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…
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.
Yesterday, my youngest was craving a meal that Kim used to “throw together” in a ginormous frypan. Kim was going to show her how to make it, but, for whatever reason, that lesson never occurred. So, based on what we remembered was in the meal, we ventured to the grocery store (and were dismayed to find them actively remodeling it…) and bought zucchini, yellow squash, diced tomatoes, tomato sauce, and chicken tenders. I thought some extra fiber and protein would be nice, so I added a can of light kidney beans and a can of great northern beans to the cart.
I put the meal together as I remembered Kim would do, chopping the onion, slicing the squashes, cubing the chicken, tossing everything into the pan, and bringing it to heat. I seasoned it as it cooked until what I tasted triggered my chef’s memory of what Kim’s rendition tasted like. It was very close. And that triggered a tidal wave of emotion I didn’t expect – one that stayed with me into today, as I’ve struggled with, for instance, answering a text to the affirmative with the phrase “Yea, verily!” which led to a memory of the Danny Kaye movie The Court Jester, which we enjoyed long ago (much to the surprise of my youngest son at the time – he didn’t want to watch it, and ended up mesmerized by it! One of his favorites to this day.) – but, more pertinent to this telling, a movie that my youngest son and I watched as we sat at dinner in March of 2020 while Kim was in Florida with her dad and sister – the last trip she took without the specter of cancer hanging over her; the trip where she began to acknowledge that her “ulcer” was getting worse.
And, later, my youngest daughter was in need of colored pencils for her art class. Kim was very, very artistic; very talented. And I knew that she had colored pencils in the bag she took to her chemotherapy sessions – a lavender cloth tote bag embroidered, simply “Chemo Shit.” Well, sorting through that bag yielded another flood of heartache. All her adult coloring books – most unfinished, some not started. Her puzzle books. A sketch pad. A couple of drawings from our granddaughter with the phrase “I love you Gramma I hop you fell betr” – one depicting Kim as an angel handing something to her – eerily prescient of the angel handing an unseen person a rose as depicted on the thank you cards from Kim’s funeral.
I’m finding lots of weird little triggers like that. Seemingly innocuous activities that will set me travelling down the road of sadness; sometimes at breakneck speed…
I messaged with the husband of the woman to whom I gave Kim’s horse, Roxy, today. Roxy is doing very well with them and seems to have adopted her new mistress. This is a testament to all the work Kim did with that once easily spooked, shy horse. And they absolutely love her. I made the right choice there.
Kim had wanted her sister to take the horse for her niece, and her sister told Kim that they would. After Kim passed was when I was told they couldn’t afford to take the horse as the farm where her niece’s horse was stabled was full, and her sister just didn’t have the heart to tell Kim that. I only discovered this by accident when I contacted the barn, and they told me not to worry: they were finding a good home for Roxy. Thank goodness I made that call! Though I’m sure Roxy would have been fine with whomever the farm found to place her with – they’re good people whom Kim trusted and I trust as well – Kim really wanted Roxy to go to someone she knew and respected. The woman to whom I gave Roxy used to ride Bert with Kim back in the day, until her husband’s job pulled them out of Michigan (he and I were good friends, too – and would brew beer together as often as we could). They’re back, they have taken Roxy, and I think Kim would be very, very happy with this decision. In any case, his message was that he’s not a horse person, and even he is enamored with Roxy; that she has given him what Kim used to call a “horse hug.” Again: the right decision was made.
I’ve also heard back from an old friend who lost his wife under similar circumstances over seven years ago. He told me that the hole in your heart never fills. He has found someone he loves who he has now been with for several years, but she doesn’t replace his first wife, nor fill the place in his heart she held. I can see that. The hole in mine is fresh and raw, but I honestly don’t see how it can be filled. It’s huge.
And, finally, an old friend from work who had been battling lung cancer for as long as I can remember finally gave up on all the chemo and radiation in December, about a week after Kim left us. He passed yesterday. I was sure that, if anyone, he would beat it. He seemed to be doing so well.