Empathy blows

One of the many things that torture my mind these days since Kim’s passing is how staid she was through her ordeal, worrying more about how I was getting on than her own now-so-much-more-finite life. I know that when I’m out in public, I project a much happier image of where I am than I know to be the reality – I’m not clinically depressed, mind you, and I do have many, many genuine instances of real happiness, but there is a darkness, a burden, on my mind that is ever-present now. Was Kim putting on a similar brave face through the whole thing? Or was she really as at peace with it as she appeared to be? The thought that she could feel trapped in her situation and that there was nothing I could do to change it tortures me.

I believe Kim felt trapped by her life for a long time as well. I think this was what led to her depression which, in turn triggered her alcoholism. And I felt trapped in my life due to that alcoholism and the worry that comes with it – alcoholism unchecked never ends well for the alcoholic, and I loved Kim and didn’t want her to die an alcoholic’s death (which, all things considered, would likely have been very much like how pancreatic cancer killed her), and I love my family, and didn’t want to see Kim get into an accident that would destroy our future. But I felt powerless against it. I couldn’t change it or control Kim to where neither was a risk. Trapped. Desperate.

I get it.

It is the knowledge of this sensation – of being trapped with no rational way out – that allows me to empathize with those in similar straits. And that empathy, especially in the context of Kim facing her terminal illness, to be frank: really, really blows.

Anyway, the title, Empathy blows is a bit of a double-entendre: empathy for the suffering of others – particularly those of Kim and my family and friends – literally buffets my emotional state like (another sea analogy) the waves of a storm buffet the sides of a ship – blow after blow. And, the emotions that empathy generates – at least for me – suck.

Righting the ship

A recent post in one of the widow/widower sites I participate in on facebook really struck a nerve, but not on a personal level, but more of a “sheepdog” response. The gentleman posting has been without his spouse for at least a decade, and, apparently, is either devoid of human emotions, or forgot what his loss was like in the early stages. His post amounted to “Why can’t you function? Why are you so interested in finding another partner? Don’t you know how to run your house?” Yes, offensive and totally devoid of compassion and understanding. I don’t think he’s a “bad guy” – I just think he was simply reacting – poorly – to a question that occurred to him based on his current experience.

For others who wrestle with similar on a personal level, I provide the following response, gleaned directly from my post to facebook (typoes corrected from the original):

Why? Because we’re all different.

From my reading here, most of us did not look to our wives solely as someone who “(knew) how to cook … iron shirts, sew on a button, clean house, run a home, shop for groceries, have (a) social network” and I don’t believe for a minute that those who appear to be “(unable) to function on (their) own” are looking for a maid.

As you may have experienced, the loss of your spouse is pretty jarring. Even the most capable individuals can be knocked off an even keel for some time after such an experience. And getting back on even keel depends a lot on your circumstances. Reading these pages, I’ve found that most of those who are alone after their loss have the most difficulty, and those of us with family still in the home – especially those with young children – seem to get our ships a-right faster on some levels. This can be the “necessity is a mother” thing where having those who depend deeply upon you force you to adapt a lot more quickly than those who are alone to languish in their grief. And even those who have found an even keel again can get knocked off of it on occasion as various things occur in their voyage through this loss.

And there are also many who are simply not equipped to go through life without the emotional support such a partner provides – just as many of us are not equipped to perform the caber toss. Emotional capability is really no different than physical capability: each has differing inherent capabilities, and each has differing capacities to develop new capabilities as they go along.

Finally, dating is VERY different now than when most of us were actively dating before we married. There is a lot of stress and confusion for those embarking in dating due to these changes, and most of us have a lot of questions and concerns about the social stigmas, norms, and expectations regarding widowers getting involved with other women.

And most are simply looking for comfort and understanding – and, frankly, survival tips – in their postings here. They’re looking for a lifeline. Being effectively told to “man up” isn’t the answer, isn’t effective, and, frankly, is a bit cruel. We’re all in pain to differing degrees This makes having the proper filters on our comments a comfort…


Today was a rather busy day. Aside from the normal work-a-day tasks, I had volunteered to compile a series of short videos to the Ford Interfaith Networks’ “Day of Understanding” – an event where members of the various faiths represented by FIN create short videos speaking about their religion and how Ford supports us through FIN and the various modes by which they honor our beliefs, our holy days, and our communion with each other. I was planning to do this with my “tried and true” open-source tools, but others in the FIN communications group kept talking about “Camtasia,” which I found Ford makes available to us for in-company use through the Ford Software Center. So, I taught myself a new piece of video post-production software. Though I’m very impressed with its capabilities and the ease by which you can get things done within it, I don’t think I’ll be pursuing a personal copy due to it’s $250 price tag…

In any case, the thing allowed me to rather quickly produce a very polished, professional-looking video! Short learning curve, too (mostly thanks to internet searches).

Though things still chase each other around the head, the “busy-ness” of today really helped me to feel energized and centered. Plus, I have a new tool under my belt as a result. Win, win, win!

Another step forward

There was a *LOT* to be done today! First, a meeting at work, then I had to run up to Akron Tire to see about Jillian’s car. I took the opportunity, since I was so close, to stop by Mom’s to see her and Sharon, my sister, who had flown in from New Hampshire for a visit, then back home for more meetings, and, finally an Association meeting. Phew. It’s now 9:00 pm and I’m just now getting an opportunity to sit down to make my blog entry.

The owner at Akron had good records of the work he had done on the Escape when it was Kim’s. When I went down the laundry list, he basically spelled out how he would approach each one – it was refreshing to hear his approach is a lot like mine – rather than rip out the exhaust and replace it all, he will cut the tubes at each side of the failed flange, and then marry them with another piece of pipe. The brakes, he will assess – they were grinding when I drove it over, so I’m pretty sure it will be at least rotors and pads. Hopefully, the calipers aren’t involved. He offered his condolences over Kim, and asked me twice whether it was OK to replace her info with mine – he said some people are strange about that. In any case: nice guy. He said he should have something in three days because he is swamped (a sign of a good mechanic!). Hopefully, it will be a “quick fix” after that, so Jillian won’t be without her car too long. As it is, I expect it will interfere with her senior retreat Friday.

And it was great seeing Sharon. We had a nice talk in which she said that she recalled it being about a year before Mom had any sense of Dad “being around” after he passed – she, too, had no dreams of him or any “incidents” immediately after he passed, so maybe this desert will pass.

Over the weekend, I had met a new caregiver assigned to my mom. Mom really liked her, and she and I really hit it off – I think my mom was bored because she and I were talking on so many different subjects. In any case, when she was relieved by the next caregiver, she left her phone number under my windshield wiper before leaving. I saw it as an incredible ego boost, but an impossibility – I am easily twice her age. My mother, on the other hand, thinks we “made a connection”, and Sharon simply said that you never know, because “the heart wants what it wants.” I don’t think the kids would be very tolerant of me getting involved with someone younger than my oldest daughter, either. Still: finding that piece of paper under my windshield wiper was one hell of an ego boost 🙂

The remainder of the workday was uneventful. I had been contemplating exiting the Association Board for some time. It’s not overly burdensome, and I am pretty good at what I do for them, I guess – but, like other such roles in life: you learn things about people that you really didn’t need to know. It can be depressing, and I’m getting enough of that particular “Big D” just navigating through the loss of Kim. But, as seems to happen invariably when I get in this mood, we have a meeting, and I feel better about it – like a battery that gets recharged, and slowly trickles the energy away until the next time. Ah, well. I’ll finish the next meeting, and, assuming things go as expected, finish implementing the changes I’m working on. There is a break, the September board meeting, and then the next General Meeting in October. If I still feel this way, I will simply not submit for re-election at that meeting.

Well, it’s an early day tomorrow since I must drive Vanessa to school. Best wrap this up for the day.

Sunday, Sunday…

It’s funny. Some days, it’s almost as if everything reminds me of Kim. Little things would remind me of things she’d say or do. Someone will say something, and I can hear Kim’s “stock reply” in my mind’s ear. There was a lot of that today as Jillian sat with Grandma Sue at the dining room table working on a jigsaw puzzle – something Kim would have heartily joined in on.

After mass this morning, I shot across the street to the Holiday Market and picked up two bouquets of cut flowers; one with some purple flowers in it for Kim; another with some blue flowers for her mom. The headstone has arrived and is on the ground at the head of her grave. It looks like they followed my instructions to a “tee” and the stone looks great – though I can’t convey how strange it is to see my name on a gravestone.

Her dad rode out to the cemetery with me, as usual. He’s having more and more difficulty getting in and out of the car. I can see that it likely won’t be long before I’ll be making the trip solo as I don’t think he’ll be able to get in and out of a car if he continues as he has been.

This was a bit of a strange week for the Grandma Sue thing, too. The role of “organizer” has fallen to Jillian, and I knew she was polling her siblings earlier in the week, which she does concurrently with asking Grandma Sue if she is up for visitors. Then, in the hubbub of the week, I lost track of what was going on and didn’t know whether we were to go or not. Kim’s dad really likes to go and asked if we were going, but at that time: I had no idea. After I had been home awhile, I finally got ahold of Jillian, who spent the night at Jessica’s, and found that we were. It ended up being just Jillian and me with Sue and Larry but it was a good brunch, and Jillian and Sue worked on that jigsaw puzzle until about 6:30!

Jillian’s muffler fell off on the way to Sue’s, so I wired it up with a coat-hanger, and then Larry and I dropped it at nearby Akron Tire – it will need that, front brakes, alignment, and an oil change. Larry made a point of telling me how great he thought all of my kids were, and what a great job Kim and I did raising them. It was nice to hear. I like Larry. He seems to be very good for Sue, and he’s fun to kid with.

Tomorrow, I’ll need to go up to Akron to drop Jillian’s keys off and schedule the work. The last time it was there, it was still Kim’s, and they did the rear brakes for her. Maybe they’ll remember.

Prayers for Gramma Sue who is having eye surgery tomorrow.

I saw it in a photograph…

I honestly don’t know why I thought of them, but my mind turned to the collection of digital photographs that comprise a large share of our family photo collection. There is a veritable boat-load of traditional print photos, but there are even more digital photos. I was an early adopter of the technology, and literally brought the first digital camera into a Ford facility, demonstrating it’s utility in documenting and reporting issues. I still have that camera, a Casio QV-10, and the one I replaced it with later – a Kodak DC-120. Years later, I moved up to a Kodak DC210 or 240 (can’t remember which, and it has long since been stolen), a Fuji Finepix 4900Z, followed by a Canon Powershot 100 ELPH, then cameras were integrated into cellphones and standalone digital cameras became almost obsolete overnight – great little cameras became a dime a dozen, and several more were added to my stable – a trio of Polaroid digitals, a Fuji “sport hardened” digital, a couple of “action cameras”, and many lesser cameras that have long-since faded from memory.

But back to the original bit: the first two cameras, the Casio and the Kodak, stored photos in proprietary formats (CAM and KDC, respectively), and many of the stored photos were still in those formats. My mind turned to these with the question: how do I retrieve the photos? I use a lot of graphics programs, almost universally open-source. None of what I had would touch them. A little more research, and I stumbled upon XNView and the suite of XN programs – not of my beloved open-source software, but freeware nonetheless. So I tried them and, with one minor tweak for the Casio shots, soon had them converted to a more universal, lossless TIFF format. (For those having old CAM files from the QV-10, you have to change the height to 240, width to 320, and unlink the aspect ratio to get the original picture back undistorted. Apparently later QVs has a 480×320 aspect ration, and even later QVs saved jpegs with the CAM extension, so all you need do is change the .cam to .jpg – irrelevant to this post, but if it helps someone…). Of course, in converting these, I had to also review them. I’m up to 2005, currently. The first digital picture in the collection, taken 20 August 1996, was of Kim wearing one of my pocket tee-shirts stirring something at the the stove.

As I walked through time reviewing these, I made an observation: the early pictures were generally happy – Kim almost always smiling and bright-eyed. As we move on through the collection, around 2001, we see that gradually change. More morose. A haunted look in her eyes. This was also around the time that I remember beginning to suspect that something had “come loose” – and I recall this was around when the Labatt’s became a constant. I’m up to 2005. I remember a lot of happy times, where I know Kim was happy and smiling – but precious few of those moments were captured. The events were captured, but not her looking happy.

I’ve commented how I thought that Kim, having more difficulty shedding the baby weight after each child, was getting depressed by her body image. That rings a little hollow reviewing these as well: she looked great after Kenneth. It wasn’t until about two years later that the weight started to come on, and it was a year after that when I believe it all came crashing down for her in terms of her mental state and the depression that I believe led to her alcoholism. I do know that her body image was very important to her, and she often told me she believed that I wouldn’t love her if she wasn’t the slim little girl I married. At least I proved her wrong on that one.

I know there were a lot of factors influencing her depression. I know that my “on the road” job, and her preference for midnights both drove a feeling of isolation. My involvement with various community organizations also pulled me away a few times a month when I was home, and that likely furthered that feeling of isolation. And, perhaps, she felt unimportant to me? I don’t know, and cannot ask her now – but it has become hard to continue through the photos as I’m left feeling like I deflated her dreams or ruined her life. When we met and got married, we had such dreams! Unrealistic, perhaps, as they were, they did fuel us as we forayed on into our life together. Those dreams changed as our reality, as our circumstances, changed – but did she hold on to the old dreams harder and longer than I did?

If photographs could talk…

Losing focus…

An apt title – I seem to have “plummeted” with respect to my close vision within the last month. I really have to tilt my head back with my progressive lenses to read things that I could see at a more comfortable tilt a few weeks ago. The change seemed like it was precipitous, too. Odd, that.

But the title is apt in another way. As Kim was dying, and for a long time afterward, I was machine-like in my ability to “keep up” with everything around the house. I find now that I am not getting to things – the time of day just seems to slip along, and at the end of it, there are several “shoulda dones” sitting undone. Some of it may have to do with the change of seasons and the addition of the yardwork to my agenda, but I feel like I’m just not focused on things the way I was – I just don’t seem to care enough about them. Doubly odd because I hate the cluttered and worn-out mess our home has become over the 30 years of working on the road. I just can’t seem to find the time or energy to expend the effort at present.

Perhaps the latter is a facet of the depressed state I find myself in – not quite a depression that concerns me; definitely not the zombie-like state I found myself in just over half a decade ago – but depression nonetheless. The former? I attribute it to just getting older, which, they say, is better than the alternative.

Ah, Kim…

That’s what I find myself saying as I encounter things in the house, or some memory or other pops up. “Ah, Kim…”

I wish I could share these recollections with her – she was usually good at filling in the blanks of what I could drag out of the archives – this odd memory! There was a period of “intensity” during my undergrad studies – right about when Kim and I met – where this memory would suddenly become voracious with its appetite for information, and photographic with its recall. I remember it getting me in trouble on an exam as I had written, verbatim, several paragraphs from the text book in reply to a question. I had an F for cheating going into the discussion with the Prof, where I recited several of the remaining paragraphs to him. I left with an offer to become his research assistant…

As its normal MO, though, my memory will latch on to the most useless information, and make it ready for instant recall. If information is important or requiring more detail? Not so much, anymore. Kim was the one to redirect the memory to complete the details from her own recolleciton. We complemented each other.

But, “Ah, Kim…” It’s like a little prayer. It’s now an expression that contains the sadness, the loss I feel. And it is a constant utterance. Anyone passing by would think I was on the phone admonishing Kim due to its frequency.

Warm weather

It was warm yesterday. It was shirt-sleeves and short pants warm. It was warm, and I didn’t have Kim to walk with me, to hold my hand, to crack the whip at the corner to give me a kiss. I didn’t have Kim out in the yard working on her flowers or vegetables for the coming summer. The firsts are the worst, I guess.

The windows of the house were all opened to allow the breezes to push all of the stale winter air out of the house. And it was breezy – the wind chimes in the yard, given to Kim when her mom passed in August 2019 were singing robustly. The wind chimes on the porch, given to me when Kim passed away in December 2020 are quieter, more “tinkly”, but I could hear them from where I was a the back of the house as well, and it was almost as if they were harmonizing. My beautiful Kim, who never really could carry a tune in life now has a beautiful voice whenever the wind stirs her chimes.

And in this corner…

Every once in a while, some memory from way back will crystallize and hit me like a gut punch. I’ve remembered things like driving out to the musician’s house – a long, confusing drive – to contract him for the wedding; driving to the caterer’s house (which was in the neighborhood behind the Chi-Chi’s where we had the blind date that brought us together) and sitting in her kitchen while we discussed the menu, serving style, and then went over the contract – I even remember her name: it was Carol. And I remember that I really didn’t like her very much.

Those are melancholy memories for me, but they are frequent enough in my recollections that they don’t catch me off guard. Oddly, a memory of being in the kitchen and appliance area of a mall-based store – something to do with a wedding registry- just gave me a mule kick. The memory hasn’t quite come to be clear yet, but I remember enough to know what was going on; parts of it with the absolute clarity of a recorded movie, others still under the haze of the deepest regions of recollection. I specifically remember that this store had two levels, but the second level had two separate sections that were not connected on the second level. I seem to think it was a Hudson’s and suspect it was at Livonia Mall, but that’s just a guess. Could have been Westland or Twelve Oaks, as we frequented those. Might even have been Fairlane.

The last time I recall being in a mall with Kim was late 2014 when we went to the Microsoft Store to buy my Surface, and the time we were at a mall together just prior to that was 2011 after Kim broker her ankle – I took her to lunch at the Cheesecake Factory at Briarwood Mall after she had some appointment or other in Ann Arbor. We used to frequent Westland Mall before 2000 or so. Otherwise, malls were a bit of a rarity – for me, at least.

I’m sure that memory will congeal soon enough, as did the memory of the caterer visit – all the way down to the location of her house and her name. Until then, I’ll have to weather the blows of the individual pieces coming to the surface of my mind, like bits of shipwreck floating up after the vessel has sunk.

(Even as I’m writing this, another memory is fighting its way up – a company picnic for St. Claire Inc. the summer after we married. Cass lake. I remember leaving the apartment to go there. I recall a volleyball game and trying to find a church afterward as we had to go to Saturday Mass due to something happening on Sunday. I remember the church was of the same architecture and construction as St. Mel, my childhood parish…)

They say your life flashes before your eyes before you die. I can attest that the same happens at a slower rate when it’s only half of you that died – when your spouse dies…