Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the double-ass ugly. Comments welcome! Jean

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Two Little Words and a Cranky Widow



I was picking up lunch at Wendy’s in between Zumba Class and getting my new hubcap---that really isn’t a hubcap---installed on my car when I got annoyed at myself for thanking the guy at the first drive-up window for giving me my change. Am I the only one who still remembers when service people thanked you for your business? I hate it when I feel compelled to “close the deal” with the obligatory 'thank you' when people at takeout windows fail to say it. That's the way I was taught to do it in my teens when I was on the other side of the retail counter but kids, today, seem to be trained to believe customers should thank them for taking time away from their flirting with co-workers to wait on us. At the second Wendy’s window, as a girl handed me a junior bacon cheeseburger she said, "Have a nice day!” Oh...why didn't I think of that? I’m on the way to a funeral but I’ll try to have a nice day. My house is going into foreclosure but I’ll try to have a nice day. A friend is getting his leg amputated today but I’ll try to have a fricking nice day! Okay, I’m going to pretend I didn’t write this paragraph because I’m starting to sound like a crotchety old woman who beats puppies with her cane, begins every other sentence with “in MY day," and stir-fries kittens for dinner.

I didn’t go to a funeral that day and my mortgage was paid off two years ago but the son-in-law of my best friend was getting his leg amputated while I was at Wendy's. The patient, a young guy with twin toddlers and a daughter a few years older, has been cancer free for four years but the surgery to replace his thigh bone with a cadaver bone never healed. His only hope for a normal life, not dictated by pain management was to amputate. As sad as his plight has been, it’s also been a joy to see my friend’s amazing and supportive core family, extended family and church family all pulling together to support his daughter and son-in-law through it all. There are, of course, other families around like his but we don’t always appreciate their specialness or say out loud, “Thank you! Thank you for living your faith and values even when times are hard. Thank you for passing those values on to everyone in your sphere of influence. Thank you for being the best of the best role models." My husband and I always thought of our friend as the son we wished we’d had and it’s been a long time since I’ve told him that. Note to self: Do it soon! I’m not getting any younger. 

I don’t know, maybe hearing a string of insincere thank-yous at takeout windows dilutes their meaning when it comes to expressing heart-felt feelings so deep they make you teary-eyed just thinking about them....but I doubt it. How else do we express appreciation for everything from a stranger picking up something you dropped to a friend being the awesome person that he is? An online dictionary says ‘thank you’ is used “for telling someone that you are grateful for something said or done” but shouldn’t there be degrees of ‘thank you’---little thank-yous for takeout windows and huge THANK-YOUS when someone makes a real difference in their world?  Ya, I know, that's what adjectives are for, Jean! I can say, "A supercalifragilisticexpialidocious thank you, T.C.!"  Oops, I don’t think I used that word correctly but I have a strict rule that I only look up one word per blog entry so hit me with your best admonishment if supercalifragilisticexpialidocious is not a proper adjective.

The Dalia Lama is fond of saying, “The roots of all goodness lie in the soil of appreciation for goodness.” I believe that. I believe we need to acknowledge goodness when we see it. I believe goodness is all around us, even in our darkest hours. And I believe few of us say the big thank yous as often as we should. They're such little words but if you believe the Dalia Lama they help the seeds of humanity grow. They make us feel appreciated, that's for sure, and they're probably needed more in the world today than ever before. So here I am writing this sugar shower to the son I wish I had to thank him for the things mentioned above and for having such a goofy sense of humor that he lights up every room he enters and for being the one and only person who would unabashedly cry with me after Don died.

Thank you to everyone still reading this essay. You may be interested in knowing I've made a promise not rag on myself the next time I say "thank you" at a takeout window. I'll just practice saying it small, no adjective needed. You may also be interested in knowing I have no funny or wise words to end this 'Sunday Sermon' but I do want to assure cats lovers that I could never, ever get hungry enough to stir-fry kittens. ©

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Seventy-Something Year Old College Kid

At age seventy-something I just spent the entire day on a Catholic college campus. A ‘Fun with Metaphors’ class filled the morning and a seminar called ‘Vulnerabilities of Aging: Laughter amid the Tears’ took up the afternoon. The latter was taught by a Jewish Rabbi. He’s a well-known inspirational speaker in the area and he could have been a stand-up comedian if he hadn’t taken a detour through his synagogue. Actually, laughter was the theme for the entire day for those of us who were able to ignore the driving rain pounding the landscape. I did feel bad about leaving poor Levi the Schnauzer home alone to protect the house from mortal danger and lightening strikes, but not enough to drop him off at doggie day-care before joining the rush hour crazies.  He’s not afraid of storms but I was afraid the other dogs would tell him, “Hey, this is how you’re supposed to act when it's blustering outside” and on the way home I’d have to buy Levi a thunder-shirt.

When I found out storms were coming on my first day of school I scouted out the campus the day before. That way, I wouldn’t have to look for street signs and landmarks in between the windshield wipers clacking back and forth. It was a good thing I did get the lay of the land ahead of time. The small campus is nestled in an old neighborhood of quaint stone walls, iron fences and white picket fences that stand in front of mature coniferous trees that block out the large, stately houses you can only peek at down their driveways.  The Metaphors class was held in one of those old, converted mansions and it would be easy to drive right on by it. I also learned there are no fast foods places near-by to grab lunch and I wasn’t sure if I’d need a campus ID to eat on campus, so I packed a Fiber One Meal Bar and a bottle of water just in case.

The Olli program classes like I’m taking can be found across the country, maybe even in your neighborhood. Olli stands for Osher Lifelong Learning Institute. Basically, they are college level classes for people over 50 but without the need to buy books or take tests. Their six semesters comprise thirty-five classes per semester and class lengths vary from two to five mornings or afternoons long plus several short seminars thrown in for good measure. In my metaphors class there were twenty-five people and 175 attended the seminar. Oh, my, should I mention that there were men in these Olli classes? Except for going to retiree’s union meetings sporadically, I tend to forget what guys look like when they come packaged in old people wrinkles. I thought Olli classes would be more like the senior hall events, a place men seem to avoid like the Ebola virus.

In metaphors class there was an interesting mix of people: seven retired teachers, three retired nurses, two people who grew up in Germany but didn’t know each other before class, a couple others who mentioned being widows, lots of world travelers, and one woman I sat with later on at the seminar whose husband went through the same speech therapy program as my husband. We knew each other by sight but had never talked before today. We all laughed a lot in class and threw metaphors around, discussing “dead” metaphors, similes, and figurative vs. literal language. “A metaphor,” the professor said, “is a tool to help us understand something in life. It's a different way of looking at the world."

For our homework assignment we have to use a metaphor to explore something we are struggling with---aging, retiring, that sort of thing. I knew I wanted to write about widowhood and the word ‘vacuum’ popped in my head. From there, my metaphor wrote itself: Widowhood is a vacuum sucking tin soldiers off the floor, swirling them around in a dark void while other tiny souls still in its path of wrath struggle to pull its life-line from the wall. I’m going to like the class but time will tell if I’ll have the guts to read my assignments out loud in front of the others. It’s not required that we do. I’ll wait to hear what others have written before I decide if I want to be critiqued in a room full of would-be writers and poets. ©

NOTE: I'm not as dark and depressed as that metaphor sounds. It was just a writing assignment and I was going with the word image/figurative language of relating widowhood to a vacuum. Originally, I was thinking about widowhood as creating a vacuum in my life that needs filling but the metaphor took me in a different direction.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Tall Tales and Little Fish



My husband was a born storyteller. He honed the skill at an early age by listening to his dad who had a reputation for telling long-winded stories that often left his listeners laughing. Like father, like son. It was also a rare occasion that anyone could pull one over on Don when it came to telling the difference between a tall tale and a truth filled story. Then I entered his life and I believe one of the main reasons Don fell in love with me was because, when we first met, I was able to hook him into a fairytale about my career choice that I dragged on for 3 or 4 weeks before I finally told him the truth.

To this day I don’t know what made me tell Don that I raised tropical fish in my basement and shipped them mail order for a living---probably I didn’t want to tell this stranger I’d just met at a bowling alley/bar where I actually worked for fear he’d turn out to be a stalker or just plain not my idea of a date-able guy. But I kept in character and answered his many questions a lot easier than anyone who values Truth should have been able to accomplish. I didn’t even own a goldfish at the time! I had been researching the idea of setting up a fresh water tank so I had some useful facts and fancy fish names stuffed in the corners of my brain. The rest I just made up on the fly.

Week after week he’d come by when he knew the women’s league I was bowling on would be finishing up and he’d talk me into having a drink with him and his friend. I had a crush on his friend so it wasn't a hard sell. Always, Don was full of fish questions: How did I get customers? How did I ship my fish across the country so they wouldn’t die in route? Would I help him set up a tank? What was my favorite species of fish? “Oh, I couldn’t choose a favorite,” I told him “but the Crowntail Bettas and Black Moors sell the best.” When I finally decided the joke had gone on long enough and I told him he had fallen for a fairytale hook, line and sinker, he got a sheepish look on his face that, at the time, I couldn’t interpret. And the rest of the night he was uncharacteristically quiet so I thought that was the end of it. No more stopping by the bowling alley for this guy.

I found out later on that his friend, who was at the table when I made my confession, had told their fellow co-workers in the diemakers department that a girl had pulled one over on the King of Storytelling. In GM factory talk you can read that as: The king of bullshit just got out bullshitted big time! The following week Don showed up at the bowling alley, again, and he decided as a punishment for my big fish tale we had to go out on a date the following afternoon. Guess what we did on that date. He dragged me to a dime store where I helped him pick out two goldfish and all the supplies that went with the happy couple. The rest, as they say, is history.

This story came out of my memory vault today because I was trying to come up with a theme to write about for one of my infamous (and usually tongue-in-cheek) “Sunday Sermons.”  I had goggled ‘inspirational topics’ but I couldn’t get in the mood for serious thought that might come off sounding preachy if I didn’t write it right. Then I goggled ‘Toastmasters Club topics’ and---bingo---there, I found a suggestion to pull something out of your past that changed your life and work your speech around that memory. One thought led to another and I got to wondering if I had told Don the truth that first night we met---that I worked in the floral industry---would my life have turned out differently? He might not have been intrigued enough without my “unusual career” to keep coming back. He certainly wouldn’t have been kidded unmercifully by his co-workers for being bested by a woman. The King of Bullshit lost his crown! We've gotta meet this girl!

If this blog entry were the bones to a speech I’d written for a Toastmaster’s Club the finished product might hold an audience’s attention, but as a Sunday morning inspirational piece, it sucks. Instead of teaching the value of being a person of high morals, it holds up an example of where telling a whooper of a lie led to love. Sunday mornings should be a time to reflect on the intrinsic values that hold civilizations together, shouldn’t they? A lie, fib, practical joke---whatever you want to call what I did---is not one of those intrinsic values, so I hope no with a young, impressionable mind is reading this. It's bad enough that the Angels who look out for soul mates are up there laughing at my hand-wringing dilemma on whether or not I should seek out a confessional booth this fine Sunday morning or to sing their praises for letting a tall tale and little fish bring two people together so many years ago. ©