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Love After Death

In Romantic on May 1, 2012 at 9:17 am

Père Lachaise Cemetery - 2010

Recently I wrote a post about having overnight guests and my concern over the unfinished state of things due to our renovation mess. I think we managed quite well in spite of my Virgo tendency to want everything in its place before letting anyone in the front door.

Love After Death is their story.

Our guests gave me permission to write about an interesting twist to their love story as long as I didn’t use their real names. John took a couple of great pictures of them, but they didn’t want their photo online either so I went into my files to pull up a photograph that I thought might fit the story. I know you’re probably thinking what does a cemetery shot with a heart on tree have to do with love and this couple, but I’ll explain if you stay with me.

John and I had not met the woman who said she’d like to be Josephine in the story mentioning her fondness for the name based on the book Little Women and her sense of connection to the character Jo.

The man didn’t mind what I called him so I chose Jack, for Jackson Pollock. I’d only met Jack once about two years ago when he popped in for quick visit as he was driving through Cornwall but he and John have been friends since about 1999.

Jack and Josephine have known each other for more than thirty years having been part of a group that went camping together regularly and also spent a fair amount of evenings together socializing at their local pub in the 70s. Back then they were both married and never considered they might ever be more than friends.

Years went by and the group of friends changed with many moving on. Eventually both Jack and Josephine were divorced from their spouses and they lost touch until Josephine spoke with a friend about a year ago that she hadn’t had contact with for months. This friend told her that she’d heard that Josephine’s old friend Jack had died.

After hearing the news of his death and funeral arrangements, Josephine decided to go to the service. She found a spot to sit in the well attended ceremony and was shocked when she looked at the order of service and found that it was another Jack, one that she had not known as well that had died and whose service she was attending.

It turns out that there were two men named Jack in the group who had last names that were shockingly similar, a fact not well-known by Josephine’s friend, which set the scene for a happy case of mistaken identity.

After the ceremony, Josephine was standing upstairs and was surprised to look down and see Jack across the room. She said it was like a scene in Romeo and Juliet with her shouting down below to him, “Jack” and how he didn’t understand the reason for such an exuberant hug until she told him how happy she was to see him having thought he was dead.

Their accidental meeting at “Jack’s funeral” led to phone calls and dating and more recently a Christmas proposal and a decision to make a “Until death do us part” change in their relationship.

People find love in all sorts of places, but this one feels particularly sweet when you consider how what she thought was goodbye, turned into hello.



In Romantic on February 14, 2011 at 10:27 am


LA Photo By Denise Emanuel Clemen

“I gave San Francisco to a woman,” my date says.  I like that he understands what I mean when I tell him I have trouble being in L.A.  “It’s a problem when a freeway exit sign represents a person and the experiences you’ve had with that person,” he says.  He really gets it, I think, as we curve along the 110 through downtown Los Angeles.

“There’s Mr. Ex’s building,” I say as the damn thing looms over us in the urban glow like a monolith that might want to tip over and crush us.  My date looks over at me and nods. He’s a Match.com guy, and this ride home from the airport is our third date. We’ve been emailing during the days I’ve been away and I like him even better than I did when I left. But the only thing I know about where our relationship is headed is simply that we’re driving east. One date at a time. It’s all I can manage a year and a half after the breakup of a thirty-year marriage.

Half an hour earlier, I fretted as I strode up the jet way. What if I didn’t recognize him? I’d only seen him twice, and the last time we saw each other we were sitting in the dark at a dance concert. What if he didn’t recognize me? Airport fluorescent isn’t anyone’s best look, so what if he scanned the crowd and walked away? But when the escalator delivered me to the hallway outside of baggage claim he was there at the bottom, smiling and pretending to hold up a sign as if he were a limo driver.

For months after my marriage ended, whenever I came back from a trip I’d fantasize that Mr. Ex had changed his mind, and there he’d be at the airport waiting for me. He’d be holding a sign and it would say Take Me Back–or I’m Your Vehicle, Baby, a line from a Chicago song he’d always quote if he gave me a ride somewhere. But Mr. Ex never showed up. And now here I am in a car with a guy I barely know, and we’re driving through my past in the City of Angels.

My date first messaged me on Match a couple of weeks earlier while I was visiting friends in Portland. Robin and I sat on the couch, our heads together over my laptop, and scrolled through the pictures and profiles of the men who were interested in me. “Date the bass player,” she said. “They don’t have to be the center of attention.” After decades with a man who remained at the dinner table or a party only when he commanded the room, I liked the idea of someone who didn’t need to be wailing the melody center stage. The bass player had a solid day job, too and was fit from years of practicing and teaching Tai Chi. He didn’t profess to have any “unusual needs” like the guy in the loafers and the sport coat who explained during our online correspondence that he insisted on being “included” when his girlfriends used the toilet. The bass player didn’t post dozens of pictures of himself poolside in a skimpy pair of Speedos or shots of his pet lizards posed on toy furniture. So I took Robin’s advice and answered the bass player’s message.

We agreed on a hike for our first date and climbed one of the trails near the Griffith Park Observatory on a December Southern California day when you could actually see into the distance. The ocean was shimmering in the sunlight; storm clouds piled up like a stack of pillows over the San Gabriel Mountains, and from our particular angle the Hollywood sign appeared to read, “Hollywoo.” There wasn’t really any serious wooing going on though. Both of us were cautious. But conversation was easy, sweet and deep. After two hours of talking and walking we hugged and agreed we’d get together again. Then we got into our separate cars and drove down the hill. At the bottom, as we sat side by side at a stop sign, he blew me a kiss before we turned in opposite directions.

But I wondered if I really would see him again. My experience with Internet dating did not include much forthrightness when it came time for the on-the-spot analysis of the first meeting. “It would be fun to get together again,” I told the stocky curly-haired guy I’d met for coffee after a couple of weeks of emailing back and forth about our favorite New Yorker stories. He had teeth the color of topaz and t-shirt so sweaty that I shook his hand with a fully extended arm and had no intention of seeing him again.

“You’re beautiful and sexy and you have a great sense of humor,” the screenwriter on the verge of his big break told me at the culmination of our expensive dinner. I tried to envision my silver hair glistening in the candlelight like some ad in an AARP magazine, but I saw the way his gaze shifted every time a pretty woman young enough to be my daughter walked by our table. “I’ll call you next week,” he said as he kissed my cheek. I knew he wouldn’t.

Dating at the age of fifty-plus includes the inherent knowledge that we’ve all been broken, and there seems to be an ethic that says, “Do no further harm.” It makes it hard to be honest about the prospects of beginning a relationship. But with a little bit of luck a pleasant hour or two has been spent, and one returns home with a clearer idea of what characteristics might be included in that perfect match. If you are someone that dates with your head and not your heart, that is.

I have no idea what the bass player sees in me, is what my head says as I ride next to him. I ponder his profile while he watches the six lanes of traffic in front of us. We’re so different from one another, I think. Different ethnicities. An age gap of ten years. I’m taller. I know very little about music or eastern religion. But then he glances my direction and our eyes meet. There’s nothing I’d like better than to skate my palms over his shaved head and bring his mouth to mine. How exactly did an online dating site figure this out? Or am I just swept away in the moment the way I was last summer before I got tired of the playwright who wanted to read me a play of his every evening before we turned out the lights?

I’m striving for more candor this time around, and while I don’t think Internet dating requires a brutally accurate assessment of why people don’t especially want to go on that second date, I aspire to some degree of honesty. “I don’t ever plan on getting married again and if we continue to see each other, I’m going to take things very slowly,” I told my date before our good-bye hug in Griffith Park. “It might be months before I’m alone with you in the dark,” was my response after he invited me over to his place to watch a movie. “I’m really glad you came to the airport,” I tell him now, electing to keep my hands to myself in an effort to avoid a fifty-car pile up.

When we get to my place, I invite him in for a glass of wine. I’ve already told him I’m not ready to sleep with him yet, but as we sit in my living room with the lights low, visions of the future stand quietly in the shadows. Through the French doors, I can see the ivy and jasmine vining around my patio, and it’s easy to imagine my roses in full bloom when summer comes. Something is unfurling inside my heart.

In this era of Internet dating, love happens the way it always has. It’s not a laundry list of attributes or an inventory of likes and dislikes that propel us toward one another. It’s an earlobe, the taste of a kiss, or the way someone nods when they understand what is being said. Dating sites no doubt increase the traffic on the freeway to our hearts. The intersection of the data on our screens and the input of our senses is a good place to stop and smell the roses. But love, as it’s always been, is still a happy accident where the palpable world collides with the mysteriously intangible.

My date pats the sofa as I set two glasses of wine on the coffee table. I curl up next to him, pondering the wonders of Internet dating and the small miracle of how, in a city of almost four million people, I’ve been guided to someone I never would have found on my own.

Denise Emanuel Clemen writes in a variety of places one of which is Birthmother, A Blog About Adoption.

Not Just A Turkey Sandwich

In Romantic on February 13, 2011 at 11:33 pm

Living in separate countries for much of the year before our wedding, my husband and I never had an opportunity to share a Christmas holiday together until our first year of marriage.

While we had little trouble sorting through the different holiday customs, such as pulling Christmas crackers around the dining room table or overloading the Christmas tree with too many ornaments, we were unaccustomed to the more personal rituals that each had grownup with or developed while raising children with our former spouses.

Some things were easy as my husband did not care whether he had a Christmas tree at all and I decorated it as I wished after he dug up one used several years earlier and brought it in from the garden. While I was used to a much larger tree, I found that a smaller one was easier to decorate and there was no quibbling about what went on top. Having had the same angel on my tree for the previous 22 Christmas seasons, I was pleased that he did not question why we needed a Teddy Bear angel on our treetop in a house with no small children.

Christmas dinner found us both preparing our own traditional favorites and we moved around the kitchen almost like synchronized swimmers timing everything so perfectly that the pink stuff he said looked funny next to turkey, slipped easily from its mold, and his roasted parsnips, found a place along side my grandmother’s sweet potato casserole.

With Christmas day being such a smashing success it was not until a few days later that some of glitter began to rub off our still new relationship.

It was my fault really, and can be attributed to what never changes, the expectation that your loved one should be able to read your mind.

My husband John was thinking as he always does about how best to make use of the turkey leftovers. Little is ever thrown away in our home and he could not have anticipated the reaction he received when he announced that he had made a soup with what was left of our Christmas bird.

I assumed for a half second that he had used the bones and the bits of turkey left on them, but I quickly discovered that all the turkey in the house was now in little pieces floating in a mixture that I was not going to eat. At least not in a turkey sandwich which I was looking forward to having for lunch that day.

To say that I handled it well would be a stretch. As I went sulking off to my studio space grumbling to myself about how important that sandwich was to me, and how could he use all the turkey up and never ask me, and how I was really looking forward it, and why did he think I bought the white bread which I never eat except with turkey sandwiches, and why couldn’t he have just asked me first, and on, and on, and on.

I tried to tell myself that it was just a turkey sandwich and no big deal, but as I went off to think, I thought about what was it that made the loss of a simple thing like the sandwich so important. Frankly, I’m not even that fond of turkey and tend to think of it more as an accessory item for Christmas dinner than a necessary piece.

It turns out it wasn’t about the turkey sandwich, but rather the ritual of eating it with my family back home.

Traditionally, it is almost like putting a period at the end of the sentence and closes out the family Christmas festivities each year. Missing my daughter and the rest of my family and friends back in America made it more painful in a way not to have this closing ritual and after I had thought about it for a little while, I came out of hiding to talk with my husband who listened quietly, hugged me while I had a little tear, and acknowledged my feelings without being the slightest bit dismissive.

I thought it was all behind us after that until we went into town to pick up a few things at the grocery store. As is our way, we split up in the store with each going off in different directions to pick up the items on our lists with a plan to meet at the checkout line.

Imagine my surprise when I saw him standing at the deli counter ordering sliced deli meat something he’d normally never do. I knew immediately what he was doing and watched as he bought a few slices of turkey so I could put some closure on my Christmas, in the same way I would have in America.

I was so touched that I almost began to cry standing next to the canned soup, in the aisle where I had stepped to watch him without being seen. The tender look on his face when he presented it to me later was as sweet as any love letter I have ever received and let me know that he understood what he was offering me was not just a turkey sandwich, but a gift of the heart.


To see more of  Elizabeth Harper’s stories and photographs, grab a cup of coffee and head over to Gifts Of The Journey.