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, February 13, 2016

Brewery Tours and Beer Memories

I’m not a morning person but I was up and in the shower by 8:30 on Thursday. I had a tour bus to catch and thanks to the gods of good weather there was no new snow in between me and the senior center where the bus was waiting to take us to a craft beer brewery and tap room. Before this week I could count on one finger the number of beers I’ve drank in my entire life…actually it wasn’t even a full beer. I didn’t like the taste and I never tried it again. It just didn’t make sense to waste calories on trying to acquire a taste for beer when they could be put to better use on mint chip ice cream.  I had a decade long love affair with that creamy, green stuff.

The night before the tour I did my research and learned this particular brewery makes a beer called Kentucky Breakfast Stout that is brewed with chocolate and coffee, two of my favorite things so that was the beer I set my sights on trying it with lunch. It’s been named the 4th best beer in the world. This brewery---along with all the start-up micro-breweries that have popped up in recent years---has put West Michigan on the map for beer aficionados.

I didn’t expect to be impressed but the place was amazing and it covered an entire city block. The tour took almost two hours and the tour guide was funny along with being informative. We learned everything there is to know about making and bottling beer. There, they age their higher end craft beers two to five months in wooden bourbon barrels stored down in the local gypsum mines (accessed from their sub-basement) and the barrels can only be used once. They go through 9,000 wooden barrels yearly and after they use them, the barrels are shipped off to Scotland where they take them apart, plane the inside surfaces and put them back together again to use to age Scottish whiskey. Who would have ever guessed that?

The automated bottling line of the brewery can fill 500 bottles a minute and we got to watch the process in action from cat walks. The place was super clean with stainless steel machines and vats everywhere you looked. The floors were brick red ceramic tiles and every section we went to had a different aroma. We were told at the beginning of the tour that we couldn’t touch anything made of stainless steel and silly me, I said, “I guess that means we can’t lick anything either?” The tour guide laughed, pointed a finger at me and replied, “You’re the one I’m going to have to keep a close eye on!” I love it when young people get my sense of humor.

The tour ended in their huge tap room where we had lunch and got a free beer---they have three or four smaller tap rooms around the brewery for the employees and a happy bunch of people they were. I only drank half of my beer because, apparently, my tastes in beverages hasn’t changed in the last 50 years. I felt bad about wasting beer that is so highly sought after and only available part of the year but I couldn’t make myself finish that pint. I’m a beer drinking failure. My mom didn’t drink beer or liquor at all but she had a better reason for abstaining than I did. Her father, brother and one brother-in-law often drank up their paychecks, leaving their kids with little to eat. In her late teens when Mom was a waitress her dad would come collect her paychecks and she’d never see a penny of it because he’d head to the tavern next. And I grew up seeing my mom slipping folding money to her sister to buy groceries. I’m not sure if my dad ever knew it but if he did he probably would have understood. According to family folklore he had tried to “talk some sense” into the three drunks in the family who didn’t know their limits when it came to drinking. 

When Don and I first met it was springtime and he didn’t know his limit either but by fall he gave up drinking all alcohol and he never looked back. He got his wake-up call when he ran into the back of a parked car and spent the night in jail. That didn’t stop us from going to disco bars and places with live music. I had wine and he’d have a Coke. Someone in the last years of Don’s life ask him if he’d want to have a beer again if he knew he would die within a few weeks. I was surprised to hear him answer, “Yes.” After the first five years of his sobriety I had quit worrying about a relapse. He would have loved the tour I went on but I’m not sure how he would have felt about my seatmate on the bus. When she sat down she said, “I wasn’t sure I was going to make it today. I spent all day yesterday crying.” It was the twentieth anniversary of her husband’s death and she said it hit her hard. I imagine it was the two decades thing that got to her. I’m not sure. At some point I quit listening because the voice in my head was talking louder and it was saying, Please tell me that’s not going to happen to you! ©

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Touring Hearts, Homes and Dark Memories

When I was young I was a fast worker. Now that I’m a septuagenarian I clean at a turtle’s pace. Finally, my bedroom has been deep cleaned but it took me five days. I used a mop to wash the walls so I didn’t have to get on a ladder and for the first time in my life I skipped doing the ceiling. But the blinds and windows are clean, the mattresses were flipped, the bed skirts have been washed and ironed, the furniture was polished and all the wall hangings are sparkling clean. The carpeting will wait until spring when I hire a professional to do the whole house. I changed my bedroom color scheme along with the deep cleaning project. The red sheets are gone and the red fabric that was framed to form a sort of headboard was swapped out to what you see in the photo above and I have enough fabric left over to make a decorative throw pillow. For under fifty bucks the room has a whole different energy. This is the room’s third reincarnation using framed fabric and new bedding which is one of the reasons why I love having neutral colored carpeting and walls.

After I got a haircut Monday I went to the Guy Land Cafeteria, one of my favorite people watching places. But the most interesting thing that happened was two black guys came in and not for the first time I wondered what it feels like to be black in a sea of white people. I’ve been going to this place for years and this is the first time I’ve ever seen a black person there, which tells you a lot about my white-bread neighborhood. They were wearing sweatshirts with ‘UChicago Tech’ written on the fronts which reminded me of a bus trip I took to The Windy City. It was in the spring of 1963 and we were a bunch of college students on our way to the museums. 

There was a detour in the city that took our bus through a ghetto complete with the driver’s mocking voice coming over the intercom describing what we were seeing, a dilapidated area with black people sitting on porches and kids looking with interest at our shiny motor coach bus with its tinted windows---at least I hope they were tinted back then. I'd hate to think those people outside the bus  saw us all staring at them. It was the first time I’d seen severe poverty up close. A few days after we got back home images of the police in Birmingham, Alabama using high-powered fire hoses and police dogs on black students, who had gathered to do a peaceful walk, dominated the nightly news. "They Fight a Fire That Won't Go Out" was the caption used on a photograph that appeared in Life Magazine of what happened that day---a day the world, including mine, woke up and started paying attention to the Civil Rights Movement. Over the years when I remember that bus trip I'm still stuck by how dehumanizing it was for the bus driver to treat that ghetto the way he did, like it was just another “tourist sight” along the way.

I thought about that tour recently when it was time to decide if I wanted to sign up for a senior hall tour, or not, of the oldest black church in town followed by a tour of a Buddhist Temple. I’ve wanted to go to the Buddhist Temple since I first learned about it ten years ago, so I put in my reservation although I’m slightly concerned that I’ll feel like we’re a bunch of white tourists when we visit the black church---like it’s an upgraded version of that trip in the ‘60s. This church tour is part of a monthly series billed as “How We Worship” and they include a talk by the church leaders so I’m sure my apprehension is for nothing. It’s not like they don’t know we’re coming or have no control over our visit. 

Race is such a hot button topic in recent years…well for some people. Maybe my naivety or flaming liberal nature will show up here when I say this but I don’t get how some whites can feel that being born white makes them better. It’s a crap shoot being born white or black. It’s a crap shoot being born into poverty or plenty. It’s a crap shoot if we get supportive, loving parents or those who aren’t. How can a person feel superior about something they had no control over and didn’t work to achieve? Opportunities matter and without a doubt just being born white before the Civil Rights Movement gave us more opportunities. Those opportunities compared to starting a 26 mile marathon at the 13 mile marker and wondering why the black kids, who started at the first mile marker, didn’t finish in the same time frame. 

Two black guys walked into a cafeteria on Monday and they ordered their food to go. Maybe they were traveling and didn’t have the time to sit down and eat, or maybe they wanted to talk shop while eating in private. I hope one of these two things is true because I’d be sad if they didn’t feel comfortable enough to eat their lunch inside. I looked around at my fellow diners and I didn’t feel an undercurrent going on. I listened to the cashier interact with the guys and noted no changes in her tone or demeanor. Still, the fact that their presence in my white-bread neighborhood was so unusual could be used as an example of how far true equality still has to go. ©

Levi on his side of the bed. He thinks it's cool he matches the decor`.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

500 Blog Entries and Pushing Forward

For anyone who likes statistics, my last blog entry was the 500th one that I’ve written since becoming a widow four years ago. I don’t know how to feel about that. On one hand, it's hard to be proud of something that came about because of my husband's death but on the other hand, it feels like I’ve reached a cake-and-candles worthy benchmark. Either way, this blog and the caregiver blog I kept while Don was alive both helped to keep me sane when my world was flipped off its axis. Both helped me find my sense of humor again while forging my way through some difficult challenges. And both blogs gave me a sense of purpose, that I might be helping others by exposing my journey to other caregivers or widows who could identify with its ups and downs.

Caregivers and widows have a lot in common, but society seems to judge widows with a harsher eye. With caregivers, others can see the on-going stresses and the changes in life-style and they’re often looked upon as “angels” who buck it up and do what needs to be done. But with widows others look at a calendar and at varying points along its timeline they will send out silent messages that seem to say, “Get over it, already!” Caregivers and widows both tend to feel isolated and feelings of fear, regrets and longings are kept increasingly closer to the vest. For me, being a diary keeper since I was ten, it’s second nature to unpack those feelings in a blog like this. I write mostly for myself, but I'm grateful that people have found it worth reading here from time to time, giving this blog over 224,600 unique views since I started it. For statistics junkies, like me, that averages out to about 450 views per blog entry and viewers have come from eleven countries including 6,038 from Russia of all places. I try to write around 800 words per blog which equals about 400,000 words written in this blog. The most read blog entry---a letter to my deceased husband---has 7,041 views and hopefully Don got to see it, too, where ever he is in the Great Unknown. 

Now on to my daily grind. This week my Red Hat Society Chapter went to our adopted nursing home where we make residents, who were interested, into honorary members of our group---we do a total of four events there per year plus send bags of goodies over on three holidays. Wednesday we served cookies and punch to thirty women and five guys and helped them all hot glue bling onto red visors. A few ladies were disappointed that we didn’t have bingo on the agenda this time. What is it about bingo that seems to go hand-in-hand with aging? With this group, it could be the prizes we hand out. We roll out a cart full perfumes, body creams, socks, books, etc. and it takes the winners forever to pick out their prizes. It would be fun to sneak a pair of sexy, red lace panties in with the other prizes and see what happens, but the World of Proper Decorum can be glad my actions rarely follow behind my mischievous thoughts. 

Honestly, though, it’s a good thing my chapter sisters all wear red hats when we go to the nursing home because it’s getting increasingly harder to tell us from the residents. Four of the ten of us who showed up were using canes and two couldn’t stand long enough to do much besides give moral support to those of us serving and interacting with the residents. And guess what, I finally graduated up to working at the glue gun station. Well, sort of---I only got to glue a few bouquets onto visors near the end. But that’s okay. After working twenty years in the floral industry, I don’t enjoy creativity by committee. As others debated if this flower or that one should go here or there I resisted the temptation to flaunt my two floral design school diplomas to get them to do it my way. But I didn’t do it because being right isn't as important as keeping peace in the valley and letting diplomacy be the star of the show. Mostly, I helped residents pick out their bling and ran it back to the glue station for someone else to marry it to a visor.

I’ll be the first to admit I’m never enthusiastic about going to our adopted nursing home, but my better self always shows up when I walk through the doors. I do my best to make eye contact with the residents I come in contact with and to show genuine interest in what they’re trying to say. One old guy, for example, wanted to talk about the fiddle he used to play and I told him it’s my favorite instrument to listen to. When Don and I first started dating we went to a lot of bluegrass festivals and my honorary Red Hat guy had played at a few of the venues I named. Who would have ever guessed that finding some foam rubber musical notes to hot glue onto a visor could evoke good memories for two passing strangers? But along with the good memories a hint of sadness followed. We could see it in each others eyes. And that’s why after writing 500 blog entries I still may have something to share. My memories of the past, the accomplishments of my present and my dreams for the future still come filtered through a lens known as widowhood. ©