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

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Widow's Prioity List



Perhaps you’ve heard of the book, The Priority List by David Menasche. Perhaps not. The author was a teacher who ended up with brain cancer and after six years of treatment and declining health he set off on a 101 day trip across the country to see how the lives of some of his students had turned out. Facebook, like it does in so many modern-day scenarios, played into the plan because it was through Facebook that the money was raised for the trip, places to stay in peoples’ homes along the way were arranged and meet-ups at various stops were set up with former students. I didn’t mean to read this book. I bought it as a belated retirement gift for my niece---she was a special ed. teacher for 20 years and a reading teacher for ten---but when I got ready to gift-wrap the book I made the mistake of leafing through it. I was hooked. Very carefully I read it such a way that I didn’t crease the binding or leave any other tell-tale signs that the hardcover was opened and read. That was hard to do because I’m used to marking passages I want to re-read.

Being an English and literature teacher it was no surprise that the author filled The Priority List with a lot of memorable quotes from books that inspired him. One of my favorites was written by actor and rapper Tupac Shakur and it goes like this: "You can spend minutes, hours, days, weeks, or even months over-analyzing a situation; trying to put the pieces together, justifying what could've, would've happened... or you can just leave the pieces on the floor and move the fuck on.” Oh, gosh, haven’t we all had experiences in life where we did the former---over-analyzed---and wished we could have done the latter---just walked away and not look back? Widows and recently disabled people, especially, spend too much time with those could’a, should’a and would’a trains of thought before we’re ready to acknowledge the futilely of putting ourselves through all that over-thinking of things we can’t change. I always thought it was part of the healing process but maybe it’s just a more refined form of woo-is-me at work? Feeling sorry for yourselves is never a good game plan to get us from point A to point B. Write that down, it's important.

Back to the book. The title comes from an exercise Mr. Menasche would give to all his new classes at the beginning of the semester. It involved a list of 26 words that each high schooler was supposed to put in order of their importance in his or her life. He encouraged them to keep their lists because, he said, “Life changes and so do our priorities.” It’s not any easy challenge and if you want to try the exercise these are the words you’ll need to use: Acceptance, adventure, artistic expression, career, education, family friendship, fun, health, honor, independence, love, marriage, possessions, power, privacy, respect, security, sex, shelter, spirituality, style, technology, travel, victory and wealth. My top five in no particular order---yes, that’s cheating---are: acceptance, artistic expression, health, independence and security. In my second set of five I placed family, friendship, fun, honor and love. I’ll bet you’re surprised that those two sets aren’t reversed. All I can say is try the exercise. It’s not that easy.

But I’ll explain…. I picked acceptance because I still struggle with accepting the changes that widowhood brought into my life and a new found awareness of my own impending mortality that came with my singlehood. And, of course health, independence and security all tie into that basic fear of accepting that one day as I age I might lose those three things. Artistic expression has always been high on my list of things to value. Writing, the arts/crafts and the way my house is decorated is important to me. Even the way I made my living for 20 years was closely tied to the arts. It’s the outward expression of who I am inside. Balance, harmony and free expression, whether in written form or made with artists tools, matters to me.

The words I’d place in my third set of five are: education, respect, shelter, spirituality and style. In my fourth set of priorities are adventure, possessions, technology, victory and wealth. And bringing up the rear would be career, marriage, power, privacy, sex and travel. Now that I have my priorities grouped into sets I’ll have to go back to prioritize them within each group before I can say I’ve completed the exercise. It’s both easy to see and sad at the same time to recognize that words like ‘marriage’ and ‘love’ can slide from the top to the bottom of the list when you no longer have a partner in your life. But what goes down can come back up. Life is still an adventure in its unpredictability, isn’t it.

Mr. Menasche, near the end of the book, talks about how he wished he’d included the word ‘strength’ in his original list of words to prioritize and now living with a brain tumor he would place ‘strength’ at the top of his list. When he was younger, he said, he confused power and strength but has learned there are differences between the two. “Power is the ability to effect change,“ he wrote, “…but strength is endurance.” In his case, he wants the strength to face what life has in store for him as he continues to live on borrowed time.

I hope my niece likes the book. I did. We should all be able to write a book near the end of our time on earth that spells out what truly matters and mattered in our lives. His Vision Quest was inspiring. ©

14 comments:

  1. This is tough list to prioritize. Acceptance... security...gosh, so many of these undergird our lives. Widowhood certainly does reshuffle the deck. My top five are love, respect, health, independence, artistic expression. David Menasche sure has a lot of teaching left in him : -)

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  2. That's a good list for your top five. I had love and respect in my first draft but took them out for reasons I can't remember.

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  3. Wow. I LOVE this. Thank you, I'll be putting some thought into it for sure.

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    1. It will hook you once you start prioritizing your list. Have fun.

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  4. Looking forward to receiving the book! Love, your niece:)

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    1. Oops! (I am laughing out loud.) I didn't think you'd see this. I'm bringing the book to the baby shower.

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  5. I associate "strength" with endurance, so that would be at the top of my list--along with security, oh yes, and acceptance. I don't think Cindy will mind that you "peeked" at the book--after all--you had to check it to make sure there weren't any really bad words or racy paragraphs that might offend her, LOL.

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    1. Strength is a good valve to have as we age, isn't it. But I think you have always had it as a given part of your personality.

      I was really shocked that my niece saw this post. Her server area never shows up on my Feedjit and didn't yesterday when she commented. She's a great person and one I am very proud to call family and friend. My brother raised good kids.

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  6. What a fun project! And curiously I'll revisit it every year! Priorities ... always changing.

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    1. It is fun and surprisingly hard. I hope you'll share your list on your blog.

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  7. What an interesting exercise. I kept wanting to change the list, however, to reflect my values rather than Menasche's. For example, I want to change power to effectiveness, privacy to solitude and artistic expression to creativity. I also found myself stumped on what to do with "career." My career has been very important in defining who I am, but I am now retired from it. Does that put it near the bottom of the list, or in the middle? Lot's of food for thought here. Thanks for sharing it. -Jean

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    1. I had the same issue with 'marriage' and 'love' as you had with 'career' but I eventually decided when you do a priority list exercise it has to reflect what is going on in the here and now and I no longer have a marriage or want another so thus it had to go to the bottom.

      I like your word swaps better than Menasche's originals. By the way, when he went on the quest to see how his students had turned out he found that a lot of them had kept their priority lists in their year books.

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  8. Jean,
    I loved this. What an intriguing post. This exercise can reveal a lot about a person to themselves and others. People in couple's counseling should do this. It would reveal a lot about their partner. I'm sure most people's list would look very different today than twenty years ago. Mine certainly would. A lot changes with experience and circumstance. I've already sent it to my son. He's like me. He likes this sort of thing. It challenges your values, what really matters to you.

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    1. Some of the stories the author of the book told about things that came out about his students when they talked about their priority lists was interesting. It makes me wish I had done one when I was young. Couples doing one (as individuals) in counseling would make a great deal of sense, wouldn't it.

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