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 28, 2014

Do Elderly Widows Think too Much?

A fellow blogger, Judy over at Onward and Upward, wrote a piece titled Yearning.  She longs to move her mobile home to a place on a farm that’s been in her family for six generations and where she, herself had lived for 21 years of her life. It’s a beautiful dream but it got me to thinking about daydreams and yearnings and if fulfilling these kinds of Thomas Wolf (You Can’t go Home Again) dreams would even make us happy. As I wrote in her comment section, part of longing to move back to a particular place involves moving back to the people and times that made the place so special and that part really isn't possible. The people are gone and we're no longer those young, full-of-life and hope individuals we were when we lived there.  For me, that place is the cottage of my youth, the place where all my best memories of growing up reside. Spending hours on and in the water, walks to the store several miles away for ice cream, building forts in the woods, horseback riding and Saturday night movies in an open field with families lounging on blankets---I had an idyllic childhood where it was easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys by the color of their hats.

Don’t you think most of us have a place like that in our minds, a place we can go that gives us comfort? We let our dreams and yearnings drift back in time to when our days were uncomplicated and not tainted by the realities of life. Though unfortunately in the real world there are some individuals who grew up way too fast and never had that idyllic time in life. I’ve known kids who were sexually and mentally abused who never knew unconditional parental love that so many of us growing up took for granted. One of those kids committed suicide in his twenties, several of his siblings grew up to live the life that was modeled for them. They were saplings twisted in the winds of sickness and that sickness begot more sickness.

Years ago I read something about how people survived the brutalities of prison camps and the one thing that still stands out in my mind today was the claim that people with long, happy childhoods were more resistant when it came to recovering after their imprisonment than those who didn’t. Why? Because while they were imprisoned they knew there was a better life for them somewhere, someday and they had daydreams of happier days to fall back on. They had hope whereas the people who had bad childhoods full of pain and abuse had no default place in their brains where they could get a respite from the harshness of their day-to-day existence.  Ever since then I’ve come to view day-dreaming of places and times past as sort of an adult pacifier. We go in our heads to places that give us peace.  And as I get older I wonder if maybe that’s where Alzheimer’s people go in their heads only they just forget to come back. Ya, I know that’s a simplistic way to look at a terrible disease. Alzheimer’s is about the degeneration of brain cells or neurons, but it gives me comfort to be simplistic when thinking about that boogieman place that scares the heck out of all of us as we age.

Back to Judy and her yearning, I also told her in the comment section that I think sometimes it's better that we don't get the object of yearning because then the dream can remain perfect and continue to be a place of refuge that we can go in our minds when we need the comfort it provides for us. If we truly were able to move back to our ancestral homes so late in life, for example, the reality would come with problems and changes we might not like, then we'd have no place of comfort to think back on when we need it the most. Have you guessed by now that I’m the queen of justifying anything that must be accepted as impractical or out of the question?

Aside from his classic You Can’t go Home Again title that has been quoted thousands of times since Thomas Wolfe wrote the book in 1940, he also penned these words: “This is man, who, if he can remember ten golden moments of joy and happiness out of all his years, ten moments unmarked by care, unseamed by aches or itches, has power to lift himself with his expiring breath and say: 'I have lived upon this earth and known glory!'" Ten golden moments. I’ve never made a list of my ten golden moments but that sounds like a great project. It would give me ten glorious places for my mind to wonder if I’m ever confined to one of those dreaded nursing homes. I could make up ten queue cards for my nieces to use for when they visit---no one ever called me a woman without a plan---and if I appear as if I’m in another world maybe by using the cards they can bring me back long enough for me to tell them I love them or to quote the country song Kathy Mattea made populate about an elderly couple. The woman in the song had lost her memory but late one night just before she passed away her husband came to visit and amazingly she said: "Where've you been? I’ve looked for you forever and a day. Where've you been?”  ©

15 comments:

  1. I never had a happy childhood. It was awful and I'm being kind. I do get that hardships can be better handled when you can dream about something good. I can do that now as an adult. I wouldn't have fared very well in my youth though.

    I agree that some things should never come to fruition. Dreaming about them is ever so sweet.

    I've gone home and it wasn't the same indeed.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. From reading your blog, I never would have guessed that about your childhood. I'm a recent fan of your blog but I'll go out on a limb and say I think you've found a great coping skill in humor.

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  2. The older I get the more I appreciate what a wonderful childhood my parents gave me. They weren't perfect but any scars I have from that time period are just scratches compared to some of the scars some people carry around.

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  3. What a beautiful reflection on golden moments in our history that dwell in our hearts, and maybe tease us when we're hungry for more such golden moments. And, interesting that people enduring horrific situations can continue to orient themselves to happiness from real events once upon a time. Emotional resilience may indeed have its source in an historic loving attachment to people, places and situations. I believe as long as there's a secure and happy attachment to something good for us in our hearts, we're more resilient.

    Yearnings can serve us if they're grounded in reality and not pipe dreams. Even a pipe dream can come true, if we can separate the pipe (or the bottle or any silliness) from our dream. I'd say these yearnings are our forward compass, and if we can continue to say an unconditional "Yes!" to their goodness, lives can be transformed.

    My resilience entered later in life, in early adulthood, after I hit rock bottom. I made a last ditch attempt to believe in goodness, and goodness entered. Changed my life! My point is, our hope can come from sources beyond a happy childhood. It can be a heart connection with the land, God, music, and more. Judy speaks of her love for the land, and the land may still be a 'a giving tree' for her. I myself feel such an embrace from the land and sky, it completely washes away sadness and loss. I say, follow the heart's trail.

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    1. Well said! I especially like the part about "yearnings are our forward compass, and if we can continue to say an unconditional "Yes!" to their goodness, lives can be transformed."

      I didn't mean to imply that a happy childhood was the only place our source of happy day-dreams can generate from...I was just related that is the source for me, personally. My twenties (the 60s) were my terrible years and later in life after my mother died in 1983 through to my dad dying in 1999, Don's stroke in 2000 to his passing 2012 I accumulated a lot of stress-filled years.Sometimes I wonder if it isn't the lack of stress, now, that is so hard for me to adjust to now. Like I'm missing more than just Don. I shall have to look deeper into that idea.

      I want to make the list of ten golden moments.But I feel like I'm at a disadvantage next to all you mothers out there.

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    2. And I should also add that I don't believe that the years Judy lived on her ancestral farm were her childhood years. I believe (but don't know for sure) that it came during the years she raiser her kids.

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  4. Okay--Judy here. You calling me an Elderly Widow? LOL
    I lived on two different parts of the ancestral land for--40 years. 18 years on my childhood farm, and 22 years on my grandparents farm where I raised my kids.
    Remember my Daddy? The man with the rubber hose off the bicycle tire pump that he used often on me? Not quite a wonderful childhood, that I would want to move back to recapture.
    Flo is right--it is the LAND I yearn for--perhaps I should say the views? I have always been very in tune with nature--with the different changing views of the farm land around me from my bedroom window in my childhood home, to the windows in my my young to mid-age home, to the secret paths I know in the woods--things like that. I think when you grow up on a farm, you are very knowledge about the "air" around you. You know when a storm is coming in--even before there is any radio report. You feel the changes in the air, you see subtle changes in the clouds, the direction of the wind in the very tops of the trees, how the animals behave. You can feel a certain chill and dampness and know that a big snow fall is coming--without anyone telling you. So--that's what I yearn for--that feeling I still have, although harder here in the burbs too sense. I yearn for the views, the smell of the woods at different times of the year. That stump back in the woods from where lighting hit the tree and it smoldered for two days. The night sounds when I used to sleep out on the back lawn, and watch the stars and moon move across the sky. It's not the houses, or the people--I can still see them, and you know how I enjoy being alone. It is just a deep yearning to be back on the land I used to walk, the complete and utter silence, even during the day. The total blackness of night. The distance from any other people. I wouldn't be disappointed in any way shape or form--it is the sense of that calmness and peace that I have never felt since I moved away. I can't explain it and no one can understand...unless they too have that "sense".Most people want noise and people and life going on around them. Most of you would be scared to pieces to spend even one night out in the country with all the silence and the complete darkness. You wouldn't be able to rest of sleep. I have trouble sleeping with a distant street light shining, or even my neighbor's dim solar lights on all night long. The constant noise of the far away expressway, drives me to distraction--none of my neighbor's even hear it. I have lived here 11 years and hear it all the time. So, this Elderly person--HEY, I'M ONLY 75!! will just yearn on. One thing I know for sure, it is very quiet in the cemetery where I will spend the rest of eternity--perhaps then I can rest? LOL YES--This elderly widow thinks too much--always has, probably always will.

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    1. LOL I was calling myself an elderly woman who thinks too much, not you. Sometimes I just can't turn my brain off long enough to even sleep.

      The night sounds you talk about are one of the things I remember about the cottage, too. Although now it would be different because there were only four cottages on the lake back in my youth and now there are 30. I remember the crickets, toads, frogs, the lightening bugs and hoot owls. When I picked up the dog from the kennel last week I heard a hoot owl for the first time in years.

      I haven't read 'The Good Earth' in decades but when I your read the above comment that book title popped into my head. I'm glad you can still drive out to your ancestral home, knowing the land is still in the family.

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    2. I need the silence of nature, too. I don't feel lonely at all, or scared, to be in the middle of 'nowhere'. It's like being at a candy store!

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  5. I am fascinated by the topic of resilient children. It seems like one of those chicken-and-egg things: are the children resilient because they had happy childhoods or do they remember their childhoods as more happy than not because they are resilient? I am very resilient (I think most people who know me would agree with that description), but I think my childhood had both elements of great happiness and elements of great pain. One time when I was beginning to see a psychotherapist, she asked me to fill out a questionnaire where you checked off the statements on a long list that you thought described you. I was stymied when I got to the statements "I had a happy childhood" and "I had an unhappy childhood." Both seemed true for me, but that was illogical since the statements were polar opposites; so I left both blank. When I reported on this to the psychotherapist the following week, she smiled and said, "Actually, many people check off both." And then, with a wicked grin (she already had my number!), she added, "But you can rest assured that there is no written record here of any logical inconsistency on your part." -Jean

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    1. What an interesting story you've shared! I hate questions that call for black or white answers with no room for gray. I have been known to add another check box with a third choice written out beside it. I can say I've had a happy childhood but there were some stand-out bad things that happened. Very bad things that I choose not to dwell on. The chicken and egg thing is something I hadn't thought of in this case.

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  6. "saplings twisted in the winds of sickness" Good one!

    I think I left a similar comment on Judy's post. I said something like, "I've thought about moving back to my old neighborhood, but all the people who made it home are gone now." I can still see it in my mind, and all the people are still there, young and vibrant. Daydreaming is a good way to ease the mind and heart.

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  7. Daydreaming is a good way to waste time, too. My mother used to say I was going to daydream my life away. LOL

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