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, February 21, 2015

Cold, Sleepless Nights and Meandering Thoughts



Decades ago I read a poem that described the cold as the kind that makes your foot steps on snow squeak like Cracker Jack. If I had known how many times over the years I’d think about that metaphor I would have done my best to remember the poem’s name and its author. It’s squeaky cold here in Michigan right now. The single digit temperatures on Thursday fell to thirteen below overnight which tied the record for our lowest temperature. The wind chill was thirty below.  By Friday at 9:00 AM it had warmed up to two below and they closed the schools. It was supposed to climb to nine by noon but still, that was cold enough to make me bow out of going to my Movie and Lunch Club. I suppose if the movie picked had been more compelling than Kevin Costner’s Black and White and the restaurant something other than Mediterranean cuisine I might have braved the cold, but I was happy to forgo them both to sit in my warm La-Z-Boy knitting on my latest baby sweater. 

We have such great materials, now, for outerwear to keep us warmer than when I was a kid. Six or seven years ago I got so tired of being cold I lost my head and bought a knee length parka from L.L. Bean that is rated for 45 below zero weather. It’s made of Gore-Tex and goose down and it has one of the fo-fur trimmed, insulated hoods that looks like a periscope on a submarine. And it’s so heavy that I’d have to take up body-building just to wear it. It’s totally impractical for my current lifestyle so it hangs in the closet, but I keep it in case I ever find myself living out of a shopping cart. Old fears die hard and come, in part, from living years with a preexisting, Mickey Mouse condition that made health insurance ungodly expensive.

When I was a kid I remember going to the doctor’s office with my mom and at the end of the visit the doctor picked up her coat to help her put it on and he said, “No wonder you’re tired! I would be too if I wore this coat around!” Mind you this was over six decades ago so wearing a full length seal skin coat back then didn’t have the same animal rights implications as it would now. Still, it was a beautiful, a-line coat that could be worn over the kind of dresses the required petticoats under neat. When she wore it, I used to love leaning against her when we’d ride the city bus. It was so soothing to pet. I had that coat up until I had to downsize it out of my life after Don’s stroke in May of 2000. Strokes suck. They make you do a lot things large and small that leaves you sad and angry before acceptance settles in, much like what happens in a widow’s world. But that was then and this is now, and now when I sit and knit the memories have plenty of time to meander through my mind.

Last night I went to sleep at midnight and woke by four because I had to pee but I was so warm in my little nest of blankets and pillows that I put it off as long as I could and in the process I woke myself thoroughly up so that I couldn’t fall back to sleep. As I lay there I couldn’t help thinking about how cold and depressing it would be to be living on the streets. I don’t understand how people can endure the physical hardships of living outside in an urban jungle of picking through dumpsters, sleeping over steam grids and depending on the missions for a hot cup of coffee and a sandwich. From what I’ve read the vast majority of the nearly 800 homeless people in my town are mentally ill and/or alcoholics and/or veterans. 

Then there are the ‘tent cities’ that are comprised of a different class of homeless people, refugees from a bad economy or bad choices or a combination of the two. Throw in a few catastrophic health issues that drain all of a person’s assets and keeps them out of the workforce it’s easy to see the homeless world is full of hard luck stories. Stories that few of us sitting in our nice, warm houses want to hear. We could never be like them, we tell ourselves because it makes us feel better to believe that. Hanging around the stroke support communities like I did when Don was alive, I know better now. It can happen to ordinary people, people who thought they had planned well for the future. You might say that I occasionally suffer from a kind of guilt accumulated from living a relatively charmed life with no obstacles I couldn’t overcome or come to accept. And the phrase, “By the grace of God it could be you or me” is never far from my thoughts on cold, sleepless nights. ©

I still have to sew on the buttons on and press it, but here's my latest baby sweater.

22 comments:

  1. Jean!!! The sweater is gorgeous!! I really mean that. I knit, but I'm not very good at intricate things like the sweater. It honestly looks like it was machine made. I don't worry about being homeless--someone would take me in--or I'd go into a nursing home. When I lived a nice comfortable life, I never worried about being poor either--never happen to me. HAH--here it is, but I have found that I can still have a really good life without all the extra fou-fou's. Now--back to my crochet projects--I do better with a hook than I do a needle. :-)

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    1. I have tried so hard over my life time to learn how to crochet, even took a class last year, but I just can't read those stupid patterns well enough to do it on my own! So I will stick to knitting.

      I made the design up on the sleeves of my baby myself, but it's not as intricate as my mother used to do. She could do those Norwegian designs that, now, sell upwards of $300 to $400 a sweater. One she made for me was featured in a newspaper with me wearing it and I still have it sweater and the article.

      You have lots of family members who'd take care of you and I'm sure they'd step up to the plate if you needed it. Me, I don't so I worry. LOL

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  2. A beautiful rumination. A reminder to be grateful. A call to action. An amazingly sweet and lovely sweater!

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    1. Thank you. I think my niece will like the sweater. It's for her first granddaughter. I just hope it's big enough so she can wear it next fall. I'm going to switch to mitten making because all of my great-grands live in the country and their parents all like outdoor sports. Homemade mittens are warmer than store bought, I think.

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  3. The sweater is adorable. Adorable.

    I'm always thankful. Always.

    I've seen a lot of homeless folks. I've talked to may of them when I was working. Some love it and don't want any responsibilities and others just had a streak of bad luck. Many ended up homeless because of drugs and alcohol. It's sad indeed.

    Have a fabulous day. ☺

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    1. My husband used to talk to the homeless, too. Drugs and alcohol does play a major part in the homeless population. We need to do more in the schools to combat the appeal of drinking and drugs.

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  4. i always wonder about the homeless vets. there is so much help available to them but when they are addicts or mentally ill they miss out on it. there are sure plenty of them here too. we used to have hospitals for mentally ill but ours is closed and they are on the streets. another rehab place near here recently closed and the 75 patients were turned on to the streets. chuck took in as many as he could into the fern house but couldn't take any women or all of the men. it's very sad.

    hugs, bee
    xoox

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    1. I often wonder what came first, the mental illness or the military service. Did the latter bring on the mental illness or would it have shown up anyway or does it happen both ways? I do think it's a national shame that we can't provide better mental health care for everyone who needs it.

      Our town is opening up a shelter that takes in women with children. Right now, if you have kids over 14 the older kids have to go to a separate place from their siblings and mother.

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    2. PRECIOUS! What a precious heirloom sweater!!

      As for homeless? Maybe I better stay in Maui. At least I wouldn't get FROZEN!

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    3. I read somewhere that Hawaii does have a homeless problem but they mostly live at the beach so the don't stand out as much. And a high percentage of them are young people who go there on vacation or work and they can't afford to get back to the mainland. Not a bad place to be homeless, though!

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  5. The sweater is beautiful. Homemade mittens are the best. I know they will love them. It's cold here in Minnesota right now too. I have read your blog for a long time. My husband had a stroke 8 years ago and I thought I was past the anger stage but recently have been just angry again. I am grateful that he is here with me but frustrated for him. I have been reading some of your old blog postings and they do help me see that I can get through this too. Thank you.

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    1. Sorry to hear about your husband's stroke. They sure change every aspect of a family and marriage, don't they. Anger can be an unpredictable thing, coming and going like waves on a shore. I don't think that's uncommon. I hope you found your way to my caregiver blogs, The Planet Aphasia and The Aphasia Decoder's Diary (linked in my side panel here). If they are the ones you've found to be helpful, I'm so glad you shared that with me. Sometimes I wonder if I should take them down or not.

      I hope my family will like homemade mittens, I think they are fun and quick to make. I'll make some for the fall craft show, too, and some fingerless mittens for those of us who get cold in the house.

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  6. The baby sweater is adorable. I can almost see the baby inside it, feeling warm and happy because of your efforts.

    I shiver, just reading your post. Been hearing that squeaky snow crunch a lot lately.
    I shiver, when I think about the inner demons, as well as the freezing cold, that vets and addicts face. But not enough to get in my car and go find them to bring them supper. I wonder if this makes me a little less human?

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    1. No, that makes you smart. Picking up strangers off the streets to bring home to supper is not a good idea. Better to help your local missions in some way through donations or whatever like with their annual blanket drives, if they have in your area.

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  7. Me too about those last two sentences. In fact, when I read in the first paragraph that it was thirteen below, my first thought was to wonder if you had many homeless people. How do they survive? We are so fortunate.

    That sweater is adorable. I wish I could knit. I need to find a class for beginners. Forget this book club I joined. They haven't picked a winner yet. I'm tired of reading books I would never choose. Enough educational junk. I want a good who-done-it.

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    1. There was an article in the newspaper last month on how and why they do the yearly homeless census. They always do it on a very cold, snowy night in January and they send out over a hundred people to do the count. The reason they pick then is because a great many of the homeless will be driven into the missions to stay warm or they will be huddled under the overpasses and other known places instead of wandering around and being spread out. The census count determines how much money the city and missions can get in grant money. Our last count was 790-something, up over a hundred from the year before.

      I wasn't fond of the book club I used to belong to either, they've asked me to return and I was faltered but like you I was tired of reading books that were uplifting and educational.

      Knitting really isn't that hard. I like that it gives me an excuse to sit in a chair in front of the TV which is something I generally don't do otherwise. I'm a multitasker.

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  8. Love your sweater. I never managed to learn how to knit well, so I'm very admiring of those who can.
    I moved from Maine to Gettysburg, PA (on the Mason-Dixon line) in December of 1989. The first morning I was scheduled to go into work there, my clock radio came on to the Harrisburg, PA NPR station and the news that it was "bitterly cold" outside. So with a closet full of Maine winter clothes, I dressed for bitterly cold. Well, it turns out that "bitterly cold" on the Mason-Dixon line meant about 20F; I was dressed for -20F. By the time I'd walked the two blocks from my apartment to my office, I was dripping sweat. That was the first clue that I was going to need a whole new wardrobe to live and work in southern Pennsylvania. -Jean

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    1. That's a funny story about Maine vs. Gettysburg's idea of "bitterly cold." Now, the only time I'm outside is just long enough to go from the car to inside a building. That's why the L.L.Bean coat is overkill for my lifestyle.

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  9. Jean :

    we saw lot of homeless in hawaii too though they had public restrooms on beach with showers so you end up seeing lot of homeless near those public rest area. I always get amazed when I read horror stories of economic hardships after illness. I guess being immigrant in this country we always lived within our means & saved for rainy day. love sweater of yours. I guess you are perfectionist. any thing you do is always perfect. I was never very artistic person. My strength was always analytical mind. luckily artistic part of brain was affected in my stroke which I guess I never much used before too so life is still great.

    Asha

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    1. You are too kind. Not everything I do is perfect. It's just that I destroy anything I make that isn't the best I can do. I guess I just described a perfectionist. LOL

      The brain sure is a complicated place, isn't it. If you have to have a stroke, a person is lucky when it hits a part of the brain that isn't their best suit. Don was not that lucky. It hit his speech and that was worst for him than losing his ability to walk and use his right arm. Have you been able to get back into computer programing or whatever it was that you did before the stroke? Whatever it was I know it was something way above my skill sets.

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  10. The sweater is lovely. And I, too, know how fortunate I am. Fortunate to have heat and hot water and comfort. And that includes all the wonderful fabrics that are used these days in clothing. I was thinking about this the other day when I was on one of my walks in the woods with snowshoes. I can only do this because my snowboots are rated for -30F and my coat is rated for -20F and my hat and scarf and gloves are made from materials that keep me warm and dry. That is disappointing that your coat is heavy. I, too, have a long coat (although not llbean but a Lands End stadium coat) and it is so toasty warm and light and I have had it for a long time, That is the other thing I have noticed about clothing: so much of the clothing I own is hard wearing and made of such strong materials that they don't seem to deteriorate. My winter jacket has got to be at least twenty years old at this point and it is in amazingly good condition.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. Snow shoeing sounds like a wonderful way to enjoy the winter and the woods.

      It pays to buy good quality outer wear in classic styles. They last forever. I just gave a 20-25 year old wool, plaid coat to my niece and she was thrilled with it. Plaid is in this year and it's very "lumber jack-ish". Perfect to wear around her log cabin in the woods.

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