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, December 3, 2016

Dreams and Going to Cuba

I love my sleep. I don’t always get as much as I’d like. In October and half of November, for example, I averaged 5.3 hours a night and I know this because one of the first things I do each morning is check my Fitbit dashboard and they email me a weekly report. The past two weeks I’m getting closer to seven hours of sleep and the only thing that forces me out of bed in the morning is a bathroom call. A couple of times I’ve been able to hop back in bed, pull my sleep mask over my eyes in an attempt to fall back into a dream I was having, like opening a book to where you placed a marker. It rarely works. Like this morning I wanted to know if I reached the shore before dark. I was swimming in the Boston harbor, dodging rowing crews and I was swimming for all I was worth, kicking up water hoping that a sweep of oars wouldn’t knock me out as they passed by. I know where the Boston part came from…another widowed blogger booked a room on the Back Bay for the week before Christmas and I loved that idea. The rowing crews came from the fact that recently, as I waited on a bridge for a red light, I saw a crew putting their boat in a storage building by the river near my house.
Can you believe it, 5-6 years ago our local high schools started offer the sport of rowing. Wikipedia says rowing as a sport dates back to Ancient Egyptian but I’ve always associated rowing with snotty universities where your daddy has to donate a few endowments and lawn jockeys to get you in. True or not, with dreams and their meanings the theory is it’s not the settings that matter, it’s the actions. Oh my! According to the dream dictionary, swimming means that “you are exploring aspects of your subconscious mind and emotions---it may be a sign that you are seeking some sort of emotional support” and the part about it getting dark, “signifies failure in some work that you are attempting.” The only work I’ve been failing with lately (that I know of) is knitting on the bias. I tore out almost as many rows as I knitted on my shawl before I finally got the hang of adding stitches on the ends and decreasing stitches in the middle of every other row. You’ve got to stay on your toes, count often and I’m liking the challenge so I doubt this activity played into my dream. My failure is probably more along the lines of feeling old and wishing I could find a cure for that. Old woman identity crisis going on. Nothing to see here, people, move along. Just don't hit her with your oars as you pass by.

This week I went to another travelogue about Cuba. The one I went to last year was about the specific places in Cuba the trip organizers will take their group this coming February---the cultural and educational things they’ll be doing as part of the People-to-People Program set up since the embargo was lifted. You still can’t just hop on a plane and go there as a tourist if you're a U.S. citizen. You have to be licensed to go for one of 5-6 specific purposes and keep a detailed diary while you're in Cuba. This time the travelogue speaker, an expert on Cuba, was a man who has been there over 100 times since 1999 to do humanitarian work delivering medical supplies. He’s allowed to come and go under strict licenses issued by our two governments and he had fascinating things to say about the island’s history and our country’s part in causing the climate that led to the Revolution. Hint #1: We helped the Mafia, set up shop to launder money and that made the rich richer and the poor poorer. He also said the all the tour guides in the country work for the government and you should only believe what you see with your eyes but not necessarily everything that you hear with your ears. Punishment for crimes is swift and harsh so the country is very safe for visitors. For example, killing a cow in Cuba comes with a mandatory sentence of life in prison. Beef is only for tourists, not the Cuban people.

With Fidel Castro’s recent death the speaker didn’t expect much to change in Cuba over the next two years because the man who is taking over for Fidel (until his retirement) has been unofficially running the country for the past five years. That’s also assuming Mr. Trump won’t keep his promise to undo Obama’s lifting of the embargo. The hope is that once he’s been briefed on the benefits our country foresees from the deal in terms of counteracting Cuba’s growing anti-American alliances with China and Venezuela Trump will do a flip-flop. Still, with the stroke of a presidential pen those in my travel club who signed up to go to Cuba could have their dream trip pulled out from underneath them.

I’ll never travel out of the country again---unless I get abducted by a UFO or go in my dreams---but going to travelogues enriches my life without having to pay a dime and we get free cookies and coffee as a bonus.   ©

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Deck the Halls, Movies and Neighbors with Keyboards

This week I preformed the pagan ritual of bring evergreens in the house to decorate for the holidays. I say that tongue-in-cheek because, ya, I know, Christian churches use boughs and holly in their houses of worship so how can doing so be a pagan ritual? It just was before early Christian leaders tried without success to stamp out the practice that pagans believed would repel evil spirits, witches and ghosts from coming inside from the cold. Having failed at that then early Christian leaders tried with success to convert the idea to a Christian symbol. Oh, yes, a great and powerful metaphor was born that turned the boughs of evergreens and holly into a symbol for eternal life after death. But even as late as the 3rd century holiday trees and evergreen boughs in the house were strictly forbidden by the church and aren’t we all glad they did an about face somewhere in the tumultuous pages of history. Although it's important to note that it was the publication of the `Twas The Night Before Christmas in 1823 and a drawing of a tree at England’s Windsor Castle reprinted in Godey's Lady's Book in 1850 that did the most to popularize the highly decorated Christmas trees we know today. Ah, the power of an illustrator! With the exception of in Germany where Queen Victoria’s husband was born, most Christmas trees in the century before the mid-1800s were sparsely decorated with edibles.

I am neither a Christian nor a Celtic Druid afraid of ghosts or a Roman worshipper of Saturn, the god of agriculture. I just like the smell of evergreens in the house and playing with them brings me back to my days of working for a large florist where I spent my fair share of time before Christmas decorating rich people’s houses. Today they’d call it staging a house for the holidays. I was watching a Hallmark holiday movie over the weekend where a woman was hired to stage a house for the holidays and it took her nearly three weeks and, of course, she and her client fell in love along the way. 1) Any stager who would take that long to decorate one house would be out of business in short order. It was a one day on sight job---tops---with two days off sight prep-time, and 2) Clients aren’t usually young guys with beautiful houses and bodies and dimpled cheeks who gives you a key to come and go the whole month of December. Wander out in the morning to make coffee, there she’d be fluffing red bows on boxes. Come home from work, there she’d be hanging Christmas stockings. Okay, I admit it. I might be jealous that I never had a client like Mr. Dimples. I was young, single and looking for love back in my holiday staging days.

Don’t you just love movies with improbable and shallow storylines? I have a love/hate relationship with Hallmark holiday movies but the happy endings for the lost, lonely and often widowed people makes them like a bowl of popcorn I can’t resist. They might reduce falling in love to a two hour cliché but they’re available nearly 24/7 to remind us all of the warm, fuzzy-feelings often mixed with messy, confusing feelings that go along with finding someone to love. As I settle firmly into the world of widowhood, it gets harder and harder to remember stuff like that. 

Speaking of movies, it’s been twelve days since I went across the street to my new neighbor’s house to watch “a Christian movie” with some of her friends. She’s the one with Parkinson’s disease and a whisper soft voice I can barely hear. That night I gave her my contact information including my email address and we have both answered and received an email every night since. We have almost nothing in common. She's very religious and sweet and I'm searching for another word to describe her: not exactly naive or sheltered but definitely different from worldly me. We are connecting on a deep level, I think, because we both know how to be open when writing, with no questions too personal to ask or answer. I hadn't expected a relationship to develop but I'm thinking it's filling a role in both of our lives. For me, it’s a window into the feelings of a severely disabled person. After living twelve years with a disabled husband who couldn’t walk, talk or write I find her internal coping tools and journey fascinating.

And for her, I’m guessing it’s an opportunity for in-depth “conversations” that might be lacking in her life. She has many friends from her old life as a teacher. But from my experience watching old friends interact with my husband after his massive stroke, I know that conversations get shorter, shallower and less satisfying as time passes when someone has to work so hard to be understood. Time will tell if I’m right but she obviously is encouraging the friendship because she bought a copy of Big to play at her next “girl’s movie night” after learning that I’m a Tom Hanks fan and have never seen that film. Neighbors with Keyboards. I think I'll give our email chain a new name.  ©

Note: Tree at the top is the illustration that was in Godey's.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Black Friday, Blue Thoughts

It’s Black Friday and I’ve been sitting in front of the computer screen for what seems like forever because I have no idea what I’m going to write about for my Saturday blog post. When all else fails I think about writing about my dog, Levi. He’s my housemate and the only living thing that remotely needs me to stick around. Woo is me, I spent a wonderful day at my youngest niece’s house yesterday and when I came back home to Levi I was wishing once again that I lived closer to my family. My niece and her family are loving, kind and fun and I miss being around that kind of warmth between the generations. And did I mention there were four dogs in attendance? The two large dogs had to spend the day in the garage but the other two---petite things that I doubt weigh eight pounds put together---were in Action Central. It’s amazing how they manage not to get squashed under someone’s feet. I know it sounds silly but one of those dogs even wears pajamas to bed. Her “mom” says the PJs keep her from getting hair in their bed. I wish my mom was alive to see that Papillion mix. Mom thought I spoiled my dogs too much and it would have taken the heat off me, knowing this dog has a wardrobe of girlie things that would make a Barbie doll jealous.

Tomorrow I’ll be going to my nephew’s house. Their two grand-babies are both going to be town thus I got invited out to give auntie hugs. They aren’t even a year old yet and my nephew and his wife are truly enjoying their grand-parenthood status. I love that I’m included but it’s another long drive and every time I make a trip out to see my family it makes me sad coming home, knowing at some point I’ll be too old to do that drive safety. Why can’t I stay focused on the here and now and quit worrying about my tomorrows? Why can’t I make a decision to stay put or move and quit vacillating on that topic every time a holiday comes along and I see my family? 

I looked up writing prompts when I couldn’t come up with a topic for this blog and I wrote down, “Heart vs Head.” I thought I’d disregarded that topic but moving or staying put actually is a heart vs head dilemma because it always comes back to the same conclusion: my heart wants to go but my head tells me I still wouldn’t see my family more often than on holidays---they are all busy, working and/or traveling---and I’d be giving up the only anchor I have beside Levi: the senior hall and all its activities. Yada, yada, yada. I’m starting to sound like a broke record. All I know for sure is it’s crazy to make myself blue over something that only takes place inside my head. Right now, this week I’m seeing family and that should be enough. 

My husband's memory has not been heavy on my mind this week, but I knew he was lurking somewhere in the darkness when I picked up my silver ‘butterfly’ ring off the base of my monitor and put it on. I do that when I want to feel close, then in a few days I'll put it back where it came from. I bought it to commemorate my second annual pilgrimage to the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit to honor his life. I have this thing about widowhood jewelry with symbolism. First there was my antique Victorian mourning broach that I have worn to every single funeral I’ve gone to since 1983. Then came the ash pocket, heart-shaped locket bought soon after Don's funeral followed by a custom made beaded necklace that incorporates my husband’s wedding ring. I wore one of these three pieces whenever I left the house in the first phase of widowhood. After that came my cowardly lion charm from the Wizard of Oz. It symbolized having courage when I first started to venture out into the world of socializing alone. Last and also the least meaning full to me is an Origami living locket. The only reason I bought it was because I was jealous of another widow who had one. She tells everyone about how all the charms inside the locket relate to her husband. She still wears hers every day and it’s been four years but I’ve only worn mine a total of three times in the same length of time. I couldn't find charms that told Don's story. All I have inside the glass fronted locket is a Taijitu (yin-yang symbol), a ruby red cut glass heart, a tiny pearl and an 'in memory' charm. Jealously never ends well.

Black Friday, blue thoughts. I have never, ever been shopping on Black Friday. It's right up there next to going to the dentist on my list of dreaded things to do. The day before Thanksgiving I got my short shopping list polished off in just over an hour while everyone else was home cooking. All I had to buy was a $10 exchange gift for the Red Hat Society party, 48 fingernail files to put in gift bags we’ll be packing for the residents in our adopted nursing home and three boxes of chocolates from a shop that makes the best sweets in town: two to have on hand just in case I get a visit from someone unexpected and one will go to my house cleaner with a tip inside. One of those boxes will probably still be around for New Year’s Eve and I will then eat it up with the gusto of a woman intent on punishing her thigh for every thing she's done wrong in 2016.  ©

NOTE: Photo at the top is a Papillion like the one at the party.