Saturday, February 20, 2021

Grief: Death and Taxes

Note, for those of you wanting more frequent, day-to-day updates, I'm writing a "proof of life" post every Friday on Facebook, if you're inclined to brave that particular wilderness. It's more chatty, and talks about movies and TV shows a bit more than on here at the moment. You can follow me on FB and get the notification when I post, and hopefully being on FB to read it won't send you into an apoplexy. 

Tax Season normally fills people with dread and fear; not because everyone is secretly a white-collar criminal and living in fear that this year will be the one where the jig is suddenly up and that end up in federal prison; no, I think it’s just because most people don’t like to do math.

I don’t have a problem with paying taxes, per se. As soon as I figured out in my Economics class in high school that the taxes pay for stuff like roads, schools, national defense, yadda yadda yadda, I reasoned it was okay to expect us citizens to pay into the administrative costs of upkeep. I’ve only ever really groused about the exact percentages in each category.

What’s bothering me the most is having to go back through and relive my year, via purchases made, movies played, and that’s the trouble because I know exactly where I was from July to October and having to keep going over it again and again is a death of a thousand paper cuts. Cathy used to do this, the taxes. Oh, I’d help a little bit, with data entry and printing things out and looking at the uncategorized purchases to figure out what was what. But she did the heavy lifting. And when she got sick (well, sicker), pretty much the last thing on our minds was, “Now, don’t forget about the quarterly taxes. Here’s the password, and you’re going to want to...” I’d venture to say it was dead last at the bottom of the list of things we worried about.

So now I get to relive all of that.

Monday, January 18, 2021

Health: the Big 5-0

No, not my age, but still a pretty significant number: 50 is the number of pounds I’ve lost since September. It’s a huge number, and I’m excited to have reached it. My enthusiasm is tempered somewhat when I think about that number representing only about a third of what I need to lose. But hey, that’s a great start, and if I can keep everything on track, I ought to reach that goal before the end of the year.

That’s pretty amazing, if I do say so myself. This number is an excellent milestone, but there is a more important one for me to hit, and that’s going six months after Cathy’s passing without having a coronary event of any kind. That grim milestone happens at the end of March. So far, so good!

Well, here’s hoping. I am well aware of what a pernicious and sneaky bastard grief is, and my particular plague animal these days is something I’m calling grief gnats. These are tiny mites, flecks of random gibberish, really, that interrupt me whenever I’m in danger of feeling like myself again.

Saturday, November 21, 2020

Grief: "I Just Want Something I Can Ignore"

 Rob says that in the film version of High Fidelity, one of the great Gen-X films of the 1990s, played by Gen-X's poster child, John Cusack. I love that quote. It's one of those things I wish I'd written, damn you, Nick Hornby. It's such a succinct thought that conveys something we don't often articulate about mass media; namely, that there is, underneath the Must Watch Shows and the Trending Twitter Topics, and the "No Spoilers" Fan-Bombs on Facebook, a second layer of media, movies, and music. It's the stuff that, for one reason or another, serves as a kind of white noise machine for our overly-stimulated simian brains. 

Shows like M.A.S.H., for instance. That's a show everyone of a certain age remembered watching, both during prime time and syndication, for two or more decades. Now, well into our adulthood, M.A.S.H. is a show that is part of the glue of television. It's always on somewhere, and we've seen every episode multiple times. Even the episodes we think we didn't me, we've seen it. It's now a digital backdrop, visual Muzak, the kind of thing that can be on in the background during a family dinner and no one minds, because no one really pays that much attention to it, even the super serious episodes where Hawkeye cries or when Sidney tries to psychoanalyze someone.

Which leads me to Gilmore Girls

Monday, November 16, 2020

Aftermath: One Month

 Cathy died a month ago today. As hard as the last two years have been, and this includes my own hospitalization and other assorted health problems, and as rough as this year has been, and as painful as the last four months have been, the last thirty days have been some of the most challenging days of my life. I went from the funeral straight to not having a vehicle for three weeks. The enforced shut-in was both oddly comforting and ridiculously stressful, in that it made me feel even more helpless an ineffectual. Running the gauntlet between our wedding anniversary, my birthday, Halloween, and Cathy's birthday sure as hell didn't help matters one little bit. 

All this to say, I am grateful that friends and family don't blithely ask me how I'm doing. Ordinarily I would be loathe to bypass the social niceties (the hi's and how are you's), but my patience is worn tissue paper thin right now, and things that ordinarily wouldn't bother me a bit are sending me into a red rage. But I can't yell in a stranger's face, "I feel like I'm trying to play the trombone with only one arm! How do you THINK I'm doing today!?"

That's how I feel: like I've been amputated. And phantom limb syndrome for me involves walking around the house like a mental patient, talking to thin air and anxiously waiting for an answer that will never come. 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Cancer: Aftermath

I feel like I have a lot to say, but I don't really want to voice any of it. Instead, I'll just dump my brain out and we'll see how it goes. 

The funeral was nice, insofar as funerals go. I think everyone honored Cathy with their words and their expressions of love and admiration for her. Several friends showed up, unannounced, just to pay their respects and be present. Most of my family was here, too. I managed to mostly keep it together. The church was kind enough to post the video on their Facebook page for the many people who could not attend. If you want to see it, it's still up.

For my birthday this year, my middle name was Duncan, because I Yo-Yo'ed up and down all day. Low points included missing my wife, and figuring out that my car wouldn't work and making plans to have it towed on Monday. Because, you know, insult to injury, and all of that nonsense.

Thanks to everyone who wished me happy birthday, and also to everyone who didn't, because there wasn't anything particularly happy about the day. You were quite right.

But I tried. I really did. And I'm going to keep on trying, because otherwise, what's the use? Don't answer that, it's rhetorical.

After the last two weeks, preceded by the last four months, my chest is starting to unclench and my breathing is back to normal. Somewhat. I keep getting into crying jags. I am still pacing the house. I'm still anxious, and scared. And sad. Just so heartbroken. I feel her absence, humming in the air like a high note that vibrates my sternum.

I'm going to look into grief counseling. After I fix the car. And pay the outstanding bills. And sign back up for health insurance (we were dropped.) And a half-dozen other things that suddenly need my attention. Somewhere in all of this, I need to have a real serious Come-to-Jesus meeting with myself about what happens next.

I have been incredibly lucky to have known from the age of 15 what I wanted to do with myself. And then I went and did it. Not a lot of people have that kind of clarity of vision, and I know it's a gift. But for the last twenty years, my goals have been intertwined with Cathy's goals. Oh, we had our side projects, too, but overall, we were always working on advancing our own desires and dreams as we helped the other person do the same.

Now I'm alone. And I have no idea what I want to do. For the first time since the age of fifteen, I have no direction, no heading, and no hand on the rudder. I hate the way this feels. I'll be taking some time off for a bit, so that I might figure out what the next phase of my life is going to be with the label "widower" attached to me like a barnacle I can't scrape off.

I'm tired. I'm tired of crying. I'm tired of getting hit with sudden waves of sadness, whack, in the face, like a creme pie made from depression and despair.

I can't get her deathbed out of my head. I close my eyes and I see it. I see her, arranged, eyes closed, and I can smell her skin and feel her hair on my cheek when I cradled her in my arms and sobbed. I have twenty years of great memories, good times, happy occasions, and all I can think about is her final minutes.

I'm not ready to accept this new state of being. It's still too raw. Too maddening. I was afraid of this happening. Alone in this house, pacing around like a caged animal, alternating between repeating lists of things I have to do, over and over, and crying out for my wife in an empty room , because I don't think I can do it all by myself.

Maybe I'm just wallowing. I don't want to let go of the pain, because I don't want to let go of her. I'm just so angry at everything right now. Things are going to move on with or without me, and I know that. This will likely fade into a dull ache. I'll have an epiphany or two and reorganize (and maybe even reinvent) myself and as time marches on, so shall I, older, wiser, ready for what comes next.


Right now, I think I want to just wallow. And I don't want you to see me like this.


Friday, October 16, 2020

Cancer: An Obituary

Cathy Day lost her fight with ovarian cancer on 10/15/2020. She was 56 years old. 

Catherine Day was born in Dallas, Texas, the daughter of Richard Day and Diane More, and attended Vernon High School. After graduating in 1983, she attended the University of Texas, where she received a master’s degree in Speech Language Pathology. She taught in various public and private schools in California, Maryland, and Texas, helping learning-disabled children to read and speak, for two decades.

 Cathy was a lifelong student of the theater and she acted in plays throughout her school years. As an adult, she was active in community theater in Austin, appearing in Different Stages productions, and later with the Violet Crown Radio Players, of which she was a founding member. In Wichita Falls, Cathy was proud to call the Backdoor Theatre her creative home and she appeared in several productions, including “Sordid Lives” which earned her a Genesius Award for Best Actress in a Non-Musical Role, and “Dirty Laundry,” where she co-starred with her husband, Mark Finn.

Cathy met Mark in the Summer of 2000 and they were married in October, 2003. They later moved to Vernon as co-owners of the Vernon Plaza Theater where they lived and worked. Cathy was a member of First Presbyterian Church of Vernon and was active in the community as a founding member of Leadership Vernon, The Vernon Main Street Program, and the Vernon Farmer’s Market. She always had a smile and a laugh for everyone she met, and the memory of her kindness, her gentle nature and her warmth will be a comfort to her mother Diane; her step-father Pat More; her sisters: Susan, Barbara, and Erin; her brother Mike; her many nieces and nephews, and her husband, who survive her, but will never forget her.

 In lieu of flowers, the family has requested giving a donation to the Backdoor Theater in Wichita Falls in her name.

My thoughts are below. Fair warning: this is uncomfortable, and I don't recommend  you reading past the break unless you want my raw, unfiltered take on all of this. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Cancer: End Stage

I don't know how much more of this I can take.  

Cathy took a turn this week, and it was bad. Last Sunday, I worked up the energy to come into the room, brightly, like I've been doing; I don't want her to see my anguish, and I know I'm not hiding it as well as I think I am. We've cried together enough. I'm trying to be a comfort to her. 

Ordinarily, she greets me with some variation of "There you are! Finally!" However, when I came in on Sunday, she was asleep. I let her be. She didn't wake up until around 9 pm. She looked surprised to see me, but couldn't really talk. I'd seen this look in her eyes before, and immediately thought about the double-up of medicines. 

But that wasn't it. She was just getting worse. Slower, weaker, more confused. 

Someone is always with her overnight; me or one of her sisters. We're all suspending our lives to help Cathy at the end of hers. I made plans to go on Thursday, because the doctor said we are getting close to the end. 

When I walked into the room, she was asleep again. This whole time, I've been able to see Cathy in and amongst the tubes and the gowns and the sickness. I could still see her, the person I've spent two decades with. 

Last night, all I could see was the disease and what it has done to my beautiful wife. The swelling, the discoloration, the distortion of her skin, the skin she diligently cared for her whole life. It was too much. I've been holding open this gaping wound over my heart since July and I didn't think I could rip it open any wider, but I was wrong about that. I cried over her, quietly, as she slept. 

She's been having pain when she uses the bathroom, and it's very likely a urinary tract infection, which can cause fogginess. They put her on antibiotics with a shrug; it couldn't hurt, they said. But they are all certain it's disease progression, a euphemism I've come to despise. 

She moaned in her sleep, all night. As usual, they woke her up every two hours to see if she was resting. I couldn't help ease her pain. I could do nothing, except wipe her mouth when she coughed up phlegm. She assured me I was doing a good job. It's harder and harder to understand her. 

This morning, she was a little more alert, relatively speaking. They gave her the scheduled meds, including the antibiotic, crushed up, and mixed with pudding, Michael Scott style. She didn't eat last night. I just want her pain to go away. I don't want her to die confused and in pain. 

Before I left, I put on Downton Abbey for her. She was watching it as I packed up to leave. There was a scene where someone turned on the phonograph and asked for a dance. Others followed suit, like one does in Downton Abbey.  I leaned over to kiss her forehead and tell her I love her and she said, "I need you do do something for me." 

"Okay, sure, what'cha need?"

"I want you to tell the doctors..." she drifted away for a second. 

"Tell the doctors what?" I prompted. 

She snapped back and locked eyes with me. "Tell the doctors I've forgotten how to dance. They need to teach me. I forgot how."

Somehow I managed to smile from behind the curtain of tears and said, "I'll teach you, baby. It's easy. I know all the steps. It's going to be all right."

She nodded, satisfied, and tried to touch my hand. "Don't cry, honeybee." Her arm was swollen and she had trouble moving it. I took her hand instead. 

I don't know how much more of this I can take. 

2010. She would hate me sharing this picture,
but I think it's beautiful. This is Cathy.

Friday, September 18, 2020

Health: Weight Loss, Week 1

We’ll start with the good news: I have been on a really aggressive and restrictive diet for the past week. It’s been…an adjustment…to say the least, but I have lost 8 lbs and 5 inches in that week.

And before you say anything, let me stop you right here and say, “I know.” This is not my first rodeo. I know all about it. Your advice is, and I say this with no acrimony whatsoever, not welcome. You can’t help me. No one can help me. The only person that can help me is me. And I’m doing it this way because that’s the only way that I can move forward at this time. So, 8 lbs and 5 inches.

Friday, September 4, 2020

Hospice: Our New Normal

 Cathy has been in Hospice for five weeks now. It feels like forever. I am struggling with watching Cathy's gradual shutting down. She is at the point now where she is bedridden; her leg muscles can't support her and so any scenery changes she wants to make are done with nurses and a wheelchair. Her short term memory continues to fade, as well. People, faces, events and things are all crystal clear to her. But she can't keep up with her phone. In bed. She can't quite remember from day-to-day how to work it, either. She learns it in the morning, but by the evening, she needs help again. Hospice keeps telling me it's "disease progression." It's getting on my nerves. She's not sick, she's hungry. 

Monday, August 17, 2020

Cancer: Hospice, Week 4

 (Warning: Language)

What a shitty week. 

Sonya wasn't too happy about us leaving Cathy behind at the Hospice Center. This is her as I was driving out of the parking lot. Her way of saying, "You left a man behind, dude!" 

Trust me, Sonya. I know. And I'm not happy about it, either. 

Cathy continues to hang on, her heart beating strong, her mind struggling to connect, to understand, her lungs working, her muscles flexing. She's willing. But her body is slowly killing her. It's the worst kind of torture to see her slipping in increments that could be measured in centimeters, and there's not a thing anyone can do about it. 

What makes this doubly galling is that Cathy's own body is cutting off her food supply. And Cathy has never been one of those people with hang ups about food or eating. She loves to eat, and she loves good food. She's always appreciative of anyone who cooks for her. Our first date, I made her chicken parmesan, and she was so impressed, she married me three years later.