And then there were two…

I sit here pondering life and the loss of life. The fragility of life. The joys that come to us in life, as well as the sorrows, and the pain. And the relative pettiness of the “affronts” we received from each other – all during the sometimes brief intersection of our lives with those of others. It’s odd to me how some seem to focus on the affronts in life more than those joys. Blessed are those who see the balanced view; those of us who focus only on the joys are destined for disappointment, and those who focus only on the affronts are destined for loneliness and regret…

So what has precipitated this introspection? Nick Mason, Ron and Joan’s youngest son, and Kim’s brother passed away unexpectedly Monday afternoon. Per the neighbors, he was out cutting the lawn, then they heard the lawnmower stop and he was face-down in the grass. By the time EMS arrived, it was too late. It may have been too late even if they had been on site when he fell – we don’t know. I suspect either a heart attack or a stroke, but I am leaning toward the former.

Nick and I had a rough start when Kim and I met. I was nearing graduation with my electrical engineering degree – something he wanted but couldn’t afford – and he suspected that I had had my way paid for me. When Kim let him know that I worked upwards of 80 hours a week to pay for it, and, therefore, took 8 years to achieve it, his attitude toward me changed drastically and we became very close, often doing things, just him and I.

Over the years, we had drifted apart, and, when he and his wife divorced, he slipped deeply into alcoholism, and his life pretty much came apart. I lost patience with Nick a few years back when he was in town for Christmas: Kim went to visit him at her parents’ house about a week before Christmas, and I did not see her again until Christmas day, both of them on some sort of bender.

The final straw for Nick and I was his father’s funeral when he did not show up for any of it, the bottle being seemingly more important.

It pains me that those final two “auspicious events” frame my remembrance of Nick, despite all of the good memories; all of the fun stuff. It pains me more that he’s gone and there is no longer any opportunity to rebuild.

In just over two years, four of the six-member Mason family have left us. RIP, Nick. I’m sorry we didn’t finish better.

Now appearing, the amazing mister…

I am frequently amazed at my capacity for looking “normal” – happy, engaged, interested – when, frankly: I no longer am. Not in the least. Nothing holds my interest anymore. Not my family, not my friends not my job, not my myriad hobbies or former interests. I’m a hollow vessel, casting about for things to fill the void, but nothing and no one does.

How do I really feel? Everything is tedium.

You win, whoever you are. Please take your prize.

♪ I always feel like somebody’s watchin’ me… ♫

So, it is Family Friday again. Last week, I was at a fundraiser dinner for the New Hope Center for Grief Support, so I wasn’t privy to any plans made then, and the iOS calendar we attempted to create and share is a bust because iOS isn’t letting two of my daughters join the calendar for some reason. Apparently, no one was “on deck,” Jillian, Jeanette, and Vanessa were off to a pageant. What to do? Dad volunteered to do steaks, that’s what.

To prevent it all from being “last minute” and rushed (as it usually ends up for me), I started prepping in between tasks and meetings – it worked out great – I was able to cut the steaks, rub them, and get them into the refrigerator to rest until grilling time, tie the remaining ends of roast together and freeze for another meal, pull together a nice green salad with egg and avocado, whip up a batch of my fat-free vinaigrette to dress the salad, cut onions and mushrooms to serve with the meat, a cucumber salad, and prepare some potatoes for the air fryer! When it came time for dinner, it was very relaxed.

The odd thing: during all of this prep, I would get that “crawling” feeling that someone was watching me. We have an Echo Show in the kitchen, and it is set up to act as a photo frame and rotate several hundred photos I loaded into Amazon Photo. Every time I got that feeling, I’d turn around and look at the Show, and there would be some picture or other of Kim on the screen, her crystal blue eyes looking out at me. In life, she would usually come up behind me to see what I was up to, then hug me around the waist and lay her head on my shoulder. I really miss that. And not just because it is far better than a crawling feeling going up my spine and a picture on the Show.

The Last Graduate

Well! Jillian is officially a high school graduate. The last of our five kids is through high school. Bittersweet. One of Kim’s stated goals, when she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, was to still be able to see her baby graduate. As some of my brothers and sisters have pointed out: she did; albeit not from our earthly vantage point.

On our way to the graduation ceremony, there were beautiful clouds – intricate clouds – in the sky. By the time we got to the school and were situated, the sky was crystal clear. I guess, to my brothers’ and sisters’ point, Kim was clearing her field of view.

It was hot and sunny, and the kids’ families were all relegated to “pods” of six chairs (one for the grad, and five guests), and some of the speakers could have learned from FDR that the tenets of good public speakers are “Be sincere, be brief, and be seated,” but it was a good ceremony – well done.

Afterward, we went to Grandma Sue’s for brunch to find that she and Larry had decorated the house and yard up for a surprise graduation party for Jillian! We grilled burgers, dogs and kielbasa, and had such a good time that we later ordered pizza, and had to purchase “reinforcements” for the cooler! Grandma Sue may not be blood, but she is most definitely family!

Adminstrivia: this post has been sitting in the draft queue for almost a week! Forgot to hit the “publish” button…

I think it’s my vitamins…

I have an issue with chronic tendonitis in my right arm. It first started about 6 years ago, and I’ve had it flare up several times since. Tendonitis can be difficult to resolve, and doubly so when it involves your dominant arm. I’ve tried many of the aids and cures – bands, braces, hot/cold cycling, creams… – to help it resolve over the years with varying degrees of success. One that I’ve read about over and over again is magnesium in combination with calcium. Magnesium has also been studied for its effectiveness as an aid to relieving depression. Sounds win-win, right?

I have a long and illustrious history of having opposite reactions to medications than those expected.

In past bouts of tendonitis, I’ve added magnesium to my daily vitamins. Over time, I’ve felt my mood slipping. I suspected the magnesium, but the tendonitis usually resolved and I got off the mineral before doing any sort of “analysis” of a potential relationship. Besides: every time I’ve searched for a connection between magnesium and depression, I’ve found those studies citing its efficacy in relieving it.

I’ve noted in these pages how my mood was slipping recently. Well, guess what I’ve been taking?

The tendonitis is still active, but Monday morning, I dropped the magnesium from my vitamins. This morning was rough – I’ve been fighting my annual allergy-induced “cold,” and this morning I simply felt miserable. Plus I felt like there was no point getting out of bed – depression. When I finally rousted myself out of bed and went about my day, I noted that my mood seemed to be improving. So much so that, as I write this, I wouldn’t cite “depressed” if someone were to ask me how I am feeling.

This all still could be a coincidence, but, not being a fan of happenstance, I think I’ll wait a couple of weeks, then add magnesium back into the mix for a while to see if this recurs. Once I know for sure, I’ll know to avoid it – this is hard enough to navigate through without being sabotaged by things that are supposed to be helping.

Wakin’ up is hard to do

I have noticed that I am having an extremely difficult time getting out of bed unless I have something important to do for someone else. I have the alarm set for the same time every morning, but will hit snooze over and over again, unless I need to take Vanessa to school (the alarm goes off an hour earlier for that, and I generally get up more easily).

Based on the Vanessa school alarm, you’d think that I might be oversleeping by an hour on “normal” days, so setting the alarm that hour earlier is the solution, but no dice: I’ll still hit the snooze, or change the alarm. It’s not a duration of sleep or quality of sleep issue – I’ve used sleep apps to monitor things like motion and snoring ever since my first (and hopefully last) experience with clinical depression six years ago. Most nights, I get at least eight hours, and most nights my “snore score” is zero, and my sleep motion shows a majority of bedtime is spent in deep, restful sleep with a good heart rate dip. This difficulty getting out of bed is a depression response, I’m sure.

And it’s a vicious cycle: when I sleep late, I invariably feel depressed throughout the day because I have wasted it.

If I recall that episode correctly, I imperfectly corrected the issue by forcing myself to get out of bed at the alarm and ensured I got up the same time every day. Many weekend mornings had me up and about long before Kim, having coffee in the back yard during warm months, or putzing around the kitchen during cold months – waiting for Kim to get up so we could go about our day. Sunday was my favorite for this as we would go to Mass, and then, most Sundays, to Grandma Sue’s afterward. Saturdays normally saw us going in different directions, coming together sometimes mid-morning, sometimes at lunch, sometimes later – but coming together.

I think I’ll try forcing myself to get out of bed at my alarm again. It won’t be as pleasurable as I won’t have Kim’s awakening to look forward to, but the mastery of myself may help in other issues I’m finding in her loss. If I’m successful and get back to where I actually want to get out of bed, maybe I can bump the alarm up that hour, and start an exercise program – I recall spending an hour on the stationary bike each day during that episode in 2014, and I remember it helping me a lot!

Babies

I look around at all the young parents, at all the parents with teenagers – all those busy growing their families, and I think “That was us.” Kim and I were a bit of an anomaly to the thinking of our day. Five kids in an era where a “family car” barely fit four people total.

Five glorious kids.

When we were planning our marriage, Kim was hesitant on the subject of kids. She wasn’t really sure that she wanted any. I wanted a barnfull. In any case, she said she wanted to go five years before we had any children. Jeanette was about 5 months old at our second anniversary…

I remember Jeanette’s and Christopher’s births with almost crystal clarity. With Jeanette, Kim labored for over 24 hours before they finally took Jeanette by caesarian section. Afterward, Kim looked like she had been in a prize fight – blood vessels in the whites of her eyes had burst from her straining, her face was swollen… I have no idea why they let her go so long before finally deciding to go the route they did. After that, I told Kim that maybe we should only have the one – I didn’t want to put her through that again. She simply smiled a serene sort of smile and said no – she wanted more kids.

I bought cigars to pass out at work. They were in a white and pink “It’s A Girl” cigar box, which, afterward, we used to house incoming bills so that I would know where they were when I would pay bills twice a month (my pay frequency at the time). We still have that box to this day, on my old desk (which needs to be emptied, broken up, and discarded…). I recall that those cigars were actually pretty tough to get rid of, even in 1991 – Ford had just disallowed smoking at ones desk the year prior to my being hired, and we would either step outside to smoke, or you could smoke in the lavatory or inside the high-ceilinged pilot plant. A short time later, smoking in the lavatories was also banned, followed shortly by smoking in the pilot plant. In deference to those who wished to continue to smoke, but did not want to go outside, they had created what we lovingly knew as the “gas chamber” – a glassed-off cube – in the cafeteria. I smoked until May 1994. I no longer recall the specific day, but I recall the actual incident of my quitting with crystal clarity. I was in Oakville, launching the 1994.5 Windstar body shop. I stepped outside to have a cigarette in the afternoon, lit it up, inhaled, looked at it, blew the smoke out, and said “I’m not doing this anymore.” I crushed it out, crushed the pack, and quit smoking cigarettes. I tried a pipe briefly after that, but the liquid tar and nicotine that would come rolling into your mouth from the stem turned me off on it pretty quickly. And then I would have a cigar now and again until one day in 1997 while launching the 1998 Ranger body shop in Edison New Jersey, I quit those, too. (With that history and my former penchant for high-risk activities, we were right to structure things as if I would go first, even though it did not work out that way…)

Christopher decided it was time to be born as we were attending Kim’s five-year reunion. We had already dropped the kids at my mom & dad’s to babysit while we were out, so we shot over there and let them know what was going on, and then off to Oakwood Hospital for kid #2.

For Christopher’s birth, her obstetrician was out of town, so we had another. I only met him that one time, but I remember his name – that’s how deeply the incident was burned into my memory. I think he must have been a doctor in a soviet gulag or something – he had a bedside manner similar to that of a drill sergeant. And he was dead set that Kim would deliver naturally. His assistant had to continually get between him and me because he kept triggering my protective instincts, and I wanted to knock him out. In the end, Christopher was born naturally, which we had previously been told wouldn’t be possible once someone has had a caesarian section. Each child afterward was also delivered naturally.

Oddly, I don’t recall a lot around Jessica’s delivery other than Kim laughing as she was in labor because her obstetrician and I were watching late-night reruns (I remember C.H.I.P.S.) on TV in her room while she was doing all the work. She used to chuckle about that often, showing mock offense over it. She used to cite that as an example when she would tell me how, no matter where we went or what we were doing, people seemed to gravitate to me like that, and we’d find some common thread and end up “best buds,” at least for that instance in time. I was at Michigan Truck on the Plant Vehicle Team and studying for my first master’s degree at the time so, except for being buried in books, papers, and homework, I was home the whole time.

When it was Kenneth’s turn to arrive, I was in Norfolk, Virginia launching the 1999 F-Series body shop. This was to be an induced labor because Kim had developed worrisome gestational hypertension during her pregnancy with him, and they didn’t want it to go beyond her due date for her safety. I remember my Vehicle Line Specialist and I racing west on 80, trying to stay ahead of an incoming hurricane as we dashed back to Michigan – I had packed up my apartment as I didn’t expect to be returning there and, sure enough – I never did. I remember the delivery being fairly quick, and that the room Kim had after Kenny’s delivery overlooked Greenfield Village (now: The Henry Ford”…) in one direction and the Ford test track in the other.

10 July 1998: Kim and Kenny – The Henry Ford Museum and Greenfield Village

Kim and I went to Las Vegas that fall. We left the kids with Aunt Cindy and Uncle Mich and their brood for the long week. Kim and I had a great time, but I remember her pining away for her baby the whole time.

And finally. Little Miss Oops: Jillian. I remember when Kim discovered she was pregnant with Jillian. She was petrified that I’d be upset. I remember her look when she told me, and I replied with, simply: “Well. I guess we should pick out some names!” And that was truly how I felt – not upset, happy for another beautiful gift!

I was home for the entire time with Jillian as well. Ford wanted me to go to Japan to pursue some issues with the die supplies for the 2003 Mustang. My passport had expired and it would have to be renewed in order for me to take the poorly-timed trip. I had brought it to work with me to get it an expedited renewal started by the Ford travel agency. I had left it in a fancy folder on my desk, and someone stole it. Since I no longer had the old passport, expedited renewal was out of the question., and to replace it would have put me outside the window for the trip, so someone else went in my place. I honestly did not plan that and worried for years afterward regarding my identity – but I think the sticky-fingered miscreant was after the folder and tossed everything that was inside of it. In any case, it meant I was home for Jillian’s delivery as well. Our last child, and, I think, one of the last children delivered by Kim’s obstetrician as I believe he retired that same year. I remember that they would not release Jillian to us to take her home because her blood oxygen level was lower than they liked, so we went each day to visit her in the NICU until they finally let her come home.

Kim and Jillian

Not alone

Jillian is reading The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch in her Lit class. They listen to the audiobook version in class, and since Jillian is remote, I hear every bit.

Randy Pausch died of pancreatic cancer in 2008.

I sit in the family room, working remotely while she’s in this class. I often find myself tearing up listening to the audiobook – so much of what he relates hits home. Particularly, in today’s segment, he relates his wife, Jai, asking him “Please don’t die.” I often asked Kim “Please don’t go.” to which she would invariably reply “Well, I’m trying not to.” But the book is written from his perspective; not Jai’s. In a lot of ways, when he talks about his relationship with his wife and family and what he’s going through, it’s as if I am hearing Kim relating her experience. As I mentioned before, she was so staid, serene in her situation. I get that same impression from Mr. Pausch’s statements.

In some ways, the parallels are comforting. I think Kim found the same Zen-like peace in her situation. Most of the time, though, it plucks a chord on the emotional harp that sends me to that place where I just want to be alone.

Today is “Family Friday.” Jillian, Vanessa, and Jeanette are on their way to Ohio for a pageant. I made steaks, fries, and a salad for Chris, Jessica, Kenneth, and me. Dinner was good. Now they’re gathered in the kitchen talking and listening to music… mostly music I don’t like, so I went to the basement and finished breaking up that cabinet I said I’d finish a couple of weeks back (yeah, I know… but one task has now officially been focused upon and completed!), and then took the bottles out to the garage, and the recycling out to can in the side yard… I truly believe music is like candy – you should throw the wrappers out. But then Chris pulled up some Imagine Dragons (sounded a lot like early Zeppelin) and ELO to redeem them… Well, not all their taste in music is crap.

Hocus focus

One of my coping mechanisms is to pile on too much to do, and then just power through them to keep me from having time to dwell on anything (I think I’ve mentioned that before). Well, today seems to have been a breaking point. I have a bit of a cold, I think, and the congestion is playing havoc with my vestibular system, making me feel a bit woozy. The combination did not serve me well today – I just could not get anything done; couldn’t seem to focus on any individual task.

Hopefully, tomorrow will be better. The weekend is here, and I think I’ll just pick ONE task and pursue it to its completion. Hopefully, that success will break this lack of focus…

Hmmmm…

I seem to be getting into the “swing” of being single. The thought of not having someone to hold was, until a couple of days ago, “front of mind” most of the time. It seems to have receded. I’m still interested in, and will likely have dates in the future, but I don’t have the same feelings about doing so as I did up to now. And I cannot put my finger on precisely why it’s place of importance to my mind may have changed. Perhaps some of the fog from having lost Kim has lifted, clarifying my thoughts on the subject. Don’t know. But, looking forward, I kinda like it.

I still have a lot of “son,” “dad,” and “grandpa” responsibilities that limit any sort of social life, so maybe it’s a pragmatic reaction. Can’t say – but whatever the source of this new sentiment, it’s as if a weight has been lifted. Don’t get me wrong: I still miss waking up with someone. I still miss the closeness and familiarity one attains with one they have spent the lion’s share of their life with. But, that “someone” I miss is Kim. And, I no longer feel any urgency around changing my current state.