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, May 31, 2014

The Day Trip and the Fancy-do Restaurants

 
Thursday I went on a restaurant hop to a tourist town along Lake Michigan. Restaurant hops are popular events at my senior center and they do a couple a year. The way these restaurant hops work is we’ll have a salad or soup at one swanky place---this year it was on the fifth floor of a hotel with ceiling-to-floor glass walls on two sides. Needless to say, the views were as incredible as was the spinach almond salad with dried cherries and bacon balsamic vinaigrette with a side of warm flat bread that I had pre-ordered before the day trip. Then the 50 of us split off into little informal groups to shop for an hour and half along the tourist hub of specialty stores before meeting up at another restaurant for the main course. That was at an Irish pub and those who had them claimed the beer floats were incredible. I’m not a beer drinker and can’t wrap my head around the concept of ice cream and beer together in a glass but West Michigan is getting quite the reputation for its micro-breweries and unusual offerings in the higher end bars. I had turkey breast slices layered with avocado, applewood-smoked bacon, lettuce, tomato and onion with Chipotle aioli on grilled sourdough bread plus cottage fries. It was great!

More shopping was on the schedule after that and before the desert course of wonderful creations served on the whitest tablecloths you can imagine. It was an elegant place in a converted, 120 year old storefront on Main Street where we could watch the tourists walking by. I had coconut panna cotta with pineapple, tapioca and cilantro. Very different than anything I’d ever had before which is why I choose it and it was easy on the palate---light but flavorful. On day trips like this I love sitting down in a restaurant and having your heart’s desire brought to you without having to go through the ritual of everyone at the table reading a menu and changing their minds a hundred times. When we sign up for these trips we all pre-order from a choice of three things for each course.

I’m not a fan of window shopping (or purposeful shopping for that matter) and if I would have remained alone on this trip I probably would have found a shady place to people watch or read part of the time and I would have been perfectly content doing it. But another widow who lost her husband a year after I lost Don and I are slowly building a relationship and she invited me to tag along with her and another woman as they checked out the boutiques. They are going to Ireland in the fall with a group from the senior hall and they were using this day trip to get to know each other better since they will be sharing a room on their overseas adventure. The senior hall sponsors a guided, overseas trip once a year and if I was inclined to go abroad I’d feel safe traveling that way. If they ever pick Paris or Alaska as a destination I will probably be tempted beyond my ability to say no. It’s not on my Bucket List to travel but I’d love to see the Louvre in Paris and Glacier Bay in Alaska via an inside passage cruise. Thankfully, I’d have nine months to “train” and get in better shape for a trip like that. The day after the restaurant hop I was so wiped out I could hardly move. Walking in the sun and riding in cramped seats and my old bones don’t mix well.

In case anyone is wondering what a restaurant hop costs, we each paid $36.00 and that included the 3-course meal and non-alcoholic beverages, gratuities and transportation. Our senior hall doesn’t make money off any of our trips and events so they are as affordable as they can possibly be for what we get in return. Next month I’m going on another day trip, this time to our state capital where we’ll be dining on a riverboat cruise.

I have been known to "bring Don along" on these day trips via my ash locket with his picture and date of birth and death inside. I sometimes wear it for courage and Thursday I noticed that my shopping companion had an unusual pendant on her necklace. It was a circular glass piece surrounded by diamonds and it held her husband's wedding ring. Inside of the glass---in the center of the ring---were tiny things floating around---a cross, a yellow ribbon, a boat, etc., that represented different parts of his life. I like my more discrete heart-shaped locket with its tiny pocket for ashes better BUT if I had seen one of those pendants first, before having Don's ring incorporated into a beaded necklace, I would have bought it. See what I missed by not being a fan of the Home Shopping channel!  ©

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Law of the Garbage Truck and Other Junk

Like everyone with a computer I get my fair share of chain emails. Some are filled with photos, some with humor, and some with rants against (or for) one cause or another. I only forward a faction of these kinds of emails and only to people I think would especially be interested in the topic. But you sure learn a lot of about the friends and family who send them---what they value, what they find humorous or beautiful, etc. How gullible a few are who pass around emails that have been debunked as false and misleading a long time ago.

Today I got one of those chain emails after spending the morning on the Wild West of political sites where you can debate with not only Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians and Tea Party people but also with KKK members, secessionists, hard-core NRA members, conspiracy theorists and survivalists claiming to be living off the grid. And did I mention crazy people? It truly is a site of fast-moving and diverse opinions filled with nasty name calling and delusional thought. But I consider my time spent there akin to brain exercises with a side order of research and debate practice thrown in. For a long time after Don died I didn’t have the stomach for the place but the mass murders in California this past Holiday weekend drew me back in big time. The disgusting lack of empathy for one of the victim’s father, who showed the world his raw grief on the media, was mind boggling and I couldn’t leave those forum threads alone.

But the world---at least mine---has a way of finding balance when it’s needed the most thus enters the chain email I got this afternoon. It’s titled The Law of the Garbage Truck. I have since learned there is a book by that same name written by David J. Pollay and after reading the reviews, it's obvious the book gave birth to the chain email. Whether David wrote the original email, or someone else, the story in it is his. The book has been translated into 50 languages so I have no doubt this email has probably been around the world a few time. In case you didn't get a copy, here it is:

“One day I hopped in a taxi and we took off for the airport. We were driving in the right lane when suddenly a black car jumped out of a parking space right in front of us. My taxi driver slammed on his brakes, skidded, and missed the other car by just inches! The driver of the other car whipped his head around and started yelling at us. My taxi driver just smiled and waved at the guy. And I mean, he was really friendly. So I asked, 'Why did you just do that? This guy almost ruined your car and sent us to the hospital!' This is when my taxi driver taught me what I now call, 'The Law of the Garbage Truck.'

"He explained that many people are like garbage trucks. They run around full of garbage, full of frustration, full of anger, and full of disappointment. As their garbage piles up, they need a place to dump it and sometimes they'll dump it on you. Don't take it personally. Just smile, wave, wish them well, and move on. Don't take their garbage and spread it to other people at work, at home, or on the streets. The bottom line is that successful people do not let garbage trucks take over their day. Life's too short to wake up in the morning with regrets. So ....love the people who treat you right. Pray for the ones who don't. Life is ten percent what you make it and ninety percent how you take it.”

I love that story, maybe because it reminds me of my one of my father’s philosophical thoughts on how to live a happy life. Maybe I like the story because it will help remind me not to take it personal when I’m at the Wild West of websites and I’m being called vile names because I dare have empathy for a grieving father. Not that I do take it personal 90% of the time. But that 10% of the time when I do start getting too invested in a debate thread, I’m going to remember the Law of the Garbage Truck. And if that isn’t enough to keep me in check when I start feeling like I am starting to take it personal I will recite a great line I learned today over at Bella Rum’s blog: “Is this the hill I want to die on?” What could be a more appropriate question to ask myself when it might be time to retreat from the Wild West and come play with my friends in the wonderful world of widow and old people bloggers?  Some wars of words can't be won and sometimes it's better to live to fight another day. ©

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The Big, Fat Phony Widow

A few days ago I went to the opening of an art exhibit that was attended by roughly 500 members of the sculpture park where the exhibit was held. I went alone but I didn’t stay alone. I got there early so I could eat dinner at the park, beating the rush hour traffic across town. Nine dollars and change for a bowl of potato bacon soup and a cup of coffee! I was glad the event itself was free and that I didn’t order the salmon. One of these days I’m going to have to start reading the prices on menu boards so I don’t die from sticker shock.

After dinner I wandered around the tropical conservatory before finding a seat near the door to the auditorium where we’d meet the artist and see a film about his indoor exhibit pieces and his outdoor instillation of saplings that will be manipulated as they grow. That’s where another woman found and latched on to me. She was a talkative woman, about my age whose husband didn’t like going to events like this. She sat next to me during the film, went through the desert line with me and struck by my side while I wandered around the exhibition rooms. She even tagged along when I went to the bathroom and that’s where I decided that I’m a big, fat phony and that’s why I have so much trouble making friends.

The woman was sweet and I know it would have been easy to arrange a lunch or artsy-fartsy outing with her. She asked how to spell my name and she wrote it down and if I had done the same, we would have reached level one in the game of Ferreting Out New Friends. But she had just finished a fifteen minute monologue on how much I would love volunteering at the local cancer support unit where I’d be able to take art classes right along with the patients and that’s when I went to my fake person place. I listened, nodded my head a few times and made some small-talk remarks when what I really wanted to do was screw up my face the way babies do just before they’re about to spit mashed peas all over the place. The whole idea of volunteering at a cancer support unit freaks me out. Why can’t I say what I feel when I’m face to face with people? Why couldn’t I say, “Making plaster hand prints and watercolor drawings with bald headed people who carry barf bags is---well---selfless and probably very rewarding, but I did seventeen years in caregiver circles and I wore out my Mary Poppins persona." Thanks, but no thanks. Don’t sign me up. This girl just wants to have fun! Instead, I backed off from her friendship overtures because being a big, fat phony wears me out and makes my tongue bloody from all that biting.

The next morning I had my second art class with the professor who played two hours of Christian music during my first class. Thankfully, he had a different station on the radio this time but he showed me a large painting he’s working on of Jesus holding two tiny babies in the palms of his hands which led to an interesting but walk-softly discussion about heaven and the book, The Brief History of The Dead. The professor and his wife have gone through two miscarriages---the last one a year ago---and they’ve been searching the scriptures, looking for an answer on whether or not miscarried babies end up in heaven. Thus he was working through his feelings with the painting. How much easier it is to be a Humanist or Agnostic and be free to believe---much like the premise of the movie, What Dream May Come---that as long as those of us on earth still remember a deceased loved one that person is in a place that matches his or her personal vision of heaven. In the above mentioned book, those remembered dead people all live in a special town that disappears after a pandemic here on earth.

Everywhere you go, people might be walking and talking like they’ve got it all together, but underneath half of them are struggling to make sense of a personal tragedy. Been there, done that, and wish I could have helped the professor but I don’t do scripture. I thought about faking it by throwing out a passage from Psalm’s about casting your cares to the Lord and He will sustain you---but I’d spent enough time, this week, being a big, fat phony. I wasn’t going to do it while paying someone for their time to teach me how to draw in Prismacolor. Instead, I gave him a little Nancy Berns' wisdom about learning how to carry our grief and joy side by side and not pretend we can get "over it" when no one ever really gets over it. The freshest of a loss, yes, we get over that and in time we adjust our lives to let the joy back in again but the loss itself is forever a part of our persona---at least according to the Gospel of Nancy Berns, Sociologist Extraordinaire.

After class I swung by the cemetery to visit Don for Memorial Day where an older couple was having a heated little argument over how to decorate a grave. I wanted to shout: "What does it matter? These people are all dead and you two still have time left to enjoy your lives! And whatever you do, the sexton will remove it in 10 days anyway. Didn't you read the rules at the gate?" But I didn't say all that because sometimes being a big, fat phony keeps you from sticking your nose in where it doesn't belong.  ©

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Widow's Poems



"Adrift" painting by Anne Packard


Sea Child
by Jean Riva 2013 © 
Am I still adrift in the Sea of Sadness,
Or am I standing on the moonlit shore
Waiting for the tide to change and usher
In a foggy-fingered child of mourning?

With the sounds of earth coming alive
What if on the waves a child did ride
And grow anew with the sun as it climbs,
What should we call this bean of the sea?

Do I call her Me or do I call her You,

This girl with the watery-eyed mother
And father sad at the bottom of time
Do I take her hand or wave good-bye?



 The Kite and the String
by Jean Riva 2013 ©

Don held my string.
He helped me fly
But times change
and husbands die.
I try time and again
to untangle myself
from tree after tree
and whether or not
I find my way in wind
again remains to be seen.


Changing Seasons of Widowhood
by Jean Riva 2013 © 

The rustling leaves of seasons past
Seems to say he won’t be near
For the coming holidays so blue.
He’s riding the winds of yesterday
Caught on the breath of Lady Fall
As she makes hearts as bleak as the
Landscape she hands over to Snow. 


 
 The Widow's Dog
by Jean Riva 2013 ©
 


Outside, a rabbit sits still in the early light of day

The dog peeks through the mini blinds and bays.

Every day it’s their way of waking up the widow

Before the sun smacks trees out of their shadows.



In the bathroom, the widow answers nature’s call

As the dog curls himself back up into a sleepy ball.

The rabbit, long gone across the neighbor’s lawn

Where soon off will go another four-legged alarm.



She makes her way across the dim, silent house

Past the empty chair that once held her spouse.

And in the murky kitchen light she stands waiting

As hot, steaming liquid spits out a single serving.



One morning the rabbit will sit, the dog will bay

And the weary widow will not wake up that day.

Now, though, she’ll push the fog of loss aside

And go bond with the others running out of time.




The Widow's Metaphor 
by Jean Riva 2015 ©

Widowhood is a vacuum 
sucking tin soldiers off the floor, 
swirling them around in a dark void 
while other tiny souls still in its path of wrath 
struggle to pull its life-line from the wall.