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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Captain Obvious on Widowhood


I must be the last person on earth who didn’t (until a few days ago) know who Captain Obvious is. In my defense I don’t have teenagers around who keep me up on pop culture and fictional superheroes. And I don’t spend time playing video games or reading comic books---never did and probably never will. I do, however, get a kick out of what I just learned about Captain Obvious, a superhero who can fly but is afraid to do so. There is something just plain ridiculously funny about creating a character that travels around in an RV with his side kick, Readily Apparent Boy, and whose mission it is to seek out the blatantly obvious stuff to explain to the general public.

“Hey, water’s wet!”

“Good call, Captain Obvious.”

Captain Obvious has many super powers one of which is the ability to stare intensely at a forest and eventually see the trees. He can leap to conclusions in a single bound and best of all, he has perfect hindsight. How great is that? I’m in love.

Today I had fun looking at Captain Obvious type jokes. Things like real instructions on products. For example a warning label on a Sears hairdryer that says, do not use while sleeping. Other funny ones: on a Nytol sleep aid, Warning: may cause drowsiness and on a box of Christmas lights, For indoor or outdoor use only. Clearly, Captain Obvious has many years of work ahead of him if he’s going to clean up the redundant mess we ordinary humans are strewing across this place we call earth.

What brought on my mini obsession with Captain Obvious? I was doing some reading at a widow’s support site and a woman was telling about a remark someone made to her about being too young to be a widow and she said had to bite her tongue from saying, “Thank you, Captain Obvious.” That was it. That’s all it took to send me off to Internet Land to find out where that expression originated. I guess I live a sheltered life. Who knew it’s been around since the late 90s? Certainly not me.

The young widow brought up a few other things that got me thinking and not in a good way. She had a stereotype fixed in her head about what widows look like and it wasn’t very faltering to us “older widows.” As I read her words I resisted going to the mirror to see if I fit her image. I didn’t really need to look. I do fit---in need of a haircut, no makeup, less than fashionable clothing. The only thing that didn’t fit is I don’t keep cats. The young widow also mentioned that when she was a kid there was a widow on her street and on Halloween all the kids avoided her house. Oh, my God! Just a few days before reading that I’d been thinking about how much I dread Halloween coming. Maybe I’ll turn into one of those scary kind of widows who will be like old Fish on The Barry Miller Show and I'll shout out to the kids, "Get away from me!"

Handing out candy was always Don’s job and joy. He would sit outside in his wheelchair, all bundled up for winter with his basket full of treats and the walky-talky (in case he needed help or more candy). At the end of the night he'd come in with sparkling eyes, rosy cheeks and a huge smile on his face. The kids all knew him from his travels around the neighborhood in his electric wheelchair. It makes my eyes misty just typing this. Some of those little kids or their parents are bound to ask about Don this year. I don’t know what I’m going to do about Halloween. Should I just go away for the night? Should I sit in the dark pretending no one is at home? Should I suck it up and hand out tear-stained candy?

If a certain superhero should drive up in his RV right about now he’d probably say, “Holidays will never be the same again” and I’d bite his head off with a snappy reply of, “Well, thank you Captain Obvious for that newsflash.” And then I’d say---in a calmer voice, “Come inside so we can talk about your arch nemesis, Professor Subtle.” Hey, when you have a fake conversation with a comic book superhero it never hurts to try to distract the guy so he doesn’t have a chance to come back at you with his wildly appropriate---at least in this imaginary exchange---zinger of, “Your welcome, Sergeant Sarcasm. ©

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

My 'When Harry Met Sally' Story

If my life in the late 1960s had its own theme song it would have been ALFIE. When I close my eyes I can almost see a younger version of myself running around with my arms spread wide open, long flowing skirts giving me grace, and with a voice coming out of me that sounds like Dionne Warwick singing: "What's it all about, Alfie? Is it just for the moment we live?" I see myself leaping and strutting around a city park belting out line after line. "Are we meant to take more than we give or are we meant to be kind?" I see the orchestra of Burt Bacharach's running along behind me, trying to keep up with the pace that I set while still playing their instruments. Those piano movers are really working up a sweat. "As sure as I believe there's a heaven above, Alfie, I know there's something much more, something even non-believers can believe in. I believe in love, Alfie."

That's the Walt Disney version. During my "what's-it-all-about" era I was actually a dating machine, searching for love and the meaning of life in all the wrong places. It's funny how forty-five plus years can make you forget a thing like that about yourself. I've been looking at old diaries today and when read 1969 I was actually shocked to see that so many guys' names had filled up page after page. Ten of them! All those guys were trading places back and forth as if they were race horses going around and around on a track. First one guy would be my favorite, then another. Break ups and makes ups and near-fist fights. One guy even turned out to be an undercover cop working on a case involving a shirt-tail friend of mine. As I read those diary entries I couldn't believe I was reading about my own life. I wanted to break out the pop-corn and get a score card.

My power dating era was winding down by March of 1970 when Don entered the pages of my diaries. We met at a bowling alley that had an adjacent pub with live music and dancing. It was the local hunting ground. I was on a lady's league on Friday nights and when Don and I met it was far from love at first sight---at least not for me. Oh, Don was good looking enough to curl a girl's toes and lord knows conversation never lagged when he was around. But I met him along with a friend of his who looked like he shared the same gene pool as Tom Jones; he even had the same weighty voice in an era when Tom Jones was red hot on the charts. Of course I wanted the other guy, not Don.

For the next six months I dated them of both frequently, on different nights of course, but the three of us often found ourselves hanging out together on Fridays after bowling. All that time Don kept telling me that his friend was a one-night stand and if I went out him again, he (Don) would stop asking me out. The friend did turn out to be an irresponsible loser, but Don turned out to be a liar because in spite the fact that I kept dating his friend, he hung right in there date for date. I couldn't quite figure these two guys out. I was guessing they had some kind of contest or bet going, so I didn't trust either one of them. Finally six months out, the log jam broke when Mr. T.J.-Look-a-Like started dating a woman he later married. It was in that same time frame when Don first declared that he loved me and wanted us to get married. It took us thirty-one years and a severe stroke for us to follow up on that idea. And in those years we spent more time together than most married people do.

It's weird how your memory can play tricks on you. Before I cracked open my old diaries today I had already written the story of how Don and I met. I couldn't believe how far off from the truth that first draft was. I had to scrap it and start all over. I'd completely forgotten about my marathon dating in 1969 and about the triangle dating thing we had going for the six months after Don, his friend and I all met. I had given that whole period the Walt Disney, this-is-the-version-you'd-tell-your-grandkids spin.

Off and on all afternoon I was reading the pages of my diaries and wishing I could figure out how I could hold on to these books until twenty minutes before I die when I'd like to burn them. Every so often I get them out and give myself a good laugh. It's also cathartic to watch yourself grow in spirit and wisdom over the years as you turn those yellowed pages. On afternoon years ago Don and I had was reading and laughing over my old diaries but we stopped laughing when we came across an entry about a chance meeting on cruise night at a local drive-in restaurant, circa 1958. We're 99% sure it was us and our two best friends I had written about who passed jokes back and forth while sitting on the hoods of our cars. So, I guess you could say that we've actually got two "When Harry Met Sally" stories to tell. ©

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Stepfordville for Old People

Back in the 70s there was a movie named The Stepford Wives. It was a science fiction thriller about a woman who came to suspect the submissive housewives in her new idyllic neighborhood were robots created by their husbands. As she watched the new arrivals in town change from independent-minded women to mindless housewives she became increasingly alarmed and started an investigation. But by the end of the movie sadly she, too, becomes a docile, robotic wife gliding through the supermarket. In 2004 there was a remake of the movie followed by several spin-offs including The Revenge of the Stepford Wives and The Stepford Husbands, but that first one will forever be my favorite.

Last week I was reminded of that movie as I toured a place I have since dubbed Stepfordville for Old People. I had signed up for a free trip to the zoo and a free gourmet lunch through the senior hall. It was sponsored by the marketing department of Stepfordville and before the zoo and lunch their marketing director took us around their 36 acre facility. It was the kind of place where you bought one of their 200 apartments and as your health declines they move you down the line---first to an assisted living unit on campus, next to their nursing home section and finally they finish you off in a Hospice unit. It was a beautiful place and they had everything you could ever want: a pool, beauty shop, grocery store, bank, gym, golf league, card clubs, dog walkers, investment broker, an on-site 24/7 minister, doctor and nurse, a formal restaurant and a causal café, walking trails, woodworking shop, arts and crafts room, deer, quilting club, classes, maid service, library, underground heated garage, real estate people to sell your house and a moving service to get you settled into the place. It was …well, just a little too perfect and what few residents we saw along the tour looked like they were plants in a TV commercial for Stepfordville. Everyone was so happy, so perfect dressed in their old people preppie outfits.

I did a lot of thinking about Stepfordville in the coming days wondering if I could be happy in a place like that and I decided there was something creepy about the place. Maybe I watch too many movies. Maybe my imagination works overtime. I'm not sure why the place gave me bad vibes, but I do know one thing: Stepfordville would be a great location for another Stepford spin-off. And their sun tanned marketing director, all decked out in his Armani suit and tie and GQ shoes would make the perfect villain.

Stepfordville sponsors other free trips about town. They say you can go on as many as you want and while the others are getting escorting around their campus you don’t have to go along if you’ve already done the tour a time or two. You can stay in their library and read a book. Oh, sure, that’s probably where they have the secret door to the laboratory where they turn you into a robot then get you to sign over all your money. So let it be known if I disappear someday go look for me walking around the grounds of that perfectly perfect old people’s community. And no matter how many times I tell you I’m really, really, really happy there. DON’T BELIEVE ME! ©

 

 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Here We Go Again

What does a walnut napkin holder cut in the shape of our state, a flip book of plastic covered queue cards and a set of glasses etched with eagles on the front have in common? They all made me cry this week. Damn it! I thought I was past the weepy widow stage, that stage where everything you see brings a bittersweet memory. The napkin holder was something I hated since I first saw it at a Christmas craft show last year, but Don’s friend was selling them and no way could I tell Don in front of the guy that, “No, we don’t need it, I don’t want it. I don’t like. Put it back!” But that was how I felt at the time. The glasses were something he won at a fund raiser auction we’d gone to and while Don kept bidding on them I kept resisting the urge to grab the bid paddle out of his hand. Don loved going to auctions before his stroke but country auctions aren’t very wheelchair friendly so he’d had few opportunities since. He was having fun bidding on the glasses but I was thinking “No, we don’t need them. I don’t want them. I don’t like them. Put the paddle down!” This week, the glasses and napkin holder went to the Salvation Army box but not without a lot of guilt packed in around them.

The flip book of queue cards was another story. I couldn’t get rid of that. I found in a box of speech class homework and that box represented six years of hard work---so many hours of exercises and practice that involved us both. I managed to throw out everything in the box but the flip book. It sits in the garage waiting for the day when I might bite the bullet and make it disappear in the trash container. But I was proud of myself for throwing out what I did even though I cried like crazy over sorting through that box. The worse part, though, was a few days later I was in the basement and I noticed another box labeled: speech class homework I hope we never need again. Damn it! We don’t need it anymore. I don't like what it reminds me of and I don't want it anymore...but it still sits on the shelf. I had shed enough tears for one week.

In a few days it will be eight months since Don died. I have accomplished a lot in those months but every so often it seems like it was only yesterday that he was here laughing at one of my silly antics. Other spouses to stroke survivors with severe language disorders will understand what I mean when I say that after the stroke I became the Entertainer-in-Chief. You end up talking more because your spouse can’t talk. You end up projecting and guessing what your partner wants to say. One of my favorite memories from recent years is of a time when I had an argument with myself---me taking both Don’s side and my side of an issue. (When you know someone as well as I knew Don you know exactly how they think.) I was seriously getting wound up debating with myself when Don burst out laughing. And that was the end of “our” argument. I had won whatever "we" were disagreeing about. God, I miss him! ©




Thursday, September 6, 2012

Getting Ready for the Big Reunion

My oldest friend in the whole world is coming to visit me in October. We met early in grammar school and we were best friends from that first day until we went off to separate colleges. It wasn’t long after that when she met and married my replacement in the `best friend and confidant’ department and they moved across the country. We haven’t seen each other in---wow---well over a decade! But you never forget your first best friend. We did everything together from playing on the “monkey bars” during recess to walking to the corner drugstore for after school malts to taking part in some of the world’s first cruise nights at MacDonald’s. As adults we kept in touch though infrequent letters and visits but whenever we’d get together we always had the ability to pick up where we left off, finding lots of things to talk about and laugh about even though our lives had taken dramatically different directions. And so it shall be again this October. In the meantime I have a long list of things on my ‘To Do List’ to get ready for her visit including the following….

1) Lose 599 pounds. Well, maybe that’s a tad ambitious so I’ll settle for losing the six pounds I gained since I saw my doctor last spring. My appointment with him is the day before the Big Reunion and he won’t be happy about my weight gain. I could tell him it’s a common widowhood by-product but he’s immune to my excuses.

2) Redecorate the entire house. It hasn’t been redone since we moved in eleven years ago and it looks like a decorator with a multiple personality disorder did the job. Maybe a redo is little ambitious, too, so I’ll settle on deep cleaning the guest room. It’s only been used two times since we built the house…unless you count the collection of spaghetti poodles living in there. I might have to make a cover for their ‘glass cage’ so their 75 pair of laughing eyes don’t spook my friend and keep her up at night.

3) Learn to cook. My friend has a long history in the culinary arts starting back to when she was a kid learning her way around the kitchen from her home economics teacher mom. Today, she belongs to a couple groups that test recipes and have frequent dinner parties to celebrity their joy of cooking. Me? Don and I had a long history of eating out in restaurants and my kitchen skills are all but none existent. The idea of doing any cook while she’s here freaks me out more than anything I’ve had to do since Don passed away. But my friend assures me it won’t be a big deal. We can live on grilled cheese sandwiches and big lunches out. Still, if that doesn’t work out maybe I can teach her the Joys of Take-Out Italian? We have a great place near-by.

4) Get a face lift, a stomach tuck, and the gray hair vanished from my head so my friend might be able to recognize me when I pick her up at the airport. Oh, heck, that’s not going to happen either so I’ll have to come up with something straight out of the movies like wearing a red carnation.

5) Teach the dog not to greet newcomers by jumping on them when they enter the house. Darn it, if you knew Levi you’d say it would easier just to teach my friend about pulling her knee up slightly to deflect doggie jumps. She’s not a dog person so spending time with Levi will be a new experience for her. And it seems only fair that she should have something to be apprehensive about since I have the whole cooking thing to worry about.

I could go on writing about my To-Do List but you get the idea. I’m an obsessed planner---some might say ‘obsessed worry-wart.’ One thing I’m not worried about, though, and that's the fact that the Big Reunion in October. is a wonderful distraction. Recently widowed women tend to fall into a trap of thinking we’ll never have anything to look forward to ever again. But I’m starting to realize that transitioning out of the lives we must leave behind due to the death of our husbands is only half the equation. We must also make concrete plans for happier times in the future. ©