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, September 2, 2015

Where the Past and Future Collide




Like many people who grew up poor, my husband saved everything. And even though he died three and a half years ago, and I e-Bayed my brains out in the first two years, I’m still sorting through the remnants of his life. Recently, I’ve been purging in the basement---stuff that never should have been put down there fourteen years ago when the house was brand new. In my defense, after Don’s stroke every object from his past became a battle ground and I gave in way too much. How could I tell someone who'd just lost the use of one side of his body and his ability to community with words or written language that it was time to let go of even more? Half the time I feared he’d have another stroke as he tried to make me understand why certain things had 'special' meaning to him. That’s the long version of why I’ve been on a madcap mission to finally sort through the stuff downstairs. The short version is I want to move to a condo and my past and future are colliding. 

Some stuff is easy. I pack it up and earmark it for a trip to the auction house or Goodwill. Other things I find are fun-but-time-consuming like a bundle of letters Don wrote to his mom and dad when he was in the Army. In several letters he was obsessed with getting his chainsaw shipped to the base so in his off time he could cut down trees. “Dutch elm disease is killing all the trees down here,” he wrote, “and I’m trying to get a contract from the Army to take care of them.” Several letters later he wrote, “Forget about the chainsaw. A dead tree will have to fall on a general’s jeep before anyone cares. I’ve never seen anything like the Army’s red tape, it’s terrible!” Even though life on an Army base kept him plenty busy it was so like Don to always be looking for a way to make some extra money on the side. One job was never enough for a guy whose childhood memories included people coming to the house to turn off the utilities. Yes, ladies and gentlemen, that’s how workaholics are born. At least my workaholic. 

In the box with the letters I found a family history treasure---his mother’s 1918 high school graduation class photo---seven students! Rare for a woman in those days, she went on to college and eventually taught school for a few years before getting married and popping out four sons. She worked hard tending a garden, canning, cooking and cleaning for her boys plus a farm hand and a husband who at one point in his life had big dreams. Before taking up farming, Don's dad put all his efforts into building a bus line that ran from one end of the state to the other. He did that just before the Wall Street Crash of 1929 and I found the receipt for, and a photo of his very first bus to prove it. You can guess how that investment turned out during the ten year depression following The Crash. The receipt, photos and a mantle clock from the family farm will be passed on to Don’s brother who after all these years is starting to get sentimental over family heirlooms. Yes, Virginia, you can mix Danish Modern furniture with antiques. 

But the memory trigger I found this week that choked me up was a Valentine’s Day card I created on the computer in 2000. My dad had died on the Christmas before and I was thanking Don for all the support he had given me over the long, hard year leading up to Dad’s death. Without his physical, emotional and financial support I never would have come through it with all my marbles still residing inside my head. As it was, by that Valentine’s Day I was still in a turn buckle arm cast from a freak accident I had two weeks before Dad died. I came close to losing the bottom half of my arm. But the hospital called in a crusty, old woman bone specialist who thought she could and did save my arm. The herd of doctors who came in to look at my before and after x-rays were totally amazed at her work but all I could do is cry and I didn’t stop crying until after Dad’s funeral. At the end of the ‘love letter’ I wrote: “Let’s make 2000 a year of positive changes and good times.” Two and a half months later, Don had his massive stroke and all chances for positive changes and good times left the building with Elvis.

In the twelve years that I was Don’s caregiver/spouse there were many changes, of course, but the thing that sticks in my mind as I write this is how intertwined each decade of our lives were. How they built on one another to create the people we became. A few people looked at our post-stroke lives and took away a snapshot of a mismatched couple. “Put Don in a nursing home and go on with your life,” they told me. That's easy for someone to say who wasn’t there when Don was my rock without complaint, through our four plus decades of give and take. How could I not do the same for him? That’s what deeply committed couples do. You stick with it even when it isn’t convenient, when it isn’t all roses and romance. Life balances. The yin always comes with the yang.

This will sound strange after three and a half year of living alone but I still feel like a bookend at a garage sale that’s lost its mate. But hopefully that bookend will have a new purpose in a new home and someday I hope to do the same. In the meantime, my past and future are colliding in my present. ©


NOTE: That's Don in the photo at the top.

19 comments:

  1. A lovely tale. And since it's two years since my beautiful husband died, I know only too well the feeling of still being one half of a couple. But I remind myself that the more it hurts and the longer the hurt goes on, the more I know I must be grateful for the partnership my husband and I had for 35 years. The difficulty we have in separating ourself from that other self just proves how wonderfully interwoven our life with our partner had become. I remind myself every day: some people never know that. How lucky we were, you and I and people like us, to have had it for so long.

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    1. Gratitude is a powerful force, isn't it. You are so right that some people never find that partnership/marriage that some of us were blessed with having. I'm guessing they are the ones who are quick to suggest someone "go on with their lives" while they still have a spouse who needs them.

      Thanks for the comment!

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    2. Yes, I also think that people who didn't understand our closeness were more likely to advise me to 'put him in a home', when my husband's advancing dementia seemed to them to be robbing me of something I could replace with a bit of 'freedom'. Truth is, even with partial dementia my husband gave me more solace and love than anyone else ever could. Anyway, I always thought that a lot of the advice I got from friends and even some family was framed in terms of what would make those persons comfortable - i.e. let them stop worrying about me or feeling they should be helping somehow - rather than what was really best for me or my husband. Thank goodness I never made a habit of doing what others thought I should do!

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    3. I agree with every word you wrote! My experience exactly!

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  2. I will always be hubbies other half. If I go first I know the same will apply. I hope I can smile and be so thankful for all the wonderful years if he goes first. Having not done this I have no personal knowledge, but I'm hoping that will be the case for either of us.

    Have a blessed day. ☺

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    1. Balancing the sad thoughts of loss with smiles over what we had is the key for widows.

      I'd like to tell women like you who still have a spouse they treasure is to let him know it from time to time. If I regret anything at all its that I didn't say the words as often as I wish I had. Yes, loving couples know how each other feels but the words become more important when you can't say or hear them anymore.

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  3. Don's letters sound like a historical treasure trove. What are you going to do with them? One possibility would be to see if some college or university would like them for their special collections. -Jean

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    1. I don't know about Don's letters being much of a treasure---there aren't very many of them. BUT I have a banker's box full of letters from Vietnam plus a another box of copies of all the letters I wrote to those GI's in Vietnam. During the war I was pen pals with over 50 guys whose names and addresses were printed in the newspaper. One I got into a serious relationship with after he came home---best and worst experience in my life, he had PTSD. I looked all those kids up on The Wall in D.C. and half of them had died over there. I want to do something with the letters. It never occurred to me that a college or university might be interested in stuff like that.

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    2. And museums, too. I don't have a lot of family documents and letters, but some go back to the Civil War, and there's a museum in Iowa who wants them. It's a small, local museum, but they have an agreement with the Iowa Historical Society that, if the museum ever can't support itself financially, the materials will go to the state museum. Since I have no family to pass things on to, it's a good solution.

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    3. It's a wonderful solution. Passing Civil War letters on to family is no promise that they won't be destroyed some time in the future. In a museum, that won't happen.

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  4. I love love love this blog. I love the memories. And I, too, wish I had told him more how much he meant to me. Unbelievable that people would tell you to "put him in a home". This is the main reason I do not want to "date" or remarry. I will not have the years of love and commitment that would encourage me to take care of him, should I need to.

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    1. I feel exactly the same way. My dad had a girlfriend before he got dementia and he had asked her to marry him. She wanted to keep things as they were and they seriously dated several years after that. When he got where he needed care, she didn't have any responsibilities because they didn't live together. But I know of other situations where the kids let the second wife do it all with no support at all. In hindsight I think dad's girlfriend was smart not to put herself in that situation. At their ages it was predictable that one or the other would have ended up as a caregiver. And like you said, you don't have the years of love and commitment to balance out that kind of responsibility and who knows if kids will help or not.

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  5. That was a sweet post. And you mentioned several interesting stories. Could you recount how you broke your arm on a bed?
    And your story of all the Vietnam guys that you kept in touch with is so cool! There should be museums or galleries who would be interested in displaying those letters.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I was stripping a bed and I threw all the sheets on the floor, then managed to get my feet tangled up in the sheets, went down catching my arm on an end table as I fell. I broke my arm in three places, not just little cracks but breaks that took a long surgery and a bunch of screws to fix.,

      Over the years, I've thought about editing the letters into a book but I wasn't sure if I could legally do that with someone else's written words. I should look into finding a war museum some where that takes that sort of thing and at the very least instruct my heirs to send them off if I haven't already done it. The guys and I were just kids, really. I was in my first and second year of college back then.

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  6. Oh, what a beautiful story....what a love you had (and have in your heart).

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    1. When we get old, we've all got beautiful stories of resilience and love. The trick is to know how to edit your memories. LOL

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  7. I always say that Dad was the first conservationist/environmentalist, but the truth is that he was born in 1917 and his formative years were during the 30s, after the crash of 29. He didn't believe in "wasting" anything, and could get quite upset if he thought one of us was. He never threw anything away until he had removed any part that could possibly be used on something else. He was such a workaholic that he barely slept four or five hours a night.

    That arm incident sounds horrible.

    It sounds like you and Don were very lucky to have one another. I met a woman when Dad was in the long-term care facility. She visited her husband everyday. She told me that her children kept telling her to stop visiting him so often and go on with her life. She said, "They just don't understand that this is where I want to be."

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    1. The time frame a person is born into really effects how a person thinks. My parents and Don's were just like your dad when it came to using every possible part of something. One of my first jobs as a kid was taking buttons and zippers out of old clothing to be used on something else. The cloth became rags, quilt pieces or doll clothes.

      When my brother's wife was in an Alzheimer's lock down facility he was like the woman you met the the care facility. He'd go every day for three years and I did the same the three months Don spent in the hospital/rehab. Going a separate way wasn't an option and I would think that would make a person feel so guilt ridden if you did, it wouldn't be worth it.

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