Being new again

I am a new widower. I have to keep telling myself that. Why? Because I want to be the old married guy that I was. I want to be the experienced, focused manager I’m supposed to be at work. I want to be the “super-smart, super-handy” dad to help my kids out with their needs. I want to be the loyal, dedicated son to my mom; that guy who showed up every morning with coffee in hand, and some conversation before we each started our days. To be the happy, doting grandfather… I want to be who I was. I want what I had. I guess as I have always told my kids: it’s good to want. Wanting drives ambition and achievement.

But I’m a new widower. Being a new widower has changed me so fundamentally in so little time. I still get things done – sometimes enthusiastically; sometimes like an automaton. Sometimes it takes a while to get to things, but they’re getting done. But I don’t like to leave the house, for instance. I was always a bit of a homebody, but I literally do not want to go anywhere. Is this a vestige of “Caregiver Pat,” who really couldn’t leave the house very often, particularly at the end? Or is this part of my grief? I know there’s a bit that COVID has to do with this – I mean, who looks forward to going somewhere where you need to wear a mask and stay away from everyone else? And I don’t get anxious when I’m out; I don’t feel like I have to rush back home – it’s just that first step that’s difficult: going through the door.

And my interests seem to have changed a bit drastically as well. Instead of my usual forays into things like 3D printing, Python, Arduino, and RPi or ever-engrossing home improvement projects, I find myself constantly searching for information on what I’m going through, poring over whatever I find. Without that, outside of work, and when I’m not needed to help one of the kids? I feel at sea. I don’t know what I want to do. That’s when I find myself plopping down here and either looking for more information on how others have dealt with this – or I write a blog post on where I am. Like this one.

And I’m terrified of being alone. That, too. Probably because I’m new at this.

In other news, I had the follow-up testing for the balance issues I’ve been experiencing, and it appears to be nothing more threatening than the damage done by not seeking medical treatment when I first noticed balance issues in late October. The ol’ noggin’ is already “relearning” this balance thing from the differing data coming from the right and left ear, and some “vestibular therapy” should accelerate the progress, eliminating the dizziness. That will be good – I have a few projects that were placed on hold that I need to be “ladder steady” for. Plus, the ENT ordered up some antibiotics to knock out this sinus infection that has been tearing me up for the past few days. Just in time, too – I seem to have developed conjunctivitis in the right eye as I was driving to this appointment. I think all of this lends credence to the point that grief may wreak havoc on your immune system. Make sure, if nothing else, you’re eating right and, particularly, you’re getting enough sleep.

Speaking of which, I should wrap operations up and follow my own advice.

Good night.

Admin note

I have added a “Blogroll and Links” section at the bottom of the righthand sidebar. In it, you will find some of the resources I’ve been using in managing my way through my grief. hopefully, you’ll find them useful, too.

I will add to the list as I find more interesting and useful things.


I really feel alone at the moment. The ear thing seems to have made way for a virulent sinus and upper respiratory infection that made it VERY difficult to sleep last night. Coughing, bringing things out of the sinuses and throat, choking on it. If I got three hours of sleep, I was lucky. And, unfortunately, laying in bed, unable to sleep, battling this crud has made me depressed in a way I haven’t experienced in a very, very long time.

It’s a bit of a ‘little boy” depression, I guess. It has its root in memories of how Kim would take care of me when I would get bronchitis – and bronchitis has been the bane of my existence. Now it’s just me. At least when I’d get hit with something like this away from home and had to take care of myself then, I had the knowledge that she was at home, and I could call her up and whine to her in my discomfort – a compassionate voice, albeit hundreds of miles away. And now, it’s just me.

It was a hard realization, in the dark unable to sleep.

I guess there will be more of these realizations as life continues onward.

Wonder of wonders!

I woke up last night because something was amiss. As I laid in bed trying to figure out what it was, I realized the pulsing, rushing sound in my right ear was gone! Happy day – back to sleep. Upon awakening, I noted that it is still there, but so quiet that I have to want to hear it to pick it out, and it is easily masked by other sounds. And that feeling of fullness in the ear is much diminished as well. Cool! Maybe it is resolving itself. I’ll still go to my next ENT appointment as it wasn’t ever-present with the balance disturbances I’ve been experiencing since October. It just may be that it is episodic, but that the episodes are long? Let the doctor figure it out – better safe than sorry.

I’ve used the Snore Labs app on my iPhone sporadically for about five years. Whenever Kim would tell me my snoring was bad, or I’d wake up with a dry mouth, I’d start using it again to see what was going on. With this issue and the head cold I seem to have piled atop it, I started using the app again. Yup. I’m snoring like a bull moose in full rut in an echoey canyon. To compare (I mean: maybe not in full rut?), I flipped back through a few records and happened upon an episode this past August where Kim and I had awakened together and were having a bright, cheery conversation. With all the survivor’s guilt that comes with my new lot in life, it made me feel good to hear me cheerfully telling her “Love you, sweetie!” as we started our day. Plus, I really, really liked hearing her voice. Needless to say, that audio has been “protected” within the app and exported. I have so few recent recordings of her voice sounding so clear and good.

Back to the rushing sound, and being better safe than sorry: I find it difficult sometimes not to have a sort of nihilist attitude toward the like. Thoughts like “What if it’s something bad?” bring the answer “So what?” This really bothers me. It’s not like I’m suicidal or anything, and I haven’t ever necessarily been afraid of death, but I really don’t like this feeling of indifference toward the potential. I think it is a combination of grief and survivor’s guilt that drives these thoughts. In any case, I have a LOT of work to do before I go to see to it that the kids don’t have to give away too much of what I want to leave to them when my time does come. I don’t like leaving things half-done (Kim might have argued that last bit, with all the projects I have going all the time).

This is another testament to how having my kids to support me and worry about is such a grace during this time. Aside from bolstering me up, they give incentive to not letting myself wallow in emotions that can become so self-destructive. If you’re young ‘uns considering whether or not to have children, take my advice: have ’em. Raise them up with love and care (I think that’s what we did), and they’ll return it to you seven-fold when you need it. Sometimes in ways they don’t even realize.

More to clean up

Who woulda thunk the menial task of cleaning up old tax records would turn into a melancholy walk down memory lane?

I have always been meticulous in record keeping. Every receipt and communication is stored in an alphabetized accordion file each year, which becomes the basis for my tax data. After the taxes are filed for that year, a copy of the return is added to the file; the file is wrapped up and stored away. The downside of this is that there were, until recently, over 30 years of such records. In some cases, this has been proven to be an advantage, as I’ve been able to locate receipts for “lifetime guaranteed” items many years after their purchase, saving the expense of replacing some fairly expensive items. That, however, in no way justifies the stack of accordion files and the space they’re taking.

A few years back, I bought one of those “paper brick makers” with the idea that we could shred these documents, soak them in water, and then press out paper bricks to take camping – I mean, storing paper bricks in the motorhome is better than having to bring the pickup with its bed loaded with firewood, right? Well, let me tell you: household shredders are not speed-demons, and, though paper bricks are pretty cool, they take quite literally forever to dry out. I finally resorted to putting our first batch into the convection oven at a low temperature to dry them enough so they wouldn’t mold. And they’re still in the basement, our two planned 2020 camping trips having been canceled – one due to COVID closure of the state campground we had reservations at (thanks, Gretch!); the other due to a premonition that came to be.

So what to do with these documents if they aren’t to become paper bricks? Cities occasionally bring in document shredding services and allow each address to bring a box or two of documents to be shredded, but I’d rather not take the chance of some careless shredder operator letting a piece or two of social security number-bearing documentation drift away on the wind. So, I opted to burn them in the fireplace. It goes a lot faster than shredding them did, and, being January, serves to help heat the home.

So, with today being a holiday from work, I spent the day feeding receipts and tax documents into the fire, while keeping a general eye out for things still better kept.

There were receipts from the hospital when each child was on the way – for prenatal care, ultrasounds, all the way up to the hospital stay for their delivery. There were memories of the various companies we dealt with over the years, how cheap cable service was in the early 90s, various purchases. There were notations in my hand and notations in Kim’s hand. I even found a couple of folders from doing Mom’s taxes after Dad died, among which was a calendar where Mom “blogged” little notes such as “first sunny day since the death”. I guess it runs in the family. (I set them aside and put them in the box with Kim’s records, in case any family is reading.)

It was bittersweet going through all of that. Some of the things in there, I really don’t remember well – such as reservations at State Dock that had to be canceled – State Dock runs houseboats on Lake Cumberland. Apparently, the year after my dad had taken the family there, we made reservations to go again but canceled them. I recall discussing going back – we had planned an “off-season” vacation to save on the expense – but don’t at all recall making them, and I definitely don’t recall canceling them. Maybe that was all Kim’s doing – but seeing it made me wish we had gone. We did so few things like that – sometimes due to the expense, or wrangling the kids’ busy schedules with our own – but most times due to work, and my aversion to leaving home because of all the away-from-home my job demanded.

There were magazine subscription receipts for various crafting and horse magazines. Receipts from clothing stores she liked for herself and the kids. Just so many little paper memories. I kept thinking how, before all this, I might turn to Kim with one and say “Hey! Remember when we did this?” No one to reminisce with anymore. The kids wouldn’t remember much of it; less and less as the timeline moved backward. As I burned through them, I wondered how I would remember things like those afterward? What would catapult them up out of the vault of my memory?

I still have quite a few accordions to go through. I’ve already set aside the seven years I’ll keep, getting rid of the oldest each year, if my discipline holds. The family room will be warm for the next several days, I guess, as I feed more in while working across from the fireplace. The old wooden rack that held them, a vestige of the people who owned the house before us, is now empty – the last thing it coughed up was my collection of Elementary Electronics magazines from the 70s – the magazine that sparked then fed my desire to pursue a degree in electrical engineering (which I accomplished but never truly used). And some leftover material that I had used to reupholster the boat Kim and I bought the summer after we were married, with a 1990 Tandy Leather catalog from the store on Warren near Wayne. That Tandy store is long – 20 years – gone, though the company still exists.

I’ll be breaking the rack down to get rid of it, clearing space in the basement from three decades of “collections”; making room for other pursuits. It always was sort of an odd duck, anyway – after 30 years, I still cannot conceive of its purpose prior to it becoming a “just stick it in that thing” storage unit. All this is good because it keeps me busy; keeps the mind occupied.

And time marches on, inexorably to its final destination…

Happy memories!

Today was interesting! Instead of the usual pain of loss, happy memories were at the fore of my thoughts. Particularly, the playful way Kim would sometimes zoom in and give me a quick kiss and then back off and smile at me with a playful gleam in her eye. I miss that. And the sneaky hugs from behind when I’m working at the kitchen sink. It was nice that these surfaced, rather than the memories that trigger the “I could have been a better husband” introspection.

It was another “different” Sunday, as well. Kim’s dad is still in Florida, and our former neighbors had requested mass intentions for Kim at the 10:00 mass today, so, instead of going to 8:00 mass, we went to that one. I was surprised to see how much better attended it was than the 8:00 mass! In pre-COVID times, it was pretty well attended, but, I figured with the dispensation from the Archbishop, few would bother. It was heartening to see so many there.

After mass, we had a nice conversation with our neighbors and caught up a bit. A few “chokey” moments, but, in all, I was able to carry on a conversation with them regarding Kim and what transpired between April and December. It is starting to feel oddly rehearsed, though: that narrative. And I feel compelled to go through it. Maybe I’ve transitted to another phase of grief? It’s hard to say as, since April, I’ve been in all of the phases several times. Except for, maybe, anger. I never felt anger over it – though I was plenty angry with a couple of her doctors and with the conditions that the politicization of COVID had thrust onto us; just not with God or nature.

After that conversation, we went off to the cemetery to visit Kim. First, we stopped into the mausoleum to satisfy Jillian’s curiosity and then drove around to Kim’s grave. At first look, it appeared someone had stolen her grave blanket! Getting out of the truck for a closer look showed that the rotten cervids had flipped it over onto her mom’s grave. It only took a few minutes to set it right. A lot of fresh graves this weekend. Sad.

Then off to Grandma Sue’s for brunch with most of the gang – Jeanette and Vanessa were off to a pageant in Ohio, and Jessica and Noah are busy moving into their new house. Just Jillian, Chris, Tiffany, Kenny, Kelsie, and me – still a big bunch! It was a nice visit, and Grandma Sue enjoyed playing Uno with them for a few hours. Listening to them, in the corner of my memory, I could hear Kim joining in on what was one of her favorite things every Sunday – playing cards at Grandma Sue’s.

Upon arriving home, I reassembled the old Bowflex in the basement so Jillian can work out and, as Jessie says: I can get “rrripped.” Later an old friend – people I’ve known since four or five years before I met Kim, but haven’t seen in probably 20 years – called to offer their condolences. It was a nice conversation, and I managed through it without breaking down. Christopher bought a house around the corner and down the block from theirs. We’ll have to get together for a barbecue once the Wicked Witch of the Governor’s Mansion lets people live their lives without the threat of prosecution.

The weird ear thing seems to be escalating – the pulsing, rushing sound in the right ear is getting louder as this head cold progresses. No pain and my hearing doesn’t seem to be impacted. Probably being exacerbated by sinus pressure, which I have a ton of (no pun intended). I’ll be happy when someone can say “this is what it is, and this is how we fix it.” If not, I will still be OK with the added ability to take my own pulse without using my fingers to find it.

A day in the life…

Saturday! A day to sleep in. I managed an additional couple of hours in the sack, but, then, “brain things in my head” started up, and I got up. Part of the reason may be that I have the thermostat set the same for Saturday as on weekdays, and, when the heat kicks on, it just gets too darned hot to sleep. I guess I should spend a little time with it and reprogram it. Too, I should figure out how to make the dagnabbit Apple watch not go off to wake me up for work on Saturday. I mean: since I don’t work on Saturday.

Maybe later…

Normally, Jillian runs to my mom’s with me on Saturday, but I don’t think she’s quite feeling 100%. Jeanette had bronchitis and laryngitis, and I think she gave it to Jillian and me – I’ve got a sore throat, congestion, runny nose, and headache, and Jillian was complaining of a sore throat. So, I had to be sure to leave my mask on while I was with mom. It ain’t COVID, but bronchitis is *not* what mom needs right about now…

I spent a good 4, 4-1/2 hours with her today, not doing anything really more than being there. She likes the company, even though she has 24-hour caregivers. Oh, and I fixed the coffee drawer. And made her a tuna-salad sandwich.

I discovered one of her caregivers’ boyfriend passed away a couple of weeks before I lost Kim, so I was able to have a conversation with her about grief and dealing with it. She’s a youngster and really torn up over it. Funny, though: I’ve talked with her several times before, and you’d never have guessed that that recent tragedy was with her. My mom has a way of opening people up, I guess. I hope our conversation helped, but her’s is just like mine: lines cut in glass – it’s going to take a lot of time to wear those edges down to where they don’t hurt. My heart goes out to her.

At home, I helped Kenny carry a press he bought down to the basement and then set to work finishing up a purpose-built, heavily insulated shipping box in order to send a couple of packages of Kowalski hot dogs back east for my sister. I guess you just can’t get good Polish hot dogs on the east coast – the Philistines!

One thing I noticed: the congestion that is coming with this cold (or whatever) is wreaking havoc on whatever is going on with my right ear! My balance has been horrible, and I had to catch myself more than once on the stairs. I guess I’ll be like Fred Sanford – “I’m coming to join ya, Kim!” as I cartwheel down the stairs one day.

Ah, well. Not today. I guess He still has more he wants to do with me.

I guess I’ll log into work and approve my team’s timecards. Then, I think I’ll go to bed…

And then there are good days, too.

Today was interesting. It started as most days following Kim’s death: I get up, I see the empty half of our bed, and I feel the loss. I go about my toiletries because they need to be accomplished. And then I go downstairs and start my day.

Today, after my morning meetings, I had to deliver performance reviews to my team, and get my own from my manager. My team is outstanding, so delivering their PRs was easy – I really enjoy delivering what is universally good news, so it was a good way to spend the afternoon. Of course, in the 360° portion of the reviews, it was brought up time and again how “inspiring” it was that I continued to work through that time; that up until the day Kim passed, I was active in meetings and available to the team. I was honest with them in my response, explaining that it wasn’t as much dedication to my job as it was therapy – something to focus on other than watching my beautiful bride fade away from me. And my performance review was great, too. I am humbled and heartened to know the esteem my management holds me in.

To some degree, today’s experience did cause some introspection, like every experience these days seems to do. Was I too devoted to work and not devoted enough to Kim and kids? My work career was, for the majority of it, “inspired.” I was seen as “high potential” – someone who made things happen – especially at the beginning of my time at Ford. I enjoyed promotion after promotion until I broke into management – and even there, I received an in-series promotion that many of my peers never saw. Several of my peers referred to me jokingly as “the golden one”, coated with Teflon in the way I could have frank discussions – sometimes unflattering discussions – with those many levels above me, and come away unscathed. And I was VERY interested in the climb and would take on unusual assignments and put in long – ungodly long – hours to achieve what I needed in order to be successful in them. All that time, I missed my young, growing family – I was up and gone before they were out of bed, and returned home long after they’d gone to bed. Looking around, I noticed that the most successful around me didn’t seem to have families, let alone family lives. So, I put the brakes on and started turning down the “spotlight” assignments to, instead, ensure more time at home. As karma would have it, though: the job descriptions changed with the needs of the Company, and I ended up spending inordinate amounts of time away from home, anyway. Plus, I was never happy or secure in those jobs, in any case.

Why did I stay? I could easily have left Ford and pursued another career somewhere where the work would have kept me local. I know part of what retained me was the “golden handcuffs” of the pension and the good benefits at the time (they’re really no better than anyone else’s nowadays). Perhaps it was just fear of the unknown – the fear of starting as “the new guy” again. In any case, I guess it is what it is, and I am who I am, and things are as they were to be. Life takes you where the good Lord wants you to be.

But back to today. Today was a good day. There were moments in discussions with some of my team during the reviews when I felt my cheery facade start to crack due to a comment they made or an answer I gave relating to Kim, but, a brief moment, and I had myself under control. Good days like today are a glimpse of that time, that potential when the happy memories crowd out the loss.

Postscript: Family Friday. Oops! I realized in the late morning that we had forgotten all about Family Friday. So, we set a plan in motion for Kenny to construct one of his masterful charcuterie boards on a grand scale – we’d have meat, cheese, crackers, and whatever else he chooses to delight the palate for dinner!

News Flash: Jessica is not feeling well, and will be begging off this week – between not feeling well, and prepping her new house for their move before the end of the month, PLUS helping her beau to pick up his truck from the shop… No Jessie this week.

Oops! Jeanette has a pageant with her daughter tomorrow morning, an hour away from home. She doesn’t want to risk upsetting her digestive tract with cured meats and cheese, so she would like to buy Chinese food for everyone.

Compromise: Kenny assembled a delightful, down-scaled charcuterie board that we all dove into while waiting for Jeanette, who brought in a feast from her favorite restaurant.

And a good time was had by all. It’s a wonder we’re not all bigger than we are.

We think we know

We think we know ourselves. I thought I had learned all there is to know about grief when my dad, with whom I was very close, passed away in 2006. I thought I had learned about recovery from the loss of a spouse, watching my mom all of these years.

I know nothing. Grief at losing Kim teaches me new things every day. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming sense of the ragged, raw hole the living Kim held in my heart; the emptiness there. Sometimes it’s a sense of nostalgic loss as some long-stored memory surfaces; not having Kim to reminisce with. Sometimes it’s a sense of guilt thinking back on something I could have done better; some instance where compassion rather than feeling hurt or angry would have served better for both of us. And sometimes it’s the thought of all that we never did together – shattered plans, dashed on the rocks by a random biological flaw.

Grief has knowledge we cannot conceive of. Grief holds knowledge to which I’d rather not have become privy.

More food, I guess.

So, my youngest popped over to my work-at-home workstation, seeing that my most recent meeting had ended (evidenced by the lack of blather into my microphone, I guess, and the “blank stare” into one of my three monitors) and asked the innocuous question “What do you want for dinner?”

Wow. What a struggle – and I’m not being facetious: we both were having a hell of a time coming up with something that we’d like to have for dinner! Her comment at my indecision was “This adult stuff is kinda hard – like deciding what’s for dinner!”

Deciding the menu was normally Kim’s domain. She’d occasionally ask what I or one of the kids would like if she felt that it was time for something different, but, normally, she had full command of the galley during the week, and would routinely put delicious food out for us to eat.

“What would you like for dinner?”

I never really thought about the effort that must have gone into that – in the best of times, she absolutely hated it when I would force her to make the decision of what restaurant to go to, or what movie to go see; but she decided every day what to put on the table. And, in my current depressed state, I can see that it likely took herculean effort for her as Kim struggled with depression for most of our married life; becoming apparent to me a few years after the delivery of our fourth child.

Dinner. What would I like for dinner. Hmmm.

Well, Jillian suggested either steak and mashed potatoes or spaghetti – with salad. I guess I’ll go see what wonders the freezer has to behold – another of Kim’s domains. I could never fathom its arrangement and organization. I’ve reorganized it and STILL can’t fathom its arrangement and organization. It’s as if it rearranges itself at night. Sigh.

I think, maybe, the steak…


When we buy a butcher’s round roast for making jerky, I will cut some steaks from it, sometimes cube them, pack them in individual sandwich-sized bags, and then put four into a gallon bag for the freezer. The outer bag is labeled with the date, the type of meat, the source of the meat, and the count or weight. That way, if it were just Kim and me, we wouldn’t have to thaw more than we needed for dinner, but the gallon bag contained enough for the four of us that were usually home for dinner. There was an unlabelled package in the freezer that fit that description and, under the permafrost, appeared to be, perhaps, some of the cubed steaks. It wasn’t until it was all thawed (ie: too late to do anything about it), that I discovered it to be four packages of some ground meat. Apparently: venison. Change of plans.

A quick mirepoix, some garlic, green pepper, chicken bouillon in lieu of salt, some pepper… Hmmm. Do we go for a stroganoff vibe or a tomato base? I already had the spuds on the boil for the mashed potatoes to go with the alleged steaks. Then Jillian popped in and said, “how about tomatoes, like mom’s venison and onions?” In went some diced tomatoes and some tomato paste. Further brain-storming had the left-overs from the zucchini and yellow squash dish from two days before added into the mix.

A blop of mashed potatoes into a bowl, and a hearty helping of… “stuff”… it was delicious. And it was reminiscent of Kim’s tomatoes and venison, as well.

As for the venison, I *think* it is my eldest son’s. I recall him being “gifted” some ground venison for helping his novice friends clean and process their first deer last year. That would explain an unlabelled package of meat, as I’m typically very “anal” about making sure things are labeled, and it was REALLY bothering me that I would have forgotten to do so.

And, hopefully, he forgot about it as it is venison no more…