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.


So, I’ve been waxing eloquently on my “technique” to move forward, to get back to a happier state of mind. And then I stumble upon this TEDx talk that has pretty much validated my method: Grief Is Not A Life Sentence, now in the Blogroll and Links menu to the right.

Here are a few others that followed, again: all TEDx talks. These have not been added to the Blogroll, but they are interesting talks for those of us who have lost a spouse – or, frankly, any other loved one.

Frankly, I’m amazed to discover so much “meaty” information on grief, and that it is a frequent subject of TED talks – something I found… shocking. But, at the same time, I found comfort and validation in them. Watching a few of these, YouTube will determine your interest and provide many more. They are all good, and provide you with more ammunition in facing – and, most importantly: growing beyond – your loss.


Grief does not define me

I have been interacting a lot with other widowers on the facebook Widowers Support Network group. Some have been widowed a lot longer than I have; some not even as long. I try to help console those who are in need of it, pass along things I’ve learned about what one needs to do after one’s spouse has passed, and give advice where it makes sense for me to do so.

The number one thing I keep finding myself saying to these other men, sometimes not in so many words, is “Don’t let your grief define you.”

We will all grieve, each in our own way, and each at our own intensity – that’s just nature. We’re all different. But I found there are things that work to help take the edge off of the emotion. First among these are: get out. Interact with people. Be as cheerful and outgoing as you can manage. Not only does this attract people to you, giving you company and taking your mind off your loss – if even for the briefest moment – it also retrains your mind to be, well: cheerful and outgoing!

I’ve been trying to be as upbeat and positive with people I encounter as I can. My number-one testbed has been at my physical therapy sessions, twice each week. I am repeatedly told how much they enjoy my presence there, and that they are amazed at my frame of mind. I even made a new friend of one of them, and am sharing my collection of motorcycle skills books with him. There may be a few rides in the summer to practice what he’s learned with him, too (the Harley brotherhood is a strong one…).

Those of you who have been reading along know that this hasn’t always been my frame of mind. Up until last Saturday, I was having one hell of a time just motivating myself to go out the front door. It took some effort. I went out. I did things and, in doing so, had to work with other people. Plus, I’ve been in physical therapy a couple of weeks, so the impact of my “mind game” wasn’t immediate. The key seems to be taking those steps, framing your mood to present to others, and then sticking with it.

At first, I would still choke up now and again, just thinking that “Last time I was here, I was with Kim.” or “This was Kim’s favorite place.” But, with more excursions, it became easier to do those things and go to those places.

Am I still grieving over my loss of Kim? You bet your sweet… bottom dollar I am. But I’m no longer willing to let it define me. I want the memory of Kim to be something I smile over. Her last few weeks may never elicit that smile, but I note again that she smiled when she passed. I will always remember that as indicating something good for her. That she was at peace and on her way to happiness. See? You can even find something positive in the most negative situation – I was smiling as I remembered her last smile.

I have had the best mood I’ve had in over a year these past few days. Opening yourself up to others like this is a risk, true; however, it sure seems to work. Try it. It may help you attain some sense of normalcy, too.

Lots going on

Sometimes you have one of those days that everything seems to happen at once. Today is one of those days. Sometimes on those days, certain aspects just “come together” for you. It was one of those days, too!

I’m still wrapping up some of the financial issues that come about when your spouse passes away. That activity sometimes requires notary service. Ordinarily, you just pop into your bank or credit union,. and request it – not so in the age of COVID: you have to make an appointment to get it done. So, I had that.

For better than a month, I’ve been planning to send some Kowalski natural casing hot dogs east to my sister – apparently, they can’t get them there. The document I needed to notarize also needed to be next-day shipped via UPS, prepaid.

I had vetibular therapy today, and it is right next to the grocery store where I have been unsuccessful for the past several weeks in getting some dry ice to pack the hot dogs in. They had it today.

All of that, plus my normal work schedule, literally consumed the day from early morning until 3:30 pm.

My trusty iPhone 8 plus has ballistically met the floor too many times and is beginning to fail in ways beyond what I can tolerate, so I bit the bullet Monday and bought a replacement for it. THAT arrived today, so a major swath of the day was consumed in prepping for its use. iPhones are a bit notorious for giving issues transferring your photos to a pc. Mine decided to follow this route. More time consumed parsing the photo and video files to determine which one was causing the file error every time I tried to copy them over.

I bought a roast Saturday with the intent of making the kids a batch of jerky. It’s Wednesday, so that had to be done.

Finally, if you haven’t noticed in any of my writings, I’m a wee bit on the religious side. Tonight started an online bible study on the gospels of Mark – my first, true bible study since the 80s when I had temporarily walked away from the Catholic church.

That’s a lot of activity packed into one day.

Add to this that the mother of my friend is having complications after surgery, and my own mother was taken to St. Joe’s with what appears to be a repeat of an infection that devastated her in September…

When it rains it definitely pours.

All of this gave me little time to think about Kim, though I managed to do so, anyway. Certain happy, and certain melancholy remembrances surfaced. But, I have to say that I think happy recollections outnumbered the sad today. I think that’s a first since she passed.

Do I think I’m not going to have empty, lonely, sad, sad, sad days in the future? Certainly not. Do I think I’m making progress in my growth and healing? Most definitely. And to what do I credit this? I think writing of my experiences helps me – even some of the mundane stuff, like how busy today was. Moreso, I think my involvement in the Widowers Support Network contributes as well. It’s a place that I can talk about the things that are bothering me and get the perspective of a couple thousand other widowers in various stages of grief – but it’s also a place where I can give others my perspective; where I can try to console others – and I think it’s that last bit that helps me more than any other.

I’m no fan of facebook, but if you are a widower, I highly recommend this group. Search for Widowers Support Network – Members Only. It is primarily for widowers, but they also invite men who are the caregivers of their terminally-ill spouse. Frankly, I don’t think I would have found the time to interact with them when I was Kim’s caregiver; however, I sure could have used their support at the time. Check them out.


Part of healing is being honest with ourselves. And, sometimes, being honest with ourselves can be more painful than confronting the loss we’ve suffered.

I loved Kim, plain and simple. I still do. That love for Kim kept me with her through the terrible experience of her alcoholism, despite my pragmatic brain telling me that the better thing for the security of my family may have been to divorce her and separate the risk of her potentially having a terrible accident while drunk from the family’s livelihood.

Yes, many times I considered that I should do that, but I still remembered the version of Kim before she succumbed to that disease and had hope that she might return to that state. I know she had been clean and sober for a period of three years after the onset of her alcoholism and prayed and hoped she’d find the strength to be clean and sober once and for all. Plus, as most spouses of alcoholics will tell you: I blamed myself to a large degree for her condition. I could always point to things on my side of the fence – my job, my “perfectionism,” my community involvement, my hobby cycle, and the collections of “stuff” it resulted in (it used to drive Kim nuts. As she put it to me: “You get interested in something, you dive into it with your whole being, master it, then get bored with it and move to the next.”). That tempered any action I may have taken. Plus, as I told her dad one particularly bad December a couple of years back when he was worried I’d reached the end of my rope: I’m just not wired that way.

But Kim was an alcoholic. My hopeful brain referred to her as a “recovering alcoholic”, and I knew that she did try, but the plain fact was that, up until the diagnosis, she was constantly drinking with few respites. The understanding of her condition I commented on in an earlier post refers to this alcoholism. I would become furious with her over it, and the hidden, wet beer cans stashed wherever she was drinking when she thought she’d be caught. I never really voiced this fury with her, but I know she could tell.

Early on, I would pull the cans out of their hidey-holes and stack them up prominently where they were found, hoping to embarrass her into stopping. I tried pleading with her, warning her that it would eventually kill her. I tried pointing out things that were great and convincing her to quit. I tried just leaving her be and hoping that would get her to stop. I tried everything that experts on alcoholism say everyone who loves an alcoholic tries, but which invariably do more harm than good. Finally, I just accepted it and did my best to boost her up when I could see her mood swing to more depressed. But, within mere months of that acceptance, her diagnosis came, and it was that which finally ended the drinking. Don’t ask me how or why, but she was absolutely sober for the rest of her life.

In any case: I made a promise, and I kept it, just as she kept the promise she made me by staying by my side when most of my contemporaries ended their marriages in divorce due to the loneliness that comes with your partner being on the road more than home. And, frankly, that promise was a lot easier for me to keep than it would seem, reading only the preceding paragraphs. Kim wasn’t evil. She wasn’t hurtful or unloving. She simply had a problem.

So, if you are going through something similar, know that it is not your fault; you are not the cause. Know that it is not within your control. Like the cancer that took Kim’s life, alcoholism is the result of a biological flaw. Take heart in knowing that beneath it all remains that person whom you love. If you need to break off the relationship for your safety, sanity, or security, no-one will blame you. But know that when that person’s end finally comes, either due to the alcohol, or, as in my case, due to something else, you will likely grieve just as I am grieving today. You probably won’t remember that troubled version of the person you loved as much as the other, earlier version.

Getting out

Today conspired to drag me back to normalcy. Or I did.

Leaving the house literally takes effort. All things held equal, I would be content to sit at home, working on whatever needs working on. Generally, when I go out, I have my youngest, Jillian, for emotional support. She likes to get out and gives me the incentive to move my butt out the door.

Some things don’t seem to take effort – doctors appointments, “vestibular therapy” appointments – but the mundane…. it takes effort to go out for those things.

So, I went to see my mom. All by myself. I’ve done it before since Kim’s passing, but it didn’t end well – a few of my grand nephews and nieces, the oldest among them about 7, were visiting her, and they were kicking their heels up a bit. The noise and activity caused INCREDIBLE anxiety, and I had to leave. I couldn’t take it. This was two weeks after Kim’s funeral, and I guess it was to be expected, but I don’t think I’ve been to see mom without Jillian at my side since. This week, Jillian had something to get done for her pageants, and I had to go by myself. And I did. And had a good visit.

This done, Phase 2 of my day went into play: getting to confession. I like to go on the first Saturday when I can, but I missed the first Saturday in January for whatever reason. I felt I needed to go, so I did. It wasn’t the usual priest, whom I like very much, but a very affable older priest who made a conversation out of the experience. I very much enjoyed talking to him, and, knowing that I was grieving, he gave me some very compassionate and helpful advice on my progress through my grief, and advice to not beat myself up too much over the things I’d done that were troubling me.

Then, the big one: trying to “fix” our Sam’s Club membership. Kim had the master membership, so I needed to put the master in my name. I grabbed both of our cards and a death certificate, girded my loins, and made my way there. We were unsuccessful, the service desk attendant and I, because Kim had the membership tied to a credit card, and had it set for auto-renew, so I need to get ahold of the credit card company before trying again – but, unsuccessful or not: I did it! I made the effort! One small step for me…

Finally, I stopped in at one of Kim’s favorite haunts – one of the last stores we went to together before she just couldn’t go out anymore: JoAnn Fabrics. There, I picked up some artificial flowers and some ribbon to make her a birthday bouquet to place on her grave. Jillian and I will place it after mass tomorrow. Her birthday is Monday.

I’ll never be a florist. Or a ribbon-tier…

Anyone reading this in the Canton, MI area who would like to attend: the 9:00 am mass Monday is being offered in her memory at St. Thomas a’Beckett.