Larry-Boy and the Angry Eyebrows

Reading through some posts in one of the widower support groups I participate in, I came across one that caused me some puzzlement. It was only one very brief sentence that I focused on “I’m still in the anger phase.”

I never had an anger phase in this, and I don’t know why. So many others talk about how they were angry with their late spouse over their having passed and did things out of anger. I never experienced that. I am not angry at Kim for having been stricken with cancer, and I’m not angry at Kim for having passed. I’m not angry at God for either, nor do I shake my fists at nature. I’m a bit disappointed with one particular doctor who took over for Kim’s oncologist when she left to deliver her baby, but even that has passed. I am curious why, since pancreatic cancer is usually not detected through symptoms until it is terminal, its marker isn’t a regular check within the annual physical most of us have each year – but I suspect this is a money issue, so any anger I may harbor lies with the insurance companies that withhold it. (Isn’t it funny how “every life saved makes it worth it” until it proves expensive, it inconveniences us, or it is politically incorrect?)

So, I wonder if this is something laying in wait for me? Will I suddenly find myself railing against Kim or God over this? And what could possibly occur that hasn’t happened already to cause that reaction?

I honestly think that if I were going to be angry over Kim’s passing, I would have found that anger very early. Rationally, though: I can’t conceive of why I would be.

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.

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.

We shall overcome

When Kim was being lowered into the ground, a friend of ours grabbed me by the shoulders and said two words: “Be strong.”

At first, I was a bit offended by this – how could he, someone who is not experiencing what was tearing me apart; someone whose wife was alive and well, give me that advice? But he was right. I may not have been strong then, but it was precisely what I would need to work to become: strong.

Overcoming grief is like overcoming any other handicap. It takes mettle. It takes will. It takes effort. It is like weight lifting: you start out, and you can only lift a little bit and only a few times. As you work against it, as you practice it, you lift more and more, and more and more times. You build strength. You become strong. If you give up, you never build that strength – and it is strength that you will need.

You do not leave grief behind. It is always going to be a part of you. How big a part – whether a background issue, or a destructive force – is up to you, and your willingness to work to overcome its grip on you.

As anyone with a physical handicap can tell you: it’s hard work, but eventually, they learn to live with the handicap; live despite the handicap – but you have to be committed to that effort. Don’t give in. Don’t let bad days set the tone for your destruction. Keep at it, and you will overcome…

Command of space and time

Many of us dwell on things – both good and bad – that occurred during our marriages. It’s natural. It’s also natural for some that the “bad” incidents cause great remorse, making us wonder what we could have done differently. But remember: you cannot change the past. You cannot command the future. You have only today. So don’t squander it ruminating over past incidents and don’t waste it in trying to force the future to your will. Plan what needs to be planned for maintenance of life and living. And let the past live only in memory; not in the forefront of your thoughts. Lessons of the past can only inform the future; they cannot be changed.

On finding grief groups

In other posts (actually: several), I’ve mentioned how interacting with grief-oriented groups seems to be the key to healing in the short term. I think this is because of the “relief” you find among kindred spirits and with the ability to vent your feelings freely and without judgment – getting a compassionate, understanding reception.

As I put it to a friend in one such group on Facebook, Widowers Support Network, it’s the ability to see that yours are not the only footprints along the path, coupled with the ability to tell others of the scenery along the path that makes the trek less scary; less painful.

If you have not, seek out a group. There are “live” groups you can join and physically go to – check with your church or local hospice. If that’s not for you, try the groups on Facebook – type “widow” into the search box (“widower,” if you want to be more specific) and select “Groups” as the filter and you’ll find several. Some are simple support groups where you can talk to others in similar straits and vent to a compassionate audience. Others are “dating” groups where you can do the same and seek companionship if such is your desire. Some are widows OR widowers; others are widows AND widowers. Regional, religious… you’ll likely find a group that will fit your needs. Most are private groups (all I have seen are, but, as Fats Waller so famously said: “One never knows, do one?”) and will require you to request to join, answer a few simple questions, and commit to following the rules before they’ll let you in.

For widowers, I *HIGHLY* recommend Widowers Support Network. My involvement there has helped me immensely.

Cheers!

Kafka, pt. 2

Yesterday, I related a story attributed to Franz Kafka. There is another point to the story besides that last, powerful statement. That point is that the journey changed the doll – an allusion to the changes life experiences have on all of us – as has the loss of Kim changed me.

Some of the changes we experience during the journey of our lives are physical and obvious. Others are not obvious to those who do not know us well, and these are the deeper changes; the changes of character that life brings about.

It has been said that those who lose a spouse come out of the experience bettered – more compassionate, patient. More understanding and tolerant. The loss and the grief over it batter the rough edges of our character much as the constant waves will smooth the stones on the beach.

Here’s hoping that part of Kim’s legacy is a better man.

Kafka

I came across a story about Franz Kafka, a Czech writer who was born in the late 19th century and died in the early 20th century. The story related something that occurred in the last year of his life. He encountered a little girl who had lost her doll. He and the little girl searched for the doll in vain, and she was quite upset over her loss. Kafka invented a story about how the doll had gotten bored and went off in search of the world. Thereafter, on each day, he would meet the little girl and regale her with tales from her doll’s travelogue. Eventually, he bought a new doll for the little girl. Upon giving it to her, telling her that her doll had finally returned home from its journey, she remarked how the new doll didn’t look the same, to which he told her that the doll’s adventures had changed her.

Cute story. But wait: there’s a bit more.

Years later, long after Kafka had died, the now-grown woman found a note Kafka had written and placed inside the doll. It said:

“Everything that you love, you will eventually lose, but in the end, love will return in a different form.”

Early morning ruminations

I awoke earlier than my alarm, and didn’t want to get up – but didn’t feel like going back to sleep, either. So I just lay in bed with early morning thoughts.

Unlike most couples, though I had the expectation that Kim would outlive me (she always believed she’d go first), we put similar whole-life life insurance policies on each of us such that the house, our most-major monthly payment, would be paid off on the expectation that the survivor’s income would be half of what was coming in. The only manner in which we structured things in case we followed statistical norms is that we had MUCH higher levels of term life insurance on me than on her. (No worries: since Kim left the workforce several years ago, I experienced that halving of our income long ago. We had some tight months due to the single income, but we still lived comfortably enough, so I have few concerns there.)

With all that said, what we couldn’t prepare for is the emotional impact losing your spouse has on the survivor. Knowing Kim’s emotional structure, and as harsh as this sounds: I’m actually glad she went first. If losing me impacted her anywhere near how losing her has impacted me, I think losing me would have destroyed her, exacerbating the issues that triggered her alcoholism in the first place.

As hard as it is sometimes to accept and acknowledge, it is clear that God does have a plan, and that what He allows to occur in our lives is never more than we can handle. I think His plan here, though I do not claim to know His mind, was to strengthen Kim’s and my marriage, and to strengthen the bond between each within our family, and, perhaps, provide final relief for Kim from not just her cancer pain, but from all of the other pains she suffered, including alcoholism. And every situation He inserts us into affords us the opportunity to grow and learn – both in faith and in life.