Spring cleaning

Every 1 March, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery starts the removal and discard of the decorations they allow on the graves during the winter months. All grave blankets, wreaths, crosses, stuffed animals – they clean them all off the graves and discard them in preparation for the lawn mowing season.

I removed the blankets from Kim’s and her mom’s graves, and the crosses from theirs and those of my grandparents and my dad last weekend. The temperatures have been above freezing most of this week. The end result is that Kim’s grave is an ugly heap of dirt without even a headstone to mark who is there.

Seeing the bare mound of earth was a lot like ripping the bandage off a scabbed-over wound, renewing the pain of watching her casket being lowered into the vault, sealed off, and then being lowered into the hole in the ground and buried.

Her mother’s grave has settled into a flat, but still ugly patch of dirt, the lawn not yet having taken hold. I expect that Kim’s mound will flatten over this year, and they will be setting the headstone this spring. I’m hoping the lawn takes hold quickly, too. Maybe I’ll bring some sandwich bags of grass seed with me on my spring and summer visits and help it along.

One of our attractions to the plots we purchased was the tree and lawn – it looked like a picnic spot – somewhere a person would like to visit. It doesn’t look much like one now, and probably won’t for some time.

Another dream, not mine

Yesterday’s dream called to mind a dream related to me by Jillian shortly after Kim had passed, and before I had started this blog. She had this dream very close to Kim’s passing – a day or two afterward. It’s another dream that seems drenched in symbolism, but from which I cannot divine any meaning. I’ll have to consult with Jillian to add any missed detail, but this is what I remember from what she told me of it.

Kim, as she was on our wedding day, is standing out in the water – a lake, or the ocean. I am standing on the beach, frantically calling to her to come out of the water, to come to me on the shore. The version of Kim in the water does not appear to hear or notice me.

Kim, as she was in current times is standing next to me on the shore, calling out “I’m here! I’m here!”, but I either don’t hear her or I am ignoring her, continuing to call out to the version of Kim standing in the water.

That’s it, or, at least, that’s what I remember of what Jillian told me.

Epilogue: I guess how I remembered what she told me is more apt that what I remembered. I asked Jillian to tell me the dream again. Here is what she said….

Kim and I are on the shore, both as we were at our wedding; both dressed in our wedding clothes. I’m praising Kim, the bride, for how beautiful she is. There is another Kim next to me – Jillian doesn’t recall if she’s another young Kim, or Kim as she was in current times – Jillian was “seeing” through her eyes. This Kim is saying “Hello! I’m right here…”

Definitely an odd dream, whichever version I “remember.” The original memory seems more Freudian now, in light of this correction. Since I do spend a lot of time admiring our wedding pictures – she really was a very beautiful woman throughout her life – Jillian’s dream could be a reminder that Kim is always with me? Don’t know.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

I have commented before how I had not had a single dream (which I remembered after waking) of Kim, or with Kim in it. That changed last night, and I still, hours after waking, remember it with crystal clarity.

It was strange.

I’m at mass at St. Mel’s in Dearborn Heights – a church long closed, at which I haven’t attended Mass in probably 30 years, but which was our parish as I was growing up.

The church is full, as it always was in my youth. It is also configured as it was in my youth. I’m seated near the front on St. Joseph’s side (south side of the church). I get up to go use the bathroom in the crying room at the main entrance to the church. As I approach the vestibule where the door to the crying room is, I see Kim as she was before her diagnosis, in the last pew on Mary’s side. She is wearing the lightweight denim shirt she often wore, one of her favorites. She is not facing the altar but facing the glass of the crying room. The crying room is dark so the glass perfectly reflects what is behind her; the ongoing mass. She is expressionless and does not seem to notice me, and does not interact with me. I don’t try to get her attention; I just note her presence and continue on my way.

As I approach the door to the crying room, I see the room is dark, and the impression I get is that it is packed – literally packed – with no spare room. What looks like a rolled and folded newspaper or cloth is pressed against the glass in the door, but doesn’t cover the entire glass. I still see nothing but a battleship grey around the item in the window.

I turn around and start up the aisle on the south side of the church to get to the bathroom in the church hall. I look down to see I’m dressed in tan cargo shorts with my black Bulliet boots – ridiculous! As I enter the hall, there are four old ladies. Three are participating in the mass, while one is talking loudly about something else – either church politics or politics in general, I don’t recall which, but I do recall it being politics. There are still Christmas decorations hanging from the middle of the ceiling- light pink shiny garlands with large, red, shiny glass balls. As I’m approaching the point about where the kitchen is, one of these decorations slides across the floor and stops just before it gets to my path. I look up and see someone race-walking me to the men’s room. We arrive at the same time, and suddenly the hall has another hall behind it, and there is junk everywhere, among them a self-standing urinal. I recognize the man as a short, skinny man who I worked with at Ford until he retired. Unfortunately, I don’t recall his name, but his face was clear, and I know who he is – to the best of my knowledge, he had never set foot in St. Mel’s. I told him to take the room, I’ll go to the one at the north entrance to the church, near the sacristy. He said “No, that one is wrecked. Use this one – I’ll just use this urinal,” to which I reply “that’s ok, that’s all I need to do.” He goes into the bathroom, and I notice another men’s room in the new hall behind the existing hall. Being self-conscious about the ladies in the hall, I begin making my way through the stuff all over the floor – equipment of various types – toward this new room. That’s when I woke up.


Today’s verse in the morning offering from the Catholic Company is: “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

Do dreams have meaning? I was told when you dream of someone who has passed, it means they need prayer (I pray for Kim’s soul every day, nonetheless). Is Kim still only seeing the face of God as if through a mirror, or is she signaling that I should be focusing more on the holy souls trapped in purgatory – represented by those packed into the crying room? Or does this dream mean something different altogether, or nothing at all?

I certainly don’t have the answer. I’ll continue to pray for both. And I’ll hope for better, sweeter dreams than this…

Ugh, Take II

I seem to be settling into what Boolean logic enthusiasts would classify as a “don’t care” state. I am losing my passion for things I had become rather passionate about after losing Kim – weight loss, fitness, posture, reading, Bible studies… Not even politics excites me much of late. I look around the house and see things that I need to do to it, and things that I want to do to it, but can’t motivate myself to start any of them.

I thought “Huh! I wonder if you can burn out simply through grieving?” A quick search on the internet, and, Doctor? I think we have our diagnosis. This article in Psychology Today sums what I’ve been up to pretty well. The “DO IT ALL IMMEDIATELY” bit cited by the author resonates. It resonates all too well.

I think for the surviving half, the fragility and finite nature of life become driving concepts. I want to get the mortgage paid off and a trust written to ease the kids’ burden when I go. I want to finish updating this house because it’s gone too long as it is, and is showing the abuse, I need to do my taxes, and the kids’ taxes. I need to… This article helped put it into perspective for me as well.

There are so many things that I need to get done, and I keep piling more and more on the list until, tada! I have ground to a veritable halt on all of it. The added tasks – and not getting them done – pile more and more stress on an already stressed psyche.

Another apt point is that we, the bereaved, don’t realize that that loss has been such a stressor. I never equated the loss of Kim with stress. Just sadness. I equated all the little tasks that the loss of her added to my docket as stressors, but not the loss itself.

Now to figure out how to regroup and deploy myself differently.

Letters from home 1

Dear Kim,

I can’t find the words to tell you how much I miss you. The sound of your voice, the touch of your hand – the simple knowledge of your presence as we pursued our various tasks throughout the day.

I remember your “squirrel maneuver” – the way you’d clear the water from your eyes when swimming or showering. I remember the softness of your kiss, and the sparkle in your eye when you were being playful. The beauty of your face with your head on the pillow. The way you could find things to laugh at when things weren’t as pleasant as they should be. Through 31 years of marriage, those things changed so little.

I’ve been taking care of your plants in your craft room for you. I think I’ve gotten the hang of it – the peace lilies appear to be thriving, and it looks like that little rose plant I gave you that you had such a hard time keeping alive may be coming back. I put your heater on them for a few hours each morning, since that room is so cold all the time, and water them every other day. I took all the dead stuff off of the plants as well. You should see them – I think you’d be proud of me.

When I walk into your craft room, my gaze still settles on the chair where, in life, I’d invariably find you. I dwell on that view, imagining you swiveling around to greet me with a smile. Pieces of the last quilt you were working on – the one I had to help you with so much as the neuropathy took the feeling from your fingers – are still there, though they’ve been moved from where you left them. The girls have been using your craft room for various projects – Jessica, to dry the flowers from your funeral and encase them in resin; Jeanette, to work on embellishments for the clothes worn by members of her pageant team; and Jillian, to paint pictures for her art class at school.

A little while ago, Vanessa commented that I should have a blanket in the car for her drive to school in the morning. I’ve taken the RealTree-patterned fleece and the hunter orange fleece – the ones you were making pillows for the hunters in the family with – and I’ll brave your sewing machines to make them into a reversible blanket. I figured I would sew them together on three sides, and most of the way on the fourth, then pull it inside out and finish the fourth side by hand. I know you’d approve of my “plan” and I think you’ll be proud of the blanket when it’s done.

My thoughts often go back to when we were dating. I knew you were the one when I couldn’t get you off of my mind – a condition that descended on me just a few months after we started dating. Through our marriage, though, in the words of Willie Nelson, you were always on my mind: that ever-presence changed to more of a knowledge that you were there, accessible, a part of who I am. Now, I’m back to the dating scenario, where I can’t get you off of my mind but, unlike those days, I can’t call you, except in my prayers; I can’t come over to where you are until my days are through.

I don’t have any desire to leave here early – God’s gift of life is not one to be squandered – but I know that, when that time does come, we’ll be reunited, so it leaves me hopeful. As hopeful as that young man that couldn’t get you off of his mind; who had his heart set on marrying you.

I love you, Kitten. And I know somewhere, you’re saying “Ditto.”

Je’ t’aime.

Eliminating ghosts

I had given Kim’s phone to my granddaughter after clearing its contents. Vanessa, being a nine-year-old kid, immediately started sending texts to her aunts and uncles which, of course, since the entry remained in their Contacts list, came from Kim. After the initial shock, they were angry at Vanessa.

Rather than maintain an unused phone number as a memorial, I fell upon the solution by which I would change the numbers between the cellular-enabled iPad I gave Kim for Christmas many years ago and the phone. Since iPads cannot place calls and they text (from what I can tell) through their associated Apple ID rather than via the phone number, this would alleviate the issue. Reviewing Verizon’s site, I found the I had the ability to swap numbers between devices on the same account via a few mouse clicks.

Sweet! So I did it. Not so sweet.

The end result was that the iPhone could not place or receive calls (or anything else, from what I could tell), so a call was made to Verizon support via their horrible robotic operator. After about an hour and a half, and having to swap SIM cards back and forth, the tier 2 technician I was working with got the issue resolved, and Kim’s number will be silent until the day I pull the plug on the iPad. Minor disaster averted. And once again, I have to give Verizon’s support team kudos for friendliness, knowledge, professionalism, and “stick-to-it-ive-ness” – but I truly hope I don’t have to call them again anytime soon.

Last night was another oddly sleepless night. Unlike the last time, I didn’t pop awake with things on my mind – they were there when I went to bed and wouldn’t turn me loose. Thoughts ranging from an unfortunate display of immaturity my freshman year in high school (Sorry, JaNele – you deserved a better response than what I gave. It’s 44 years late, but I do apologize.), to more modern incidents and concerns. The ol’ sleep monitor showed it, too – the first night logging under 50% “restful sleep” since I started using the thing. These episodes are not frequent, but they’re somewhat unpredictable – and I’m not a big fan of unpredictability.

Feeding into this one is, of course, the phone/iPad debacle, but I also received a new laptop for work – the provisioning of which is always a rare treat! I always forget to export the VBA programs that I write to drive a lot of my efficiencies and end up having to rewrite them (which isn’t very efficient). That, and reconnecting files with their programs is a rare treat, too. Finally, the new laptop smoked my primary flash drive and, though I’m an apostle of frequent backups, I hadn’t backed it up all through Kim’s ordeal. I have recovered the files from it, but the utility I use recovers veritably EVERY file stub on the drive, so there’s a lot of sorting, testing, and cleaning up going on – all during that happy time we prepare to be fiscally eviscerated by the IRS…

And that, too, will be a new adventure, just as the 1989 tax year, the year Kim and I married, was. For the last 30 days of 2020, I guess I’m a “qualified widower,” instead of the “married” man I was for the last two days of 1989.

Sigh. At least it keeps me busy.

What does not kill us…

What I miss most

Many miss Kim’s laugh. Her warmth. For some of my family and friends, it was her creativity and intelligence. For me, it’s a lot simpler. I miss holding her hand.

We held hands everywhere. We held hands across the console whenever we were driving. We held hands when we went on our walks. Shopping. Across the table when we’d go on our “dates” away from the kids. Even as she lay dying, we held hands – even after she no longer held mine back.

My hand is empty now, a metaphor of the place in my heart once occupied by the living Kim.

Only the swamp-dwellers know…

Here’s an analogy I’ve made to the grief of losing a spouse and the inability of those who know no such loss to understand why we are the way we are: Unless you’re standing in the middle of the swamp, you have only a vague idea of the monsters that live there – no-one outside of the widow’s or widower’s skin can understand how the loss impacts them personally. Even those standing in the swamp dealing with the monsters are dealing with THEIR monsters. Everyone’s experience is different.

I guess the point is that, though people will tell you that they know how you feel, or they understand, they really can’t. Widow(er) to widow(er) has the best chance of understanding; however, everyone came to where they are by different paths, each which imprints differences – some small, some vast – in the experience.

For those looking to comfort a widow or widower, you really need to understand this. Telling someone you understand where they’re at really doesn’t give comfort. Just talk to them. Be aware of their pain, but don’t avoid them because of it. And to those widows and widowers who take offense at the usual platitudes, keep in mind that the goal of the person is rarely to be dismissive. They really don’t understand, and only want to give comfort.

On finding grief groups

In other posts (actually: several), I’ve mentioned how interacting with grief-oriented groups seems to be the key to healing in the short term. I think this is because of the “relief” you find among kindred spirits and with the ability to vent your feelings freely and without judgment – getting a compassionate, understanding reception.

As I put it to a friend in one such group on Facebook, Widowers Support Network, it’s the ability to see that yours are not the only footprints along the path, coupled with the ability to tell others of the scenery along the path that makes the trek less scary; less painful.

If you have not, seek out a group. There are “live” groups you can join and physically go to – check with your church or local hospice. If that’s not for you, try the groups on Facebook – type “widow” into the search box (“widower,” if you want to be more specific) and select “Groups” as the filter and you’ll find several. Some are simple support groups where you can talk to others in similar straits and vent to a compassionate audience. Others are “dating” groups where you can do the same and seek companionship if such is your desire. Some are widows OR widowers; others are widows AND widowers. Regional, religious… you’ll likely find a group that will fit your needs. Most are private groups (all I have seen are, but, as Fats Waller so famously said: “One never knows, do one?”) and will require you to request to join, answer a few simple questions, and commit to following the rules before they’ll let you in.

For widowers, I *HIGHLY* recommend Widowers Support Network. My involvement there has helped me immensely.


Kafka, pt. 2

Yesterday, I related a story attributed to Franz Kafka. There is another point to the story besides that last, powerful statement. That point is that the journey changed the doll – an allusion to the changes life experiences have on all of us – as has the loss of Kim changed me.

Some of the changes we experience during the journey of our lives are physical and obvious. Others are not obvious to those who do not know us well, and these are the deeper changes; the changes of character that life brings about.

It has been said that those who lose a spouse come out of the experience bettered – more compassionate, patient. More understanding and tolerant. The loss and the grief over it batter the rough edges of our character much as the constant waves will smooth the stones on the beach.

Here’s hoping that part of Kim’s legacy is a better man.