Some days you feel like a…

Yesterday was an emotionally terrible day. I felt like a hollow man. Nothing seemed to have any value or meaning to me. Many things conspired against my mood, making it seem to me as if any elevated mood I had up to then must have been just a masterful fa├žade. Just felt empty.

The first day after the end of a pleasant vacation with Sheila, my girlfriend. First day back to work. Counseling and consoling some around me. But I think it was that I had none of the close companionship I had enjoyed on our trip since last Wednesday. None of the feeling of “normalcy” that came with it.

But today, I have a fresh perspective. I’ve clawed my way most of the way up from that pit, and have been able to label those things that caused that (thankfully) brief slide into deep depression.

I have most of my clocks set to display time in 24 hour format. This is a reminder to me that each new day is also a new beginning; a new opportunity to live. Each day as the clock moves from 2359 to 0000, I try to push all that I’ve gathered from the prior day out and start anew. Successful all the time? Absolutely not – but it gives me perspective. And it is that perspective that lets me heal myself from such dark, troubling days.

Sorry if yesterday’s post scared anyone.

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.

Tears and Triggers

It’s interesting: I can be in a happy mood, going about my day-to-day, and something out of the blue will choke me up. It doesn’t happen as often as it was initially, but it still does. Little things, mostly – they just sneak up on me and hit a button.

Most of the time, it will be when I’m discussing things about Kim with someone, whether by voice, email, or text. I’ll lock onto some memory or other, and that lump in my throat forms, and the eyes start watering and burning…

I’m back to eliminating the 30 years of tax records from the basement shelves. In the early days, I was a bit slipshod in how things went into the folder, so I’ve had to look at things that have fallen out of my grip. Sam’s, our second dog, adoption receipt. Receipts from the Artist’s Club and Home Shopping Network – two of Kim’s favorites, aside from Valley Vet. Receipts from the kid’s checkups, as our family began to grow. Paystubs, mapping her career from Beaumont to Bottsford, to Garden City Hospital, and, finally, Cardinal Health. Different than the last time, more of these things and the memories that come with them are greeted with a smile, but it’s melancholy happiness they bring. I still feel the urge to run up to her craft room to show her – “Hey! Remember this?”

Another odd thing: I can read these blog pages, and reread them without tears – I do it regularly, correcting typoes, or improving the prose for clarity. But I can’t TALK about them with anyone without breaking down.

This goes hand-in-hand with my conviction that you never truly “heal” from your grief. You grow with it. You learn of it and from it until you can manage the pain.

On seeing other women

So, I took another gargantuan step yesterday: I went out with a young lady who was a couple of years behind me in high school, and whose husband passed a couple of years before Kim. We had planned for coffee, but, due to various reasons, it got later and later in the day before we could meet, so we ended up not really having a plan. We simply went for a drive until we spotted somewhere interesting, which ended up being a brewpub built into an old church in Saline. We ordered a “flight” of beer samples I thought she might enjoy – a Koelsch, a Saison, and several Belgians – and an appetizer, and we talked some more. We talked of people we knew or know; our careers, our families, our marriages, and our losses.

It was easy to use my “happy face” technique in interacting with her because, frankly, I enjoyed talking to her so much, it came naturally. We have a lot in common – some of those things scarily similar – which gave us common ground for conversation. There are a lot of differences, too, though, which is to be expected between two people who came to where we are via very different paths.

This outing was a bit double-edged, emotionally. Though it was thrilling to be interacting in this way with an adult female who was not a member of my family, doing so surfaced a lot of insecurities that I think come from having been singularly committed for so long. Chief among them: “Am I boring her to death?” Oddly, I felt none of the guilt that some widowers speak of when they first venture out of their now-vacant marriage bubble – likely another thing that varies by person.

And, you know what? If our relationship never grows beyond today – basically online “pen pals” – I’m ok with that! I think this is a facet of the maturity that comes from a life such as the one I’ve been living. The need for acceptance is still there, but it is not the overarching demand that it was as a young man. And if it does grow into more? I’m ok with that, too.

I guess, the point I’m trying to make is that it is ok to want to continue living. It is ok to meet other people. It is ok to seek companionship. Your deceased spouse would not want you to be depressed and miserable for your remaining life, locked into a never-ending cycle of grief.

Don’t think of it as “moving on”, because you can no more move on from who you are as you can go back in time and change the events that made you who you are. Your spouse will ALWAYS be a huge component of what makes you who you are today. Instead, consider it continuing the story your life has been writing since the day you were born. And each and every day: a new chapter awaits. Turn the page…

Conversations

Today started with a surprise! I went to my usual 8:30 mass this morning, and as they announced the mass intentions, the lector intoned “Kimberley Babcock!” Though we did not get involved in St. Thomas a’Becket as we had at St. Dunstan, we have some very good friends there. Good enough to remember Kim and ask that masses be said for her.

After mass, I drove to the cemetery as is my Sunday routine. The rotten deer or the wind had, again, tipped her grave blanket over, so I righted it, cleaned it off, and modified it to make it a little more resistant to tipping (we engineers are a determined lot…).

And then I had a very frank, one-sided conversation with her about something that had changed in my life. More on that tomorrow.

They say that routine is good; that it helps keep depression at bay to have a schedule of tasks. The tasks do not need to be all “work,” either. Plan fun things for yourself, too. But develop a routine. It does help.

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.