This blog is for Jim Marventano's family and friends to review his status and updates while he goes through treatment for Stage IV Colon Cancer. We can beat it together!

Sunday, October 28, 2007

The best things about being a grown-up

I had a happy childhood, as did Jim. But we both very much enjoyed the autonomy of being adults.

Shortly after we were married, Jim set me free of a 'guilty' from my childhood. I'd poured a glass of milk that was bigger than I could drink. My parents were the type that put my milk in the fridge and made me drink it later. (My parents started out with next-to-nothing, so they tend to the cheap from time to time.) While I debated what to do with my extra milk, Jim looked at me and said "Pour it down the drain. You don't have to drink it." Ta-da! Lightbulb moment. Geez, I'm a grown-up now. I can do what I want.

Doing what we want has limits, of course. Although, admittedly, I probably exceeded my limits more often than Jim.

This weekend I decided to make one of my grown-up decisions. For the last four years, Jim and I have always stayed in the same bedroom at my parents' house. It's the biggest bedroom - it has a king size bed. We also put Rachel in there in her own teeny little log bed (which is ultra cute). Jim LOVED sleeping in the king size bed. I HATED it. We sleep in a queen size at home. So whenever he had the chance to spread out and move into his own territory, Jim took it. I would move aaaaalllllllll the way over to his side of the bed for attention, and he'd shoo me away. More than once this led to a minor squabble over bed space.

I'm also allergic to the room or something in the room that we stayed in all these years. I never asked to move into another guest room because Jim loved the bed and the room. But the allergies would get so bad that by the end the trip I'd be on anti-allergens 24 hours a day. We stayed in a different room one time and Jim demanded that we move out the next day because he said he was allergic to that room. So we moved back into the room that I'm allergic to - and he was happy again.

Whenever we pack for the cabin, I have one bag, Rachel has one bag, Jake has one bag, and Jim always had two to four bags. Two bags, and we're talking big bags, was packing light for Jim. He liked to have a huge assortment of flannel shirts and wool sweaters from which to choose. He'd bring multiple pairs of shoes, socks to match everything, and a few pairs of jeans. Plus his running clothes. He rarely ever ran at the cabin, but he liked to have the stuff just in case the urge to run came over him. And he liked to have reading material. Jim barely ever read, but he liked to have the books just in case the urge to read came over him. Plus his slippers, two or three jackets, and a fleece. Plus his rain gear. So Jim liked the big room at the cabin so that he could spread out all of his stuff. And for such a neat guy, Jim could really get slobby at the cabin. I think he was excited about all the space.

We went to my parents' house this weekend. Rachel and I put our stuff down in the same room - partly out of habit. We stayed in that room the first night. I was miserable and sneezing by morning. But more than that, I felt r-e-a-l-l-y sad in that huge king size bed without Jim. I didn't even like sleeping in it when Jim was there, forget sleeping in it alone. Now I'm just taking up 1/4 of this massive bed. And, funny, I still sleep in the same spot at the edge of the bed next to the nightstand. I imagine if rolls were reversed, Jim would have been spread out in the middle of the bed.

So it finally occurred to me: I don't have to sleep in that bed just because Jim liked it. I don't like that room, and I'm hogging up a huge bed that either one of my brothers and their significant others would be delighted to have. So I finally explained all this to my Mom, and we moved into a different room. Rachel was very resistant. She kept asking me when we were moving back to the big room. I explained that we weren't moving back and adjustments take time, she'd get over it.

But you know what? Rachel didn't get creeped out in the smaller room. She didn't get into bed with me in the middle of the night. My allergies weren't nearly as bad. I felt good sleeping in a smaller bed.

My brother and his wife visited my parents and the three of us at the cabin this weekend. We had a great time with them there. They are awesome with Rachel and Jake. And they were so happy to sleep in the king size bed. Yippee!

It's little changes. I don't have to do things just because we always did them that way. I was sad up north this weekend without Jim. There are little signs of him everywhere. Even looking at the trees and the lake made me sad without him. Riding on the pontoon boat was sad. Being in that big huge room without Jim and his masses of luggage was sad. But I took one little step to make things easier for me. I love being a grown-up.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

35 today

I turned 35 years old today. I look like I'm over 50. I thought all my age would appear from carousing and doing foolish things, but I seem to have accumulated some serious age over the last year. I told one of the nurses at the Vince tonight that I'm 35 and she didn't believe me. How scary is that?!?!

It was a good birthday. I went to coffee with my girlfriends today. They bought me a donut and put a candle in it. Then they and every senior citizen in the village of Kohler sang me Happy Birthday. It was pretty cool. All the seniors were there for their coffee as well - they have free coffee at Woodlake Market!

It was a good day. Last year Jim started treatment on October 23rd, so my birthday wasn't so great. I did not want it to be the same this year. I got some cleaning done. Visited with friends. Pastor Kirby's wife, Gail, and her two daughters made me an ice cream cake. (Ooh la la it was layered - delicious!) And I went to the Patients' Advisory Committee Meeting at the Vince. And after that I received the training for coaching caretakers or grief partners. I was glad I signed up to do that. Even though I know my friends would have taken care of me, I feel like I did something really productive and positive with my time. I decided how to make the best use of my birthday. My birthday has never been a huge event, but last year was a little disappointing - not because of Jim, of course - but because I hurt for Jim. This year I felt a little more in control and it was another scenario where I didn't want to wait and let the day happen to me. I wanted to decide how it would play out. And I did. And I feel good about it.

Each new thing that happens without Jim is tough. But I marched into today determined to have it go my way - not the way of the wind. So I count today as a small success. Now if I could just convince people that I'm not 50...

Monday, October 22, 2007

Where my grief shows

I'm getting good at recognizing grief. Here's what's going on with me:

- We're having some issues with Rachel. I thought it was her, but guess what? It's me. A friend gave me a great parenting book and I wasn't even two chapters in before I spotted the problem. And it's my problem, not Rachel's. So that's something that we're working on. Together. I've fallen off the consistency wagon. And the healthy-eating wagon. And the discipline wagon. And those are the three worst wagons to fall off of when you're dealing with a spirited child.

- I'm doing not some, but ALL my crying at night. I just get into bed, lay there, talk to Jim and tell him about my day. When I ask him a question he doesn't answer me so I get upset. Not dissimilar from the last 12 years, but then he'd sort of snort and say something like "Can I go to sleep now?" And then I mull it over in silence, much as I did for the last 12 years. Lately I've been thinking about funny stories and how much fun he was. And that makes me upset. I am okay with crying at night. That way no one sees me. I'm not a pretty crier. I get all scary-mascara-smeared-snotty-red-nosed. I've always wondered about those pretty criers. Where do they come from and who gave them permission to look cute whilst in tears? We're in two totally different leagues.

- I'm starting to get a very few things done. I'm starting my thank-you notes. I'm getting appointments scheduled and I'm working on insurance. I'm cleaning up some things that have been bugging me. And I took the trash out today before 12:00. Pickup is tomorrow morning, but typically by the end of the day I'm too tired to take it out and inevitably I have to take the trash out in the morning wearing my jammies in the pouring rain, completely unshowered and looking like poop. Right around then is when my neighbors start out of their houses all freshly showered and looking great. So I decided to get on the stick and stop torturing my neighbors and take the trash out early. I'm proud of these very small accomplishments because before the last few days, I haven't been able to complete much of anything. Which is frustrating. I'm not watching tv. I'm not playing on the computer. I'm really not doing...anything. So getting even the smallest thing done is great. (And many of the things I'm getting done are my dreaded phone calls!)

- I'm disorganized. I try to clean up, but I've finally realized that I'm not cleaning. I'm just shuffling things around. So I'm making a conscious effort to actually find places for things rather than stacking them and moving them to another place.

Okay, so that's my tough stuff. Here's the good things:

- My mom (God love her) took Jake and both dogs up north. What a saint. That's how I've had all this time to get stuff done.

- I am taking a few girls (Amy, Susan, Judy, Lisa and Barb) to Chicago (staying at my Uncle and Aunt's uber-chic loft!) for an all girls weekend to thank them for everything they've done for me. Not that other people haven't done things for me - they have. But these are the people who have made absolutely certain that if I've fallen down, they've picked me up, dusted me off (or in Judy's case, vacuumed, soaped and polished me off, then used Q-Tips to get the dirt out of anyplace. It's her German-bred cleaning style) and made sure that I've marched on with my chin up. I CANNOT WAIT for Chicago. I bought a couple of bottles of Veuve Clicquot (my favorite) so that we can do a champagne toast when we get there. Hello Costco! Where would we get our cheap wine without warehouse stores?

- I am reading. Granted I'm reading grief books, parenting books, and books that are supposed to help me turn into Ayn Rand, but hey - at least I'm spending some quiet time. Alone. By myself. Just me. And the pages of a book. What could be better?

- Rachel and I have had a few breakthroughs since mom took Jake up north. I think she needed some extra attention. And I think she needed the old me back. I put her to bed at 6:10 last night. No lie. And you know what? She went right to sleep. I think she needed someone to lay down the law and tell her how it's going to be done. I think she was exhausted. And I think she was exhausted from pushing my buttons. No one ever says she isn't smart.

- I am able to think about happy or funny things about Jim without getting too sad. One thing that distresses me is that when I think of him, a lot of times I think about how he looked before he passed away. And I feel bad about that because that wasn't Jim. I'm thinking I'm going to get to a point where I remember him and how beautiful he was. And it's funny - I don't think of his body before he passed. When I think about his hugs or him in a flannel shirt, I think about his regular body. But when I think of his face I think of how thin he was. In any case, I'm happy that I'm able to think of some things and laugh. And I know I'll get to a place where I think about his face before he was so sick.

- Palmer and Major aren't here stinking up my house. They're at my parents house stinking things up in the Northwoods. Oh, but they're good dogs. They're really great when they're 250 miles away.

Well this was kind of a random post. But I just wanted to throw an update out to everyone. We're doing okay. It's easier to manage one kid than four. I count Palmer and Major - they're bigger than both of my kids. I get to count them.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Okay, so it wasn't ALL daisies and butterflies

I went to my first support group on Thursday morning. I thought it was a pretty good meeting. I was nervous that it would be me and everyone in the tri-state area that was 80+ years old, but actually it was me, and an ages spanning from me to 80, so I wasn't too much of a sore thumb. Although at the end the chaplain that facilitated the meeting came over and asked me if I'd like to speak with someone my own age. I replied in the affirmative. She said that she'd had someone call that morning that was hesitant to attend the meeting because she feared that she wouldn't find anyone near her age. I know the feeling. So I gave the chaplain my name and number, and the blog address. We'll see if the other young widow calls me.

Any way, at the meeting we watched a video that confirmed that some of my feelings are normal. First of all, she said that it's perfectly normal not to be crying buckets. (Whew!) Although I have been crying, I'm still not the sobbing mess I thought I'd be. It still catches me at the strangest times. The woman on the video (who lost her husband at around 40 years old to a sudden heart attack - left her with 5 kids and no job!) said that she'd pace around the living room at night and angrily tell her husband "Well it's great that you're up there with your halo on, but hello! I'm down here with no job and five kids."

The woman in the video also said that we tend to make our spouse sound as though they were saint material. We play them up in our minds and in our heart as if they never did anything wrong. That our marriages were like gold. When she mentioned it in the video, I laughed out loud. I do that. I make Jim sound like he was a saint. I make it sound like we had 12 years of wedded bliss during which we never had a single fight. So here we go:

My number one advice to the under 25 set: don't get married until you're at least 25. And then when you get to 25, think about it for another couple of years. Jim and I got married when he was 25 and I was 22. We were babies! And getting married young makes it tough to figure yourself out. I had never lived with a man apart from my dad and brothers. Lemme tell you, it was the shock of my life. I moved from my home into my college dorm, into an apartment with roommates, back into my parents' home, and into Jim's home. This is the first time in my life I've ever lived alone. And if you think living with Rachel and Jake is living alone, you're nuts. Actually, if you think living in Kohler is living alone, you're nuts. But I digress.

The second year of marriage is the hardest. At least in my mind. The first year you're all in-love-and-setting-up-house-and-cutesy. The second year you're up to your elbows in laundry and cleaning the bathtub and you start to wonder if this is what you signed up for. I was so immature when we got married that I really, really, really made our second year difficult. And Jim was immature too. Before we got married, we had talks like "I definitely want kids." What the dialogue should have been was:
Me: I want kids.
Jim: Me too.

Me: How many do you want?
Jim: I don't know - two? How many do you want?
Me: I don't know. Two or three.

{Insert what we didn't talk about here:}
Him: When do you want to have kids?
Me: I don't know - a long time from now.
Him: Like, a year?
Me: No, like eight years.
Him: Eight years?! I was thinking of trying for kids in three months.
Me: {Squawk!} Three months? Are you nuts?

Perhaps these are things we should have talked about before we got married. But you know, at 22, you just you're on the same page. Foolish, I know.

One time during our second year of marriage we got in a colossal fight and I screamed at him to get out. He started to leave and I started screaming at him to stay. Another time we got into a fight, and I have no idea why, but we were yelling at each other in the bathroom as he was taking a shower. For whatever hair brained reason, I picked up his towel and threw it into the shower while he was in there. I don't know that I've ever seen Jim that mad. When I think about it now, I laugh. Why would I throw his towel into the shower?

Jim's feet were ridiculously ugly. He had Fred Flintstone feet. I used to call him Bilbo Baggins. Which he only sort of got because he hated Lord of the Rings - shame on him. He also hated Star Wars, much my brothers' intense chagrin. They sat Jim down to watch it one winter afternoon and he fell asleep. They were horrified.

Jim chewed his nails. He said he did it to keep them neat, but I thought it was a yucky habit.

I crack a lot of my bones in my neck and fingers. It made Jim want to climb the walls. He also got annoyed with my incessant worrying, moodiness, hashing over a single subject for hours on end, and the fact that I really care about what people think about me.

Jim would do anything to get something for free. One night he and his friend Keith must have drank around 5 pitchers of New Castle to get one of everything the visiting New Castle rep had at a bar we frequented in Atlanta. It was funny to a point. Sometimes it was just cheap. He loved junky little tchotchkes.

Jim thought I was a slob. I am a slob. I carefully drape things over chairs until I have a pile so high and everything in the pile is wrinkly. I've been doing that since - forever. Jim was neat. He would carefully hang his shirts and pants or put them in the laundry basket. Even with a laundry chute, I can still get pretty slobby.

I eventually gave up talking to Jim while he was on the Musky Marauder fishing trips. He was so rude on the phone - eating, talking to other people in the room, drinking - I finally gave in and gave up. I think he was delighted to have a week without me jabbering his ear off. It was probably the best week of his year.

Jim pretty much carried me and our marriage through the time that we lived in Charlotte. I was a mental wreckage zone. I just couldn't pull it together. If it weren't for Jim, I don't know that I could have survived it, and I'm absolutely certain that our marriage wouldn't have. Even over the last year, he would apologize for being sick or too weak to do something and I would just laugh and say "Honey, remember Charlotte? I owe you BIG. You can go through another 10 years of cancer and it won't make up for what you did for me in Charlotte." Even after Charlotte I imagine that once in a while he got sick of being the really responsible one. I always wondered why he didn't pick someone more like him. More responsible. I guess he had his reasons. After all, two really responsible people does not necessarily equal the best time.

Admittedly, we got over Charlotte and although we did have some spats, we really had a good time together. Once we moved to Atlanta it was the place, the time, the people, the marriage we were looking for. We'd both matured. We both had great jobs. We had two great houses, great friends, and we had a heck of a lot of fun together. We went on trips, we spent a lot of nights out, we spent good time with friends, and we spent a lot of time going on dates. And we brought that here to Wisconsin. And we had the kids at the right time for us. On our time schedule, (once Jim accepted that kids weren't going to happen in the first 6 months of marriage!) and they are great kids because we did it our way. They would be different kids and we would be different people if we'd had kids earlier.

Not every day was daisies and butterflies, but is it for anyone? Don't we all have annoying little habits? I know I do. I know Jim did. And Jim was perfect. So if he had a few little annoying things, imagine how annoying the rest of us are.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Being a genius

I decided to write a blog about Jim, not about how I'm coping with the loss of Jim. Unfortunately there just wasn't enough time to post all the blogs that I wanted to about Jim before he passed away. He's an amazing person and I just need to write a few more posts about him.

So, that being said - what I'm going to talk about today is the fact that my husband was a sheer genius with corrugated cardboard. When Jim and I first met and he explained what he did for a living, my first response was..."so, you cut out boxes?". Let me tell you that a Packaging Engineer does a heck of a lot more than cut out boxes. Anything you buy - anything - comes in a package. And chances are, it was shipped to where ever you bought it. And if you bought it and whatever it is still works, isn't crushed, dinged or wet, then the packaging engineer did their job.

Over the years Jim has packaged everything from cleaners to poultry to snowblowers to toilets. He was hired into International Paper (IP) at just the right time. Jim was laid off from his previous company the week before we closed on our first house. But the timing was right and two brothers who ran the IP Geneva plant hired Jim. About a year or two after that Jim applied for a promotion to Charlotte, NC and got it.

We've moved three times with International Paper. Each time was a great move for us. IP makes moving painless. And of course, our last move was to Wisconsin, a location in which we both really wanted to be.

Jim's worked with a lot of people. Not just at IP - Jim also met with a lot of clients and worked with some of their designers, as well. I've never seen someone get so excited about boxes. Jim would come home with his eyes gleaming and say things like "I figured out a new, inexpensive toilet pack and it's awesome!" or "the crush test passed!". He has patents on a number of boxes, including a tomato box that you're seeing at the grocery store all the time, you just didn't know it was Jim's design. (Or, for that matter, you didn't notice that a lot of times you're picking tomatoes out of the boxes they were shipped in!)

Jim got to knowing how good he was. I think he always knew, of course he knew - he was Jim. But once he got to IP, they hooked him up with a mentor that really brought out Jim's talent. And after that, it was like a snowball. Jim got better and better. He got to train a slew of new kids fresh out of college. I'm certainly not immortalizing Jim - he could also get very annoyed. If Jim didn't think you were a good designer, I imagine he'd let you know it. There have been a few designers over the years that Jim really crabbed about. On occasion it was personality conflict, but more often than not it was the simple fact that Jim didn't think they were a good designer. He hated correcting work that wasn't any good. Jim was a measure twice, cut once kind of guy.

In the last five or six years or so, Jim got hooked into a group of a very few designers that are really good. And I think then Jim knew how good he was. These are the types of guys that make you want to come to work every day. They were his support network through annoyances, troubled times, or when he had to correct other peoples' work. Sometimes I could hear him call one of them when he was annoyed and by the time he got off the phone he was doubled over in laughter. Sometimes he'd laugh so hard at something one of them had said that he'd actually have tears in his eyes.

These are the kinds of guys (Jim included) that get an idea for a pack at 8:30 at night and call to talk about it with another designer. Not because they have to, but because they want to. I imagine they're all a lot like Jim: when their kids open a Christmas gift, dad spends about 10 minutes looking at the box. Case in point - the wonderful gift playhouse made completely of corrugated cardboard that Jim's mentor made for the kids. Check this out. And he somehow got the Jets logo in there. These guys are the pinnacle of creativity. These guys lifted Jim up. Finding a designer worthy of respect in Jim's mind was tough. And certainly it would be tough to crack the skin on this group because they know just how good they are. But it's not just that. They treat each other like brothers. No one is excluded from the merciless teasing or practical jokes. Even when Jim was sick they were still making him laugh and keeping him in the loop. They even called and talked to him about designs. I was so appreciative - I think he really needed that.

If ever a designer had the potential to break into the group, it was the other IP designer that was here in Kohler with Jim. Unfortunately Nick left IP about a month ago to move closer to home and take a better career opportunity. But every time Jim saw Nick, he felt better. Poor Nick really never knew Jim without cancer. Jim hired Nick in...June? And the following September Jim was diagnosed. It was Nick that originally drove Jim to the hospital. Nick also fielded the Kohler work while Jim was in treatment. After diagnosis when Jim went into work, I could see glimpses of the old Jim. He was normal after a day of working with Nick. Not depressed or someone with cancer. He was just Jim. And Jim thought Nick was a good designer. And for Jim to say that...keep cutting out boxes, Nick. You're really good.

In any case, over our lifetimes I'm sure we'll all work at a number of places and possibly span more than one career. Packaging was the only thing Jim ever wanted to do. And no wonder. He was so good at it. He had an amazing, funny, haughty group of guys that acted as his sounding boards, his friends, and his confidantes. Wouldn't you want to keep going into the office day after day if you had a group like that? Wouldn't it inspire you to do more? Design cooler stuff? It certainly did for Jim. He had great managers and coworkers. And he knew he'd found his niche at IP. I'd call it luck, but the fact of the matter is that he was Jim. He was just that good. He found his place and his cohorts because he truly cared about the job.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The pumpkin farm and my first "date"

Overall it was a tough weekend. And possibly a weekend of small victories.

Rachel, Jake and I hit the pumpkin patch with our friends Susan and Ken, and their kids John and Marcella. We went to the pumpkin patch with them last year, so I figured it would be good to go with them this year as well. I was right. And I've got to say - the pumpkin patch with a riled up four year old and a toddler is definitely a tag-team event, so I was delighted to have Ken and Susan there to field my kids while I wrangled three enormous pumpkins and a gluttony of gourds. It made me miss Jim - with controlling the kids and since Ken and Jim were good friends. I think the reason that we ended up being such good friends with Susan and Ken is because they have a marriage very much like ours. (Except that Susan isn't nearly as dramatic as me, which is a bonus for Ken...)

In any case, we got to do a hayride, go through a mini-haystack maze, pick out pumpkins, feed goats, and generally enjoy a nice afternoon. Rachel was so wound up to be there with Susan and Ken's kids that she pretty much skipped over the whole picking-the-pumpkin part and just ran around. I picked out three pumpkins. I thought about getting four pumpkins, because obviously we typically get one for each of us. But I also wondered if that was partly my ego talking, and if I was going to get four pumpkins, was I planning to carve four? Because carving was really Jim's deal. I'm okay with scooping out and cleaning pumpkins, but generally my carving looks as though I've taken a knife and hacked at the pumpkin until it has something resembling a face. Of course Jim's carvings were all Martha Stewartish. So I thought it best not to get too big for my britches and stick with three. Chances are Rachel and Jake will lose interest 10 minutes into the carving ordeal and I'll be stuck carving alone. And if I bought a fourth pumpkin and didn't carve it, would that be saying that I didn't care enough to carve one for Jim? See how I like to overthink these things? Where do I come up with this stuff?

All in all I count the pumpkin patch as a success. Rachel and Jake had fun and we got the pumpkins.

Saturday night I went to a surprise party for my friend Kerri's birthday. I was nervous when I got the invite. At this moment, I'm the only "only-parent" I know in Kohler. Being a single mom in Kohler really isn't the norm. So I was a bit nervous about going to a party full of happily-marrieds. I could just picture it as an awkward middle school dance where all the marrieds would stand on one side of the room, and all the alones would stand one the other side, ie. I'd be alone with everyone staring at me.

But several weeks ago my friend Amy blessedly called and told me that her husband would be taking her son to a Bears game - would I like to be her date? You bet I would. Then my friend Shauna called and told me that her husband would be out of town and would I like to go? You bet I would. So I got them both corsages for my first big "date". Even flanked with friends I was scared out of my mind. But as it turned out, there were tons of girls there whose husbands, for various reasons, weren't able to attend. Whew. And I can promise you that my dates were the only ones wearing corsages. Don't worry, I got them wrist corsages. I didn't want the flowers to interfere with their jeans and sweaters. You should have heard me explaining that one to the florist.
Me: Hi. I need two corsages for tomorrow evening.
Florist: Two?
Me: Yes, two.

Florist: What color are the girls' dresses?
Me: Um, jeans and t-shirts?

Florist: Hm. Okay.
Me: {Begin nervous babbling} White, please. NO CARNATIONS. But white. It's my first time out since my husband passed away. {Overthinking: oh no, she'll think I have a date and it's only been three weeks. Say something! Quick!} I mean, I'm going out with two of my girlfriends.

Florist: Yeah. Pick them up by two tomorrow.

And you wonder why I don't answer the phone? It's because of exchanges like that, my friends.

Anyway, the party was fun and I felt good for going. I was glad to be invited. And I only had two really teary moments: 1. They played a Johnny Cash song that reminded me of Jim and I got all nervous and jerky and went outside. 2. I saw Susan and Ken hug a couple of times (the same Susan and Ken from the pumpkin patch) - although it was great to see them hug, it reminded me of Jim and me. Jim was my rock. I'd float off at a party and chit chat, drink lots of wine, and I'd always float back to Jim to give him hugs, let him know that I loved him, tell stories about things we did or fun times we'd had together, and then float away again to chit chat with other people. That's what I saw in Susan and Ken last night. Two people who genuinely enjoy each other. A marriage that's rock solid. Love and respect and the ability to laugh, hug and have fun together. That made me miss Jim. I loved telling funny stories about Jim at parties. Like how Jim used to have an autographed picture of Norm Abrahms in his workshop. Or how he chugged some unidentifiable purple liquid at the poolside bar in Cancun and waded back to me in a diagonal. Or the time that he got our shopping cart stuck in the snow at Ace hardware and I started laughing so hard that I couldn't help him. Or the time at Sam's Club when he put this ENORMOUS package of tighty-whiteys in the cart to make me laugh, and when I saw the twinkle in his eye I started laughing so hard that I had to hang onto a clothing rack to keep myself up. I can still get laughing at that story.

I miss Jim. Life is just not as good without someone like that. He was the center of my universe. I am still thankful for any time I had with him. But it just hurts like hell right now.

In any case, I also count the party as a success. I went, I had two dates, and I had a good time. I got to talk to a lot of people and I met some nice new people.

I went to church today and felt proud of myself for getting there on time with the kids. (A first in nearly a year.) I was glad I went - it was a good message. The kids drove me insane for the the rest of the day, but that's another blog. :)

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

The Overscheduling-Because-I-Need-To-Be-Busy Complex

Well. Nothing is going on. Everything is going on. Something is going on.

The village of Kohler is pretty much afraid to leave me alone. (That's not a hint to stop calling me! Keep calling!) I have taken several people up on offers to have dinner with their families, hang out, or do things together, because right now I'm sort of afraid to be alone. If I'm alone I'll get to thinking. If I get to thinking I might start to cry. If I start to cry I might not recover.

So, in an efficient effort not to be alone or think, I've scheduled myself into a slew of activities that allow me to focus on everything else except the fact that Jim isn't here. We've had dinner with people almost every night. I've signed up for two Bible studies - which, given my background, is hysterical. (Although I'm learning, so that's a healthy diversion.) I've signed up to be an editor for the school's Wellness Committee. I signed Jake and I up for Mom and Tot swim lessons. I'm on the Patient Advisory Committee at the Vince. We have playdates in the new basement. Even my time to grieve is "scheduled" - I'm working on a Grieving Journal, reading books about mourning (good to know that some of my things are completely normal) and creating a list of new things to read or do. The only tv I'm watching is The Bachelor. Last night after Bible study my friend Susan (who watched the kids so that I could go to this Bible study) organized the sympathy and memorial cards for me.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot avoid the fact that he's not here. Yesterday a water main broke on our street. (I didn't know that kind of thing went on in Kohler but apparently there was a rogue pipe they didn't know about...) After the water main broke they fixed it, but there was the distinct smell of sewage in the basement. I, of course, assumed that we'd all be dead by morning due to some sort of noxious gas released by sewage. But today I worked up the nerve to call the village and they gave me a fix (pour water down the drain in the basement).

Things that are the hardest for me right now:
1. Jim's old jobs. The ShopVac cheated me out of a good cleaning session the other day and I got furious and yelled at Jim. Then I felt bad for yelling at him.
2. Making any kind of phone call that I don't want to make, which is every phone call. But mostly the ones to some kind of business where I have to schedule something, ask for something, stand up for myself, or assert myself in any way. I'm too tired to do that right now.
3. Remembering anything outside my name or my kids' names. I've always been flakey in the memory department - I'm at borderline dementia.

Things that I've had success at so far:
1. Making phone calls that I haven't wanted to make.
2. Figuring out the ShopVac issue.
3. Our wireless router pooped out two days ago. Having wireless is a big treat for me. Unfortunately, Judi and Jim set up the wireless router so I didn't know how to fix it. But I did fix it. Admittedly, my dad is here and he helped me. BUT, we are both of Ferguson descent (read: un-handy) so I count fixing the router as a major success.

Things I'm planning to tackle in the near future:
1. The pumpkin patch.
2. Carving pumpkins.
3. The life insurance company.
4. Visiting with our insurance agent.
5. Meeting with a financial advisor.
6. Making phone calls. Or at least picking up the voicemail more often than I am now, which is every 2nd day or so.

All of the above are things I would have done easily with Jim here. All of the above are things that I don't want to do alone. I've asked my dad to attend several of the meetings with me. Truthfully, I felt like a sap asking him to come with me. But here's how I figure it: when we get distressing news at the doctors office, they typically advise us to bring someone else with us that can hear things that we'd miss because we're stunned. So it's like that. My dad is my second set of ears, and he'll catch the things I might miss. It's just that it's much more socially acceptable at this age to go with someone who didn't raise you. At least I haven't moved in with them. Yet.

The mourning book I'm reading is *really* interesting - it turns out that I'm completely normal. Even down to the rarely-crying factor. And the memory loss. Since I've determined that this is grieving, I'm giving myself permission to take everything one day at a time. I count each small success or phone call as a major break. Unfortunately I'm rewarding myself with Snickers bars (thanks, Aimee!).

The last few days have been busy and scary and emotionally draining. But we're pulling through. Rachel isn't showing signs of becoming an axe murderer. Yet. That might come after we move in with my parents. Tee hee.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Being an only parent

Another not-so-hot day. I'm going to put a disclaimer on this blog right away: I'm going to mention things about Kohler. And I don't want anyone to change anything, do anything for me, or feel as though this is criticism - I am honestly just expressing a feeling - nothing more.

So here's what happened.

Kohler is the BEST school ever. And therefore the PTA (or as we call it, Kohler School Friends) prints a directory of all the kids and their parents, addresses, etc. We got the directory today. And when I looked us up, Jim wasn't listed with me. I was the only parent listed. Of course they wouldn't list him - he's not here. And it's not like everyone doesn't know. Everyone does know. And they most likely thought it would be harder if he was listed (although I don't know why they'd list him since he's not here), and if he had been listed, I'd probably be freaking out about that, too.

I am an only parent. I prefer to use the term only parent rather than single parent because I do not consider myself single. I am married. I just happen to be married to someone who had cancer. And I DON'T WANT TO BE AN ONLY PARENT. I want Jim back. I want his name listed in the column with me. (That's not a statement to Kohler School Friends - that's an inside feeling, not a request or criticism.) I just want to be Jim and Kate. I loved being Jim and Kate. Now I'm just Kate.

I made it through the week, but just barely. I started to cry at 4:00pm today and I couldn't stop. Of course we had soccer at 4:30, so I got Rachel to the soccer field. My friend Liz took one look at me and asked me if I would like her to hold Jake. I went to the car and finished my meltdown. Then my friend Judy came over and I started my meltdown again. I just don't want to be single. I just want Jim back. I want him to come to soccer. I want him to come home at lunch and eat with us, just like we'd planned. (Lunch at home is one of the benefits of living in Kohler.) I want him to curl up with me on a Friday night and watch a movie.

But like I suspected would happen, I didn't just cry about Jim not being in the directory. I cried because Jake eats sand. I cried because Jake bites and hits, and boy is he cute, but he's no fun to hang with. I cried because Rachel is sassy. I cried because Rachel saw me crying and wondered why I was crying. I cried because bees attacked our lunch at the park today. I don't have any really good reason for crying other than the fact that I miss Jim. That's the real reason I'm crying. But it seems to snowball and I turn it into more. Like I need to blow this one out of proportion. For once I have a good reason to cry and now I'm trying to inflate my reason. Where's the logic?

We went to a dinner at a friends house tonight. It was great fun. I thought about backing out, but right now, I really need it. I need to get out of the house. I'm not wallowing like I thought I would (although you'd never know it from my blog entries), but I realize that the momentum that is keeping me going right now is a good thing. And dinner was awesome. Shannon played the guitar and sang - Jake "danced", which means he flapped his arms and ran around. The kids put on a show. We had fish that Shannon's dad caught and cooked himself. Her mom took me around their house and we talked about all things Ireland. (Shannon's family is super-Irish - Blessed are those that hail from Ireland!)

I have to go. Two of our gang just showed up with wine and raw cookie dough. God I love Kohler.

Thursday, October 04, 2007


Well, grief finally struck. I've sort of been hanging around waiting for it. I finally cried last night. But, I was right in my assessment - crying really doesn't help. I was still sad and dragging when I got up this morning. I found a website last night for widows and I was shocked to see that there were people that were visiting the site that have been widowed for years. I realized then that I'm in a different place than most people. My kids are most certainly what spur me on and force me to continue with a normal day. I just can't not hold it together, and I honestly feel that it's selfish and cruel to the kids to go off the deep end. That being said, I got a chance to cry last night when Rachel, thankfully, wasn't around and didn't wake up.

Life churns forward. I am sort of torn - Rachel's asking me about visiting a pumpkin patch. Of course I'll take the kids. But fall was one of Jim's favorite times of year. Time to break out his flannel shirts and LL Bean boots. We have such fond memories of the pumpkin patch. As you know, we were married for eight years before we decided to have kids. We even visited the pumpkin patch before kids. And it was at a pumpkin patch that I finally got the revelation that kids might be in our overall plan. {Questions to follow - I am not looking for advice, this is a blog, and therefore a recording of my mental blather rather than an information gathering forum} So the question I charge into things head-on and take the kids, regardless of how painful it is for me? Or do I ask other families if we can go with them, in the hopes that it won't be such a lonely experience? Why do I feel the need to have lots of people around to make it not lonely? I'm eventually going to have to accept that we'll be doing things without Jim. Asking if we can tag along with other families won't necessarily make it easier. It just means there will be more people there.

Things that I miss about Jim in the fall
- That fall was his favorite season
- That he carried a flannel shirt like a flag
- That he wore flannel like a guy
- His beautiful, soft skin, especially in fall - still tan and warm from the sun
- How warm his hugs were
- The fact that he carved all of our pumpkins
- The way he held our kids at the pumpkin patch
- That he put up with my love of Halloween and even nurtured it by occasionally helping me set up elaborate Halloween decorations

One of my all-time favorite pictures of Jim (and there are many) is this one:

I can feel what a good dad he is in this picture. I know how his heart is bursting with love. As Judi said in her eulogy - Jim didn't have to try to be a good dad, he just was a good dad. This is the picture of true love.

Nothing feels right anymore. Regardless of whether we go on our own or with other people, the pumpkin patch is going to be tough. But I'm figuring that Jim will be with us. And he'll cradle Rachel and Jake just as before, making sure they pick the very best pumpkins.

Monday, October 01, 2007

Day 1

Today is my first "alone" day since Jim passed away. In fact, it's my first "alone" day since mid-August. I think I did the right thing on insisting that I try and go it alone. Although I have to tell you that I tried to cut out the meals, and Amy told me I was a fool, and that no, I would be getting meals. She cracks me up.

Jim's service this last weekend in Rochester was a testament to the guy he was. There was standing room only - probably around 300 people showed up, some of them from really far away. Lots of Jim, Janet, and Judi's friends were there to support them, and some of my friends came as well. All things considered, it was a good weekend.

Aside from the service, I had two high points in the weekend - one being the drive. My mom and I jabbered on and on while my poor Dad did his best to get a word in edge-wise. When people asked how the drive was, my mom and I said "great!" and my dad said "long.". Hm. Also on the drive we stopped in Erie at one of my old college hangouts - Quaker Steak and Lube - home to some of the best chicken wings on earth. Of course now Quaker Steak and Lube is a chain, but when we went there (I'm dating myself here) there was only ONE and it was the best! Good thing I was driving when I spotted it because my dad was getting pretty desperate to get out of the car at that point. Only an elite few can handle 500 miles of licorice, Snickers and Diet Coke. Thank heavens I perfected that art early in my college career. Or maybe I learned it from my mom. Either way, it was fun.

The second high point of the weekend (for me) was that my girlfriends came to the service. These are girls that have known me for a long, long, long time. Therefore when they said "What's up with this strong persona? This isn't the Kate we know. We need you to freak out and throw beer on someone or something like that." I knew I was in good company. Thank goodness there are still people left that recognize that I'm a complete flake. Oh, wait, you all know that? Well don't feel obligated to tell me that I'm strong. It's starting to freak me out.

I am working my hardest at being strong, but I've gotta tell ya, this strong stuff stinks. No wonder Jim always went to bed so early. He was emotionally exhausted from putting up with my flakiness all day. I have also determined that crying most certainly does NOT make me feel better. It makes me feel worse. Closely akin to my adolescence, when I'd start crying about one thing and then it would snowball and eventually I'd be crying because there wasn't any toilet paper left on the roll. I'll save my crying for a rainy day when I really need it. Right now I'm harboring too much anger at God to let out any tears. If I start, it really doesn't do me any good. And Rachel gets really upset when I cry, so I can't cry in front of her.

Day 1 of being alone is going pretty well. I cheated a couple of times today. My parents stayed this morning and watched Jake while I dropped Rachel off at school. My friend Susan took Rachel to her swim class. And tonight my neighbors David and Kate took Rachel to dinner, so I got to give Jake a bath. But aside from those three cheats, I did okay.

Mostly I spent the day missing Jim. I loved spending time with Jim. I could spend every minute of every day with him and never tire of him. (I'm not sure he'd say the same about me...) I was sad when he left for work. I missed him when he went fishing. And I couldn't wait for him to retire so we could spend all our time together. So all throughout the day, I talked to him. Just in little bits, here or there. Telling him I missed him, telling him I was sad, telling him about my day, asking if he was around and if he could hear me. It sounds lame, but it makes me feel better.

I am a little nervous about going to bed tonight. After all, it's my first night "alone". Typically I'm so tired by the end of the day that going to bed isn't much of an issue. I'm hoping that's true for tonight. These are big changes. It's hard work being "strong". I'm hoping that exhaustion will drive me to sleep - much the way it did for Jim over the last 12 years.