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 and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, January 24, 2015

It's Confession Time!

Today’s confessions will be public. Out in the open. No hiding behind a screen hoping the priest fell asleep and didn’t hear a word I said. No confessing to a loved one who’d forgive me no matter what secrets I reveal. But confess I will do.

When I was young I had very little of value to confess. I followed (and still follow) the rules of life but what I did do wrong---like smoke my first and only cigarette on a senior high trip to the beach---I told it to my diary. That was back in an era when we practically wrote with ink pots and quills. Don’t I wish! That would make me born before 1822, before mass produced metal pens were invented, and if I was that old I’d be famous. I’d also have lousy penmanship because writing left-handed was not tolerated in pot and quill days. Yes, the secret is out of the bag, it’s just an urban myth that right-handed people used quills made from the right wings of birds, and left-handed people bought quills made from the left wings. Quills were sold by barrel length only with no consideration given to their curvature. Someday I’ll still remember that trivia but I’ll forget who our current president is, a fatal no-no on the senility quiz.

Okay, confession number one---or is this two? Are we counting the smoking thing? Anyway my next confession is I’ve always wanted to be famous. Not so much in this life time, but I wanted my name in the history books and short of falling on my head and getting back up with a savant-like transformation into the likes of Albert Einstein, me getting into the history books is not likely to happen between now and the grave. One of my colonial ancestors had that happen in reverse. He was smart enough that he shoulda, coulda, woulda been one of the signers of the Declarations of Independence but he got beaten up for his “radical politics” against the British and was severely brain damaged. Why couldn’t his diaries have been passed down to me? I’ll bet he confessed to significantly more important things than smoking a cigarette. Actually, I have read some of his words in a history book. I often wonder if guys like him knew their personal journals would get quoted as footnotes in the Chronicles of History. Sometimes we need the distance of time to recognize our defining moments. That’s true for people and nations alike. One man’s act of courage is another man’s act of rebellion and only the outcome and time can be the final judge. In our lifetime, think Martin Luther King. 

Confession number whatever: The only thing I ever shoplifted I did when I was ten or eleven and it was a cross make out of mother-of-pearl shell. My elder self finds it quite odd that I stole a cross, the symbol of Christ dying for our sins. What on earth was I thinking when I walked into Woolworth’s Dime Store and walked out with that cross tucked in my pocket? I can still visualize that basket of tiny, iridescent crosses piled high, a 10¢ each sign attached. I still have the fruits of my criminal behavior. And it still reminds me that small wrongs can turn into big regrets. Where is a priest when you need one? I want to know if stealing a cross is a worse sin than stealing a loaf of Wonder Bread to feed your family or stealing a pack of Black Jack just because you’re a kid with no impulse control who likes that licorice and aniseed flavored chewing gum? One time not too long before Don had his stroke, we went into a confectionery store and found that Black Jack had returned to the market with a limited edition. You would have thought he found the Hope Diamond. He bought every pack of gum the guy had---three boxes of however many came in a case, I’m guessing 50---and Don had a wonderful time handing them out to anyone and everyone who was old enough to have chewed it as a kid. He was quirky that way about anything nostalgic.  

Side note here: I couldn’t spell nostalgia and the closest I got was ‘nastalia’ which I let Spell Check have a crack at and it came up with five choices, not a single one close. I put ‘nastalia’ into my Franklin Language Master 3000 and out popped the word I wanted. I guess if this side note has a point it would be that I don’t need to confess that I’m a terrible speller. I struggle with and bellyache about spelling often enough, but it was a secret I hid until recent decades---and I guess I still should hide it. Recently, I was at a shower and they handed out slips of paper, asking everyone to write down some advice to the bride. I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t write a simple note without my Franklin! The relative sitting next to me was aghast when a torn the slip of paper up and refused another. “But you write all the time!” she said and I replied, “I do but I can’t spell without a dictionary.” The look on her face and the words that spilled out of her mouth next made me feel two inches high, like I’d just confessed to a sin worth seeking out the nearest confessional. Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. I’ve never been to confession before but I just found out that I’ve been a naughty fraud, flimflamming people into thinking I could write. Oh my! 

Back on topic: Do you believe in death bed confessions?  I have a few things in my history that I haven’t told to a single soul, not even to Don. Not even to a diary. I didn’t break any of the Ten Commandments with my untold secrets, I’m not worried about my soul burning in hell. But the older we get the more I image everyone would like to clear the secrets out of our heads as we’re bowing out of life, give them to someone else who’d probably say,” What the hell am I supposed to do with that?” and we’d reply---if we’re still breathing---“What I should have done, take it to the grave.” ©

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Lost in Time, Memories and Other Things

This week ushered in an eclectic collection of activities. One day I saw the foot doctor and went to a luncheon at the senior hall---the band was great---and the next day I attended a class on genealogy research and went to a Red Hat tea. It’s always feast or famine with my social life. I wish I could schedule my day planner out so my activities are spread out more evenly but I can’t, so you’ll have to listen to me complain. I know, you’re thinking I had control of when I made an appointment with the podiatrist; I didn’t have to pencil him in around all those re-occurring events. Originally I had him scheduled for two weeks from now but they called with a cancellation and I took it because it was a no snow, easy driving day and who knows if I’ll be able to say the same in February. 

When I wasn’t out and about I was glued to my computer emerged in researching the military records of an ancestor who fought in the Civil War. Wow, I can’t believe how thorough the records are for the era. He got shot in the head with a Minie Ball, was given 150 acres of homestead land as payment for his service and in 1900 he was still around to collect a $16.00 pension. I also built family trees back to where my mom’s family first set foot in America. On her dad’s side that tree took me back to Dungannon, Ireland (1832) and on her mom’s side my tree goes back to Glastonbury, England, 1581. For my entire life I’ve claimed I was half Italian and half English. Now, I have to pay homage to the one quarter Irish part of my roots. When you have famous people in your English roots—and I have three---I guess it’s natural for families to ignore the rest. Sunday I got so wrapped up in research that I didn’t get dressed or have breakfast until 3:00 in the afternoon! At one point I fed my own name into a genealogy search engine and was surprised to learn I that “lived” six years at an address of a friend. I certainly never claimed that address as my residence. How in the heck did that misinformation get recorded for all of eternity? Unraveling the mysteries genealogy research turns up might seem boring to a lot of people, but others will understand the thrill of digging up the family bones. 

Speaking of misinformation, never get medical advice from your pedicurist. Mine has been nagging me to see a doctor because she was convinced I have circulation problems caused by heart issues. I have some brown spots on my toenails and on top of my feet, near my toes. I thought it was a fungus and, guess what, I was right. For three pedicures in a row, she said it wasn’t a fungus. I finally went to the foot doctor because the toes on one foot have a needles and pins feeling at night and just like I thought, the nerve he killed off four years ago with a series of shots is regenerating and if it starts back up with the hot, stabling pain on the bottom of my foot, he’ll do the injections again. For now, I’ll be the woman painting anti-fungus stuff on my toes twice a day and, the doctor said, it will never go away but I can keep it under control so it doesn’t spread. Oh, goodie. What gets me is the pedicurist charged the same $35 plus tip for a pedicure even though I skipped the polish this last time. I wish I could still reach my toes to do them myself. Oh, to be young again! I shouldn’t admit this, but when I was a teenager I could and did bite my toe nails. Not my fingernails, lord no! They showed. Now, I can barely see my toenails through my tri-folds much less get them up to my mouth even if---yuck!---I even wanted to be that pretzel kid again.

At the senior hall luncheon I won my first door prize ever at one of these events, a tin of shortbread cookies. Just what I need. As I sat there during the entertainment portion I counted up all the women I’ve come to know by name and personality. About two dozen that I enjoy having little chit-chats with when I run into them at the hall or at the movie and lunch club. I was trying to decide if I’d feel cut off from all civilization if I move to the other end of town, leaving behind my senior hall and Red Hat acquaintances. No more shallow (but pleasant) little conversations, no more friendly smiles when I run into one of them out shopping. The answer is yes, I would miss the human contact. I decided I need to research the heck out of what’s available down in my target moving area in the way of entertainment. I’ve done some research without finding much. Surely there must be a book club, a Red Hat Chapter, something I can join for interaction and, no, my days of volunteering on a regular basis are over. Thank you very much. Cross that off the list, been there, done that. I want to be selfish if you want to look at it that way.

The more invested I get into condo and house shopping the more the uncertainties come to the surface. When I was coming home from the Red Hat tea I was driving on country roads that I’ve been on many times with my husband before he lost his speech. It was his old stomping grounds and he could tell great stories about half the places along the route. That’s when it hit me that when/if I move closer to my family I’ll also be moving farther away from so many memory making queues in my daily environment. Ohmygod, am I really ready to do that? Am I really ready not to have those warm, fuzzy thoughts pop in my head as I travel around my days, going to and by places where Don and I spent time together? ©   

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Three Full Years a Widow

The third sadiversary of Don’s passing is coming up soon and I don’t know how to feel about that. I do know that I’ve let him go and I am at peace with where he’s at. But I still think of him daily. How could I not? I often feel him still around me. It may seem overly dramatic to quote a well-known poem here but I’m going to do it anyway. It was printed on the remembrance cards handed out at Don’s memorial service and sometimes when I read it, it speaks so softly to me I can barely hear it; other times it shouts out, ”Listen, widow lady!----”

I give you this one thought to keep –
I am with you still--- do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am a diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grains,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the sweet uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
The soft stars that shine at night.
Do not think of me as gone,
I am with you still in each new dawn.

Many widows know exactly what I mean when I say sometimes I feel my deceased husband around me. It’s a palatable feeling that probably comes from having known another person so well, you know exactly what they’d say and feel in any given situation. But I’m willing to believe it could go deeper, more mystical than that. If a 3-D copy machine can make real, three dimensional things like car parts---and they can---then why can’t the universe turn three dimensional living beings back into energy forces that can’t be seen? If Man can build a ‘magic machine’ like that then why should we put limitations on what Mother Nature can do? Spirits on another plane of existence? Why not? 

At my first sadiversary I pronounced my first year of widowhood had been all about survival and as my mission statement for the second year ahead, I proclaimed it would be a year for rebuilding a social life as a single woman. My success at that mission was a mixed bag, given the fact that often it’s a hollow feeling social life that I created with no deep attachments formed. But I get out of the house, see people, and have a little fun here and there. I don’t stay at home doing comedy acts in the dark on the off chance they might entertain a ghost in the house. Recently a fellow blogger posted a comment about my failed attempt to find a few close friends that is worth repeating in this post. Jean from Step Into the Future wrote: 

"After my marriage ended when I was about thirty, I went through something similar regarding friendships. I kept trying to create a single ‘best friend’ pair bond that would have all the emotional characteristics of a good marriage -- one person that, above all others, you can confide in and rely on in the world. It took me many years to realize that friendship is different from marriage and that I need different friendships for different aspects of my life, needs, and interests. It can be an uphill battle, though, because I think our culture is always telling us that meeting our needs with many relationships is inferior to meeting them with just one primary relationship.” 

She is one smart woman and I’m so glad she shared those wise words here. I get it now, you can’t replace a soul mate like he/she was just goldfish floating at the top of the tank.

At my second sadiversary (a year ago) I wrote a new mission statement: To seek contentment and I’d give myself a C+ on reaching that goal. I have lots of room for improvement but I don’t have to hang my head in shame. I didn’t stand still emotionally this past year while taking up space here on Widowhood Lane. I feel calmer inside, more in control of managing my expectations. Less desperate because I realize, now, that “being alone in the world” is a false perception that I’d nursed to perfection since Don passed away. It was never true. Family, old friends---they’ll be here if I truly have a need. They can't walk my walk, but they'd be here....

This week I’m at the dawning of my fourth year of widowhood and I’m still working on a mission statement for the coming twelve months. The fact that I don’t have one might actually be a good sign? Maybe deep inside I know I no longer need a mission statement to motive myself to put one foot in front of the other when I get up in the mornings. I’m tying up loose ends from the past and I’m moving forward into the future. But make no mistake about it, Don may not be here physically but he is woven to the fabric of my life. For better or worse, that will never change and that is something that all widows understand. ©

This is my favorite photo of Don. It was taken in 2003, a few years after his stroke, when I had a Red Hat Society party at the house. It was at the tail end of the party after half the women had left when he came wheeling out of the bedroom where he'd been the whole time. One of the ladies still there made him an honorary member. I like the photo because it shows his great smile, twinkling eye and sense of humor. He couldn't say (or write) more than 15-20 words back then but there is no denying that he could still communicate with his expressions.