And then there were two…

I sit here pondering life and the loss of life. The fragility of life. The joys that come to us in life, as well as the sorrows, and the pain. And the relative pettiness of the “affronts” we received from each other – all during the sometimes brief intersection of our lives with those of others. It’s odd to me how some seem to focus on the affronts in life more than those joys. Blessed are those who see the balanced view; those of us who focus only on the joys are destined for disappointment, and those who focus only on the affronts are destined for loneliness and regret…

So what has precipitated this introspection? Nick Mason, Ron and Joan’s youngest son, and Kim’s brother passed away unexpectedly Monday afternoon. Per the neighbors, he was out cutting the lawn, then they heard the lawnmower stop and he was face-down in the grass. By the time EMS arrived, it was too late. It may have been too late even if they had been on site when he fell – we don’t know. I suspect either a heart attack or a stroke, but I am leaning toward the former.

Nick and I had a rough start when Kim and I met. I was nearing graduation with my electrical engineering degree – something he wanted but couldn’t afford – and he suspected that I had had my way paid for me. When Kim let him know that I worked upwards of 80 hours a week to pay for it, and, therefore, took 8 years to achieve it, his attitude toward me changed drastically and we became very close, often doing things, just him and I.

Over the years, we had drifted apart, and, when he and his wife divorced, he slipped deeply into alcoholism, and his life pretty much came apart. I lost patience with Nick a few years back when he was in town for Christmas: Kim went to visit him at her parents’ house about a week before Christmas, and I did not see her again until Christmas day, both of them on some sort of bender.

The final straw for Nick and I was his father’s funeral when he did not show up for any of it, the bottle being seemingly more important.

It pains me that those final two “auspicious events” frame my remembrance of Nick, despite all of the good memories; all of the fun stuff. It pains me more that he’s gone and there is no longer any opportunity to rebuild.

In just over two years, four of the six-member Mason family have left us. RIP, Nick. I’m sorry we didn’t finish better.

What’s this? What’s this?

As I work to clean up the clutter of over 30 years of married, family life, I find that it’s funny how the human mind works sometimes. This is “stuff.” Inanimate things. But it is sometimes VERY difficult to put those things in a bag for either the garbage or the donation center (my favorite is the Purple Heart). Why is that? Why, when I hold something in my hand, am I magically transported back in time to a period in my life when Kim was alive and vital? Sometimes, it isn’t even the timeframe in which the thing was acquired that I’m transported to. And, oftentimes, it is simply the remembrance of how Kim liked the sort of thing I’m holding in my hand that triggers it. This reaction comes especially with things she made.

I know I’m not abnormal – we humans assign emotions to all kinds of things. I’m just both fascinated and horrified by how the mind behaves around such things. I think there would be no such thing as a hoarder if we didn’t attach emotion to things.

As I once told my sister in a similar discussion decades ago: this “clutter” constitutes the collection of souvenirs from the various stops along the journey we’ve been on. We gather things to remind of us the events of our lives; of the emotions – happiness, excitement, sadness, and melancholy – the gamut of our emotional states along life’s path. Some of us collect all kinds of little things, and have difficulty surrendering them, leading to “clutter.” Some are more selective and need and have less laying about to remind them of where they’ve been.

I’m trying to become more like the latter group. So many things. So many of these collected things are relatively useless to me both today as well as with my plans going forward – but this realization makes it no less difficult to relinquish them.

So much work to do. I want to get the house into a saleable condition. It’s much too large for me now. Frankly, it has been too large for Kim and me for several years now, but we made use of the extra space for our pursuits, making it less “obvious” that it was time to think about downsizing. I think I’d like to find a place with all the space I need on one floor – somewhere that I know will suit me for many years to come.

I’d best get back to work…

Some days you feel like a…

Yesterday was an emotionally terrible day. I felt like a hollow man. Nothing seemed to have any value or meaning to me. Many things conspired against my mood, making it seem to me as if any elevated mood I had up to then must have been just a masterful fa├žade. Just felt empty.

The first day after the end of a pleasant vacation with Sheila, my girlfriend. First day back to work. Counseling and consoling some around me. But I think it was that I had none of the close companionship I had enjoyed on our trip since last Wednesday. None of the feeling of “normalcy” that came with it.

But today, I have a fresh perspective. I’ve clawed my way most of the way up from that pit, and have been able to label those things that caused that (thankfully) brief slide into deep depression.

I have most of my clocks set to display time in 24 hour format. This is a reminder to me that each new day is also a new beginning; a new opportunity to live. Each day as the clock moves from 2359 to 0000, I try to push all that I’ve gathered from the prior day out and start anew. Successful all the time? Absolutely not – but it gives me perspective. And it is that perspective that lets me heal myself from such dark, troubling days.

Sorry if yesterday’s post scared anyone.

Now appearing, the amazing mister…

I am frequently amazed at my capacity for looking “normal” – happy, engaged, interested – when, frankly: I no longer am. Not in the least. Nothing holds my interest anymore. Not my family, not my friends not my job, not my myriad hobbies or former interests. I’m a hollow vessel, casting about for things to fill the void, but nothing and no one does.

How do I really feel? Everything is tedium.

You win, whoever you are. Please take your prize.

Things thrown into our paths

Background story: A couple of weeks back, Jillian had a hankering for waffles. Blueberry waffles. I searched and search for our waffle maker, but could not find it. I had a very vague memory of giving it to one of the kids. So, I ran out to Meijer and purchased a vertical waffle iron- didn’t work well at all with the blueberry waffles, but, to be fair and in hindsight: I wouldn’t have expected it to with the lumps of blueberries in the batter. So, I tried it with one of their recipes. The batter leaked past the edges, and the process was generally messy due to their lack of thought with regard to the design of the measure used to fill it. This waffle maker is a great concept, but it’s definitely not ready for prime time. I took it back and got one like our old one.

This afternoon, I went on a rampage, looking for things to put at the curb – some clutter reduction. And, in plain sight in the laundry room, on a shelf I had to walk past to get to the area I searched on that fateful Saturday, was the old waffle maker – sitting on a pristine manilla envelope with a little 1960s-looking dude with a Bing Crosby hairdo saying “Take your pictures home” and “Lets trade pictures!”

Inside this envelope are class pictures of Kim from Kindergarten to second or third grade and a first communion picture. Who knows how long they’ve been there, and who can fathom why they were there rather than in one of the photo repositories in the house? It was almost as if I was tossed as a reminder from Kim: “Hey! I was here!” Why it would have been necessary for me to receive such a reminder at this juncture, I don’t know. She is ever-present on my mind.

Trifecta

Kim’s Mom was the first to go, passing away in August 2019 after a long battle with Reynaud’s and resulting kidney disease. Then Kim followed in December 2020 after her battle with pancreatic cancer. Now Kim’s dad has left us unexpectedly yesterday morning, adding 2021 to the series of years decimating Kim’s family.

After Joan passed, Ron and Kim – and, when I wasn’t working, I – would go to Mass on Sunday, and then visit Joan’s grave. Ron would go every Sunday whether one or both of us could accompany or not. He would sometimes go during the week when he felt lonely for her.

After Kim left us, it was Ron and me, every Sunday. Sometimes he’d drive, most times I would. As time went by, he would simply remain in the truck why I would tend to the graves since his knees were giving him so much trouble. He’d still go midweek on his own to visit the graves of his wife and his youngest daughter, my wife.

Surgery was performed on his most troublesome knee that was supposed to alleviate the issues he was experiencing that kept him in the car. Instead of alleviating them, the surgery made the pain so much worse that he was moved to assisted living to recuperate after insurance wouldn’t fund rehab anymore. The last time I saw Ron in person was two Sundays prior to that surgery, mid-May. He would call me, usually on Monday to thank me for taking care of Mom’s and Kim’s grave, tell me a bit about how he was doing, and wrap up with “OK, Tiger – I’ll talk to you later.” And I always told him I loved him, and he would tell me “we love you, too” in answer for both him and Mom.

Two calls ago, he was in a very bad emotional state, telling me how much he missed going to see Kim and Mom with me, and how much he missed both of them. The next time I talked to him, he sounded very much like his old self – energetic, quick to tease, laughing. And now he’s gone and we don’t know why. It’s as if someone simply flipped a switch.

And there will be another grave to tend in the little plot where Kim and Joan now rest.

Road trip through the mountains

Grief is like a journey through the mountains. Sometimes you’re in the dark tunnels a long time and then – Boom! – there’s the sun! You’re out of the tunnel! But then, just ahead: another tunnel. Sometimes the tunnels are very long; sometimes they’re short. Sometimes they’re particularly dark; sometimes they’re well-lit. Sometimes we are riding alone; other times we have companionship. As we go through each sequential tunnel, we develop the ability to endure – to even manage – our time in the tunnels to varying degrees.

The mountain range is infinite, and tunnels of varying lengths and lighting come at varying distances – but there will always be tunnels. The key is to continue the journey; to continue to move forward through them.

Larry-Boy and the Angry Eyebrows

Reading through some posts in one of the widower support groups I participate in, I came across one that caused me some puzzlement. It was only one very brief sentence that I focused on “I’m still in the anger phase.”

I never had an anger phase in this, and I don’t know why. So many others talk about how they were angry with their late spouse over their having passed and did things out of anger. I never experienced that. I am not angry at Kim for having been stricken with cancer, and I’m not angry at Kim for having passed. I’m not angry at God for either, nor do I shake my fists at nature. I’m a bit disappointed with one particular doctor who took over for Kim’s oncologist when she left to deliver her baby, but even that has passed. I am curious why, since pancreatic cancer is usually not detected through symptoms until it is terminal, its marker isn’t a regular check within the annual physical most of us have each year – but I suspect this is a money issue, so any anger I may harbor lies with the insurance companies that withhold it. (Isn’t it funny how “every life saved makes it worth it” until it proves expensive, it inconveniences us, or it is politically incorrect?)

So, I wonder if this is something laying in wait for me? Will I suddenly find myself railing against Kim or God over this? And what could possibly occur that hasn’t happened already to cause that reaction?

I honestly think that if I were going to be angry over Kim’s passing, I would have found that anger very early. Rationally, though: I can’t conceive of why I would be.

Toward More Picturesque Speech…

Apparently, Joe Vitale once said “You don’t fear change. You fear the unknown. If you knew the future would be great, you’d welcome the change to get there. Well, the future IS great. Proceed.”

Well, in answer to Joe: “Time continues inexorably along its path, dragging us behind it as if we were cans tied to its tail. No matter how we twist or turn, we cannot divert time from its course. We are helpless against it. The future ISN’T always great, but it IS always unavoidable…

Real life

Sometimes it’s particularly difficult to crystallize my thoughts around my current reality. Out of the blue, I’ll start thinking of life last year – JUST LAST YEAR – when Kim was still here, and my mind teeters on the edge of that particular bit of sanity where I struggle with the question of “How can this be? Am I not having a nightmare?” My mind claws at the “unreality” of my current state as if trying to climb out of a sandy pit. Everything it grasps at crumbles in its grip and it makes no progress in anything but to bury itself deeper into the sand. Because this is reality. Kim did die a slow, horrible death. I did wake up to find her gone. She is under the ground, her location marked by a polished granite slab with her and my names on it.

Other times, I easily accept the situation; easily relinquish the fool’s hope that this isn’t real. And it’s not that I’m worried about my sanity, but it’s an odd state of mind to find myself in on occasion – not quite a panic attack; just a quirky momentary shift in thought – like connecting with another version of me for whom none of this has happened.

This past rainy Sunday – coincidentally: my first birthday since Kim’s death – I visited Kim’s grave and saw rain on her marker. Simple rain. The marker was shiny with water. This, in and of itself wasn’t troubling – but seeing the lettering being filled with water caused an emotional break. An odd thing to focus on, but it had me standing at her grave in the rain, bawling my eyes out.

And mornings. I was never a “spring out of bed to greet the day” kind of guy, but I would get up at a regular time with no difficulty going about starting my day. That, too, is gone. I could easily lounge in bed until the crack of noon – I don’t, though – but only because of the guilt I invariably feel when I have spent too much of my time in bed. But I cannot recall a day since that terrible December morning in which I have not hit snooze half a dozen times before finally getting out of bed. That alone would be the greatest thing to overcome – nonetheless: every night, I go to bed with the conviction that I will not snooze my alarm, but every morning is a repeat of the previous.

I also find myself to be much more somber than I was in the past; not as quick with my sense of humor, nor as likely to offer solutions – or even responses – to things others encounter in their lives, whether it be a family text, comment in a conversation, or a facebook post in one of the many groups I participate in. Simply put: a lot of what I thought was important just doesn’t seem to matter anymore; a lot of what I used to do in the past for myself and for others seems so burdensome now.

Despite all of this, as you have probably surmised by the long gaps in my posting, I am moving forward. I have a steady girlfriend – a widow – and we spend a lot of time together. Being with her makes me feel “normal,” but, at the same time, creates guilt. Not guilt because she’s not Kim, as many may guess, but guilt because, when I’m spending time with her, I’m not at home for Jillian and Kenneth. Though they’re both “grown-up,” they still need their dad around – if, for nothing other than the assurance that their dad is still around, I guess. Or, maybe it’s the other way around…

Sigh.

We’re complex beasties, we humans. And anyone who claims to understand us is clearly lying.