Things thrown into our paths

Background story: A couple of weeks back, Jillian had a hankering for waffles. Blueberry waffles. I searched and search for our waffle maker, but could not find it. I had a very vague memory of giving it to one of the kids. So, I ran out to Meijer and purchased a vertical waffle iron- didn’t work well at all with the blueberry waffles, but, to be fair and in hindsight: I wouldn’t have expected it to with the lumps of blueberries in the batter. So, I tried it with one of their recipes. The batter leaked past the edges, and the process was generally messy due to their lack of thought with regard to the design of the measure used to fill it. This waffle maker is a great concept, but it’s definitely not ready for prime time. I took it back and got one like our old one.

This afternoon, I went on a rampage, looking for things to put at the curb – some clutter reduction. And, in plain sight in the laundry room, on a shelf I had to walk past to get to the area I searched on that fateful Saturday, was the old waffle maker – sitting on a pristine manilla envelope with a little 1960s-looking dude with a Bing Crosby hairdo saying “Take your pictures home” and “Lets trade pictures!”

Inside this envelope are class pictures of Kim from Kindergarten to second or third grade and a first communion picture. Who knows how long they’ve been there, and who can fathom why they were there rather than in one of the photo repositories in the house? It was almost as if I was tossed as a reminder from Kim: “Hey! I was here!” Why it would have been necessary for me to receive such a reminder at this juncture, I don’t know. She is ever-present on my mind.

Trifecta

Kim’s Mom was the first to go, passing away in August 2019 after a long battle with Reynaud’s and resulting kidney disease. Then Kim followed in December 2020 after her battle with pancreatic cancer. Now Kim’s dad has left us unexpectedly yesterday morning, adding 2021 to the series of years decimating Kim’s family.

After Joan passed, Ron and Kim – and, when I wasn’t working, I – would go to Mass on Sunday, and then visit Joan’s grave. Ron would go every Sunday whether one or both of us could accompany or not. He would sometimes go during the week when he felt lonely for her.

After Kim left us, it was Ron and me, every Sunday. Sometimes he’d drive, most times I would. As time went by, he would simply remain in the truck why I would tend to the graves since his knees were giving him so much trouble. He’d still go midweek on his own to visit the graves of his wife and his youngest daughter, my wife.

Surgery was performed on his most troublesome knee that was supposed to alleviate the issues he was experiencing that kept him in the car. Instead of alleviating them, the surgery made the pain so much worse that he was moved to assisted living to recuperate after insurance wouldn’t fund rehab anymore. The last time I saw Ron in person was two Sundays prior to that surgery, mid-May. He would call me, usually on Monday to thank me for taking care of Mom’s and Kim’s grave, tell me a bit about how he was doing, and wrap up with “OK, Tiger – I’ll talk to you later.” And I always told him I loved him, and he would tell me “we love you, too” in answer for both him and Mom.

Two calls ago, he was in a very bad emotional state, telling me how much he missed going to see Kim and Mom with me, and how much he missed both of them. The next time I talked to him, he sounded very much like his old self – energetic, quick to tease, laughing. And now he’s gone and we don’t know why. It’s as if someone simply flipped a switch.

And there will be another grave to tend in the little plot where Kim and Joan now rest.

Road trip through the mountains

Grief is like a journey through the mountains. Sometimes you’re in the dark tunnels a long time and then – Boom! – there’s the sun! You’re out of the tunnel! But then, just ahead: another tunnel. Sometimes the tunnels are very long; sometimes they’re short. Sometimes they’re particularly dark; sometimes they’re well-lit. Sometimes we are riding alone; other times we have companionship. As we go through each sequential tunnel, we develop the ability to endure – to even manage – our time in the tunnels to varying degrees.

The mountain range is infinite, and tunnels of varying lengths and lighting come at varying distances – but there will always be tunnels. The key is to continue the journey; to continue to move forward through them.

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.

Toward More Picturesque Speech…

Apparently, Joe Vitale once said “You don’t fear change. You fear the unknown. If you knew the future would be great, you’d welcome the change to get there. Well, the future IS great. Proceed.”

Well, in answer to Joe: “Time continues inexorably along its path, dragging us behind it as if we were cans tied to its tail. No matter how we twist or turn, we cannot divert time from its course. We are helpless against it. The future ISN’T always great, but it IS always unavoidable…

Real life

Sometimes it’s particularly difficult to crystallize my thoughts around my current reality. Out of the blue, I’ll start thinking of life last year – JUST LAST YEAR – when Kim was still here, and my mind teeters on the edge of that particular bit of sanity where I struggle with the question of “How can this be? Am I not having a nightmare?” My mind claws at the “unreality” of my current state as if trying to climb out of a sandy pit. Everything it grasps at crumbles in its grip and it makes no progress in anything but to bury itself deeper into the sand. Because this is reality. Kim did die a slow, horrible death. I did wake up to find her gone. She is under the ground, her location marked by a polished granite slab with her and my names on it.

Other times, I easily accept the situation; easily relinquish the fool’s hope that this isn’t real. And it’s not that I’m worried about my sanity, but it’s an odd state of mind to find myself in on occasion – not quite a panic attack; just a quirky momentary shift in thought – like connecting with another version of me for whom none of this has happened.

This past rainy Sunday – coincidentally: my first birthday since Kim’s death – I visited Kim’s grave and saw rain on her marker. Simple rain. The marker was shiny with water. This, in and of itself wasn’t troubling – but seeing the lettering being filled with water caused an emotional break. An odd thing to focus on, but it had me standing at her grave in the rain, bawling my eyes out.

And mornings. I was never a “spring out of bed to greet the day” kind of guy, but I would get up at a regular time with no difficulty going about starting my day. That, too, is gone. I could easily lounge in bed until the crack of noon – I don’t, though – but only because of the guilt I invariably feel when I have spent too much of my time in bed. But I cannot recall a day since that terrible December morning in which I have not hit snooze half a dozen times before finally getting out of bed. That alone would be the greatest thing to overcome – nonetheless: every night, I go to bed with the conviction that I will not snooze my alarm, but every morning is a repeat of the previous.

I also find myself to be much more somber than I was in the past; not as quick with my sense of humor, nor as likely to offer solutions – or even responses – to things others encounter in their lives, whether it be a family text, comment in a conversation, or a facebook post in one of the many groups I participate in. Simply put: a lot of what I thought was important just doesn’t seem to matter anymore; a lot of what I used to do in the past for myself and for others seems so burdensome now.

Despite all of this, as you have probably surmised by the long gaps in my posting, I am moving forward. I have a steady girlfriend – a widow – and we spend a lot of time together. Being with her makes me feel “normal,” but, at the same time, creates guilt. Not guilt because she’s not Kim, as many may guess, but guilt because, when I’m spending time with her, I’m not at home for Jillian and Kenneth. Though they’re both “grown-up,” they still need their dad around – if, for nothing other than the assurance that their dad is still around, I guess. Or, maybe it’s the other way around…

Sigh.

We’re complex beasties, we humans. And anyone who claims to understand us is clearly lying.

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.

♪ 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…

Six months out

So, here it is: a milestone. Half a year. It seems both like yesterday and a million years ago.

In my mind’s eye, I can still see her face after she died; how jaundiced she was, but how relieved her face looked. Geddes Road, the path to St. Joe’s we’d taken so often, holding hands and saying our daily rosary, tugs at my heart. The little side trips to Home Depot, or Meijer, or Kroger – just to get out of the house for a while with her. To Michael’s, Joann Fabrics, and Hobby Lobby in search of the material she wanted for her “car quilt” – to keep her warm for the winter chemo trips that never came to be. Our daily – sometimes twice daily – walks through the neighborhood when the weather warmed up. And the side trip to look at the fall colors on the day, 15 October, she’d decided she had had enough of the doctors and the chemo.

I remember the trip we took to Hines Drive 16 October because she wanted pictures with me at the water. We took them with a selfie stick at Nankin Mill and Wilcox Lake, Jillian tagging along with us. On the way home, we stopped at the Dollar Tree store at Joy and Morton Taylor so she could go through the Halloween stuff and look at some candles, candle holders, and wood pieces for her crafting. She had such a hard time moving through the parking lot and through the store. It was shortly after that that she lost feeling in her hands and gave up on crafting altogether. Those purchases are still in a bag on one of the tables in her craft room.

And I remember events from earlier in our life together, both with joy and with melancholy. We had built such a good life together – neither my constant travel for work nor her alcoholism could destroy it (though the latter came the closest, to my perspective). We built a beautiful family. Much to celebrate.

I find that, for the most part, I am at peace with Kim; with my memories of her. I still have triggers, and I still miss her dearly. But I’m at peace.

Everything in and about our lives leads to something else. Everything we have is built from and upon what we had; from our experiences. I would have been ecstatic if the good Lord had seen fit to give Kim a miracle – to give us a chance to grow old together. But He did not. Kim is with Him now, and I am left to grow from the experience of losing her – just as I grew in our life together. Much of who I am today is Kim’s creation, crafted from our experiences together; from our joining of two lives into one, and living that life until half expired. She continues to influence who I am becoming – her memory, the grief. She will always be a part of me, and that part of me will always inform the rest of me.

I love you Kim. I miss you. Thank you for having chosen me, thank you for our family, and thank you for who you’ve made me into.