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, November 29, 2014

Aging Like Fine Wine or Stale Crackers



I’ve told this story before so I’ll give you the abbreviated version today. When my husband turned fifty he told everyone he’d just turned sixty. I think that birthday bothered him more than he let on but that didn’t stop him from enjoying the comments people would make about him looking so much younger than his (fake) age. This went on for several weeks until he tried it on a girl taking money at state park and she looked him square in the face then gave him the senior discount. That was the end of his telling anyone he was sixty until he had actually achieved that distinction. I re-tell this story not because I’m old and people my age have been known to repeat themselves but because I find myself doing the same thing. Sometimes I present myself as being eighty when I’m far closer to seventy. And I use the “I’m old” line all the time. Why do I do that? I must get a kick out of being told, “No, you’re not!” Or maybe I need the affirmation that follows when they tell me words to the effect that I’m too sharp "to be old." Note: no one ever tells me I don’t look my (fake) age which probably is a silent condemnation of my choice of going full-out gray on top. I tried doing the low lights during my Pamper Myself Period after Don passed away and people actually did think it made me look younger. So did I, but I got sick of the ever present process of keeping it up. I’m old, why can’t I be proud of that fact? Old people get gray hair and wrinkles and need hearing aids. So what.

One of my favorite bloggers (also named Jean) is a recently retired sociologist with a thirty year history of teaching college courses. She’s responsible for me thinking about this topic today. She had commented on her blog, Step into the Future, that: “It seems to me that if organizers of events like this one worry that ‘only the old’ are attending, they have fallen victim to the widespread denigration of aging and elders in our society.” Oh, my gosh, I thought when I read that, am I adding to the denigration of the elderly when I play games with my own age? After thinking about it awhile I wondered if it isn’t more of defense mechanism for me---joke about being old before someone else dismisses me because of my age. Growing old and irrelevant is my biggest fear in life. There, I said it out loud. Darn it, I think I've written that before in my blog! I really am starting to repeat myself.

My determination to stay home alone this Thanksgiving was part of an experiment. (On aging, on widowhood? Does it really matter which?) The point was: 1) I didn’t want to be someone’s charity case, an old person/widow only invited because others felt sorry for me being all alone on a holiday; 2) I actually wanted to see what it felt like to be alone on a holiday. And you know what, it turned out fine. I didn’t wallow in loneliness, self-pity or memories of happier times. I didn’t go hungry as an elderly relative predicted I would, forced to eat stale crackers for dinner and I didn’t treat Thanksgiving like any other day on the calendar. I planned a big meal with a few comfort foods from holidays past. I cooked, cleaned up and froze my leftovers for Christmas dinner. I also realized that I do have a post-Don Thanksgiving tradition---watching the annual National Dog Show with Levi. We saw it last year and this and that dog actually watches the TV, barking and whining at his favorite canines on the screen. He is my core family now that my husband is gone.  

Even though my experiment turned out fine, that’s not to say I will stop accepting invitations for future holiday dinners. There are nieces and nephews on both sides of my family where I can go and not feel like a fifth wheel. But what I won’t do in the future is go to a place on a holiday just because I dread being alone. Been there, done that since Don died. There’s a reason why the phrase, “lonely in a crowd” sticks around. What my experiment reminded me of is that 'alone' does not translate to being lonely. I also realized for an old lady with no kids or grand-kids I fared pretty well in the invitation department. I got two formal invitations, and I got three you’re-always-welcome invitations that I would have gladly accepted if not for the unpredictability of winter roads.

Oh, cripe, I got side-tracked from the topic I intended to write about—aging like fine wine or stale crackers. Although I guess facing our vulnerabilities as we grow older could be a sub-topic under a stale crackers umbrella. I wanted to write about is how the older I get the more I value myself in terms of how my brain works. I know stuff. Good stuff. Jeez, for a would-be writer you’d think I could express myself better than that. What I meant to say is the older I get the better my world view gets, the better I get at being a well-rounded human being, and I don’t waste time cluttering up my brain with stupid stuff. Stupid stuff like wondering why big butts have gone from women loathing having them to desiring big butts so much that people are willing to enhance theirs surgically. Okay, maybe I’m not the age-induced “intellect” I'm painting myself out to be because I really do want to know how that astounding butt evolution happened and seemingly overnight when measured in old people time. Light bulb moment here: If that transformation in attitude about big butts can happen maybe we can apply the same formula to making old people a cool commodity. Are you with me? Can we start a movement? ©

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Thankful Widow



I woke up alone in the bedroom. The dog, who usually sleeps on my husband’s side of the bed, had moved to the living room sometime during the night. The traitor. Maybe I snore, maybe I get too restless or talk in my sleep and disturb his slumber. Maybe there’s a bit of board collie in his DNA. In the summer months, though, Levi will move from my bed to his own that sits near-by but it’s underneath a drafty window and he likes to be warm in the winter. I know this because during the day he’ll follow the sun around from window to window as the day progresses so he can nap bathed in sunshine. He could use an animal behaviorist to analyze his perchance for behaving more cat-like than Schnauzer. In addition to being a sun worshiper, he’s independent for a dog and the closest thing he does that could be labeled ‘affection’ is to lean against my leg while I’m at the computer. That lasts about five minutes then he’s off to scare the birds that come to our heated birdbath on the other side of the dining room window. And when he wants to eat, or doesn’t like what I serve him, he finds his voice and won’t let go until I play servant to master. He’s a cat in Schnauzer costume.

Usually, when I wake up alone it doesn’t bother me but when it does…well, it’s like a thermometer taking my widow’s temperature. Yup, today is going to be a long, miss-Don day according to my dogmometer. I can get out---the roads are good except for a few pinch points caused by melting snows that I’ll find by the river---but nothing is on my day planner. So I’ll go to the pet store to buy my cat-masquerading-as-a-dog some food. Then I’ll stop by my elderly sister-in-law’s house because we can make each other laugh and feel good. It’s always like that when I spend time with someone who has known me for decades. There’s no pretending I’m Miss Congeniality with her. She knows all my flaws and none of my secrets and I like it that way. Hint: What you tell her could easily end up on a highway billboard which could be a slight exaggeration but aren’t would-be writers allowed to do that? I, on the other hand, know all of my sister-in-law’s flaws and all of her secrets. She likes to talk and I like to listen.

I call her The Insider and she calls me Mother Superior. Thankfully, she has great respect for all the real Mother Superiors in her very long, Catholic past so I take that nickname as a compliment.  She would gasp with shock, however, if I ever told her I’m an agnostic. I’ve seen that reaction before. It’s like the declaration comes with a pair of ruby-red horns adorning the top of my head. It’s a hard concept for some Christians to accept that another person can be moral and upstanding without the benefit of church dogma stuffed in their head and oozing out their ears. Not that I haven’t been exposed to plenty of church dogma, I have but to me it’s more like a history of morality and values than Holy Scripture. I boil it all down into one guiding principle: Do the right thing in all situations because it’s logical, fair and best for the advancement of society, rather than because you might get punished if you don’t. Oh, brother, here I go again and it isn’t even Sunday. Where is that bushel basket? I need to hide something under it.

Thanksgiving is coming, a time to be thankfully for our blessings. Okay, here it goes---no sermon, just the facts, Ma`am. I am thankful to be alive and living in a country where roadside bombs aren’t a part of the landscape and food, water and shelter are reasonably obtainable for most of us. I am thankfully I’ve lived a life of my own choosing where the only people I’ve lost I lost to natural causes and however hard those losses were at the time, I was (and still am) strong enough to handle them without doing serious harm to my spirit. I am thankful that I won the parent lotto when I was born to my mom and dad and for the Powerball number, I get to live in middle class America. I am thankful that I met my soul mate and we got to spend 42 years together before he had to move on to whatever is on the other side of the Great Crossing. I am thankful that two days after Thanksgiving I can ditch the arm sling and spend the following two weeks doing whatever I can so long as it doesn’t involved lifting, shoveling or getting my arm above my shoulder, then the doctor will appraise the need for physical therapy. And last but not least, I am thankful for the mornings when I wake up and the dog is still sleeping near-by…which gives me an idea. Maybe I can get some rope and hog-tie him down to the bed each night. ©

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Ramblings of a soon-to-be Crazy Widow



There is something about my life right now that makes it feel unmoored or anchorless. Perhaps having my physical world capped in ice so shortly after a record setting snow storm has made me feel this way. When you have no choice but to stay at home it feels so different than staying home by choice. Perhaps it’s the coming holidays which accents my lack of family living near-by to share them with that is painting my world in a blue, transparent haze---the language of a would-be artist. Yup, I can be overly dramatic when I ramble-write. Perhaps it’s the fact that this will be my third holiday season without my husband; that’s a long time to go without the intimacy of being with someone who knows you better than you know yourself. Or perhaps I’m looking for reasons to feel sorry for myself. But really, what do I have to complain about? My life is stable and secure and in between the end of the snow storm and the beginning of ice storm I was able to run some errands. So what if the most meaningful conversation I had that day was, “I would like a cup of chili and a grilled cheese sandwich” and the drive-through speaker answered back, “That will be $5.28.”

I dreamed about fried chicken and chocolate malts a few nights ago. Oh, boy, you know what that means. It means I’ve been dieting too long. Not only that, I was reading The Hunger Games and the first few chapters of that book talks a lot about food. Decadent food of all descriptions. The chili and sandwich was a splurge directly brought on by my food dream and that book. I’m just glad it wasn’t a sex dream or I might have been arrested for molesting the drive-through speaker pole and that would not have been a pretty sight. Okay, that sounds desperate. The cold, hard fact is lust at my age goes down the Ice Cream Road more often than anywhere else.  Speaking of lust, right now the 12 Men of Christmas movie is playing in the background. It’s about these guys who get badgered into doing a naked calendar to raise money for their rescue squad. Let me tell you, the casting director had a good eye for eye candy but as Christmas movies go it’s a far cry from It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Steward. “Clarence! Clarence! Help me, Clarence! Save me from stupid Christmas movies that air on an endless loop designed to get us in the mood for Black Friday shopping."

I’ve planned my Thanksgiving dinner. I bought a package of frozen turkey legs, a can of cranberry sauce, a small package of King’s Hawaiian sweet rolls---I would kill to eat those rolls before the 27th---a squash and a frozen pumpkin pie. When I got the pie home I was bummed out that I have to actually bake it. I had it all planned out how I’d cut it into ten slices and defrost one sliver every three days. I’m afraid if the house fills up with pumpkin pie scents it will kick start some binge eating and I’ve come too far with my current diet to want that to happen. When I was growing up, my mom baked a lot of holiday pies. Her mincemeat pie filling marinated in a basement crock for weeks and was like no other you can buy today. Me? My only claim to culinary fame around the holidays was I could make a great pecan pie. Jeez, I can feel a roll of fat stalking and circling my waist just thinking about holidays gone by. But traditions are traditions and I will enjoy my drumstick and I might even make a green bean casserole with mushroom soup. I will Martha Steward it up by using fresh green bean---assuming I can get back out to the store.

Can you believe it, I’ve never once in my entire life hosted or cooked a Thanksgiving or Christmas dinner? I’m actually looking forward to doing it this year, however abbreviated and filled with cooking shortcuts it will be. In the early decades of Don’s and my relationship we’d always go to my parent’s house but after Mom passed away no one felt like celebrating. She was our holiday anchor. Then one of Don’s sister-in-laws started included us in with her large family. Both places were warm gatherings and at mom’s house we’d go snowmobiling or sledding with my nephew and nieces after dinner. With Don’s family, board or card games followed dinner and he talked so much he had a reputation for never knowing when it was his turn to play his hand. People would fight over sitting or not sitting next to him---depending on the game being played---so they could use that quirk to their advantage. Big sigh here. To paraphrase an ancient Ann Landers quote, “Old people reminisce about the past because they have no futures and young people dream about the future because they have no pasts.” How true that is in my crazy, widowhood world where I don't even know what I'm going to be doing tomorrow. I need an anchor, a place to moor my scattered thoughts so I don't turn into a forgotten marshmallow, harden by time. ©