Some days you feel like a…

Yesterday was an emotionally terrible day. I felt like a hollow man. Nothing seemed to have any value or meaning to me. Many things conspired against my mood, making it seem to me as if any elevated mood I had up to then must have been just a masterful fa├žade. Just felt empty.

The first day after the end of a pleasant vacation with Sheila, my girlfriend. First day back to work. Counseling and consoling some around me. But I think it was that I had none of the close companionship I had enjoyed on our trip since last Wednesday. None of the feeling of “normalcy” that came with it.

But today, I have a fresh perspective. I’ve clawed my way most of the way up from that pit, and have been able to label those things that caused that (thankfully) brief slide into deep depression.

I have most of my clocks set to display time in 24 hour format. This is a reminder to me that each new day is also a new beginning; a new opportunity to live. Each day as the clock moves from 2359 to 0000, I try to push all that I’ve gathered from the prior day out and start anew. Successful all the time? Absolutely not – but it gives me perspective. And it is that perspective that lets me heal myself from such dark, troubling days.

Sorry if yesterday’s post scared anyone.

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…

Marker is set

Upon arriving at Kim’s grave after Mass today, I found that they have installed the marker and have planted grass seed over her. The marker is in place. This put my emotional state into a power dive. Odd. She’s been gone almost 5 months, yet the marker being set lends such an air of finality. It’s as if seeing it in the ground, my mind says “Yup. It’s not a mistake. You’re not dreaming. She’s gone.”

I keep remembering little things. Our first campout with Jeanette over the 4th of July with a dog who was terrified of fireworks and a brand new tent that leaked in the rain. Stopping at Busch’s in Pinckney after Mass on a camping outing probably 10 years later to pick up a few things we had forgotten – it was my first visit to a Busch’s store and I remember marveling, to Kim’s flustered enjoyment (she wanted to get her things and get out of there…), at the variety of produce and cheeses and breads… Our many trips to the lake lot both before and after we were married – BC: Before Children – return often. Like the time we went out fishing on my birthday in the boat we’d bought that summer… My mind rebels at each one. “How can it possibly be over? How could this have happened?” And I remember her in her bed that last day, dead. How I woke at 2:48 am on that Tuesday morning, ostensibly because I had to use the bathroom, but I think I must have sensed her passing – she was still warm, even her fingers. How I wish she could have had a miracle – even as “bad” as life with her seemed to be prior to her diagnosis, struggling to cope with her alcoholism and depression, it was still better than I find this life without her to be. The desolation that often swamps my thoughts, no matter what I may have to look forward to or to be grateful for is… paralyzing. I know my family doesn’t understand this paralysis, this disdain for being dragged out of the house – my sanctuary.

I wonder how often my psyche will take these dives? This one has been settling in for some time and doesn’t seem to be alleviating. Not even cloud gazing makes me smile at the moment. I just feel so lost. When I get like this, I just want to be alone, but I fear being alone will only deepen the depression, and I never again want to go into that particular pit.

I pray that those reading who have not lost their spouse don’t. And for those who have, you can probably expect this emotional rollercoaster I’ve been on to be yours as well. It has been better. I expect it will be better again. and I’m hoping that these valleys become less frequent as this voyage through loss continues…

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…

Volunteering…

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!

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.

Accomplishments…

A few things off the list, and some unplanned accomplishments as well. Jillian has been to the doctor for her physical. The cabinets for beneath the workspace in my “office” are completed, and the packaging has been done away with. And Jessica’s dining room set has been picked up from the store and delivered to her humble abode.

I find that waiting in a doctor’s office for someone else remains problematic; brings back too much. And that makes me a bit surly. Or maybe it’s their sheer illogic in their particular application of socialist distancing. Don’t know. I just know my mood was severely off from the moment we went to wait for Jillian to finish.

Upon arriving home, I went immediately up to my “office” to sort through the big bin of books that ended up in there. A large number of them were old textbooks from Kim’s and my undergrad studies. Good as references, but not much else – they hit the recycle bin. The remainder – Piers Anthony, Kurt Vonnegut, Stephen King, Dean Koontz, V.C. Andrews… – I offered to Jessica, and she quite literally pounced on them. In this age of Kindle and other e-readers – I’ve been reading on electronics since Mobipocket was a thing on Palm Pilots. Though I respect books, I no longer have a need for them in paper form, and they are just one of MANY things laying about to add to the clutter that has made me nuts from time immemorial.

Following that great adventure, I began moving the parts for the remaining cabinet upstairs to put together completing the whole task just in time to help Jessica with her dining room set. Back home to make dinner for Jillian, Vanessa, and me, clean it up, and then help Kenny to update his resume.

A full day. All the activity and knocking things off my list improved my mood over the mood I had this past weekend. And now, I can start organizing my tools and supplies into the cabinets, further reducing that clutter. All good!

So, again: when in a pit, look up. There is always that circle of light, and there are invariably things hanging down by which to pull yourself out. Am I a chipper happy camper now? No. Not by a long shot. But I’m not the emotional void I had become by Sunday.

Adrift

Sometimes, it feels like I’m drowning. Like I’ve been pulled beneath the surface and am simply taking on water. When this feeling hits, frustration with whatever I’m doing ensues, and I just want to explode – let it all out in a big Shrek-like roar.

Neither option is available to me at present – neither holding it in nor letting it go in that manner would be healthy for me or any around me. I’ll have to find a healthy vent, because “just keeping busy” isn’t working anymore. I keep busy by adding things to the list. The drowning feeling prevents me from focusing on anything properly, resulting in just another incomplete project on the heap of things to do, which increases the suffocating stress.

And then there are outside influences – the demands of the parents, the poor performance of my mom’s healthcare team requiring that those of us in Michigan spend extra time with her because the company doesn’t manage their personnel well – we’ve been having multiple incidents where there was no coverage, and their management is, frankly, ineffective. Having to spend extra time with mom seems innocuous enough, but it, too increases that stress and that pile of things not getting done, and carries stress of its own due to mom’s condition and the things that I cannot do for her if needed.

Sigh.

Life, in general, doesn’t stop, even if mine seems to have.

First date

Today is the anniversary of our first date; its first occurrence after losing Kim. I expected it to be a hard day, and, so far: it’s delivering. Everything so far has been tinged with sadness, and I’m afraid for the first time since she left that I might be slipping into depression.

Part of this, I think, is that I’m no longer having the regularly scheduled interfaces with real, live human beings that were occurring with my vestibular therapy. I may need to seek out a “grief group” or some other means of regular social contact. But, on the other hand, if it is not an “enforced” thing like the PT was, will I feel motivated to leave the house? Catch-22: two opposing manifestations of my grief response – a need for social contact, and a reluctance to leave the house…

A change at work isn’t helping, either, with recent shifts of management. Based on those changes, I fear the “people first” attitude that has prevailed since I joined this department last January is going to be a thing of the past. Hopefully, I’m wrong.

Doran, Kim’s oldest brother, is in town and will be stopping in this afternoon. Maybe that will perk me up.

In any case, and as always, I rely on these words to pull me through today and to help me to find a bright spot: Jesus, I trust in You.

Busy day.

From end to end, this was a pretty busy day. Besides my usual day of “work from home,” I had the added task of the exercises given me by the physical therapist yesterday. And I opted to make a fresh loaf of Italian bread to go with the chicken noodle soup I had planned for dinner – using the remains of the rotisserie chicken we had yesterday. After dinner, I finished the installation of the sink I started replacing Sunday in the kids’ bathroom. The old one was porcelain over metal, so the overflow was bare metal inside. After over 30 years: rusted out. And it was Garbage Day – a weekly holiday where I get to purge all the garbage that has built up during the week, as well as get rid of some of the “I can fix thats” that have accumulated around the house over the past 30 years.

The sink. I’d swear sometimes this house was built as a first-time VoTech project by some high school kids with limited supervision. There is absolutely no compliance in the drain plumbing for that sink. I put the sink in place Sunday afternoon, originally planning to let the adhesive caulk cure overnight, and finish it on Monday. Best laid plans, and all that. Here it is Wednesday. In any case, the adhesive caulk is nicely cured, and no chance of the sink slipping around as I connect the plumbing. The tailpiece is just about 1/4″ off-center to the PVC plumbing kludged together by the high school kids, but it’s plastic, and there is a fairly large and compliant rubber doughnut between it and the bottom of the sink. Should be a piece of cake.

Nope. The tailpiece tilted enough to allow water to bypass and drip down the side of it.

Ordinarily, I would have had few qualms about taking some measurements, running up to Home Depot, and putting together a collection of PVC fittings that would make it work. Ordinarily. There hasn’t been “ordinarily” since early 2020. All I wanted was for this task to be done. So I took it apart, packed more putty onto the top of the tailpiece, threaded it back on, and then strong-armed the fittings together and wrenched on that tailpiece until the drips stopped. Maybe tomorrow, I’ll hit some of the PVC with the heat gun to “relax” the set-up a bit. Maybe not. I guess it will be good enough since I’ll likely be ripping that bathroom out and replacing everything within the next few years, anyway. 1970s Harvest Gold is hard to find replacement parts for these days… Plus, I’d like to redo all that plumbing so that it at least LOOKS planned.

What does this have to do with life after my darling Kim? A few things, I guess. One, I don’t have my help-mate anymore. She wouldn’t have been shoulder-to-shoulder with me under the sink, but she’d be there to hand me this or hand me that. And she loved going to Home Depot with me to look at different things and dream of them in our home while I sorted through the aisles for whatever I needed to complete the current project at hand. She called them our “Home Depot Dates”, telling the kids “I’m going with your dad on a date to Home Depot.” It all started maybe 16 or so years ago while out on our wedding anniversary date, I asked if it would be OK if we stopped at Home Depot to look at something first. The trips were never a big deal, and we rarely came home with one of those dream items, but it was one of “our things”.

Making dinner, she’d be there telling me how good it smelled, or filling the role of guinea pig for the first taste of some new concoction I’d have dreamed up. Or she’d simply slip in behind me and give me a big hug around the waist laying her head against my shoulder as I worked at the sink. I always loved those hugs, but I never appreciated them the way I do now that I no longer get them.

Even sitting at my “work-from-home” workstation, she’d come up from behind and give me a hug and a kiss on the cheek while I was in meetings. She called it “harassing me.”

I guess we hugged a lot. Nothing wrong with that. If you’re reading this, take my advice: go find your significant other and give them a hug. Relish it. Relish every one. Store them up. Because honestly: you never know when that hug you just gave or received may be the last. Shoot: give them a kiss, too. The same goes for kisses.