What I miss the most

My thoughts have been dwelling on Kim a lot lately. Remembering trips to her parents’ lake lot in my EXP during the summer. A time we hit a pop-up snow squall and spun out on Newburgh near Cherry Hill returning from a date with some of her friends at a comedy club in Ann Arbor. “Fatal Attraction,” the first movie we saw together (she picked it), and how she was worried that it would give the wrong impression (it didn’t). How we would spend hours just driving and talking. Leaving her house at night, and driving down Hines Drive to get back to my parents’ house after a visit.

I miss driving with Kim, holding her hand across the console, listening to the radio and looking at the scenery. Even after the kids started coming, we held hand in the car.

Holding hands.

What I think I miss the most is having her sitting next to me at mass, and unless we were holding a child: holding hands. I don’t think I’ve been through a mass yet that I don’t feel my eyes steaming up, remembering her there beside me. Funny: when we were at St. Dunstan’s, I became an usher shortly after the birth of Jeanette, and generally wasn’t able to sit with Kim. I performed my usher duties more than once with one of the kids in my arms. When Maida and the Archdiocese of Detroit pulled their petty little vindictive shit-show on the pastor, destroying the parish in the process, we moved to St. Thomas a’Becket. I wasn’t aware of the gift that they had actually given me: never again would we invest ourselves in a parish the way we had at St. Dunstan so, instead of being an usher, I sat with Kim. And I held her hand and gave her a kiss at the offering of a sign of peace, shared my phone for the after-communion prayers we said. Now, I just imagine her worshipping with the choirs of angels when the veil between heaven and earth is opened at the Eucharist.


As I was driving to my mom’s today for a visit, I was thinking about Kim’s and my life together. The things we liked to do when we first started dating, our young married life, and our life later on. The term that kept cropping up in my mind was “encapsulated”.

Odd term to apply to a relationship, but hear me out.

We were introduced on a blind date. We both pretty much fell for each other on that first date. We didn’t work expressly hard, either one of us, at maintaining outside friendships – they either remained, or they faded pretty much on their own. Our life together was… encapsulated. We seemed very much to be a self-sufficient symbiosis without many needs outside of ourselves and our family. Even as Kim was dying, we looked into our family for the support we needed, hospicing at home.

I truly wonder if I will – if I could – find anything like that again. So much is gone. To compare our life together to construction, it’s as if you spent decades building the biggest, strongest skyscraper, only to have it suddenly disappear, leaving behind only the memory of what it was and what you’d hoped it would become. All of the familiarity is gone. All of the understanding developed over a lifetime together rendered moot. Poof! Just like that.

But love remains. Encapsulated in the half of the whole, it is safeguarded from being lost.

Another week…

This week was spent in a training program at work (you can teach us old dogs new tricks..). It’s for a software package we use to assess the dimensional variability in assemblies – I’ve used the output of this type of software for 30 years but had never been trained in running the analysis myself. Until now. It really will have little impact on me in this career but may offer options for my upcoming “retirement” career.

That’s pretty much the highpoint of the week, though – that, and I moved all of the desks I had bought into my office and leveled them. I think this will work out well, though I have to figure out some “under desk” storage for all of the accoutrements of the various equipment I will be using in there. And remove the rest of the “stuff” that got “stored” in there while I was on launch…

I did have at least one dream with Kim in it this week, but that’s the most apt description for these weird episodes – Kim is there, but we really don’t interact, and the dreams are just weird.

I blame the stupid and archaic “spring forward,” but I’ve not felt anywhere as rested as I had in the months prior, and have been generally “out of sorts” ever since.

Pile onto this my mom calling today to ask me to bring forbidden candy to her tomorrow… Honestly: when you’re on the cusp of 90, you should be able to do whatever you like; however, I’m not the one who runs to the hospital with her with the health issue candy may be contributing to. But it does lay the guilt on me when she does that and I have to say no.

Sigh. It’s the weekend. Yay.

It’s a small, small world…

When Kim was first diagnosed, our PCP, Dr. Elias, referred her to Dr. Jacobs at Providence. When we spoke to him, Dr. Jacobs explained that he was a surgeon, and, based on the pathology report, the nature of Kim’s pancreatic tumors made her case inoperable. We took notes, nodded our heads, and expected that we wouldn’t be hearing from him again. In preparation for this meeting, we had asked St. Joe’s to forward him a copy of her CT scan, but it didn’t arrive in time for it.

A few days later, as we were driving to drop Kim’s sewing machine off for repair, the phone rang. It was Dr. Jacob’s. He had reviewed her scans and talked to us about what he saw. For instance, he estimated that the tumors had likely been developing for about a year and some other things we had not heard from any of the other doctors we’d spoken with. He also pointed out a few things, like very expensive pancreatic enzyme replacements that would help make her more comfortable – including tips on how to get them either free or highly discounted. He then told us to stop by his office so Kim could get some samples of pancreatic enzyme replacements to carry her until we could get a prescription for them (our prescription insurance did, thankfully, cover them). Of note: he wasn’t getting paid for any of this.

We listed him in the “genuinely good human being” column but didn’t have any further contact with him after picking up the samples.

A week or so ago, a very good friend of mine had a (thankfully!) benign growth and his spleen removed. As we were chatting about his adventure, he mentioned “Dr. Jacobs.” “Dr. Jacobs at Providence? Dr. Michael Jacobs?” I asked. Sure enough. One and the same. He was in exceptionally good hands…

Top of the mornin’ to ye

St. Patrick’s day. My feast day. A day that the family has traditionally gathered for a corned beef and cabbage dinner. The first one without Kim.

Kim loved these dinners, and she would have particularly loved this one. I had purchased a packer CAB (brisket) – the biggest I’ve ever seen – from Sam’s club about two weeks ago. I cut it into points and flats and had them brining in the basement refrigerator all week. Yesterday afternoon, I pulled the largest of these and sealed it up for a 36-hour sous vide. I kept the brine to add to the vegetable boil so that they would have that nice corned beef flavor we crave on this day as if they boiled with the meat in the traditional fashion, and the strategy worked perfectly. To all of this, I added my signature beef sauce and a loaf of soda bread.

Unfortunately, Jeanette had to work, and Jessica wasn’t feeling well, so it wasn’t a full house as I had planned, but Kim’s dad made it over and enjoyed both the meal and the company. The meal was great – the flavor of the meat was a little cardamom-heavy, but the color was perfect. Surprisingly a little tough for sous vide corned beef (likely a facet of the quality of the meat). But otherwise, perfect!

We shall overcome

When Kim was being lowered into the ground, a friend of ours grabbed me by the shoulders and said two words: “Be strong.”

At first, I was a bit offended by this – how could he, someone who is not experiencing what was tearing me apart; someone whose wife was alive and well, give me that advice? But he was right. I may not have been strong then, but it was precisely what I would need to work to become: strong.

Overcoming grief is like overcoming any other handicap. It takes mettle. It takes will. It takes effort. It is like weight lifting: you start out, and you can only lift a little bit and only a few times. As you work against it, as you practice it, you lift more and more, and more and more times. You build strength. You become strong. If you give up, you never build that strength – and it is strength that you will need.

You do not leave grief behind. It is always going to be a part of you. How big a part – whether a background issue, or a destructive force – is up to you, and your willingness to work to overcome its grip on you.

As anyone with a physical handicap can tell you: it’s hard work, but eventually, they learn to live with the handicap; live despite the handicap – but you have to be committed to that effort. Don’t give in. Don’t let bad days set the tone for your destruction. Keep at it, and you will overcome…

Diet Pepsi

Kim was a Diet Pepsi addict. From the day I met her, she was always drinking the stuff. We would literally go through cases of it in a couple of weeks – I would buy three 36-packs every time I went to Sam’s Club. The last time I bought any for her was 5 October of 2020 – I bought three 36-packs. Two remain.

When we first moved to this house, I remember having to run up to the Canton Meijer to buy the stuff for her when I would take the cars to gas them up – I would go get gas in mine, come home, grab hers, and put gas in it, too. I think that ended when I went out for my first launch with Ford. After that, Kim had to gas her own car.

Sometimes, she’d run out of pop, and either she or I would make a run up to the nearest store to get some. She preferred the cans or the single-serve bottles, but she would tell me to just pick her up a couple of two-liter bottles “to save money”. “DP” she called it. A couple of two-liters would last her a week or so back then. It wasn’t really until somewhere around 2000 that she would have a “Bubba Keg” mug full of ice and Pepsi all of the time. I would constantly spill the thing out because she would just add more Pepsi to it and top up the ice. It had to be a watered-down horror.

I hated the stuff, and I worried that it would kill her. Maybe it did. Who knows. I’m pretty sure the beer had a hand in it, though.

Prior to and just after we were married, we would grab a case of “La Beer,” as she called it, when going to parties or family gatherings. It worked nicely for such because, back then, I liked it (I hadn’t yet become the “beer snob” I am today) and the beer drinkers in our combined family liked it, too. And, back then: it wasn’t a problem. She’d get “full” after a couple and wouldn’t want anymore. Frankly, prior to about 2002, I can’t say I really ever saw her drunk more than once, and that time was after a big vendor Christmas party in ’94, and EVERYONE had too much to drink. But, at some point, something snapped, and “La Beer” became a force unto itself for her.

I remember calling home when on a launch and hearing it in her voice. And I remember not wanting to talk anymore once I recognized it. Honestly, launching is a hard, hard life for a married couple; especially a married couple with young children, and it’s the young engineers that tend to get sent out. I still think that it was my job that caused her to slip into alcoholism, and I truly wish I had noticed it in time to change careers – “golden handcuffs” or not.

But the Diet Pepsi is still here, right next to the mini-fridge I bought to house our sauces, where she would use the built-in can caddy to keep a few cans cold for herself and whoever else would come over and want one. I remember the neuropathy from the Folfirinox causing the cold to be painful, and having to get the Pepsi for her and pour it for her into, at that time, the big plastic cup she got from Harry Potter Land at Universal Studios. And then the day came that she couldn’t suck through a straw anymore, and “DP” became a thing of the past…

Jillian and I went to Sam’s club this afternoon to stock up on a few things that we only purchase there. It really felt strange not to be putting a few boxes of DP into the cart.


Fridays are “Family Fridays” – a tradition started after Kim’s diagnosis where the kids make an effort to come to the house and one of them is the “chef du jour,” creating the meal for the entire family on that day. Kim loved it. She saw it as bringing the family closer together. As mentioned before, we’ve kept the tradition. The kids still come by every Friday, and someone is “chef du jour” – sometimes more than one person! – and some delightful meal and gathering results.

This week was to be Jeanette’s time in the galley, but she was scheduled to work. No worries! I had purchased some “emergency provisions” just the week before – there were some Gorton’s fish fillets (curious where they find such uniform fish…) and some breaded shrimp. Jessica was charged with bringing a bag of Tater Tots to round out the offerings. A veritable “sea of beige” came out of the oven. I also threw together a coleslaw (which the kids invariably fight over who gets to take the leftovers home…) and a tartar sauce for the fish. It was all actually quite delicious!

But that’s not the purpose of this post.

Following dinner, the girls, Jessica, Jillian, and Tiffany decided to play some Uno at the kitchen table. It was a loud, ribald gathering, and I constantly found myself looking over at them and smiling. I could literally hear Kim joining in on the fun – she loved games, and we would play Uno literally for hours with our granddaughter, Vanessa. Kim would have been right there in the thick of it, just as loud and boisterous as the girls were. Sigh.

She loved games. Clue was her favorite. We have no less than five copies of the game in the house of various “flavors.” There’s a 1960s or 70s copy on the shelf in our bedroom (along with my copy of Risk). There’s a “Harry Potter” version. There’s one with an “alternate crime scene” on the flip side of the board. (Well, one less: Jessie took one home with her Friday night.) Board games saw a lot of use when the kids were small, but not so much once they hit their teens as they started developing interests outside of the home. And, unfortunately, due to a penchant for playing them and then leaving them out, there are many that are missing their pieces.

Little bits of memories. Little reminders of how this house bulged and bustled with the lives therein. Memories that make this house my home.

Types of grief

It seems that a lot of content I write here starts its life on one of facebook’s widow(er) groups anymore. Today, there was a question regarding whether, having been Kim’s caregiver, that the time of grieving after she passed is reduced since we knew for so long what was coming. My answer is “No; not really.”

Though we who were also caregivers knew our spouse was going to die, our spouse was still with us. There was grief at the knowledge of her imminent death, but it is not the same grief as induced by the finality of the actual loss. While Kim was still with me, I could talk to her, care for her, hold her hand. There was an air of sadness about the whole affair; however, there was also hope. While she was still alive, she could have had months remaining; she could have had years – the endpoint wasn’t defined. And: where there is life, there is hope. We constantly hoped and prayed for a miraculous cure for her, even up to her last breath. When she had passed, that hope for a miraculous cure passed with her (though, yes: God is capable of anything). There was a permanence about the loss that did not come with the foreknowledge while she was still alive.

In short, I believe that you really cannot prepare for the sort of grieving that comes from losing your life’s partner. No amount of forewarning prepares you for the experience of literally having half your heart and soul torn away from you. The grief experienced by one who was a caregiver is really no different than that of one who was not. Even the shock of the actual loss I experienced sounds a lot like that of those who lost their spouse quickly or, even, suddenly. I guess if anything, those whose spouse’s passing is expected get a little extra dose of grief through the forwarning.

Constancy and devotion

Yesterday, I was reminded of something my sister said to me – actually, a combination of things two of my sisters said – when Kim passed: “You stood like a loving sentinel over Kim, standing at her side with constancy and devotion. No woman could ask for more than that.”

It’s high praise, and I hope that it felt that way to Kim. It certainly didn’t feel that way to me at the time.

The term “constancy” also relates back to several other posts in which I’ve discussed our relationship. We each stood by the other through various trials with constancy. Though we had our doubts regarding the soundness of doing so at times, we never wavered from our commitment to each other; we stood by each other, sometimes angry, sometimes hurt, but always in and with love.

I related in the past how the social worker assigned to work with Kim and me through her hospice told me of families that sequestered their dying relative, removing them from the centrality of their family. This is inconceivable to me. Kim was hospiced in the front room of our hour – the living room. This offered some challenges to the management of our home; however, it allowed us, as a family, to be with her constantly, and it allowed her to be with us. She wasn’t behind a closed bedroom door; she was right in the middle of things. No-one could come or go without seeing her, and she loved it. We were able to sit with her and watch her favorite movies with her. We could involve her in everything, even when she could no longer walk around the house with us. To me, it just felt like the right thing to do, and my role felt like my duty to her.

The house, even to this day, has not “recovered” from the living room being converted into Kim’s room. The furniture that was discarded in order to make room for her bed has not been replaced. Eventually, it will be remade; remodeled – but today, it still serves as one of many witnesses that Kim was here. A reminder of all that went before, and how, at least in this life, it ended.