The swing of it all

Driving my granddaughter to school today, my mind locked on the memory of how Kim would always tell me how “amazing” I was when, faced with some esoteric problem, I’d figure out how to resolve it and implement the fix. I don’t know why, but this memory made me cry. I guess it was self-pity – who will find me amazing now?

Then, driving to pick her up from school, the Luke Combs song Forever After All came on the radio. I don’t know if I just hadn’t paid attention to that song in the past, or maybe that was the first time I’d heard it, but it seemed it was modeled after Kim’s and my life. And it, too, made me cry.

The obvious solution is, I guess, that I can’t drop Vanessa off at school or pick her up…

I can’t determine what seemed to make me so emotionally raw today, unless it was the reduced amount of sleep I normally get on the days I have to drop Vanessa to school, or, simply, that I’ve been feeling “up” for so long now, that the pendulum has begun its descent along its repetitious path?

Time and more experience with this will tell.

In other news, I “graduated” from physical therapy today. They provided me with a few more exercises and sent me on my way after telling me how much they’d enjoyed working with me these past few weeks. As a testament to what they have accomplished, I hit a patch of ice on my way off the porch this evening and did the “Fred Flintstone Dance”; the end of which had me still standing, and keeping my record of never having fallen on the ice at home intact. Thanks, Kelly and Eric!

Tears and Triggers

It’s interesting: I can be in a happy mood, going about my day-to-day, and something out of the blue will choke me up. It doesn’t happen as often as it was initially, but it still does. Little things, mostly – they just sneak up on me and hit a button.

Most of the time, it will be when I’m discussing things about Kim with someone, whether by voice, email, or text. I’ll lock onto some memory or other, and that lump in my throat forms, and the eyes start watering and burning…

I’m back to eliminating the 30 years of tax records from the basement shelves. In the early days, I was a bit slipshod in how things went into the folder, so I’ve had to look at things that have fallen out of my grip. Sam’s, our second dog, adoption receipt. Receipts from the Artist’s Club and Home Shopping Network – two of Kim’s favorites, aside from Valley Vet. Receipts from the kid’s checkups, as our family began to grow. Paystubs, mapping her career from Beaumont to Bottsford, to Garden City Hospital, and, finally, Cardinal Health. Different than the last time, more of these things and the memories that come with them are greeted with a smile, but it’s melancholy happiness they bring. I still feel the urge to run up to her craft room to show her – “Hey! Remember this?”

Another odd thing: I can read these blog pages, and reread them without tears – I do it regularly, correcting typoes, or improving the prose for clarity. But I can’t TALK about them with anyone without breaking down.

This goes hand-in-hand with my conviction that you never truly “heal” from your grief. You grow with it. You learn of it and from it until you can manage the pain.

And then there are good days, too.

Today was interesting. It started as most days following Kim’s death: I get up, I see the empty half of our bed, and I feel the loss. I go about my toiletries because they need to be accomplished. And then I go downstairs and start my day.

Today, after my morning meetings, I had to deliver performance reviews to my team, and get my own from my manager. My team is outstanding, so delivering their PRs was easy – I really enjoy delivering what is universally good news, so it was a good way to spend the afternoon. Of course, in the 360° portion of the reviews, it was brought up time and again how “inspiring” it was that I continued to work through that time; that up until the day Kim passed, I was active in meetings and available to the team. I was honest with them in my response, explaining that it wasn’t as much dedication to my job as it was therapy – something to focus on other than watching my beautiful bride fade away from me. And my performance review was great, too. I am humbled and heartened to know the esteem my management holds me in.

To some degree, today’s experience did cause some introspection, like every experience these days seems to do. Was I too devoted to work and not devoted enough to Kim and kids? My work career was, for the majority of it, “inspired.” I was seen as “high potential” – someone who made things happen – especially at the beginning of my time at Ford. I enjoyed promotion after promotion until I broke into management – and even there, I received an in-series promotion that many of my peers never saw. Several of my peers referred to me jokingly as “the golden one”, coated with Teflon in the way I could have frank discussions – sometimes unflattering discussions – with those many levels above me, and come away unscathed. And I was VERY interested in the climb and would take on unusual assignments and put in long – ungodly long – hours to achieve what I needed in order to be successful in them. All that time, I missed my young, growing family – I was up and gone before they were out of bed, and returned home long after they’d gone to bed. Looking around, I noticed that the most successful around me didn’t seem to have families, let alone family lives. So, I put the brakes on and started turning down the “spotlight” assignments to, instead, ensure more time at home. As karma would have it, though: the job descriptions changed with the needs of the Company, and I ended up spending inordinate amounts of time away from home, anyway. Plus, I was never happy or secure in those jobs, in any case.

Why did I stay? I could easily have left Ford and pursued another career somewhere where the work would have kept me local. I know part of what retained me was the “golden handcuffs” of the pension and the good benefits at the time (they’re really no better than anyone else’s nowadays). Perhaps it was just fear of the unknown – the fear of starting as “the new guy” again. In any case, I guess it is what it is, and I am who I am, and things are as they were to be. Life takes you where the good Lord wants you to be.

But back to today. Today was a good day. There were moments in discussions with some of my team during the reviews when I felt my cheery facade start to crack due to a comment they made or an answer I gave relating to Kim, but, a brief moment, and I had myself under control. Good days like today are a glimpse of that time, that potential when the happy memories crowd out the loss.

Postscript: Family Friday. Oops! I realized in the late morning that we had forgotten all about Family Friday. So, we set a plan in motion for Kenny to construct one of his masterful charcuterie boards on a grand scale – we’d have meat, cheese, crackers, and whatever else he chooses to delight the palate for dinner!

News Flash: Jessica is not feeling well, and will be begging off this week – between not feeling well, and prepping her new house for their move before the end of the month, PLUS helping her beau to pick up his truck from the shop… No Jessie this week.

Oops! Jeanette has a pageant with her daughter tomorrow morning, an hour away from home. She doesn’t want to risk upsetting her digestive tract with cured meats and cheese, so she would like to buy Chinese food for everyone.

Compromise: Kenny assembled a delightful, down-scaled charcuterie board that we all dove into while waiting for Jeanette, who brought in a feast from her favorite restaurant.

And a good time was had by all. It’s a wonder we’re not all bigger than we are.

We think we know

We think we know ourselves. I thought I had learned all there is to know about grief when my dad, with whom I was very close, passed away in 2006. I thought I had learned about recovery from the loss of a spouse, watching my mom all of these years.

I know nothing. Grief at losing Kim teaches me new things every day. Sometimes it’s an overwhelming sense of the ragged, raw hole the living Kim held in my heart; the emptiness there. Sometimes it’s a sense of nostalgic loss as some long-stored memory surfaces; not having Kim to reminisce with. Sometimes it’s a sense of guilt thinking back on something I could have done better; some instance where compassion rather than feeling hurt or angry would have served better for both of us. And sometimes it’s the thought of all that we never did together – shattered plans, dashed on the rocks by a random biological flaw.

Grief has knowledge we cannot conceive of. Grief holds knowledge to which I’d rather not have become privy.

Time keeps on slipping into the future…

Every time I walk past my “work at home” workstation, the corner where, until Friday, Kim’s medical records, our notes, and documentation relative to the equipment used to treat her cancer sat glares at me. It seems so very empty now. Her death certificates, certain insurance, and Social Security information remain, but the binders and folders have been replaced with a For Dummies book on my Christmas present – the first SLR camera I’ve owned in about 20 years – a digital SLR (the last one I owned used this substance they called “film”…) – some notepads, and a pile of religious books I had bought over the last few months – books related to on meeting your loved ones in heaven, purgatory, and things like that (light reading, I guess…)

There still remain many things I have yet to do with regard to settling all the necessary things about her life, but the task list – at least the KNOWN task list – is getting smaller. Some seem so ludicrous in the light of the “life change” we’ve experienced – like going to Sam’s Club to show her death certificate so that I can change my card to the master membership. In the grand scheme of things, it really doesn’t matter much: it’s not a credit card (at least we don’t use it as one), but since each household gets two cards, it would be better to make one of the kids the second card so that it can be used. Getting my own “Kroger Card” so there is no confusion going forward on the credit card continuing for a deceased person, discounts, and “points”… Stuff like that, which the companies that provide them do not seem to have processes to manage such circumstances – at least no processes I’ve been able to ferret out. Most of her other credit cards – those that were in her name with me secondary or not at all (a good practice for all you young ‘uns starting your life together – if *I* were the one who had passed, having the good credit score that resulted from the clean payment records on those cards would have been VERY important to Kim’s future wellbeing!) were for merchants I have no further use for, and I have no interest in continuing a line of credit with those that remain. Those will eventually close due to no activity as I’ll be shredding the renewal cards.

Most of the “important” stuff is done – removal from my work-provided healthcare, removal as a beneficiary to my insurance policy… And then, I’ll be putting everything that’s left into a revocable living trust to make the kids’ lives easier when my time comes.

I will have to dig into her pension with her longest employer – unfortunately, they were “acquired” in recent years, and the issue of her pension is a bit murky. Kim wasn’t good at keeping track of that sort of thing, and, at the time the change took place, I was up to my eyeballs with one of the most difficult launches of my career in a far-away land. Hopefully, I saved the pertinent documentation in a rational place when I was home for a weekend. Best case, it’s in the front closet where I tend to toss all the “benefit” information we get. Second best case, it is stored with the income tax information for that year – a bit more difficult to find, but still better than “random”. Worst case, since I likely wasn’t at home when it came in, Kim squirrelled it away somewhere. We shall see.

And there are the angel statues that were part of Kim’s casket that we retained as mementos for the kids. I have to make mounts for them, which will put me at the controls of a router I haven’t touched in over a decade – the woodworking tools scattered about our home were predominantly Kim’s domain – she’d use them for her crafts. Her scroll saw, one of the first woodworking tools I bought for her, delivered up beautiful shapes at her hand that she would then paint and build into, say, a beautiful autumn display for the porch, or a Christmas plaque, or… For me, it only delivers frustration as, either due to impatience or dumb luck, I can never get it to cut on my line. Give me a jigsaw, circular saw – or even the bandsaw – instead!

Which brings the memory of the lathe laying in pieces in the garage since the day it was purchased. My brother had a nice lathe, and, WAAAAAY back in the day, he and I would drink some beers while turning silly little top-like shapes that Kim would turn into Christmas ornaments to sell at the craft shows she so enjoyed participating in. She loved those things so much that when her dad reported that one of his neighbors was selling a lathe and all the tools for it, she begged me to buy it for her. I did. And then I never found time to build the stand it would need to become useful. She never complained about that – maybe because she had enough to keep her occupied with all of her other tools, or maybe because she had forgotten it existed – but there it still sits, at least ten years now. More likely 15 – I honestly don’t recall. I guess that could qualify as a regret.

There are a few of those – regrets – looking back. Lots of instances where I wish I had responded differently to situations between Kim and I; to put her ahead of me. PLENTY of instances where I wish I could have resolved myself to understand, accept, and offer comfort, rather than be hurt by, or to rail against, the conditions or situation. I wish I had the understanding of certain of Kim’s conditions that I only developed late in our marriage. Almost too late for them to be a comfort too her. Just barely in time for at least one of them – a very important, elephant-in-the-room condition that Kim suffered with for about 20 or so of our 31 years – before the cancer diagnosis radically altered everything.

Again, we did become very close during her final 7 months. A death sentence like a stage 4 pancreatic cancer diagnosis is almost miraculous in how it will refocus you. Unfortunately, though: it is also terminal, so it is a refocusing that comes too late. Please, if you’re half of a married couple, hunker down and refocus yourself before life convulses and wrests that control away from you; before it takes away your time. You’ll have to do this often. I know when I took the time – and effort – to alter how I responded to things during our marriage, over time, I would slip back into my old ways. And it is each of those periods of regression that haunt me now.

Packing things away.

So, I’ve had several binders of records on my “desk” that grew from one thin binder to two three-inch binders and several folders of various construction as we travelled along on what they called Kim’s “cancer journey.” (I hate that colloquialism; particularly when applied to pancreatic cancer. A journey toward what? A precipice?)

Today, I went into the attic, got a box, and put them in it. Page after page of information, research, meeting records, logs… Painful memories. There remains a bag from the funeral parlor containing the sympathy cards sent to us at and after the funeral, and, of course, the prayer cards, guest book, and remaining “thank you” cards from her funeral. The former simply wouldn’t fit in the box; the latter? I’m not sure what to do with them.

This is part of my grieving process, I guess. I promised myself that I wouldn’t make any changes to the house immediately, and I didn’t. As I go about my life after Kim, things that need to be dealt with come to the fore, and I’ve been dealing with them, one by one… These records. Her toiletries in our bathroom. Useful items still in her nightstand and other places that the kids can use…

Still other repositories of Kim’s stuff remain – and among them, there remains two veritable elephants: her clothes, and her craft supplies.

Long before she passed, but shortly after Kim received the diagnosis, she went through her closet and pulled out clothes that she knew she no longer needed or wanted. These remain in a rather tall box in our bedroom. I haven’t the heart yet to go through them. She also went through her craft room, organizing and cleaning. This struck me as odd because it was just like the “nest cleaning” she would perform a week or two before the imminent arrival of one of the kids back in the day. Maybe it’s the same? Maybe it was her “rebirth” into His kingdom she was preparing for? Or, maybe both were just a means to occupy the mind and body while waiting; dealing with the near-certainty of death. I don’t know.

And I don’t know why dealing with these things – this “stuff” – is so hard for me. She’s not coming back. She has no use for them. Few, if any, of her clothes would fit any of our daughters. Some of it goes all the way back to when we were dating.

And the piles and piles of cloth and other crafting supplies – who will use them? I don’t think I will – though I will maintain her equipment, frankly, I don’t know when I’d have the time to learn how her embroidery machine works – or, for that matter, any of the other equipment she would use regularly. Maybe the girls might.


I’m not alone, facing this Matterhorn. I know that widows and widowers throughout history have faced the same. That knowledge gives neither confidence nor purpose for the task. The knowledge also gives no solace.

So, I’ll make a label for that box of records, and I’ll put it on a shelf in the basement. I’m not sure why. Maybe I’ll know why a few years down the road, but it seems like the thing to do rather than discarding them. And then it will be on to the next after-Kim task that suddenly commands my attention with inexorable compulsion.

And this, too, shall pass…

Grief is an odd thing. It comes over you in waves, like a storm surge. But as with a storm, those waves subside. Occasionally, after the storm, a large wave will still come to the shore, swamping everything it touches – but most of the waves are smaller over time. And anniversaries of life events – that first date, engagement, marriage, birthdays, death – and holidays are like the tides, bringing surges in at regular intervals.

Most events pass through our lives like ships through the water. Some leave a wake that quickly flattens and disappears. Some: no wake at all. Others pass through like an ice skate cutting lines in the ice. The edges of those lines are sharp and painful, but over time, with wear and warmth, the edges become less defined, rounder – less painful – until they finally disappear.

The death of a spouse is like a craftsman cutting a line in glass. The edges will only dull with time and wear. But they will dull.

Our wedding anniversary was 30 December. It was not as hard as I had expected it to be, so soon after Kim’s passing. Christmas and New Year’s Eve were actually a lot harder. Someone said that the day would be a sad day for me, but I had to disagree – it was still a happy day; the day Kim and I started our life together and our beautiful family.

And that family – our five kids and our granddaughter – are probably the reason why my grief is not the dominating factor in my life after Kim. They buoy me up. They surrounded me from the start, having implemented “Family Friday” immediately after Kim’s diagnosis. A new tradition in which one of the kids is the designated “chef du jour” and concocts a meal for the whole gang that they bring to Kim’s and my house where the whole family gathers to eat and make merry. Some of those events lasted into the wee hours; some just a few hours. Every one is a wonderful gathering for us all.

Kim really enjoyed those Fridays, and we wondered why it took her imminent departure for us to make that tradition. A tradition that, so far, we are continuing.

The kids gathered in force and went to the funeral parlor with me to make arrangements for Kim. They helped choose her casket (Kim wanted a white one with gold trim), vault, and the clothes she would wear into eternity. They surrounded me and were my strength during the viewing, the funeral mass and interment. My son set up shop on my kitchen table and worked from my home every day until Christmas. My daughter took over the Christmas shopping and decorating so that there would still be Christmas in our home as my heart just wasn’t into doing any decorating this year (though I did eventually pull out three of Kim’s homemade decorations and put them on display).

Even today, I can count on one or more of them to come up from behind and give me a supportive hug, or to just be around, keeping me company.

I can’t imagine what this would have been like had I no children.