Ah, Kim…

That’s what I find myself saying as I encounter things in the house, or some memory or other pops up. “Ah, Kim…”

I wish I could share these recollections with her – she was usually good at filling in the blanks of what I could drag out of the archives – this odd memory! There was a period of “intensity” during my undergrad studies – right about when Kim and I met – where this memory would suddenly become voracious with its appetite for information, and photographic with its recall. I remember it getting me in trouble on an exam as I had written, verbatim, several paragraphs from the text book in reply to a question. I had an F for cheating going into the discussion with the Prof, where I recited several of the remaining paragraphs to him. I left with an offer to become his research assistant…

As its normal MO, though, my memory will latch on to the most useless information, and make it ready for instant recall. If information is important or requiring more detail? Not so much, anymore. Kim was the one to redirect the memory to complete the details from her own recolleciton. We complemented each other.

But, “Ah, Kim…” It’s like a little prayer. It’s now an expression that contains the sadness, the loss I feel. And it is a constant utterance. Anyone passing by would think I was on the phone admonishing Kim due to its frequency.

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…

Types of grief

It seems that a lot of content I write here starts its life on one of facebook’s widow(er) groups anymore. Today, there was a question regarding whether, having been Kim’s caregiver, that the time of grieving after she passed is reduced since we knew for so long what was coming. My answer is “No; not really.”

Though we who were also caregivers knew our spouse was going to die, our spouse was still with us. There was grief at the knowledge of her imminent death, but it is not the same grief as induced by the finality of the actual loss. While Kim was still with me, I could talk to her, care for her, hold her hand. There was an air of sadness about the whole affair; however, there was also hope. While she was still alive, she could have had months remaining; she could have had years – the endpoint wasn’t defined. And: where there is life, there is hope. We constantly hoped and prayed for a miraculous cure for her, even up to her last breath. When she had passed, that hope for a miraculous cure passed with her (though, yes: God is capable of anything). There was a permanence about the loss that did not come with the foreknowledge while she was still alive.

In short, I believe that you really cannot prepare for the sort of grieving that comes from losing your life’s partner. No amount of forewarning prepares you for the experience of literally having half your heart and soul torn away from you. The grief experienced by one who was a caregiver is really no different than that of one who was not. Even the shock of the actual loss I experienced sounds a lot like that of those who lost their spouse quickly or, even, suddenly. I guess if anything, those whose spouse’s passing is expected get a little extra dose of grief through the forwarning.

But grieve we do

Simple things get us. Stupid, silly things send us spiraling down to where we can only stand in place and sob. Tonight, as I was putting away the dishes from the dishwasher, I was thinking how I never had any doubts about Kim when we were dating. I never had to guess if my feelings for her were reciprocated. And then, picking up a packet of graham crackers that she had received during one of her chemo visits to throw away, I broke. “She loved me, and I ruined her,” I sobbed. And “How could this have happened to her.”

In analyzing my feelings after recovering myself, I find the first lament is related to her alcoholism. No matter how much I’ve read and have been told that an alcoholic is the only one responsible for their alcoholism, I cannot help but think that I had a big hand in triggering its onset. The time away from home for my job had to be incredibly hard on her. My response to emotional displays – to clam up and run away – was likely another. My manner of focusing so keenly on tasks to the exclusion of all external input is another. I know she was jealous of some of the women who worked around me in our early years, too – having an absentee husband can play havoc on a woman’s mind. But, again, I remained faithful to her through the whole time, and she remained married to me – feats that many of my contemporaries and their wives did not achieve.

The second lament is similar to something I voiced to her shortly after her diagnosis: things like this aren’t supposed to happen to us. We were to grow old together, getting along through retirement as our parents did before us.

And the lever that opened the floodgates was a simple packet of graham crackers…

For what do we grieve?

The thought occurred to me that grief is a manifestation of self-pity. I know that is a significant oversimplification of the maelstrom of emotions that we, the bereaved, face in our grief – but what, exactly do we grieve?

We grieve our loss. OUR loss. Something that happened to us. This thought occurred to me yesterday and immediately took residence, continually popping up like a bad neighbor peeking over the fence. What, exactly, are we grieving? Our spouse is beyond the suffering of this vale of tears. There is no more pain for them. We grieve the loss of someone in our life, a partner, confidant, lover…

Again, an oversimplification. Kim died of a horrible, painful, wasting disease. I feel great sadness thinking of her last months of life; that she was uncomfortable and in pain and couldn’t enjoy the things she loved to do. I feel sadness at how that disease robbed her of everything before finally taking her life. But, in grieving over her death… again: is it just self-pity?

An article I came across discriminates between the two by saying self-pity has to do with the want of something we need (or, I’d argue: simply want,..) but cannot have, and grief has to do with the loss of something you had. Sounds a bit like splitting hairs to me. This one does a little better job, perhaps – even so, it seems there is ample overlap.

So it’s a question, I guess, to be explored by brighter minds in psychology than mine. Maybe now that I’ve written it down, it will stop shaking my mind like a puppy shaking its toy.

Little things

I was going through some unmarked boxes on the shelves in the basement when I came across one having a card in an envelope and a small, white book. Picking them out, I found the card was a note written about a year before we met by one of Kim’s high school friends, thanking her for a Christmas card she sent the year before. A nice little note between friends. The other was a Children’s Marian Missal, probably a First Communion gift. In it was a slip of paper from the City of Livonia having to do with getting a minor work permit. So many little bits of a life lost.

I hear of women talking of having an “ugly cry” over things. I guess this describes the loud, sobbing cry that I had while holding these in my hands. I put them back in the box and the box back on the shelf. This will have to wait for another day.

Every time I unexpectedly come across something like these, floods of memories sweep over me, drowning me in their depths. All the joys, all the sorrows, all the problems, and all the triumphs we experienced as a couple.

I miss her so much…

Spring cleaning

Every 1 March, Holy Sepulchre Cemetery starts the removal and discard of the decorations they allow on the graves during the winter months. All grave blankets, wreaths, crosses, stuffed animals – they clean them all off the graves and discard them in preparation for the lawn mowing season.

I removed the blankets from Kim’s and her mom’s graves, and the crosses from theirs and those of my grandparents and my dad last weekend. The temperatures have been above freezing most of this week. The end result is that Kim’s grave is an ugly heap of dirt without even a headstone to mark who is there.

Seeing the bare mound of earth was a lot like ripping the bandage off a scabbed-over wound, renewing the pain of watching her casket being lowered into the vault, sealed off, and then being lowered into the hole in the ground and buried.

Her mother’s grave has settled into a flat, but still ugly patch of dirt, the lawn not yet having taken hold. I expect that Kim’s mound will flatten over this year, and they will be setting the headstone this spring. I’m hoping the lawn takes hold quickly, too. Maybe I’ll bring some sandwich bags of grass seed with me on my spring and summer visits and help it along.

One of our attractions to the plots we purchased was the tree and lawn – it looked like a picnic spot – somewhere a person would like to visit. It doesn’t look much like one now, and probably won’t for some time.

Another dream, not mine

Yesterday’s dream called to mind a dream related to me by Jillian shortly after Kim had passed, and before I had started this blog. She had this dream very close to Kim’s passing – a day or two afterward. It’s another dream that seems drenched in symbolism, but from which I cannot divine any meaning. I’ll have to consult with Jillian to add any missed detail, but this is what I remember from what she told me of it.

Kim, as she was on our wedding day, is standing out in the water – a lake, or the ocean. I am standing on the beach, frantically calling to her to come out of the water, to come to me on the shore. The version of Kim in the water does not appear to hear or notice me.

Kim, as she was in current times is standing next to me on the shore, calling out “I’m here! I’m here!”, but I either don’t hear her or I am ignoring her, continuing to call out to the version of Kim standing in the water.

That’s it, or, at least, that’s what I remember of what Jillian told me.

Epilogue: I guess how I remembered what she told me is more apt that what I remembered. I asked Jillian to tell me the dream again. Here is what she said….

Kim and I are on the shore, both as we were at our wedding; both dressed in our wedding clothes. I’m praising Kim, the bride, for how beautiful she is. There is another Kim next to me – Jillian doesn’t recall if she’s another young Kim, or Kim as she was in current times – Jillian was “seeing” through her eyes. This Kim is saying “Hello! I’m right here…”

Definitely an odd dream, whichever version I “remember.” The original memory seems more Freudian now, in light of this correction. Since I do spend a lot of time admiring our wedding pictures – she really was a very beautiful woman throughout her life – Jillian’s dream could be a reminder that Kim is always with me? Don’t know.

To sleep, perchance to dream…

I have commented before how I had not had a single dream (which I remembered after waking) of Kim, or with Kim in it. That changed last night, and I still, hours after waking, remember it with crystal clarity.

It was strange.

I’m at mass at St. Mel’s in Dearborn Heights – a church long closed, at which I haven’t attended Mass in probably 30 years, but which was our parish as I was growing up.

The church is full, as it always was in my youth. It is also configured as it was in my youth. I’m seated near the front on St. Joseph’s side (south side of the church). I get up to go use the bathroom in the crying room at the main entrance to the church. As I approach the vestibule where the door to the crying room is, I see Kim as she was before her diagnosis, in the last pew on Mary’s side. She is wearing the lightweight denim shirt she often wore, one of her favorites. She is not facing the altar but facing the glass of the crying room. The crying room is dark so the glass perfectly reflects what is behind her; the ongoing mass. She is expressionless and does not seem to notice me, and does not interact with me. I don’t try to get her attention; I just note her presence and continue on my way.

As I approach the door to the crying room, I see the room is dark, and the impression I get is that it is packed – literally packed – with no spare room. What looks like a rolled and folded newspaper or cloth is pressed against the glass in the door, but doesn’t cover the entire glass. I still see nothing but a battleship grey around the item in the window.

I turn around and start up the aisle on the south side of the church to get to the bathroom in the church hall. I look down to see I’m dressed in tan cargo shorts with my black Bulliet boots – ridiculous! As I enter the hall, there are four old ladies. Three are participating in the mass, while one is talking loudly about something else – either church politics or politics in general, I don’t recall which, but I do recall it being politics. There are still Christmas decorations hanging from the middle of the ceiling- light pink shiny garlands with large, red, shiny glass balls. As I’m approaching the point about where the kitchen is, one of these decorations slides across the floor and stops just before it gets to my path. I look up and see someone race-walking me to the men’s room. We arrive at the same time, and suddenly the hall has another hall behind it, and there is junk everywhere, among them a self-standing urinal. I recognize the man as a short, skinny man who I worked with at Ford until he retired. Unfortunately, I don’t recall his name, but his face was clear, and I know who he is – to the best of my knowledge, he had never set foot in St. Mel’s. I told him to take the room, I’ll go to the one at the north entrance to the church, near the sacristy. He said “No, that one is wrecked. Use this one – I’ll just use this urinal,” to which I reply “that’s ok, that’s all I need to do.” He goes into the bathroom, and I notice another men’s room in the new hall behind the existing hall. Being self-conscious about the ladies in the hall, I begin making my way through the stuff all over the floor – equipment of various types – toward this new room. That’s when I woke up.


Today’s verse in the morning offering from the Catholic Company is: “At present, we see indistinctly, as in a mirror, but then face to face. At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known. So faith, hope, love remain, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – 1 Corinthians 13:12-13

Do dreams have meaning? I was told when you dream of someone who has passed, it means they need prayer (I pray for Kim’s soul every day, nonetheless). Is Kim still only seeing the face of God as if through a mirror, or is she signaling that I should be focusing more on the holy souls trapped in purgatory – represented by those packed into the crying room? Or does this dream mean something different altogether, or nothing at all?

I certainly don’t have the answer. I’ll continue to pray for both. And I’ll hope for better, sweeter dreams than this…

Ugh, Take II

I seem to be settling into what Boolean logic enthusiasts would classify as a “don’t care” state. I am losing my passion for things I had become rather passionate about after losing Kim – weight loss, fitness, posture, reading, Bible studies… Not even politics excites me much of late. I look around the house and see things that I need to do to it, and things that I want to do to it, but can’t motivate myself to start any of them.

I thought “Huh! I wonder if you can burn out simply through grieving?” A quick search on the internet, and, Doctor? I think we have our diagnosis. This article in Psychology Today sums what I’ve been up to pretty well. The “DO IT ALL IMMEDIATELY” bit cited by the author resonates. It resonates all too well.

I think for the surviving half, the fragility and finite nature of life become driving concepts. I want to get the mortgage paid off and a trust written to ease the kids’ burden when I go. I want to finish updating this house because it’s gone too long as it is, and is showing the abuse, I need to do my taxes, and the kids’ taxes. I need to… This article helped put it into perspective for me as well.

There are so many things that I need to get done, and I keep piling more and more on the list until, tada! I have ground to a veritable halt on all of it. The added tasks – and not getting them done – pile more and more stress on an already stressed psyche.

Another apt point is that we, the bereaved, don’t realize that that loss has been such a stressor. I never equated the loss of Kim with stress. Just sadness. I equated all the little tasks that the loss of her added to my docket as stressors, but not the loss itself.

Now to figure out how to regroup and deploy myself differently.