It gets better.

It is interesting to see how this blog has moved through time. From a piece that I intended to write within daily, to one that I write within sporadically at best. Why is this, you might ask? How could something born of such great pain become something that only receives occasional attention? Because it gets better. The great, ragged hole left behind when your spouse is torn from you in this life heals. It doesn’t heal in the sense that it goes away – no: that gaping void is still within me. But, as I’ve said often: the raggedness – the torn “flesh” of the hole’s edge – heals, and smooths, much like the hole left in the throat when one has a laryngectomy: the thing removed is still gone, but the raw, ragged edge is now smooth and healed from the site of its removal.

Due to this, I don’t feel compelled as often as I did to vent my feelings. Occasionally, like today, I stumble onto something I need to say, but life has flown into the emotional void and filled the vacuum there much as the water will flow into the space left behind when a stone is pulled from within it.

Another reason for the long intervals is that, due to my new relationship and my recent retirement, I am no longer ever-accompanied by a PC. And, unfortunately, when I feel the urge to write when out and about, the horrid iOS WordPress App that works so well with WordPress.com-hosted sites fails to save posts made to sites not hosted on their system, but that’s a gripe for another venue.

Finally, I’ve mentioned a phenomenon called “Widow Brain,” a general mental fogginess and partial loss of memory function that many who have lost their spouses complain of – me, included. I noticed within the past week that my memory seems to be suddenly hitting on at least seven of its eight cylinders, and my decision-making and critical thinking have definitely improved. This is both good and bad as it is now driving a restlessness that does not comport well with my new retired state – I’ll have to find a channel for it. But the key point is that now, almost 16 months after Kim’s passing, I seem to be recovering much of the “me” that was lost. I still get melancholy over memories, but, more and more, those memories bring smiles rather than tears.

I hope the same for you.

Memories

The human memory. It’s both a gift and a curse.

Without memory, there would be no nostalgia. There would be no reminiscing over happy times. But, without memory, there would also be no regrets; no sadness. No grief…

To some degree – a large degree – we’re asked in scripture to live in the present. Learn from the past via our memories, but without drowning in them. We are not to “live in the past”, as it were. But sometimes, following that advice is hard as the mind sometimes goes where it will despite every intention and effort not to – like an unbroken stallion. I guess the task, then, is in dealing with this beast when it runs on its own: bridling it in; bringing it back to now.

On the same token, we’re told not to worry about the future. As I like to say: make plans for the future to protect yourself and your place in it, but don’t dwell on it or try to control it. That last bit isn’t for us. But who doesn’t find that majestic beast in their skull dragging them forward to turn some issue or aspect over and over at some point or other?

One of the joys of widowhood and the “widow brain” fog that seems to fall on us is the apparent inability to exert much control on either – vaulting into the past and worrying into the future like a yoyo.

I write this retrospectively – I’ve come a long, long way in a relatively short time on this. I find myself remembering often, but less so with the sadness and melancholy of loss. And, thanks to a new relationship with a wonderful woman who has gone through this same experience: I don’t wonder at what lonely trials the future may hold for me.

But many things have changed in a relatively short time. My youngest daughter has left the nest. She was the most company I had whenever I was at home. To be fair to her, though, since I’ve retired, I’ve been spending less and less time here – it wouldn’t have been fair to expect her to stay basically all by herself. My youngest son remains in the house, but he works a shift which ensures most waking time here is spent alone. She made the right decision.

When here, I work to alleviate the neglect that my 30-year mostly-on-the-road career, the parade of dogs and cats that came through the house since we’ve been here, etc. has resulted in so that the house can eventually be sold. And, that brings us back to memories. Emptying the house of those things that made it our particular home, as messy as it may have been. Each piece having some memory or other attached to it; having to willfully relegate these things to the trash heap…

Where has the time gone?

It has been a year since Kim passed away. I marked the day by attending the memorial mass I had requested at St, John Neumann parish (Grandma Sue was there, too!), and then by visiting her grave – despite the fact that Sheila and I had just been there the day prior to place grave blankets and wreaths on the family graves there and at the graves of her late husband and oldest sister. The day was unremarkable, save two rather odd occurrences. Well: maybe three.

The first was last night, on the couch at Sheila’s house watching TV. I was resting my head on her shoulder when I felt this sudden urge to know the time, ostensibly because I had to leave so that I could get to bed and get enough sleep to drive Vanessa to school in the morning! I was certain that I had to do that! But I didn’t. Vanessa was not at my house; Jeanette was not at work. And the time this urge was upon me? 11:05 pm. This time is significant: Per my sleep tracking app, I fell asleep at 11:05 pm 30 November 2020 and woke up at 2:42 am 1 December 2020 to find that Kim had passed. After that, I fully expected that I would snap awake at 2:42 am, but that did not happen – or, at least, I have no memory of it happening.

The second was when I went to transfer my daughter’s laundry this afternoon. As I was surveying the room, my eyes locked onto an empty Labatt’s Blue can, plain as day, out in the open very near the dryer. I had swept the laundry room clean of these long ago – or so I thought.

And the (maybe) third was at her memorial mass where, through the prayers of the faithful, I learned that the man who owned the boarding farm where Kim had kept her horses for decades had recently passed away. Tom, and his late wife Sue, were wonderful people – more like family than someone we were conducting business with. Kim was very close to them. I was sorry to hear the news.

Otherwise, the day was unremarkable. I set about making a loaf of sourdough Italian bread, chatted with Jillian before she left for class, and helped Kenny out with an issue he asked for my assistance with. I spent a few minutes tying up a couple more loose ends at work (T Minus 30 days now to my official retirement date, though I’m burning up all of my vacation time currently…), and, having some time to spare, I went to visit Sheila’s late husband’s grave site – after all: Kim and Eric are responsible for our new relationship, just as Denny and Mary were responsible for the start of Kim’s and my relationship so many years ago.

Tonight, Sheila and I will go out to dinner – her suggestion as a way to keep my mind off of my loss and to celebrate Kim. Not sure where we will end up for that. Probably Antonio’s, where Sheila and I first met face to face. Or, maybe Texas Roadhouse – one of Kim’s favorites. I’m not sure yet…

…And Tears

In the mail today was a conspicuous envelope from Angela Hospice – the facility we used for Kim’s home hospice at the end of her suffering last year. Normally, these envelopes contain something about Angela Hospice, its services, or its fundraising efforts. This time it contained a note about those we lost in December of 2020 with a URL and an invitation to view their virtual memorial, since, due to COVID, they would not be doing an in-person memorial.

So I went to the URL and entered the password. After a brief introduction, the ceremony, in which the names of those who passed in December of 2020 were read as a woman lit a votive candle for each one, began. Kim’s was the fifth name.

I don’t know why, but for the first time in several weeks, I broke down and sobbed. I went to the memorial mass at St. Thomas a’Beckett, our parish and the church from which Kim was buried, on All Souls Day and did not have the same response at the reading of her name. Maybe it was the candles. All those candles waiting to be lit, representing all of those whose life on earth was over. The flames that only burn here symbolically, for their flame on earth was extinguished. So many candles, and representing only one month of last year- and only those who were under the care of Angela Hospice…

It is prudent to remember that our time here on earth is brief and that we should conduct our lives as if every moment is the rarest, most valuable thing there is. Because they are.

Smiles

Smiles. That’s what comes to me now when I think of my life with Kim. Smiles. Some things still choke me up – especially events during those last 7 months with her – but I find myself smiling now when I think of most things; I find myself smiling when some memory bubbles up to the surface.

The evolution of grief has been interesting to observe. It continues to be. Most often, in its early stages, grief would drive the mind to the irrational when memories would crop up: don’t do that because it’s not how she likes it; don’t throw this away because it is her favorite. But she’s gone and what you do with her things is inconsequential. More often, grief would drive the mind to desolation and desperation: why us? How do I recover my life when half of it has been torn away? Eventually, it yields smiles.

This dawned on me a few days ago – that I now smile when I think of Kim and the moments in our life – and I mentioned it to my girlfriend, Sheila. It really hit me again this morning, looking out into the yard at the pool I put in about 26 years ago. She really wanted a pool and, though I have no love for them, I wanted her to have it. I smiled, remembering our first swim together. I smiled remembering her with each of our children in that pool over the years, playing with them and teaching them how to be safe in the water. And I smiled as I remembered her last float on her french fry-design raft the summer of the year she left us – how she wanted to be in the pool, but could not because of the various chemos, the port, the pain, and the appointments. She was feeling really good one day, and got the go-ahead from her doctor, and spent the afternoon simply floating and enjoying the day and her pool.

Odd, that: to need the go-ahead from a doctor to enjoy something when you are terminally ill. We really need to revisit that concept – as well as what should be routine screenings at a physical. The former has driven me to the conviction that if I’m ever diagnosed with something like pancreatic cancer, I’m going to enjoy what’s left, and the medical community be damned. I get the pain management aspect. And I even get the chemo to extend life, knowing that it will not cure the condition. But I don’t get the restrictions on things like getting your teeth cleaned. Kim had an appointment and was looking forward to it – who doesn’t like the feeling of their teeth after a cleaning?! But, no. Because of the chemo. A bit irrational, in my opinion: she was terminal. Let her have her teeth cleaned. Kim had to have her own towels to ensure that she didn’t get some infection that would kill her from one of us. So many restrictions; so many things designed to prevent her from getting an infection that might kill her when we knew all along that the cancer was going to kill her, anyway.

Not all of these things were onerous or disappointing to her or us, but a lot of these retrictions took things she wanted away from her long before her disease would. And to what end?

I cannot speak for someone who is so clearly faced with their own end, but I think I’d rather not have things that I love and enjoy taken from me just so that I can live a little longer. I guess we’ll get to see how I behave if I am ever confronted with that knowledge, but I really think the palliative care professionals need to rethink a lot of what they are demanding from and for their terminal patients.

First memorial mass…

Today is 2 November: All Souls Day. My parish held a memorial mass in which the names of all those who passed after 31 October 2020 were read in their memory. I had let the kids know of this mass, but none of them attended with me. I was alone with my thoughts and memories – memories primarily of that period between her diagnosis and her death.

One of the clearest memories to return was her telling me shortly after returning home from her initial diagnosis “Well, I don’t want to die.” I don’t quite remember the context of that comment, but I do remember the comment itself, word for word. It still rattles around my head. That horrible disease and its “treatment” took even that desire to live from her, eventually driving her to cease anything but comfort measures, leaving me alone with her eventual silence, administering those measures and only able to hope that what I was doing was adequate to make her comfortable in the unconscious state she was in near the end. Powerless to do any more than follow a schedule and hope it was enough.

It pains me that the medical industry – likely due to health insurance rules (but I repeat myself – look up the history of health insurance if you’d like to understand that comment) – blithely whistles past so many graveyards by not routinely checking for markers for deadly, hidden cancers such as pancreatic. Had the marker been detected a year earlier during Kim’s physical – about the time they believe her cancer started “brewing” – how different might the outcome have been? How many people lost to this, and other, cancers that remain undetected before it is too late would still be with us if they simply checked for the marker antigens regularly? Instead of bemoaning how it isn’t detected until it has already metastasized, why wouldn’t they employ a known means to detect it?

This experience, coupled with the lunacy of COVID has definitely damaged – if not shattered – my faith in medicine and those who practice it.

Strange results from attending a remembrance mass.

Settling down…?

Just last weekend, we closed the book on Nick’s final chapter: he was laid to rest in a grave at the foot of his father’s grave this past Saturday. I was pleased with the number of people who chose to brave the clammy, drizzly, cool morning to see Nick laid to rest.

And, the clearing of Dad’s house and the subsequent estate sale are complete, thanks mostly to my sister- and brother-in-law, Rhonda and Geoff. These two spent inordinate amounts of time gathering and sorting items, cleaning the house up, and tending to the tasks involved with getting it on the market. These two drove 400 miles each time they came to the house, and 400 more to return home, and Geoff spent the lion’s share of his vacation time here in Michigan, attending to Dad’s house.

I’ve returned to the house a few times to disposition items that were left after the sale. It’s strange to see that house empty after all of the time spent there celebrating, visiting, helping… In a short while, it will become doubtful any of us will set foot in it again.

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.