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

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Serendipitous Learning Experiences

It’s been a busy week. Wednesday the son-I-wish-I-had spent the morning vacuuming my 1,500 square feet basement and mopping the cement floor and I did some sorting down there, earmarking five boxes for him to take upstairs to the garage. A trip to Goodwill is in my future. I was shocked that Tim only found two spiders as he worked. I hate basements! Even though this one has a daylight window and high ceilings, they are all too dark and claustrophobic for my taste. I would not have made a good cave dweller in a past life…or maybe I was one and that’s why I don’t like basements. Ya, I flirt with believing in reincarnation. It's something interesting to think about and wish for because if we’ve lived in the past then that means we’ll live again in the future, once our current life is over. I hate the thought of dying. I will not go quietly in the night.

The next day I went to a free monthly event put on by a travel club. Usually they’re classic travelogue stuff with a slide show/lecture presented by someone involved in the world-wide travel industry. This time I didn’t read the fine print in the brochure and when I walked in I discovered it wasn’t a presentation about Belgium; it was a beer tasting of Belgian beers. I don’t drink beer! But I was in Rome so I did as the Romans did and I drank six, two ounce samples of Belgian beer. On an empty stomach. Over the hour and a half I learned all about Saison, Golden Ale, Dubbels, Triples, Quadruples and Lambic with lots of wonderful word pictures painted about the quaint places in Belgian where these beers are made and consumed. I couldn’t help laughing at myself for being there in the first place so I was in a good mood right from the get-go and in an even better mood when I left. I found out that the decision I made in my early twenties about not liking the taste of beer still holds true. Except…

Except for the Lambic which was a sweet, fermented beer with raspberries that looked and tasted more like wine. God, I’d walk a mile for a full eight ounce glass of that stuff! Unfortunately, you can’t buy it here in The States. The speaker said the closest to it is a beer named Calabaza Blanca by Jolly Pumpkin and their website says it’s “spiced with orange peel and coriander, refreshingly tart, with a wonderfully dry finish.” Wine and beer aficionado language goes right over my head. All I know is I’d be tempted to suck a Lambic stain out of a table cloth. The internet is a wonderful place when it’s not being a source of disappointment. A Google search pointed out the fact that I’d have to take road trip to another part of the state to buy the American version of Lambic. 

One of the ladies sitting by me at the beer tasting commented on how times have changed. Growing up in our city, it was known as the City of Churches and now we’re known as Beer City USA. The micro brewery’s, the beer tours and the restaurants that offer beer pairing meals has exploded. While I’m not particularly interested in beer or church tours they’re both so popular here it wouldn’t be surprising if the old Polish church in town started pairing home brew tastings with stained glass windows tours. The guy narrating the Belgium beer tasting said over there six beers are made and sold exclusively at monasteries. The Chimay Red Dubbeis we tasted was one of them. 

Sometimes not reading the fine print on a brochure and ending up at an event that initially you have no interest in attending can turn out to be a fun, serendipitous learning experience and I think I’ve figured out why I love it when something like that happens. When I was growing up, every day after school my mom would ask, “What did you learn today?” In my younger years I’d crawl into her lap to answer but the habit of sharing what I learned was a habit that stayed with me until she died. I could never contain my joy of sharing something interesting with her or my husband and now that they're both gone, I do it in my blog. 

As we age I’m guessing most of us spend some time reviewing our lives and trying to figure out how we developed our quirks and personality traits. My mom had to drop out of school at an early age but she was very pro-education, especially for women who she saw as needing to be able to make a living and have her own money so we couldn’t become victimized by hard times or irresponsible spouses. She was proud of me for being the first in the family to go to college and was deeply disappointed when I dropped out after my third year. I felt like a failure for years for not finishing and her death in a large part was instrumental in my decision to go back. Graduation day---twenty-five years after I started college---was one of the happiest days of my life. Isn't it a telling thing how much the absence of someone in your life can still have the power to influence you long after they're gone? For better or worse the imprint of a lost parent, spouse, child or friend stays deep within for our entire lives and maybe beyond. ©

“I am learning all the time. The tombstone will be my diploma.” 
Eartha Kitt

I wanted to share some photos of how the nature strip in my back yard looked this morning. The first is a wider view of the other two close ups photos. My nature strip is 185' long by about 20' wide on my side of the lot line, with my neighbor to the back having an additional 10' on his side of his pines. It's well used by critters and birds year-around but especially when a 20' x 20' patch of wild raspberries (to the right of the pink flowers) are ripe.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Making Friends - Mission Possible?

Have you heard the acronym, FOMO? It stands for ‘fear of missing out’ and it’s usually sparked by reading social media like Facebook postings and if you’re not careful to check yourself that spark can turn into a raging fire. Since becoming a widow, I’ve had FOMO more often than I care to admit, mostly on holidays like Father’s Day when friends and family share photos of their get-togethers. Those glowing faces smiling for the camera seem to say the whole world is with someone special while I’m sitting in front of a computer screen with a cup of coffee for company. 

Envy isn’t a nice quality to have and I wouldn’t characterize my FOMO as envy. Hold on, you're probably saying, envy is the root cause of FOMO! Okay, that's a good point. But there is envy as in I-hate-you-for-what-you’ve-got and there’s envy as in I’m-sad-that-part-of-life-truly-has-passed-me-by. I’m in the latter camp. Never having had children and grandchildren makes me different than most women and that significantly impacts the stereotypical assumptions of what I should be/could be doing at my age. At my Movie and Lunch Club and my Red Hat Society meeting last week, for example, most of the chatter was about running around to events involving families and boasting about the accomplishments of grandchildren. What could I add to those conversations---the fact that my dog had oral surgery to the tune of $527.14? Nope, nothing I do dovetails with “my grandson is going to Stanford in the fall.” I interject the appropriate platitudes like “his parents must be so proud” yada, yada, yada and while I have gotten to know these ladies and their life styles well they probably couldn’t pick me out of a police lineup. 

Woo is me. I’m in a funky mood. I go days without hearing the sound of human voices except on TV. In the summers I only have to go a week in between hugs---one of the perks of hiring my nephew’s lawn care service---but in the winters, hugs are few and far between. I think about moving to a place where higher numbers of retired people are plopped down in one place. (My neighbors are all young, working families and rarely home.) And as tempting as that sometimes sounds, I fear I’d get neighbors like one of my blogger friends whose neighbors frequently drop in unannounced and stay for several hours. I would hate, HATE that! My husband used to have a neighbor who did that. Don would come home, go directly into the bathroom and by the time he finished peeing the doorbell would ring. He got frustrated by the infringement on his time and would complain to me, but he would never go to the door and say, “This isn’t a good time.” Maybe that’s why he always had more friends than me. Just sayin’.

Monday was a busy day. The dog had an appointment at the doggie foo-foo beauty parlor which meant I had no choice but to take him on a long walk ahead of time. Well, I had a choice but he and/or the groomer would have paid a price if I skipped it. While Levi was getting beautified I went to the bank, the vitamin store and to another Gathering at the senior hall. The search for friends was back on again!

The Gatherings are billed as events for people who are looking for friends. It was the third Gathering in their pilot program and I’ve discovered I love get-to-know-each-other games. This month’s game involved taking squares of toilet paper off a roll, enough “to get the job done” but the facilitator wouldn’t clarify which "job" she was talking about. The lowest number of squares taken was four, the highest number was eleven. Then we were asked to tell the group as many things about ourselves as the number of squares we took. No one person dominated the conversation, no one was ignored. It was interesting, enlightening and many fascinating details and common threads were revealed.

One lady made a comment that she has lots of acquaintances but few friends. Where have I heard that before? Oh ya, inside my head. Another woman built on that statement by saying you can’t turn acquaintances into friends unless you share yourself. (Do you think she got that from Oprah?) If only it was that easy. If it was I’d print out some of my blog posts, hand them out at the next Gathering and say, “Here’s a study guide to getting to know me.” I’m kidding, of course…but it’s not a leap in logic to say that total strangers do know me far better than people I actually interact with in person. Like someone with the stomach flu, I vomit my every thought all over this blog, but sitting with a group of others? Well, let's just say I often feel like a fly on the wall pretending I'm Superman when in actuality I'm an unassuming, mild mannered Clark Kent type sitting at the table. ©

Saturday, June 18, 2016

From Sleeplessness to Unselfish Love

Many seniors have trouble sleeping. That point was driven home to me this week when I went to a lecture at the senior hall that was billed as a “sleep workshop” and nearly a hundred people showed up. If I had read the fine print when I signed up for this event I would have skipped it. It was presented by a guy who calls himself a ‘corrective chiropractor’ as opposed to one that gives pain relief treatments. Many people swear by chiropractors and I’ve been to one a few times but with my bad bones history I simply don’t trust them not to do more harm than good. 

He talked about common sense things: 1) having a clean, well made bed; 2) having a cool, dark bedroom; 3) having the right pillow and sleeping position; and 4) having no carbs, sugar, caffeine or alcohol in the evening because they all give you insulin spikes that interfere with sleep. But the majority of his spiel was devoted to telling us that everything that is wrong with humans can be traced back to how our spines lines up---or not. At the end of the lecture he offered a hefty ‘discount’ on a $425 diagnostic workup that would result in them building you a custom “roll/pillow” and setting up a course of spinal adjustments. It wasn’t a total waste of time---the snacks were great---but I was glad it was a free lecture because I don’t accept his premise that what ails me at bedtime can be corrected with back adjustments. 

The next day I went out for lunch with six Red Hat Society sisters before our bi-monthly meeting with the entire group. Parking in the tourist town where we met is limited and I had to park two blocks away. It was a sunny, dry day so that wasn’t a problem because the nature trail along a river connects the parking lot to the town square where all the restaurants are. Along the way I passed a bike rack and another rack I didn’t understand so I stopped, walked around it and finally figured out it was a place to park fishing gear so the fly fisherman (so common in the river) can grab some lunch or use the town’s public bathroom. I love that town. It’s quaint and progressive at the same time. I was early so I ducked into one of my favorite stores where I laughed while reading decorative plaques. My favorite said: “Okay, I danced like no one was watching and now my court case is pending.”

It was a good week for socializing. Friday was my Movie and Lunch Club and we saw a movie that I’ve been looking forward to since we saw the previews months ago. I went right home that day, ordered the book and wrote my blog review of You Before Me shortly after. “The storyline is about a quadriplegic in his early thirties," I wrote, "who decides he wants to leave England and go to a Swiss clinic for an assisted suicide. But he promises his parents he’ll give them six months if they'll respect and accept his decision when the time is up. He’d already attempted to take his own life before the promise, so his parents hire a quirky girl to essentially be on suicide watch and to maybe help him find a reason to change his mind.”

I already knew a lot about living life as a quadriplegic because my boss at a support website where I worked for several years was a quad. Before his brain-stem stroke he’d been an aerospace engineer. After it, he built the elaborated website and with the help of other volunteers like me it serviced countless stroke survivors and their families. I had enormous respect for what he’d accomplished but he was a demanding boss, always wanting more and more and MORE of my time. After I left there, I hung around another support site for a while, this one just for quadriplegics and their caregivers where I had zero responsibilities but from time to time felt that I did have something useful to add to the community. Why am I doing this walk down History Lane in the middle of a movie review? I guess it’s my way of saying that I don’t make the claim lightly when I say I can see all sides of the assisted suicide issue that was the underlying theme to the love story in You Before Me. I’d known a man who made valuable contributions to society while typing with a forehead pointer and others who would have given anything to check out of living. I’d witnessed the pain and hopes of their families. I’d experienced my own emotional ebbs and tides while helping my husband deal with the loss of his mobility and speech. Love takes many forms---wanting to hold on to or wanting let go of life is complicated.

Which was better---the book or the film? Hard to say. I loved them both. The film adaptation cuts out several sub-plots which was fine with me. The casting was spot-on perfect, the acting wonderful, the Wales settings enchanting and the storyline was believable, sweet yet funny, emotionally deep and it makes you think. Several reviewers called it a sob-fest, one panned it as a “disability snuff movie.” Book reviewer Liesl Schillinger wrote: “When I finished this novel, I didn’t want to review it; I wanted to reread it.” I felt that same way about the movie. Most of the seventeen in my Movie and Lunch Club were wiping their eyes when the credits rolled. I didn’t think I’d be one of them since I knew the story ended with Will choosing suicide over the love he and Lou shared, but I was. ©

Favorite Movie Quotes: "You've only got one life to live. It's your duty to live it as fully as possible" and "Live boldly. Push yourself. Don't settle."

P.S. I didn't completely spoil the ending for anyone who wants to see the movie or read the book. I didn't tell you how Will's parents and Lou handled Will's assisted suicide.

Even this movie trail makes me smile.