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, April 27, 2013

World Events, Widows and Finding Oneself

Florida Porches by Raymond Cloutier
Four days after the Boston Marathon bombings I went to a bridal shower and was surprised at how many women there hadn’t heard about it yet---about a third of those in attendance. With the injured people numbering over two hundred and three people dead how can people in this age of social media and wall-to-wall TV coverage not hear about an event that big?  I don’t suppose they know about the Texas fertilizer factory explosion, either, that happened close on its heels that injured over two hundred and killed fourteen. And now, the disaster in the Bangladesh where a garment factory collapsed and the death toll has climbed to over 300 as they pull more victims and dead bodies out of the rubble. So much pain, so much heartache and so much healing will need to come forth before life can return to normal for all the lives affected by these tragedies. I don’t know whether to envy or scuff at people who don’t stay tuned into what is going on in the world. I feel overwhelmed by current events right now---restless and impotent and with those feelings is a growing anger. Anger that I don’t know where to aim. Life seems so much more complicated than it was a few short weeks ago.

Over the past thirty-forty years when ever I’ve felt this way I’d find myself daydreaming about being in the Federal Witness Protection Program. I’ve always been a sucker for books that use this scenario for a plot device. Pacifiers for adults I call them. I can daydream myself being placed on an Amish farm in Pennsylvania or in a cottage on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. My imaginary life in the FWPP would separate me from mainstream civilization but with my own private guardian angel to keep me safe. I suppose turning off CNN, internet news sources and social media is another, more practical way I could accomplish the same thing, to escape the overload of information coming at me. It’s something I instinctively did in the months following Don’s death. Handling my own grief was enough and the world had to wait. If I’d gone to a bridal shower back then, I would have been counted in the Clueless Club if something major was going on in the world. Sometimes we’re the Yin and sometimes we’re the Yang.

These past few weeks I’ve been reading and am half way through a non-fiction book about a political activist who left New York City to stay alone in a cabin on an island off the coast of Maine. She had no phone service, no electricity or inside plumbing and she learned to eat off the land and the water. I keep thinking to myself, Could I ever actually do that? Be a hermit, be a recluse? And then I remember all the times since Don died that I’ve felt like a bird in a gilded cage with no one to hear my morning songs. You don’t have to be totally isolated from society to feel isolated. But the thing is, the author of the book didn’t feel isolated and alone. She was finding herself in the simplicity of living close to nature, finding  oneness with the world. Maybe my infatuation with the Federal Witness Protect Program is more about running away than running to something like Ms. Shulman did in Drinking The Rain.  I've often thought I feel too connected with the world...but isn't that just right brain, left-handed liberal non-sense? How can you be too connected to the suffering of mankind?

Today was the first time this spring it was warm and dry enough to sit outside and I welcomed hearing the birds chirping. For a brief moment I entertained the idea of planting a garden so I could spend more time outside listening to the birds. Then I decided that what I really need to do is to learn NOT to multitask. If I want to listen to the birds I shouldn’t have tend garden to justify being outside. Life is too short and unpredictable. As a septuagenarian I need to start pondering age-old questions like: Why does it take adversity to bring out the goodness in people? Why can’t we skip the bombings, the fires and the buildings collapsing and go straight to the part where people step up to show extraordinary kindness to others? Sometimes the contrary forces that govern the world suck! I want the light without the darkness, the highs without the lows, the love without the hate and life without death. Since I can't have any of that I want a porch overlooking an ocean where I can come to terms with the fact that disasters and evil are as much a part of the Natural World as the sun rising and setting. Utopia is just a fictional island we can only dream of seeing through the mist or on an artist's canvas or read about in a book.  ©

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Contrasts, Bag Ladies and Floods


our main street downtown
 
Yesterday I had to go to a part of town clustered around our former industrial base. I say ‘former’ because in recent years that industrial base has dried up or moved on to other cities. It’s a depressed and rundown area from what it was just five years ago. One thing that struck me was the billboards I saw advertising phone numbers where people can get help for drug or alcohol abuse, child abuse and neighborhood watch groups. We don’t see those on the other end of town where I live.

On one corner where I had to wait for a traffic light a woman about my age was sitting in a wheelchair holding a sign that read: “Need help and money for food.” Was she for real? A dozen questions went through my head as I waited for the light to change including why would she sit on a busy corner where there was no place a driver could pull over and park if she/he wanted to give the woman some cash. It wasn’t likely she’d spring up from the chair and walk over to a car to collect the money. Would she? She was old enough for Social Security, Medicare, subsidized housing and many other safety nets our community provides to needy people. Why would a person her age need to sit on a corner holding up a sign begging for money? Perhaps she wasn’t mentally capable of navigating her way through Social Services. Perhaps her grandchildren were using her to get money for drugs. I wish I’d had a sign I could have held up that read: “Call 211 for help!”

Whatever the woman’s back story, she was the personification of every fear I had during my younger years, of what my old age would look like if I didn’t play my cards right. Don and I both were both children of depression era parents who’d gone through a lot of tough times in their lives. It was in our DNA to believe that bad luck and hard times could be just around any corner. Consequently, we were workaholics most of our adult lives. Fast forward decades later and I didn’t turn into a bag lady and unless the whole world falls apart, I most likely won’t ever be one. Still, the woman sitting on the corner bothered me---the contrast between her life and mine. In the stroke support community I was a part of for twelve years I’d met a lot of people who thought their futures were secure but they watched it all slip through their fingers when their medical problems and lack of insurance caused them to go bankrupt. Sometimes people get beaten down through no fault of their own.

I drove back to my end of town taking a broad boulevard that makes its way past two well groomed college campuses, several upscale malls and a large botanical garden. I was driving a paid-for car that had just gotten its first anniversary “buff and shine”---warranty required for its clear coat---and I was feeling guilty because by the grace of God or good fortune or the forces of the universe I wasn’t the one sitting on the corner holding up a cardboard sign begging for money. Whether it was a scam, or not, she was still a woman who’d lost all dignity and pride. And that’s sad.

Oh cripe! I just thought about something else to feel guilty and sad about. We’re in the middle of dealing with a 100 year flood with the river that runs through town and record rain fall. I wonder if anyone helped all those homeless people evacuate who live under the bridges and viaducts. Where did they go, who took them in? The lower levels of dozens of buildings downtown are flooded including a five star hotel, the museums, and high-rise apartment buildings. Homes along the river near-by where I live look like little islands and the evacuation of a nursing home was well covered in the news. But my storm damaged yard was put back to normal with a phone call to my landscaper. My biggest flood related problem has been trying to figure out how to get from point A to point B because of road closures. More contrasts. More good luck versus bad luck. I might be alone in the world. I might be a lonely widow. But I’m one lucky, alone and lonely widow. And I hope I never forget to count my blessings as well as the tears. ©


2-3 miles from where I live

Saturday, April 20, 2013

The Widow's Kitchen: Part Three Cooking-For-One


It’s an understand statement to say that the cooking class I signed up for---Cooking-For-One---isn’t what I thought it would be. The dietitian teaching the series announced at the beginning of our third session: “Beans, beans, are not the musical fruit. The more you soak the LESS you’ll toot!” Oh, my gosh! Two hours on identifying, cooking, storing and tasting beans is not something I expected to do on a fine April day in middle America. “Slow soak. Hot soak. Quick soak. Gas-free soak.” Who cares? Mashed pinto beans on pizza? Really? Who makes pizza for one? And don’t pretend a six inch tortilla is as good as pizza crust. I’m not that gullible. In fact, talking about pizza for one made me realize I miss pizza! A gooey, cheesy thick crust pizza supreme, I haven’t had any since Don passes away. Every so often we’d drop the dog off at doggie daycare, and then we’d go into town for a pizza. I’ll bet Levi misses those play dates as much as I miss the pizza.

Back on topic: The class instructor seem to think whatever we make we can add protein packed beans to it---tuna melts, banana or zucchini bread, brownies, salads, waffles, etc. I’m surprised she didn’t give us a recipe for a bean facial scrub. But I must say, the bun-less black bean burgers we had in class topped with a mixed bean salsa, avocado and sour cream was tasty. And the white bean pancakes with strawberries the dietitian also served I would order in a restaurant. But would I make them? No. Making a big batch of something like pancakes, then freezing part of them to pop into a toaster later on is not the kind of cooking-for-one I envisioned learning how to do. Duh, I can split recipes to freeze without a class and it's rubbing salt in the widow's wound when you have to cook like that---or is it just me?. Besides, I’ll bet the Iron Chefs on the Food Network never freeze a batch of pancakes or a half a can of beans to use later on. I don’t want to be an old widow with a freezer full of split recipes. Hey, that might make a good episode of Chopped, though. Open up a widow’s freezer and empty it out for the mystery baskets full of ingredients for their cook-offs contests.

I may poke fun of taking an entire cooking class about beans or say that splitting recipes makes me sad. I may say I didn’t learn anything useful for a woman living alone but being in the class, sampling and laughing was a fun way to spend an afternoon. Plus I got a cute little booklet of 50 ways to add beans to your diet with the advice that we each need to eat a half to a full cup of beans a day. Who does that? Certainly not me but the class did bring back a funny memory of Don. He once asked me to buy him a half a dozen cans of beans for an upcoming hunting trip. It was a guy thing and something to do with a yearly farting contest. “Beans, beans, the musical fruit. They drive your tent mates outside while you toot.” ©


Spicy Roasted Cinnamon Chickpeas  (I liked these!)

Ingredients
1 15oz. can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
½ t cumin
½ t paprika
½ t cinnamon
¼ t coriander
¼ t cloves
¼ t kosher salt
⅛ t cayenne pepper
⅛ t smoked paprika
1 tablespoon parsley, finely chopped

Instructions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet with cooking spray.
Combine all ingredients except parsley in a small bowl and toss to fully coat.
Spread chickpeas out on baking sheet and roast for 30 minutes, tossing 2-3 times.
Add the parsley before serving. Experiment with various combinations of spices and try adding nuts for variation.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Doctors, Dentist and Widows on Diets



The dog got a tooth pulled and his teeth cleaned and what a little sissy he turned out to be. All afternoon he alternated between pacing the floor and sitting at my feet baying like there was a full moon outside and it was his job to let everyone know. Even though the post-surgical instructions were pretty clear I called the vet hospital back to make sure the schedule for pain medication was correct. It was. No pill for Levi until bedtime. Today he’s back to normal and for just under $400.00 we now have a set of before and after color photos of doggie teeth to hang on the refrigerator along with Levi’s tiny, blue ACE bandage from where they gave him assorted intravenous fluids. I got my teeth cleaned this week, too, but I didn’t get before and after photos. Why not? WHY! That’s my burning question for today.

What I did get, though, was high praise from my internist when I saw him for my bi-annual check up. He’s the one I’ve been sending fatty-fatty-two-by-four accountability e-mails to each month regarding the healthier eating plan/diet I’ve been on. He wanted me to lose the pound-a-month I put on during my first seven months of widowhood and I did that plus ten more. The main thing he wanted me to do, though, is to stop the grief induced binge eating I’d been doing when I saw him last fall. Mission accomplished! I ought to have a gold star covered widowhood report card to hang on the refrigerator for that, don’t you think? I just wish I could get the doctor to agree that I need to start sending him accountability reports to get my retail therapy binges under control. I traded in my comfort food binges for an addiction to kitchen gadgets and Crocs.

My annual check up with my allergist was this week, too, and he drew a conclusion that involved my widowhood. Isn’t that too cute for words? All of 2010 and seven months into 2011 I suffered with chronic hives. He, my internist and a specialist on autoimmune diseases were unable to pinpoint the cause and they went away as mysteriously as they started. It’s the same pattern every time hives plague me for months on end which has happened five times in my life. Allergists ask a 100 and one questions about your environment and life so I had to tell him about Don when he said, "Are you sure nothing has changed in your life since our last appointment?"  Thus the twit concluded that since I didn’t get the hives back after Don died then we can “officially rule out stress” as being the cause or a contributing factor in my bouts with hives. Jeez, I could have told him that considering I didn’t get them when Don first had his stroke or when my mother and dad died, but what do I know? Now it's officially written in stone on my computerized medical records for every doctor and nurse in the city and assorted others across the nation to read: “Husband’s death did not cause chronic urticaria to return.” What a surreal experience that was to hear him dictate that little tidbit into my records. Here's another gold star for your report card, widow lady. ©



Widowhood Report Card for 15 months Out
Widowhood Challenge
Accomplished!
Gold Star for You!
Shows Improvement
Silver Star
Bad Girl
Back Sliding




Crying under Control
check


Melancholy Moods Lifting

check

Binge Eating Under Control
check


Didn’t get grief induced hives
check


Moving Forward
Emotionally

check

Loneliness factor

check

Finding Friends


check
Controlling
Retail Therapy


check
Happiness Level

check

Keeping Busy
check



Thursday, April 11, 2013

The Yuck Factor and Propositions

Right in the middle of a conversation about politics a recently divorced guy told me that if we don’t use “it” we’re going to lose it and therefore we should think about exchanging "sexual favors.” Oh, goodie. The widow gets her first proposition! Well, isn’t that special and especially coming from a guy old enough to have six great-grandchildren. I wish there was a ‘delete’ key on other people’s tongues that we could use to stop them from saying stuff like that. But we don’t and now that the words are out there my esteem for the guy sunk down to the Yuck Factor along with another guy’s who, shortly after Don’s stroke, turned into a first class predator. That guy tried to buy Don’s collectibles before we even knew if he’d live or die. One of the signs he wanted I recently sold on eBay for over five hundred dollars and he had offered me twenty bucks a sign to get “the worrisome stuff off my hands.” I didn’t have ‘stupid’ written on my forehead back then---nor do I now. I wanted to tell him my hands would throw them in the trash before selling them to a predator like him. I was as shocked by his proposition as I was by the one I got a few days ago. YUCK! Yuck, yuck! Where is my Purell sanitizer? I want to wash my ears out and pretend I didn’t hear what I heard. Don’t guys realize that once you proposition someone like that it has the power to ruin long-running friendships?

Thinking about these two guys today made me feel lonely, lonely for the kind of person I married. Not that I’m looking but are all the good guys in the world just a fond memory? As soon as I typed that last sentence I realized how unfair that question is to the male population. I know lots of good guys---my niece’s husbands who are both salt-of-the-earth types, my brother-in-law who is kindness personified, an ex-neighbor who helped us so much in Don’s post-stroke years, and my nephew just to name a few of the good guys in my life. I shouldn’t take the good guys for granted and dwell on the predators, I know that, but they reminded me of how different Don was from the predators. Once Don and I went to a garage sale of a recent widow, for example, and he took one look at the prices she had marked her husband’s tools and he told her that she needed to close her doors and get someone who knew tools to help her mark the stuff. She had specialized die maker’s tools marked twenty-five cents each that even used sold for $50 to $100 each back in those days. No predatory instincts in Don. He could have bought them all and resold the tools to the apprentices he worked with and made a tidy little sum. I could name a dozen examples of Don going out of his way to be kind to older widow ladies. My dad was like that, too.

Some would say we have to forgive something like a proposition. After all, not all widows would classify a proposition the same way that I’m doing. Some might even find the idea of trading “sexual favors” no strings or emotions attached to have a great deal of appeal. That’s a question all widows will eventually have to ponder and decide for themselves because as sure as the sun rises and sets it will probably happen to each and every one of us. But let it be known if it ever happens to me again that filter in our brains that keeps us from blurting out our first thoughts is going to be on vacation and I’m going to say: “Oh yuck, yuck, YUCK! Sex without love isn’t for old people like us.”  ©

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Birthdays and Butterfly Tales


A few days ago I woke up to find the sky was crying its heart out. One could think: It’s spring and it’s just RAIN! No mystery or message there. Or the poet in each of us could say the universe felt my pain, the sadness of it being my deceased husband’s birthday. Looking at the world through the prism of our emotions and life experiences makes us hear and see things differently. Well, duh! No mystery or message there either… unless you have the soul of a poet or song writer or you’re a drama queen of a widow like I am. Then you see symbolism, analogies and paradoxes every where.

If I lived near an ocean I’d probably put a message in a bottle and send it off each year on Don’s birthday. The vastness of the water appeals to me. It’s a place where my tear drops could merge with a million other droplets and hide in plain sight. (Yup, only a drama queen could write that last sentence.) If I lived near the Badlands I’d probably wander around the buttes and spires seeking peace being out in the forces of nature that created them. If I lived in Alaska I’d want to be where I could see the pristine glaciers and tundra plateaus on Don’s birthday and in Florida it would the subtropical wilderness in the Everglades where I’d want to touch bases with the wonders of nature and my inner most thoughts on life and loss. But since there are no oceans or national parks near-by I went off to the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit, another place where if we listen hard enough we can hear our own hearts speak their Truth.

In the huge conservatory I sat on one of benches along side a brick path that meanders its way around the tropical garden and pair of Common Morphos---four-five inch iridescent blue butterflies from Central and South American---kept flying within arms length of where I sat. Around and around they went, always flying in the same direction as they circled the greenhouse. I learned later that this particular species likes to follow river beds and paths and the two butterflies were most likely males patrolling and defending their territory. If you read my March 31st post about my less than admirable thoughts should I find a pair of butterflies that seemed to speak to me more than the others flying around, you’ll be as relieved as I was to know that this pair won me over. They made me smile right down to my toes.

Last week I wrote the following quote in someone's blog comment box: “It's spooky sometimes how the universe seems to speak to us...how it always seems to know when we need to hear this or that to help us break through the silence and shame in our own lives or to touch bases with our inner most thoughts, dreams and memories. I have a theory, though, that those messages are always out there for the taking but we don't usually tune into them until we're ready to hear them.”

So what message do I think the universe was sending me this week? I’m not sure but it probably has something to do with the Common Morpho having pure black bottom sides and bright blue top sides and when they’re resting on foliage with their wings folded up all you see is their drab black coloring, but when they open up their wings and take flight you get treated to long flashes of iridescent beauty….kind of like we widows who are working on finding our way out of our sorrow. We get flashes of a rich life we could have back if we just have the courage not to huddle on the sidelines in our drab widow's weed too long. ©


P.S. For all the widows out there who have dealt with plugged toilets and are wondering how my appointment with the plumber turned out: my issue came about---this time---because the fill value was leaking causing the bowl not to fill up with enough water. Over time not enough water was going through the pipes to keep stuff moving. If you’ve ever had a plugged toilet that you can’t plunge through but it would go down all by itself 5-6 hours later, he called that a soft plug which is caused by low water flow and the plug point is usually lower in the pipes (rather than inside the toilet)---this was what was happening to me. I even got to look down the sewer connection in the basement when he checked to make sure it wasn’t a more serious issue than described above. I like my plumbing service. They don’t mind teaching you stuff as they work. Anyway, all is well again in my kingdom. My toilets flush and I didn’t kill an innocent butterfly.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Widows, Plumbers and Playlists


Spring has arrived. You know how I can tell? Both toilets got backed up at the same time. To make it even worse the plumber and I can’t coordinate our schedules until next Wednesday. But not to worry, I got them both working again if only temporarily. The air intake/vent on the roof probably needs cleaning out again. Two years ago when I had this reoccurring issue, the plumber added a second air intake in the basement and that plus Bio-Clean cured the problem. Until now. I could have panicked. I could have gotten upset but I applied my Litmus Test and asked myself if the situation is an inconvenience or a disaster. I can say it was a mini disaster back when Don was alive and it was hard to get a wheelchair bound guy down to the gas station in time for nature’s call, this time it’s not. I know what the problem is and I have the money to throw at it. Besides, I’ve had my new iPod plugged into my ears and everything is better when you have a playlist. How can you not find humor in the absurdity of plunging a toilet while Joe Cocker is telling you to get naked but leave your hat on while you strip?

Ever notice how often Brian Williams asks famous people he’s interviewing what’s on their playlist?  Just think, a year ago I didn’t even know what that meant and now I have a half dozen of them. Brian, apparently, isn’t the only person who likes to know what celebrities listen to. There are websites devoted to telling us things like Hillary Clinton’s playlist contains Hey Jude, President Bush likes Brown-Eyed Girl and Stephen King’s most played song is McDermott’s Dance With Me.

Actually, having a heavy concentration of music back in my life is new since before Don's stroke nearly 13 years ago. When you live with someone with severe language disorders like he had, I couldn’t have distractions playing in the background while he was trying to get out words. If I missed something I couldn't queue him to refine his attempt and he wasn't likely to be able to say it again. But they make iTunes too easy. I go there each night and buy five songs, but I suppose that will stop when I get my first credit card bill. In the meantime, the iPod is a bittersweet addition to my life. Damn it, typing this paragraph made me choke back a few tears.

I also got a new cell phone last week so I’ve been in tech land learning how to text. It’s not hard and I doubt I’ll keep the service on my plan but I wanted to see what’s so fascinating about it that it has kids all over the world texting their lives away. The phone’s camera, on the other hand, is fascinating. When I got my first camera back in the 1940s we had to send the film off to Kodak and we’d get prints back in two weeks---if you were lucky. Then we progressed to being able to drop the film off at the drugstore where the turn-around was a mere week. How great was that! we thought. Jeez, now I know how my dad felt when he’d tell about being alive when radio was born and how he lived to hear a man talk to us from the moon. I’m telling old people stories. Next thing you know I’ll be hauling out the photo albums and making the plumber, next Wednesday, look at them. He won’t care. He gets paid $25.00 per five minutes no matter how he spends those minutes he’s at your house. I got to the point that I had to tell Don not to try to talk to him. With his language disorders it once cost us an extra fifty bucks just for him to exchange a handful of words with the guy and for Don to drag him out to the garage for a tour.

The world is coming to life all around me. The birds are returning, the snow is gone and my deck furniture is uncovered and calling for me to come bring my iPod outside and sit awhile. If I do that, I just know that Otis Redding will start singing, “Sitting here resting my bones and this loneliness won’t leaving me alone.” But then again it’s just as likely my playlist will bring me Keb’ Mo’ singing, “I’m grateful for the simple things that we take for granted every day. Listen, I can walk I can talk, I can use my mind. Okay. I’m amazing, a dream come true. I’m marvelous; I’m beautiful. Guess what? So are you.” And those two songs, my dear friends, express perfectly the yo-yo of emotions this widow is bouncing between this fine spring day. ©