The human memory. It’s both a gift and a curse.

Without memory, there would be no nostalgia. There would be no reminiscing over happy times. But, without memory, there would also be no regrets; no sadness. No grief…

To some degree – a large degree – we’re asked in scripture to live in the present. Learn from the past via our memories, but without drowning in them. We are not to “live in the past”, as it were. But sometimes, following that advice is hard as the mind sometimes goes where it will despite every intention and effort not to – like an unbroken stallion. I guess the task, then, is in dealing with this beast when it runs on its own: bridling it in; bringing it back to now.

On the same token, we’re told not to worry about the future. As I like to say: make plans for the future to protect yourself and your place in it, but don’t dwell on it or try to control it. That last bit isn’t for us. But who doesn’t find that majestic beast in their skull dragging them forward to turn some issue or aspect over and over at some point or other?

One of the joys of widowhood and the “widow brain” fog that seems to fall on us is the apparent inability to exert much control on either – vaulting into the past and worrying into the future like a yoyo.

I write this retrospectively – I’ve come a long, long way in a relatively short time on this. I find myself remembering often, but less so with the sadness and melancholy of loss. And, thanks to a new relationship with a wonderful woman who has gone through this same experience: I don’t wonder at what lonely trials the future may hold for me.

But many things have changed in a relatively short time. My youngest daughter has left the nest. She was the most company I had whenever I was at home. To be fair to her, though, since I’ve retired, I’ve been spending less and less time here – it wouldn’t have been fair to expect her to stay basically all by herself. My youngest son remains in the house, but he works a shift which ensures most waking time here is spent alone. She made the right decision.

When here, I work to alleviate the neglect that my 30-year mostly-on-the-road career, the parade of dogs and cats that came through the house since we’ve been here, etc. has resulted in so that the house can eventually be sold. And, that brings us back to memories. Emptying the house of those things that made it our particular home, as messy as it may have been. Each piece having some memory or other attached to it; having to willfully relegate these things to the trash heap…

Eliminating ghosts

I had given Kim’s phone to my granddaughter after clearing its contents. Vanessa, being a nine-year-old kid, immediately started sending texts to her aunts and uncles which, of course, since the entry remained in their Contacts list, came from Kim. After the initial shock, they were angry at Vanessa.

Rather than maintain an unused phone number as a memorial, I fell upon the solution by which I would change the numbers between the cellular-enabled iPad I gave Kim for Christmas many years ago and the phone. Since iPads cannot place calls and they text (from what I can tell) through their associated Apple ID rather than via the phone number, this would alleviate the issue. Reviewing Verizon’s site, I found the I had the ability to swap numbers between devices on the same account via a few mouse clicks.

Sweet! So I did it. Not so sweet.

The end result was that the iPhone could not place or receive calls (or anything else, from what I could tell), so a call was made to Verizon support via their horrible robotic operator. After about an hour and a half, and having to swap SIM cards back and forth, the tier 2 technician I was working with got the issue resolved, and Kim’s number will be silent until the day I pull the plug on the iPad. Minor disaster averted. And once again, I have to give Verizon’s support team kudos for friendliness, knowledge, professionalism, and “stick-to-it-ive-ness” – but I truly hope I don’t have to call them again anytime soon.

Last night was another oddly sleepless night. Unlike the last time, I didn’t pop awake with things on my mind – they were there when I went to bed and wouldn’t turn me loose. Thoughts ranging from an unfortunate display of immaturity my freshman year in high school (Sorry, JaNele – you deserved a better response than what I gave. It’s 44 years late, but I do apologize.), to more modern incidents and concerns. The ol’ sleep monitor showed it, too – the first night logging under 50% “restful sleep” since I started using the thing. These episodes are not frequent, but they’re somewhat unpredictable – and I’m not a big fan of unpredictability.

Feeding into this one is, of course, the phone/iPad debacle, but I also received a new laptop for work – the provisioning of which is always a rare treat! I always forget to export the VBA programs that I write to drive a lot of my efficiencies and end up having to rewrite them (which isn’t very efficient). That, and reconnecting files with their programs is a rare treat, too. Finally, the new laptop smoked my primary flash drive and, though I’m an apostle of frequent backups, I hadn’t backed it up all through Kim’s ordeal. I have recovered the files from it, but the utility I use recovers veritably EVERY file stub on the drive, so there’s a lot of sorting, testing, and cleaning up going on – all during that happy time we prepare to be fiscally eviscerated by the IRS…

And that, too, will be a new adventure, just as the 1989 tax year, the year Kim and I married, was. For the last 30 days of 2020, I guess I’m a “qualified widower,” instead of the “married” man I was for the last two days of 1989.

Sigh. At least it keeps me busy.

What does not kill us…

More to clean up

Who woulda thunk the menial task of cleaning up old tax records would turn into a melancholy walk down memory lane?

I have always been meticulous in record keeping. Every receipt and communication is stored in an alphabetized accordion file each year, which becomes the basis for my tax data. After the taxes are filed for that year, a copy of the return is added to the file; the file is wrapped up and stored away. The downside of this is that there were, until recently, over 30 years of such records. In some cases, this has been proven to be an advantage, as I’ve been able to locate receipts for “lifetime guaranteed” items many years after their purchase, saving the expense of replacing some fairly expensive items. That, however, in no way justifies the stack of accordion files and the space they’re taking.

A few years back, I bought one of those “paper brick makers” with the idea that we could shred these documents, soak them in water, and then press out paper bricks to take camping – I mean, storing paper bricks in the motorhome is better than having to bring the pickup with its bed loaded with firewood, right? Well, let me tell you: household shredders are not speed-demons, and, though paper bricks are pretty cool, they take quite literally forever to dry out. I finally resorted to putting our first batch into the convection oven at a low temperature to dry them enough so they wouldn’t mold. And they’re still in the basement, our two planned 2020 camping trips having been canceled – one due to COVID closure of the state campground we had reservations at (thanks, Gretch!); the other due to a premonition that came to be.

So what to do with these documents if they aren’t to become paper bricks? Cities occasionally bring in document shredding services and allow each address to bring a box or two of documents to be shredded, but I’d rather not take the chance of some careless shredder operator letting a piece or two of social security number-bearing documentation drift away on the wind. So, I opted to burn them in the fireplace. It goes a lot faster than shredding them did, and, being January, serves to help heat the home.

So, with today being a holiday from work, I spent the day feeding receipts and tax documents into the fire, while keeping a general eye out for things still better kept.

There were receipts from the hospital when each child was on the way – for prenatal care, ultrasounds, all the way up to the hospital stay for their delivery. There were memories of the various companies we dealt with over the years, how cheap cable service was in the early 90s, various purchases. There were notations in my hand and notations in Kim’s hand. I even found a couple of folders from doing Mom’s taxes after Dad died, among which was a calendar where Mom “blogged” little notes such as “first sunny day since the death”. I guess it runs in the family. (I set them aside and put them in the box with Kim’s records, in case any family is reading.)

It was bittersweet going through all of that. Some of the things in there, I really don’t remember well – such as reservations at State Dock that had to be canceled – State Dock runs houseboats on Lake Cumberland. Apparently, the year after my dad had taken the family there, we made reservations to go again but canceled them. I recall discussing going back – we had planned an “off-season” vacation to save on the expense – but don’t at all recall making them, and I definitely don’t recall canceling them. Maybe that was all Kim’s doing – but seeing it made me wish we had gone. We did so few things like that – sometimes due to the expense, or wrangling the kids’ busy schedules with our own – but most times due to work, and my aversion to leaving home because of all the away-from-home my job demanded.

There were magazine subscription receipts for various crafting and horse magazines. Receipts from clothing stores she liked for herself and the kids. Just so many little paper memories. I kept thinking how, before all this, I might turn to Kim with one and say “Hey! Remember when we did this?” No one to reminisce with anymore. The kids wouldn’t remember much of it; less and less as the timeline moved backward. As I burned through them, I wondered how I would remember things like those afterward? What would catapult them up out of the vault of my memory?

I still have quite a few accordions to go through. I’ve already set aside the seven years I’ll keep, getting rid of the oldest each year, if my discipline holds. The family room will be warm for the next several days, I guess, as I feed more in while working across from the fireplace. The old wooden rack that held them, a vestige of the people who owned the house before us, is now empty – the last thing it coughed up was my collection of Elementary Electronics magazines from the 70s – the magazine that sparked then fed my desire to pursue a degree in electrical engineering (which I accomplished but never truly used). And some leftover material that I had used to reupholster the boat Kim and I bought the summer after we were married, with a 1990 Tandy Leather catalog from the store on Warren near Wayne. That Tandy store is long – 20 years – gone, though the company still exists.

I’ll be breaking the rack down to get rid of it, clearing space in the basement from three decades of “collections”; making room for other pursuits. It always was sort of an odd duck, anyway – after 30 years, I still cannot conceive of its purpose prior to it becoming a “just stick it in that thing” storage unit. All this is good because it keeps me busy; keeps the mind occupied.

And time marches on, inexorably to its final destination…

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.