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

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Sunday Morning: Third Christmas Without my Husband

Days before my first Christmas without Don I wrote a post titled Where Have you Gone, Christmas? and it started like this: “In a year of firsts for widows, probably the hardest first is not the same one across the board. Some might say their wedding anniversary; others might say the birthday that can no longer add a number to an age, still others would name Thanksgiving, Christmas or New Year’s Eve. For all widows the holiday season, as a whole, is full of painful reminders of long standing family traditions that can never be the same again. Each holiday song heard in a store, each light on a neighbor’s house, each card in the mail screams, “He’s gone, he’s gone!” Happiness is all around us and even the friendliest festivities only magnifies our loneliness. We are alone even in a crowd. But in the wake of what happened recently in Newtown, Connecticut, my loneliness at Christmas time pales and it almost makes me ashamed to even be writing about it. But I write when I have things on my mind. I can’t help myself.”

So here I am, two years later knowing that I’d be less dramatic should I be asked to describe widowhood grief at this point in my journey. Christmas cards don’t screaming at me anymore. The neighbor’s holiday lights don’t annoying me. I can sing along with Christmas carols coming from the car radio. And even though I got blindsided with tears at the senior hall Spirit celebration, it’s been a pretty good holiday season so far. But---and this is a BIG but---the Newtown parents of the shooting victims at Sandy Hook Elementary are weighing heavy on my mind once again. Why? I keep wondering how much of a setback in their healing process they’re enduring because of the school shootings in Pakistan last week where 132 kids and ten teachers died in a horrific massacre. 

And in despair I bowed my head:
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Everything is relative, isn’t it, when talking about the human condition. We all differ in our feelings, with no universal truth or validity to back them up. My mom was good at drilling that concept into me at an early age. “You think you have it bad,” she might have said if I complained about doing a chore, “kids on the other side of world carry water for their families from wells a mile away.” “Eat your carrots! Children in China are starving to death.” As an adult I can say to myself: You think your widow’s grief is bad, try being a parent of a child killed in a mass shooting. Everything IS relative when we allow ourselves to see own circumstances compared to those less fortunate than we are. There are always people who are lower down on the chain of human suffering and I am grateful I am able to see that. Thanks, Mom. Thanks Oprah. Gratitude. Jeez, do all roads lead back to those two? That’s a joke only fans of Motherhood Guilt and Oprah will likely get. 

I ended the 2012 post quoted above like this: “And how will I survive my first Christmas alone in the shadow of what happened in Newtown? I will watch Miracle on 34th Street, bake myself some bacon wrapped chicken and be profoundly grateful I got 42 years with my husband. I will also shed a few tears for the parents in Connecticut and everywhere else on earth who will never get to see their precious children grow up.” This year all I’d have to do is change the words ‘bacon wrapped chicken’ to ‘turkey legs’ and I could almost write the same ending word for word for this post. Christmas isn’t for mourning Don (or anyone else like my dad who died on Christmas day). Christmas, for me, is about appreciating how truly lucky I was to have had Don and Dad in my life for so long. I can’t be sad about that. I can’t moan and groan about how snow will likely keep me from going to my family’s Christmas Eve party. Well, I could but it would be a terrible waste of time and energy that could be put to better use. A better use like rekindling the belief that goodness will one day triumph over evil, then we will truly have peace on earth, good will towards men. Amen. Can you tell it’s Sunday morning here at the Church of Jean? ©
NOTE: Most people will recognize the stanza above as part of a Christmas carol named I Hear the Bells on Christmas Morning but how many know the song was originally a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow? Written during the American Civil War, he was inspired to write the poem after his son, who had joined the Union army without his blessing, was wounded in battle and Longfellow’s wife had just died in a fire. One might rightly say that grief created a carol that people have enjoyed in varying forms since 1872 when it was first set to music. If you know the carol you'll know that even in his grief, Longfellow found hope for the future which is why the carol has endured.

An old friend shared this with me. It's truly beautiful.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Movies, Feminists and Books to Keep You up at Night

There are plenty of jokes around about people who watch the Hallmark and Lifetime movie channels. Heck, I’ve made them myself. But not anymore. Not since this holiday season when I realized that since Don died those sappy holiday movies have become my Christmas tradition. I’ve pigged out on them three years in a row. They play in the background while I do other things and when I do glance at the TV I’m not lost, I know the plots because I’ve seen the endless loop of movies more times than I can count. And they’re so predictable that if I didn’t know better I’d think I wrote the screen plays myself. No holiday movie ever has an unexpected plot twist or a surprise ending. The lonely bachelors nursing a hurt and widows who were just going through life on auto-pilot always find happiness at the end. The kids wanting their families back together or a new dad or mom get their wishes come true and small, dreary towns always start pulling together to get their Christmas spirit off life support, fully revived and amped up to full throttle by the end of the film. I’m just a romantic at heart. Happy ending during the holidays seem to be what I need as an antidote for whatever it is that ails me---the underlying sadness of being alone? The scary state of the world? I don’t know what ‘it’ is exactly, but it’s there.

But I must say I actually watched the 1994 version of Miracle of 34th Street recently---well, I was knitting too but that’s not much of a distraction---and I didn’t like it as well as the 1947 version. They cut out one of my favorite parts, the one where they bring the mail bags containing letters written to Santa Claus into court. Instead, they brought in a reindeer to make Santa look foolish by asking him to make it fly as proof that’s he’s the real deal. Mc Dreamboat (Dylan McDermott) did a standout job playing Bryan the lawyer/love interest and little Mara Wilson taking the Natalie Wood part as Susan was adorable. Even Santa was great but the other parts all seem cartoonish to me. And you’d think as a Feminist I’d like how they changed the ending when they made a point of saying that Susan’s mother’s Christmas bonus would make the down payment on the house, but I didn’t. I think because Susan’s mom was already looking to buy a house---that house---before Susan asked Santa for it spoiled it for me because eventually the little girl would have gotten a house even without the Christmas miracle/myth of Santa. I guess that was the point, single moms don’t need a man or a miracle to make that happen.

I hope they never remake It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart. They’d probably have Mary as a working mom who can come up with enough cash to replace the bank’s money that George’s Uncle lost and that would be the end of the movie a half hour after it begins. Whitewashing our collective social history out of classic films does nothing to educate those who didn’t live through those times. Of course, we all know movies are about making money and if they can do a remake, updating for a new audience, it’s cheaper than starting from scratch. But I'm old and I don't have to like them.

Speaking of Feminists, it drives me crazy when young women today think if a guy in the workplace says they look nice that’s sexual harassment. No, ladies, sexual harassment is when a guy pushes you into a corner, sticks his tongue down your cleavage while groping your butt and driving his man part up against your body. Been there, done that and we older women know what it was like in the workplace before the second wave of Feminists changed all that.  A young lady asked me recently if the TV series Mad Men was an accurate portray of the times. “Yes, Virginia, it’s more fact than fiction,” I told her, "but I really don’t know if that’s true," I added, "having only watched the show one time. I wanted to barf the whole time it was on." Boy, didn’t I go off on a tangent here jumping from It’s a Wonderful Life to Man Men.

I bought a book yesterday and stayed up late reading it. It’s an action-thriller that one reviewer promised would give readers whiplash from all the plot twists and cliff hangers. I’m only 100 pages into Runner by Patrick Lee and I think I have the ‘mystery’ solved but since the main character is an ex-special forces guy I’m sure they’ll be some adrenaline pumping parts to read before I finish the nearly 400 page book. It’s the perfect counterpoint to all the fluffy, sugary Christmas movies I’ve been stuffing my head with since Thanksgiving. I’ve never read or heard of this author before but when I learned he lives in West Michigan, where I do, it makes me want to like his work. I sure hope it turns out that way because already the Hallmark channel is advertising the coming of their Valentine’s Day marathons and it would be nice if I have a series of engrossing novels with a few sickos and underbellies of society to mix in with the hearts and flowers movies I’ll no doubt get sucked into having running in the background throughout my January and February. ©

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Christmas Letter

My Christmas cards and letters were dropped in the mail last week. I've been doing letters for well over a decade and the people who get them tell me I can’t stop now. They don’t take me long to write but it’s always hard to know how much of my life to reveal to my “brick-and-mortar” friends and family. (Can that term even be applied to people or is it just reserved for businesses?) Anyway, the blogging world is used to me spilling my thoughts all over the place but the people in my everyday world don’t have a clue what goes on in my head or my daily life, for that matter, and probably don’t even care if truth were known…except at Christmas when they get The Letter. That’s life. I won’t reprint the entire letter here but to give you a taste of what I wrote this year here’s the first paragraph:

Dear Friends and Family, 

Have you ever tried to write an annual Christmas letter and after a few false starts you decide your life is so boring that no one will get past the first paragraph before tossing your letter in the trash? Where do I start my 2014 letter? Nothing great happened this year, nothing bad either. And I didn’t take an exotic vacation you’d enjoy hearing about, although I did sit through a travel lecture on South America. Does that count? I didn’t take up drinking hard spirits or join a cult that chants before breakfast either in case you were holding your breath on those life changing choices that I’ve put on a shelf for someday maybe. Still, I went through my day planner looking for amazing and engaging data to jump-start this letter. January, February, March---yadda, yadda, yadda---all the way through to December and not a single thing had been penciled in worth sharing unless you want to hear about my shoulder surgery the end of October. Not to worry, I still have an arm and even though my surgeon has benched me from shoveling snow this winter, I’m thinking a long extension cord and a hair dryer might work to clear my sidewalks the next time it snows.

Then I went on to describe my adventures online and at classes I took during the year ending with a Facebook invitation to anyone who knew my parents and might want to see the photo essay book I just finished that covers their life spans. “I’m Jean R*****” I wrote, “if you want to send me a Facebook friend request. I only mention the name thing because there are people in my life who still don’t understand that I never took Don’s name when we got married. Note: I love you all anyway but when I die, I hope you remember who I am when the obituary gets written or read. I’m old and I have to worry about something.” Yup, I’m a product of the Feminist Movement, hear me roar which obviously not everyone has. I must be meowing like a kitten instead. And that explains why one of my nieces thought a hospital lost me a few years ago. 

By the way, once in a while people I’ve met in cyber space have asked to friend me on Facebook but I have never wanted to mix my “brick-and-mortar” family and friends with my cyber space friends. I still believe that’s the best thing for me to do to protect the privacy of my extended family. So 99.9% of the time I don’t accept friend requests if I don’t know the person face-to-face. Just thought you’d like to know in case you’re not Asha or Pam who make up that .1% and I have known them since shortly after Don's stroke.

Darn, it’s time to hop in the shower. I have to drop Levi off for his haircut, go get one of my own then brave the busy stores before swinging back around to pick up the dog. This week my day planner also includes a Christmas party and my movie and lunch club. Life, at the moment, is good here on Widowhood Lane. Thanks to my cleaning service, the house is sparkling and I even have Toll House cookies in the refrigerator to bake in case anyone wants to stop by between now and the end of the year. If no one does come to visit “the old widow” you’ll know what I’ll be doing on New Year’s Eve…drowning my sorrows in a glass of milk along with the German chocolate cookies. ©

P.S. Here’s a link to another post about the letter I sent out the first Christmas after Don passed away. Come the middle of January it will be three years since he died. Sometimes that seems like a 100 years ago and other days, it seems like only yesterday.