been really busy and not able to visit much recently. Sorry for your loss.

    I drove back to ABQ for the Thanksgiving weekend and for about two hours from Santa Rosa westward there was a snowstorm. So beautiful to see, but nerve-wracking when driving in it. Passed a jack-knifed semi that was on the opposite part of the interstate–don-t remember how far traffic was backed-up.

  4. GRL,
    I’m so sorry about your friend, but don’t be too surprised that she didn’t let people know she was dying. If she was a private person it is not the sort of thing you speak about.
    If you know you are dying (or even if you only think you are, due to a Dr.’s prognosis), you want to continue your relationships as they are. You might be afraid that your family and friends might look upon you with pity and that would change the day to day rapport you have with them.
    I know the feeling of the dread days of winter. Here in my part of Maryland we have had so much cold, rainy weather that it is more like January than December. More than one person has commented that winter seemed to come so much earlier this year. Although the calendar doesn’t say winter yet, much of the northeast is blanketed with ice, and many people are without power. Shelters being opened up to help them get a warm night’s sleep and a hot meal. In view of all this, I can bear with the cold rain a little better.
    I’ve been thinking of Al Gore and his global warming for the past few days. While he is making millions from his lectures on this subject, thousands of people are having to make the decision of which to pay – the food bill or the heating bill. And now he is going to help Obama make his administration a green one. It would improve the atmosphere if he would refrain from expelling so much hot air (IMO).

  5. As you get older, the list grows of people you lost. For me, it includes parents, aunts, coworkers, friends, even a couple of sibllings.

    I find you don’t really lose the dead, but carry them with you for the rest of your life. A song, a place, a time of year, brings their presence back, a real thing, eliciting a smile and maybe a wistful sigh. And sometimes a muttered curse about why they had to leave so soon.

    Whatever might lie beyond, your friend will never die as long as she lives in your memory, and in your passing on to others the good she did for you. That, I think, is the best tribute we can pay.

  6. Lee…
    Actually, I don’t think Sharon even knew was going to pass so soon…Without going into details, she had a life long problem that came and went. Her husband didn’t know about it until after they were married, 7 years ago…and he tried his best to help her…but with limited success. It’s one of those things that grab you and won’t let go…and you have to be willing to face before anyone can help.

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