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.

Memorial Day

Memorial Day. A Federal holiday to honor and commemorate those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Most holidays since 1 December have found me pensive; morose. But today and yesterday are two of the most productive days I’ve had in recent memory – in at least a couple of years! My mood has been mostly great, and my motivation to get things done has been very high. It feels good!

I am sunburnt to a crisp, though. Saturday found us in Frankenmuth for a meeting of a widow/ers group we belong to on facebeook – there, we were to revel at the sight of hot air balloons, planning to take a “tethered” balloon ride. Alas, the weather was cool and I, at least, did not equate the outing with sunburn due to the coolness. As we all know: UV cares not one whit about the air temperature. At least there was a dog festival of sorts – dock jumping, agility, K9, and herding demonstrations going on at the same time to provide some entertainment. So many dogs on-site with no issues! I was amazed!

The outing was a lot of fun, and it was good to put real, animated faces on some of the names I’d been interacting with for the past few months. Unfortunately, the wind was too high for the balloons, and we had left before they started their “test firing” of the balloons at around 9:00 pm for an attempt to fly them on Sunday. The pictures sent by a couple from our group were stunning, though!

We had a great time talking with fellow facebook group members, and then going off on our own to explore the town.

And so it continues

It has been a very eventful month. I’ve met someone. I’m dating. And I’m not the guilt-ridden ball of grief that I was told some become in similar situations. I have some issues, granted, that are based in the fact that I was absolutely exclusive to Kim since the day we met over 33 years ago, but I’m sure those will resolve over time.

My new friend is also a widow, and, as was the woman who threw me an emotional rope in February (for which I will always remain grateful), connected to my high school, of all things. She is not a Borgess alumnus, but her late husband was a year ahead of me there. It is interesting how small the world can be, but also how strange the turn of events can sometimes be. I’m not a big “alumni” kind of guy. I value the friendships and experiences garnered at the schools I attended, but I view them (the schools) more as services that I paid for and made use of rather than something critical to my existence and formation. I’m not one to go to reunions, for instance. Though I have done so once or twice, I’m not big on donating to the schools and universities I’ve attended (particularly since the universities are so bloated and overpriced these days – why do they need donations?). Maybe someone upstairs is trying to change that attitude by bringing me relief from high school? Twice? I’ll have to ponder that a bit.

Anyway, we met for dinner a few weeks back, and spent literally hours talking, much to the chagrin of the waitress. A few days later, she messaged me to go for a walk on a nature trail. We had fun, only became mildly lost on the trails, and had a very long conversation about our losses and our grief – and our healing – on a picturesque footbridge over a beautiful running river while watching a couple of ducks manage their ducklings in the flow. We went out afterward for a bite to eat, and the waiter left us to ourselves because, since we were talking so intently to each other, he felt we had a lot of catching up to do. We’ve been out a few times since, and really enjoy each others’ company.

It’s very odd to both of us how at ease we are in each others’ company; how easily we can talk with each other about pretty much absolutely everything. And, we’re committed to the sentiment that the past is written and cannot be changed; the future is not within our control, so we will live in the moment. For someone whose career depended on planning things in minute detail: it’s refreshing and liberating.

So, what is the “so what?” of this? Things change and improve. Your emotions, your attitudes, your situation – they all change and improve. Have patience with yourself as you are “reborn” after your loss; as you build emotional strength and confidence in your worth as an individual. It is a process that differs in length and intensity for each of us – but it is a most necessary process. Bear with it. Work inside it. Find your strength again.

And, I guess, another “so what” is this: don’t be afraid to reach out to someone. I had been contemplating asking my new friend to meet me for well over a month before I finally did; I would sit down and type out an invitation in facebook messenger, only to delete it. I finally sent that invitation, and it was very much worth the emotional risk and effort. And the worst case? The worst alternative reality was simply one in which she had said “no.” Not a big gamble – when you are ready, please take it. And may you find what I have in the reaching out…

Longer stretches…

It seems I have less and less to say of late. That could be a good thing, or it could be a bad thing. I think good. I’ve definitely come to grips with this new life. That isn’t to say that I don’t miss Kim and that I don’t have occasional tears over her – that is definitely not the case. But I think I have adjusted to it. I no longer fear it. And I’m sort of looking forward to what the future may bring.

I’ve been working alone since Jillian graduated high school. Initially, it was kind of sad – I had gotten used to the sounds of her remote learning classes and walking over to help her with her French and her Pre-Calc homework. But, in a short time: I got used to it being quiet. She still comes down and does things on the first floor, but it is usually later in the morning.

Up until a couple of weekends ago, Jeanette, Jillian, and Vanessa would have been off to pageants, and Kenny would go to work. Normally, I would get up, get ready for the day, and then go off to my mom’s for a visit – escaping the empty house. A couple of weekends ago, though, something went wrong at work, and I had to fix it and ended up spending the day home alone. It didn’t kill me. And I discovered that I was actually quite comfortable with it.

I’ve adjusted; I continue to adjust.

As I wrote to a brother in the Widowers Support Network: Strength will come. Your emotions will be hardened in the forge of grief. Crying is part of that forging. That seems to be the case. Maybe I’m emerging from the deeper parts of the furnace.

Yup. It was the vitamins.

So, a workweek out from eliminating the magnesium from my morning vitamins, and my mood has definitely improved. I even woke up with my alarm today and didn’t snooze it. That, my friends, is significant. So, going forward, no more magnesium. Suspicion has been confirmed; I don’t need to try that again: depression needs no help!

Jillian has completed her finals and her last day of school is behind her. My baby girl is graduating high school. Wow. I’ll miss her sitting at the kitchen table for her remote learning, and listening to her interact with her classes. I’ll miss helping her with her homework, particularly her French and her math classes. Mostly, I’ll miss the comfort her company each week has been to me. Maybe she’ll start college courses soon, and they’ll be remote. That thought is a bit selfish, though: on-campus classes would probably be better for her. And, I know she wants to get a job, too, so there’s that. I guess it’s time for me to put my “big boy pants” on, and learn to deal with being alone for longer periods of time than I’ve experienced to date. It’s not that I never have before – being on vehicle program launch is a lonely gig – it’s that I’ve always had Kim to call or text or IM in those instances. There’s something about just knowing there is someone open to your call no matter what or when that made it bearable; someone who is the other half of your collective whole.

I know it is probably not a near-term thing, but this has brought on thoughts of “What am I going to do with this place?” I mean, it’s already way too much house for the three of us living in it today; when Kenny and Jillian have moved out, what will I do? Even if I were to remarry, this is too much house for two people – and who needs so many guest rooms? Plus, so much is invested into this house – not just financially: over half of my life was spent here. The kids were all born and raised in this house. The first family pets. All the birthday parties, the first steps, the Halloweens, the Christmases, First Communions… the memories. This house and its occupants were my final destination for each and every trip I took for Ford Motor Company, for hunting, or when we vacationed: it is home.

Sigh.

I know I would be happier somewhere outside of Canton, and definitely happier outside of Wayne County. I would love to have a place with water and enough land to hunt and fish as I please and to have room for an out-building to contain all of my tools and hobby equipment. And, getting older, at some point the stairs may become an issue… But this is home, and the thought of leaving is not a pleasant one. I think leaving here would feel like breaking up with someone you love – breaking up badly as you lose all access to it.

Oddly, I’m now thinking of Kim’s wedding gown, stored in the attic…

On a different note, for the past several weeks, I’ve looked up at the clouds I can see passing the patio window where my remote office is set up, and have noticed a cardinal landing on a rail near to it in plain view from where I’m sitting. The rail is the top of the patio gazebo, a few feet from the glass. He usually flies in, directly along my line of sight, coming toward me, and always just as I look up to see the clouds passing by. He lands and looks into the family room as if he’s looking for something before flying off – usually because I’ve gone to the window to get a closer look.

Some say that the cardinal is the sign of a deceased loved one coming to check on you. A comforting thought. I wish, if that’s true, she’d come in and talk for a while.

I miss her.

As I look out my window, I see a hawk wheeling about in front of some incredibly complex clouds and blue skies. Beautiful.

He’d better not eat my cardinal…

I think it’s my vitamins…

I have an issue with chronic tendonitis in my right arm. It first started about 6 years ago, and I’ve had it flare up several times since. Tendonitis can be difficult to resolve, and doubly so when it involves your dominant arm. I’ve tried many of the aids and cures – bands, braces, hot/cold cycling, creams… – to help it resolve over the years with varying degrees of success. One that I’ve read about over and over again is magnesium in combination with calcium. Magnesium has also been studied for its effectiveness as an aid to relieving depression. Sounds win-win, right?

I have a long and illustrious history of having opposite reactions to medications than those expected.

In past bouts of tendonitis, I’ve added magnesium to my daily vitamins. Over time, I’ve felt my mood slipping. I suspected the magnesium, but the tendonitis usually resolved and I got off the mineral before doing any sort of “analysis” of a potential relationship. Besides: every time I’ve searched for a connection between magnesium and depression, I’ve found those studies citing its efficacy in relieving it.

I’ve noted in these pages how my mood was slipping recently. Well, guess what I’ve been taking?

The tendonitis is still active, but Monday morning, I dropped the magnesium from my vitamins. This morning was rough – I’ve been fighting my annual allergy-induced “cold,” and this morning I simply felt miserable. Plus I felt like there was no point getting out of bed – depression. When I finally rousted myself out of bed and went about my day, I noted that my mood seemed to be improving. So much so that, as I write this, I wouldn’t cite “depressed” if someone were to ask me how I am feeling.

This all still could be a coincidence, but, not being a fan of happenstance, I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks, then add magnesium back into the mix for a while to see if this recurs. Once I know for sure, I’ll know to avoid it – this is hard enough to navigate through without being sabotaged by things that are supposed to be helping.

The sinks are sunk

January 3rd, Jillian and I stopped at Home Depot on the way from Kim’s grave and I bought three matching bathroom sinks, two matching faucets, and various other items necessary for swapping sinks out. The sinks sat a few weeks as I gathered myself for the task of installing them, and then I installed the first – an event chronicled earlier in this blog. Since, based on the way the supply lines were valved, it was clear that I’d render that bathroom useless whilst I worked on the other sink, I decided I should put it off until it would just be Kenny and I home, or, better yet: just me. Several opportunities came and went as other things (like the taxes, for instance…) took precedence. Sigh.

This weekend Jillian was going to be out of the house, and I vowed to myself that I would get them done. And now they are.

The decision to put them off, though, turned out to be a good one – getting that first sink to fit the plumbing was definitely a fluke: both of these were off by inches, requiring the drain plumbing to be reworked. This rework, of course, resulted in corollary disasters. It literally took until 0100 Sunday morning to finish the second sink in the kids’ bathroom, having discovered that I cracked a pipe in the trap after having cemented the whole affair together. This discovery occurred well after closing time for any store likely to have replacements. Thankfully: “I are an engineer.” I fixed the pipe with some epoxy putty, and it is certified and verified: leak-free. But: that took WAY more time than I had allotted.

Another time-eater: these new sinks don’t have a clamping feature as the old sinks did – they rely on the adhesive caulk to hold them in place, and adhesive caulk need significant time to cure, and I needed this bathroom back in service as quickly as I could manage. Would not have been a big deal, except for, by the time it mattered, I was tired as hell and every @#$%in’ time I needed to get up from under the sink, I’d forget, reach up, and grab the edge of the sink to pull myself up. I got so good and cleaning up and applying fresh caulk on that sink, that the sink in the bathroom on the first floor looks like it was professionally installed. And, not being half asleep, I remembered not to use the sink to get myself off the ground.

Figuring that I’d seen all of what the high school VoTech plumbers could offer, I planned two jobs for today: the first-floor sink, and the much-hated task of replacing the valves in that bathroom’s toilet – another task whose parts have been sitting around for months awaiting my availability. Well, and this is likely needless to say by now: I hadn’t yet seen all of the wonders this house’s plumbing had to offer. Had I removed the cabinet, it would have been simple. But that cabinet had other ideas, and cutting the pipe to reposition the trap was a piece of cake. Cake made from ground glass and concrete, with plaster-of-Paris icing. There was not enough room to use a string saw and, though the pipe proclaimed itself to be 1-1/2 inches, my 1-5/8 PVC pipe shear wanted to have nothing to do with it. I finally used a bare hacksaw blade to cut it. Good thing I have calluses on my hands like cake made from ground glass and concrete, with plaster-of-Paris icing.

But it’s done. I only have one more plumbing task (that I’m currently aware of) left to do. That’s a good feeling.

As a bonus round, we had been battling stained grout in our master bedroom bath pretty much since the criminals (Bobson Construction) finished their destruction-of-our-home-cum-construction-of-an-addition (honestly: if you need work done on your house, run from these idiots). The grout is very coarse; hardly what you would want in a shower (probably because it was cheap), and it holds mildew like a trash panda holds a chicken bone – you ain’t getting that easily! Until now! While looking for plumbing parts, I found a “Chlorox Bathroom Bleach Foamer” at Home Depot. Holy frijoles! Where has this stuff been?! I “foamed” the most horrid spot in the shower – a compound corner that was impossible to hit with any sort of brush – and it is WHITE again! Nice! I foamed the rest of the shower, and it looks really good! Kim would have been happy to see this – finally – after all the different products we’d tried over the years including Tilex.

During the past few days, I’ve also managed to make significant progress in reducing the clutter in the basement, and in getting my “office” upstairs to useable order. A productive, busy few days. My mood has been… generally depressed …but keeping busy helps me not to focus so much on Kim, and knocking things off that list is a huge relief – especially things I hadn’t really planned on getting done yet.