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

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Medical Week for the Widow

I’ve been running the roads. Monday, the doctor. Tuesday, the dentist. Wednesday, the infusion center for my first Reclast treatment. I live on the north end of town and everywhere I had to go was on the south end which meant I had to take the expressway with its dreaded S Curve that cuts through the heart of the city. I’ve hated that curve since it was built in the early 1960s. Back then, the power brokers (think a handful of Trump-like creatures) dictated which buildings would be hazed by a wrenching ball and which ones would be spared. Surprise, surprise, their property still stands. A friend who drives the S Curve twice a day says it makes him feel like a race car driver as he banks his car near the outside wall, then crosses over to bank the other side. It’s his favorite part of the day, or so he says. I would rather eat earth worms but that won’t get me to the south end so cancel that trip to the bait shop to buy me a gift. 

I went to the doctor prepared to be bubbling over with happy good health and sharp, witty old lady banter. I was determined to make up for the last time I was there when I told him I didn’t feel well but I couldn’t put my finger on why I felt so spaced out. SPACED OUT? Damn! I thought as drove home that day, I shouldn’t be saying things like that to a guy who could transcribe that into my records as: showing signs of dementia. This time he had a new twist for my visit. He brought a woman in from “records” who, I was told, was going to chart everything we talk about so that he could get back to face-to-face patient-to-doctor talking. “I assume she’s sworn to secrecy?” I asked. “Yes,” the doctor assured me with a broad smile, “what happens in this room stays in this room.” And thus their weird experiment began. It will be interesting to see if they’re still doing it when I go back again. 

When I go to the dentist I probably drive past a couple of hundred dentists along the way. I’ve known the guy since before he went to dental school 25 years ago and if I planned on staying on the north end of the town I’d probably change to the one within walking distance of my house. Old people who drive 40 miles an hour on the S Curve while everyone else is going 80 are frowned upon. Fortunately, I'm still able to keep up but I stay firmly planted in the center lane and hope the pretend race car drivers don’t loss control as they do their crisscross antics in front of me. Once, on an icy night when there were no other cars around, I did a loop-de-loop in the middle of the S Curve. Side note: I just looked up the term ‘loop-de-loop’ to make sure I was spelling the ‘de’ part right and was shocked to see that the urban dictionary defines a loop-de-loop as a sex term for what we old timers used to call the 69 position. I assure you I was not having sex on the S Curve. I was driving south bound, lost control and ended up going north. Since then they’ve spent millions trying to make that section of the highway safer for wintertime driving but I still hate that expressway and the political string pulling that put that ridiculous curve in the city. End of rant.

I told the doctor that I was nervous about getting the Reclast treatment because of my hive and allergy history. He said to tell them at the center if I get itchy so they can slow down the infusion and give me an antihistamine. “Great,” I said, “I’ll scream bloody murder if that happens.” “I wouldn’t advice that,” he replied, “but do let them know.” What I actually wanted him to say was I was worrying unnecessarily, that reactions to Reclast infusions rarely happen. According to the nurse at the center, it is rare but it can happen at the time of the infusion or anytime in the first two weeks. Wonderful. Two weeks of drinking a gallion glasses of water a day (to help flush the stuff through my system) and two weeks of eating a couple of extra servings of calcium rich foods a day (because the infusion will be working to take calcium from my system and depositing it into my bones) and I’ll be out of The Valley of Hives-Hanging-Over-My-Head. And did I mention only one cup of coffee a day for the next two weeks? 

I did learn something at the center. They now have an infusion medication for chronic hives, if you can get your insurance company to pay for it. I told the nurse I’d mortgage my house to cover the cost if I ever get them as bad as I had them a few years back. Every day for nine straight months of itching, having my face distorted from giant hives and popping four different prescription medications a day was not a walk in the park. On the way home from the center, I stopped for a fresh supply of antihistamines---just in case---and a gallon of ice cream. What a happy coincidence that my new blender came with a malted milk blade. There goes that eleven pound weight loss recorded on my medical chart this week. ©

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Day Trip and Lawyers

Thursday I hopped on the senior hall bus for a short trip to have lunch, then tour a city facility. Raise your hand if you’ve been to a plant that turns what you flush down the toilet into clean drinking water. That’s where we went. I must say, that place was cleaner than any factory or commercial building I’ve ever seen. The walls were white, the floors light gray and the computerize equipment was black. The giant piping, motors, blowers and holding tanks were painted in colors like salmon, aqua, pink, yellow and blue. The outside is designed to look like a large farm. I’ve driven by the place 100’s of times and never guessed what went on in that collection of buildings. Only one building had an odor inside---where they make dirt (like in gardens) in huge vats that look like cement mixers. And the air from that building is piped to another building that filters out the smells with a house-size block of charcoal before releasing it into the outside air.  

This state-of-the-art water and sewer authority services thousands of homes plus everything that goes down the storm grates in the streets. They discharge the end resulting clean water into our river that takes it out to Lake Michigan where it eventually ends up in our tap water. The neighboring city, and thousand like it across the country, skip the middle man---the river and Lake Michigan---and pipe their cleaned sewage directly into tanks that supplies water to the city. Anyone who was brave enough on the tour could have tasted the water that came down its last trough. It’s certified as drinking water---looked crystal clear---and is held to a standard higher than our neighboring city that pipes the water directly into homes. If you like glass beakers of every size and shape you’d love the lab in this place. They test constantly. 

I learned a few things I won’t forget: 1) never flush "flushable" wipes because they don’t break down and often bring neighborhood pumping stations to a halt. When that happens, the pump automatically places satellite calls to several people who get the yucky job of cleaning out the pump; 2) whenever I buy toothpaste and facial scrub I need to check the labels for micro-beads because they can’t filter those out and eventually they end up in our bodies. They are finding them inside Great Lakes fish in great enough numbers to be seen with the naked eye; 3) never flush medications because many of them can’t be filtered out, especially antibiotics and anti-seizure meds; and 4) they can’t filter out artificial sugar or caffeine so even if you’re trying to avoid those chemicals, you’re going to get them in your water. 

I had to go to my lawyer this week, too, for a three year check up on my legal stuff. It was pretty simple since none of my heirs have moved, died or done anything to make me want to cut them out of my will. I had a few questions about having a will and going through probate vs. having a trust---the pros and cons of each. And another question about why the banks keep nagging me to put beneficiaries on my accounts instead of ‘the estate of Jean so-and-so.’ These are topics that come up at the senior hall often but I keep forgetting the answers as to why my lawyer recommends what she does which is the opposite of what the ladies at senior hall say is smart. I’ve been called “dumb to do it that way” often enough that I actually had a session with the free legal services for seniors just to double check what my own lawyer was telling me. The second opinion, confirmed the first for MY situation. I hate this kind of stuff! I would rather bury my head in the sand and sing “la, la, la, la, la” when it comes to money and lawyers. On the good side, my lawyer gives hugs to senior citizens. Very firm hugs. I haven’t had one of those since I asked my lawn care service guy for one a month ago. He gave me two. Don’t be alarmed. I haven’t take up accosting casual acquaintances for hugs. My lawn care guy is also my nephew. ©

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Life is Good Again - Adventures and Gardens

These past few weeks I’ve been driven and part of that is because I’m feeling truly good physically for the first time in probably a year and a half. This time last year I was getting ready for shoulder surgery. The painful windup to that and the recovery afterward was long and difficult, given all the restrictions that came with it---a winter of one-handed snow shoveling, not lifting anything heavier than a fork. Also going on was the bottoming out of my thyroid and the lethargic moods and weight gain that came with it. Once discovered, then came the gradual building up of the hormone to where my latest blood test two weeks ago said, “You’re there, let’s celebrate!” I’m back to walking every day (until the snow flies). I’m back to eating healthy again (until the farmers market closes). And I lost the weight I gained while my thyroid was wacked out and I’m in serious downsizing mode. 

With my mojo back and with any luck, I’ll be able to buy a condo in the spring and I’ve found not one, but three online that are in my target neighborhood and price range. They are zero-steps concept, just like my house, and even though those condos will be gone by the time I’m serious about moving it makes me happy that I won’t be looking for a needle in a haystack. The baby-boomers have “arrived” and they are doing what they’ve done since birth---driving the marketplace. Now, that means the building industry is starting to build for aging in place. When we built this house in 2001, zero-steps houses were as rare as unicorns. All I'm saying in these two paragraphs is it feels like an adventure on the horizon and I’ll be ready for it.

Speaking of adventure, can you imagine what it would be like to do a 1,000 mile journey to explore the islands in the Great Lakes? This week I went to a lecture featuring a woman who did just that---hiking, boating, kayaking and biking around just a fraction of the 35,000 islands in the Great Lakes. (If that number sounds high it’s because an island is defined as land that is at least a square foot and has at least one tree and is surrounded by and above water year around. Who knew!) The lecturer is in her fifties and did half the trip on her own, the other half she took part in scientific research projects. I learned a lot about my home state and saw a video presentation of beautiful, wild places I never knew existed here. I have no desire to set rugged goals for myself like Ms. Niewenhuis---this was her third 1,000 mile adventure---but I bought her book all the same. She’s inspiring. She sets goals that scare and challenges her, plans how to get from point A to point B and then has confidence enough in her own abilities to carry it through. What’s not to like about that? And once back home, she writes a book about her adventure while planning her next one. On the way home I challenged myself to stop at the nature trail to walk a couple of miles with a looming storm overhead even though I knew I’d be walking later that afternoon at the sculpture park.

I went to the sculpture park for a book club like no other that I’ve ever been to or heard about. The book discussed was Gail Tsukiyama’s The Samurai’s Garden and we met in the dry (Zen) garden for the first half hour, then in the wet (moss) garden for the second half hour. In both places the lead horticulturist shared his vast knowledge. The two types of gardens share elements of texture, movement and the all-important use of negative space. The Zen garden, he said, is a tool for concentration and is more for the gardener than those who come to visit. There are twelve classic patterns they use to rack the crushed granite and how the gardener gets out of our garden after completing his work is to hop from boulder to boulder. The head librarian at the sculpture park’s research library read passages from the book and asked questions. In the moss garden she read: “The garden is a world filled with secrets. Slowly, I see more each day. The black pines twist and turn to form graceful shapes, while the moss is a carpet of green that invites you to sit by the pond. Even the stone lanterns, which dimly light the way at night, allow you to see only so much. Matsu’s garden whispers at you, never shouts; it leads you down a path hoping for more, as if everything is seen, yet hidden. There’s a quiet beauty here I only hope I can capture on canvas.” 

Even though it was only 64 degrees, I thoroughly enjoyed this garden book club experience---much more than reading the book. But, of course, they went hand-in-hand. The people at the book club were interesting, too. Before it started I talked to a woman who volunteers for two weeks each spring to work at a large Japanese garden in Ohio, staying in a cottage on the grounds. Not something I would aspire to do but like the lady who traveled 1,000 miles I’m always impressed by the vast areas of interest people find to feed their souls in retirement. ©