Gratitude for a cataclysm

In hindsight, I have to admit that I am grateful for COVID-19.

“What?!” you might say. How could you be grateful for something like a pandemic? Yeah. Odd. But there’s a very good reason: Kim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer 18 April 2020. Due to the pandemic, I had already been working from home for a month at that time. Restrictions made most things regarding her care more difficult, and I had a lot of angst and anger about those things – How cruel it was to receive such news via text and facetime! How heartless that I was not allowed to accompany Kim into the facilities for her procedures and chemo treatments!

But the pandemic did allow me to be home with her, 24 x 7, and still make a living – all the way to the end. And it was also helpful to be at home through the worst of my grieving.

So even in the darkest things, there is a little good to be had. Be grateful in that knowledge.

♪ I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me… ♫

So, it is Family Friday again. Last week, I was at a fundraiser dinner for the New Hope Center for Grief Support, so I wasn’t privy to any plans made then, and the iOS calendar we attempted to create and share is a bust because iOS isn’t letting two of my daughters join the calendar for some reason. Apparently, no one was “on deck,” Jillian, Jeanette, and Vanessa were off to a pageant. What to do? Dad volunteered to do steaks, that’s what.

To prevent it all from being “last minute” and rushed (as it usually ends up for me), I started prepping in between tasks and meetings – it worked out great – I was able to cut the steaks, rub them, and get them into the refrigerator to rest until grilling time, tie the remaining ends of roast together and freeze for another meal, pull together a nice green salad with egg and avocado, whip up a batch of my fat-free vinaigrette to dress the salad, cut onions and mushrooms to serve with the meat, a cucumber salad, and prepare some potatoes for the air fryer! When it came time for dinner, it was very relaxed.

The odd thing: during all of this prep, I would get that “crawling” feeling that someone was watching me. We have an Echo Show in the kitchen, and it is set up to act as a photo frame and rotate several hundred photos I loaded into Amazon Photo. Every time I got that feeling, I’d turn around and look at the Show, and there would be some picture or other of Kim on the screen, her crystal blue eyes looking out at me. In life, she would usually come up behind me to see what I was up to, then hug me around the waist and lay her head on my shoulder. I really miss that. And not just because it is far better than a crawling feeling going up my spine and a picture on the Show.

The Last Graduate

Well! Jillian is officially a high school graduate. The last of our five kids is through high school. Bittersweet. One of Kim’s stated goals, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was to still be able to see her baby graduate. As some of my brothers and sisters have pointed out: she did; albeit not from our earthly vantage point.

On our way to the graduation ceremony, there were beautiful clouds – intricate clouds – in the sky. By the time we got to the school and were situated, the sky was crystal clear. I guess, to my brothers’ and sisters’ point, Kim was clearing her field of view.

It was hot and sunny, and the kids’ families were all relegated to “pods” of six chairs (one for the grad, and five guests), and some of the speakers could have learned from FDR that the tenets of good public speakers are “Be sincere, be brief, and be seated,” but it was a good ceremony – well done.

Afterward, we went to Grandma Sue’s for brunch to find that she and Larry had decorated the house and yard up for a surprise graduation party for Jillian! We grilled burgers, dogs and kielbasa, and had such a good time that we later ordered pizza, and had to purchase “reinforcements” for the cooler! Grandma Sue may not be blood, but she is most definitely family!

Adminstrivia: this post has been sitting in the draft queue for almost a week! Forgot to hit the “publish” button…

Six months out

So, here it is: a milestone. Half a year. It seems both like yesterday and a million years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see her face after she died; how jaundiced she was, but how relieved her face looked. Geddes Road, the path to St. Joe’s we’d taken so often, holding hands and saying our daily rosary, tugs at my heart. The little side trips to Home Depot, or Meijer, or Kroger – just to get out of the house for a while with her. To Michael’s, Joann Fabrics, and Hobby Lobby in search of the material she wanted for her “car quilt” – to keep her warm for the winter chemo trips that never came to be. Our daily – sometimes twice daily – walks through the neighborhood when the weather warmed up. And the side trip to look at the fall colors on the day, 15 October, she’d decided she had had enough of the doctors and the chemo.

I remember the trip we took to Hines Drive 16 October because she wanted pictures with me at the water. We took them with a selfie stick at Nankin Mill and Wilcox Lake, Jillian tagging along with us. On the way home, we stopped at the Dollar Tree store at Joy and Morton Taylor so she could go through the Halloween stuff and look at some candles, candle holders, and wood pieces for her crafting. She had such a hard time moving through the parking lot and through the store. It was shortly after that that she lost feeling in her hands and gave up on crafting altogether. Those purchases are still in a bag on one of the tables in her craft room.

And I remember events from earlier in our life together, both with joy and with melancholy. We had built such a good life together – neither my constant travel for work nor her alcoholism could destroy it (though the latter came the closest, to my perspective). We built a beautiful family. Much to celebrate.

I find that, for the most part, I am at peace with Kim; with my memories of her. I still have triggers, and I still miss her dearly. But I’m at peace.

Everything in and about our lives leads to something else. Everything we have is built from and upon what we had; from our experiences. I would have been ecstatic if the good Lord had seen fit to give Kim a miracle – to give us a chance to grow old together. But He did not. Kim is with Him now, and I am left to grow from the experience of losing her – just as I grew in our life together. Much of who I am today is Kim’s creation, crafted from our experiences together; from our joining of two lives into one, and living that life until half expired. She continues to influence who I am becoming – her memory, the grief. She will always be a part of me, and that part of me will always inform the rest of me.

I love you Kim. I miss you. Thank you for having chosen me, thank you for our family, and thank you for who you’ve made me into.