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.

A well-beaten path

That I’m not the first to have walked the empty path of widowhood is not lost on me – the floors are well-worn. I personally have known many who have lost their spouses at various junctures of life. What was lost on me in the past was the pain and torment of having lost your life partner. I sincerely apologize to all those I’ve known with whom I didn’t adequately empathize. I simply didn’t know.

And therein lays a lesson to me and others walking the well-trod path of widowhood. They don’t know. They can’t know. They have nothing with which to compare this loss. When their advice and platitudes seem unbearable, remember this point: They. Do. Not. Know. Moreover: you cannot teach them, nor adequately explain what you are feeling for them to empathize.

It can be hard, but have patience. It’s far better to endure the irritation that comes of it than it is to burn bridges.


Feeling how I’ve felt since Kim’s diagnosis: how did she feel? This is a thought that nags at me. Knowing the ultimate outcome, how did she keep her spirits up as she appeared to do? I know there were a lot of “last times” she rushed for – cream of celery soup (there’s an interesting story there), her deceased mom’s macaroni and cheese with tomatoes, lots of walks with me – something we loved to do, but something that, prior, things always seemed to interfere with. Walks with Jillian through the nature trails. Visiting her horses. Finishing the quilts she had planned for the kids’ Christmas presents. And finishing her own lap quilt for those winter chemo appointments that never came to be. So many things to do.

During our remaining time, I would generally be up and about between 6 and 6:30 to prepare for my work-at-home day. She would usually not be up before 8:00. Sometimes earlier, sometimes later – it depended on when she went to bed, and that depended a lot on her medications and chemo cycles.

Our means of communication when she woke up and needed help was text messaging. Usually things along the lines of helping her dress after a shower, helping put her shoes and socks on – stuff like that, because bending down wasn’t easy with the ascites, and putting socks and shoes on wasn’t easy with the swelling in her legs. Sometimes there were other issues I’d have to help her with, but the majority was pretty mundane. Through all of that time, I can only remember a handful of days where she said she felt depressed, or she wanted to cry. Me? My emotions were raw, and I would break down often, especially when discussing hospice, funerals, gravestones, and the like. (We prayed and prayed for that miracle, but we prepared for the event it was not received. I guess that’s how it’s done.)

Did Kim internalize her grief? I hate the thought of that; of her torturing herself over it in silence. Once you go through a bout of clinical depression, you build incredible empathy towards those doing similar. Kim had depression issues for much of our marriage, intensified, if not brought on by, my globe-trotting career.

Depression makes you feel trapped and hopeless. Knowing someone you love is depressed, and not knowing how to help pull them out of it leaves you feeling helpless and useless.

Oh – that cream of celery soup. That was about a week after Kim’s diagnosis, during all of the COVID grocery store frenzy. Kim wanted cream of celery soup. Ever since I’ve known her, one of her favorite comfort foods was cream of celery soup with wide egg noodles.

So, I went out to get her some. Store after wiped out store and nobody had it. I stopped, finally, at the local Busch’s Market. No soup. I was beaten. I walked into another aisle, praying “God, please! Kim wants this. Please let’s not disappoint her!” On an impulse, I went just one more time down the soup aisle, and, lo and behold: the rack now had two full rows of soup. I picked a can up, and sure enough: Campbells’ cream of celery! I grabbed all of them, and a couple of bags of wide egg noodles, and checked out…

Do you believe there’s a God in heaven that hears our prayers? I do. I don’t claim to know His mind – for instance: why would He help me find Kim’s soup, but not answer our prayers for a cure? – but I know He’s there, and He’s listening. He shows up in little ways sometimes.

A day in the life…

Saturday! A day to sleep in. I managed an additional couple of hours in the sack, but, then, “brain things in my head” started up, and I got up. Part of the reason may be that I have the thermostat set the same for Saturday as on weekdays, and, when the heat kicks on, it just gets too darned hot to sleep. I guess I should spend a little time with it and reprogram it. Too, I should figure out how to make the dagnabbit Apple watch not go off to wake me up for work on Saturday. I mean: since I don’t work on Saturday.

Maybe later…

Normally, Jillian runs to my mom’s with me on Saturday, but I don’t think she’s quite feeling 100%. Jeanette had bronchitis and laryngitis, and I think she gave it to Jillian and me – I’ve got a sore throat, congestion, runny nose, and headache, and Jillian was complaining of a sore throat. So, I had to be sure to leave my mask on while I was with mom. It ain’t COVID, but bronchitis is *not* what mom needs right about now…

I spent a good 4, 4-1/2 hours with her today, not doing anything really more than being there. She likes the company, even though she has 24-hour caregivers. Oh, and I fixed the coffee drawer. And made her a tuna-salad sandwich.

I discovered one of her caregivers’ boyfriend passed away a couple of weeks before I lost Kim, so I was able to have a conversation with her about grief and dealing with it. She’s a youngster and really torn up over it. Funny, though: I’ve talked with her several times before, and you’d never have guessed that that recent tragedy was with her. My mom has a way of opening people up, I guess. I hope our conversation helped, but her’s is just like mine: lines cut in glass – it’s going to take a lot of time to wear those edges down to where they don’t hurt. My heart goes out to her.

At home, I helped Kenny carry a press he bought down to the basement and then set to work finishing up a purpose-built, heavily insulated shipping box in order to send a couple of packages of Kowalski hot dogs back east for my sister. I guess you just can’t get good Polish hot dogs on the east coast – the Philistines!

One thing I noticed: the congestion that is coming with this cold (or whatever) is wreaking havoc on whatever is going on with my right ear! My balance has been horrible, and I had to catch myself more than once on the stairs. I guess I’ll be like Fred Sanford – “I’m coming to join ya, Kim!” as I cartwheel down the stairs one day.

Ah, well. Not today. I guess He still has more he wants to do with me.

I guess I’ll log into work and approve my team’s timecards. Then, I think I’ll go to bed…