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, December 12, 2015

From Widow’s Guilt to Moby Dick



Every night at bed time I play a game of checkers on my Kindle. It’s a ritual that began after my husband died. Don had a long history of playing the game with his brothers that dated back to growing up on a farm in the pre-TV era. He could beat the pants off me every time we played checkers and I didn’t particularly enjoy the game but in the month leading up to his death, we’d been playing checkers every night. I was surreptitiously using it as a gauge of his mental capabilities. When he quit winning almost every game, I was worried but I waited a few days before making an appointment to see the doctor. That’s how playing checkers on my Kindle became a punishment of sorts for my widow’s what-if. Call it a guilt trip if you like. The what-ifs in life are so common that we often title them. 

That morning of the appointment, I got him in the car but we never made it past the end of the driveway before I called an ambulance. The rest is history. He died in a matter of days though I don’t remember how many. Isn’t it odd how I forgot a detail like that but I can still remember the look of confusion in Don’s eyes the first time he lost at checkers. That look would come back the day they took him off the ventilator to let nature take its course. Do I still play checkers as a punishment now that I’m nearing my forth sadiversary? I don’t think so but I am 100% sure that somewhere along the line I took up cheating at the game. Yes, it’s possible to cheat playing against a computerized gadget. All you have to do is turn the forced jumps on or off when it’s to your advantage and you can undo any move that gets you jumped so you can try another. It’s rare that I lose playing that way, but if I see that a game isn’t going my way I just won’t finish it. That way, my stats don’t register a loss. There you have it, my big checkers confession. At times I wonder if I’m not testing my own mental capabilities the way I tested Don’s near the end of his life. Am I’m afraid if I lose too often that I’ll fall off the face of the earth like he did? You tell me. Do other elderly women worry that their brains will turn into mush and their body will follow suit? And while I'm asking questions, can anyone tell me when the heck did the hair inside of my nose turn gray?

I need to get off the intersection of Guilt Street and Scary Avenue. Next up: Shopping past and present. In our post-stroke years Don and I had a holiday tradition of picking a day when the weather was just right for pushing a wheelchair on the snowy sidewalks of his hometown (now an upscale tourist town) and off we’d go to shop. Most of the businesses that line the old town square are not wheelchair friendly but he didn’t care. I could leave him briefly by a shop door and he’d have his memories to enjoy of peddling newspapers to those same stores, of his father giving the town kids horse drawn sleigh rides in the winter, and of going with his mom when she’d bring eggs into town to sell to the corner grocery store. I’ve grown to love the charm of that town and Don’s history in it and so this year I decided it was time to resume the tradition of spending a holiday afternoon roaming in and out of the stores looking at things I don’t need and hoped I wouldn’t buy.

I strolled “the square”---the confectionery store, the coffee shop, the rustic décor and candle shop, the olive oil store and the stained glass art studio. At the non-profit War Chest Boutique to help women rescued from the sex trade I bought a trinket and I ended up at the converted, old grain mill where I had lunch. As I waited for my salmon sandwich I alternated between jotting down notes for this blog and looking out the window. It was a lovely view of the top side of the dam with winter-dried cattails swaying in a gentle breeze along the river’s edge. The calm and quiet scene outside was in sharp contrast to the noisy din of the diners inside.

“Why write?” author Carolyn See once asked and then answered, “Because we live in a beautiful, sentient universe that yearns for you to tell the truth about it.” Would-be writers are told that truth is in the details, in the moments when we’re able to expose our flaws and fears to the world. And truth is in our observations---those gray nose hairs, the flat-bladed cattails and a stranger’s Mona Lisa smile. At lunch, my truth was also in the beauty of being alone in a crowd, of turning my imagination loose and pretending I knew which of my fellow diners have cheats-at-checkers like secrets. “Call me Ishmael” because like Ishmael, that day I was wandering and searching for insight. I just didn’t do it on water and my salmon sandwich was the closest I got to finding the White Whale and all it symbolizes in Melville’s book. ©

26 comments:

  1. Third sadiversary today, and re-living that day when life left at 8.03 pm. Just don't see the point to life-be it in Syria or USA, be it poverty or rich-ville, same end. Don't have the guts to end it, but hope its soon and quick. Parents in 80s and infirm, would like to go but not in their hands. I look at them and am scared that I too will linger on. I pray euthanasia is legalised soon, so at least I can avail of it. I come to your site for solace and advice/inspiration and you provide it.Sigh, kids grown and am retired, so see no purpose in life - just waste of space. Not interested in seeing grandkids born and they too growing over me in time - repeat pattern. Wish I could take someone's ticket whose number's called but wants to live-that would be a win-win!!

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    1. Sadiversaries can sure bring up a lot of unwanted emotions, can't they. It's particularly hard when sadiversaires come around the holidays and everyone around us seems of happy.(My dad died on Christmas.) You will be in my thoughts today. What's your first name, if you come back?

      I think many of us struggle to find purpose in life as we age BUT I firmly believe it's worth searching for that purpose. No one can do that for us and maybe it isn't even important if we find that purpose. Maybe what is important IS the search itself? So I keep plugging along, trying different things that might (and often do) enrich my days.

      A lot of older people take a mild anti-depressant. A couple of the widows who comment here often do and my husband was put on one after his stroke. Between his lack of mobility and loss of speech he had all the reasons in the world to feel hopeless like you do, but that Celexa did wonders for him...gave him back his pre-stoke zest for life. Something to think about and maybe discuss with your doctor. Depression can often times be organic (not just in our heads) after a life changing event like the loss of a loved one or a disability. Brain chemistry gets out of balance.

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  2. I can only imagine how you feel because I don't know. I'm not in any hurry either. I know I have made some wonderful memories with hubby since 1978, and I know it would be painful to lose him. I just don't want to think about that. I do know how thankful I am to have him each day.

    Have a wonderful day. ☺

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    1. As a widow I see too many women who seem to take their relationships and husbands for granted. I'm glad you're not one of them. You're building great memories and neither one of you will have to live with regards when one of you goes.

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  3. First I'm breathing deeply after your first commenter.
    And on a less serious note, I'm thinking about checkers. I don't at all think that you are testing your own mental capabilities. You stated that Don was a better player than you so I'm guessing that you are cheating out of frustration with the game. Another alternative is to stop playing because I suspect that your playing now is a ritual and not one that you are really enjoying. Am I completely off base?
    I used to play games like that and tic toc toe and even chess but I never liked playing with someone who could see the moves far ahead of me and thus outsmart me. It just wasn't a level playing field!
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I do play as a ritual but I think I do it to maintain a nighttime connection with Don...like saying goodnight. Funny, I don't feel guilty about cheating because I'm not cheating a real person and cheating has made me a better player. Funny, I could beat Don at chess because I had 15 years longer playing it than he did. Games like that are definitely more fun when skill levels are matched.

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  4. I try to exercise my brain every day. Haven't tried checkers yet! I do Words with Friends, Letterpress, Streak with family and friends. Then I signed up for Lumosity for competing with myself. Need to find another solo adventure.

    How fun (and brave) to venture out for a Christmas memory.

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    1. Exercising our brains every day is important. I do some Lumosity, solo Monopoly and Mahjong. I've even tried chess on my Kindle but the smallness of it bothers me.

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  5. I think many of us have a cheats-at-checkers secret. :)

    I'm one who worries about losing brain function, too. H and I talked about it today. He made it funny in the end because that's what he does. When I wake in the middle of the night, that's one of the worries that gets to me. I have a hard time seeing you having that as a problem. You're so with it and always challenging yourself to get out there and seize the day, but I do understand the fear. We never know what will happen, and of course, you know that better than many because of your experiences with Don. I don't know how I would fare with that kind of loss. I guess that's one of my worries, too. Reading yours and JB's and Judy's blogs offers insight.

    I also admire how you have a knack for giving constructive advice. It's a good thing.

    Speaking of whales and Moby Dick, today I saw a trailer for Ron Howard's 'Moby-Dick' movie, "In the Heart of the Sea."

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    1. When I started this blog I had no idea I was going to end up with a Moby Dick reference. Then I saw an interview with Ron Howard and it all spilled out of my brain like word soup. I'm anxious to see if my Movie and Lunch Club will pick it this month.

      Your caregiver experience with your dad gives you plenty of clues as to how you'd fare with loss. You are a trooper type who will always strive to do what is right.

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  6. I too come to this blog to seek comfort that I am not alone in my feelings. I appreciate that you acknowledge each post. My marriage was far from perfect. Now I regret all my mistakes - can see them so clearly now! Before, I prided myself that I'd always behaved ' correctly' and now realise my lack of empathy. Truly, there are none so blind as those who will not see. Its too late now. I've lost pride and faith in myself, and that is difficult to live with. Having made so many wrong decisions in life, I don't trust my decision making ability now. The saddest words are ' if only'. I don't know how to stop beating myself over my past mistakes.

    My husband, unlike even my kids, didn't look at me and see a grey-haired, wrinkled hag, but the young and pretty me. Now that person is gone forever.

    Thank you for providing this site to vent my innermost feelings freely.

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    1. Forgiving ourselves is often harder to do tha forgiving others. But it's important for us to remember that no one is perfect and just because we've done things that we regret that doesn't makes us bad people---assuming our what-ifs and if-onlys don't involve criminal behavior. I think professionals would say the only way for us to stop beating ourselves up over past mistakes is to forgive ourselves and accept that if we had known better, we would have done better. Hindsight is 20-20 for everyone.

      Your middle paragraph really resonates with me! No one will ever see or know me the way my husband did and I miss that most of all. But I had it once and I hold on to that.

      Am I right that you and my first anonymous commenter are not the same person? If I could ask anonymous posters to give themselves a first name or initial, I'd really appreciate it.

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    2. I owe it to you after your kindness in responding individually, so yes, the first commenter and I are the same.

      The mistakes were not criminal/illegal. Just part of life, busy in work, bringing up children, paying bills and mortgage, etc etc. Too little time to reflect. Now too much time to reflect. Its like that song ... little boy chasing his dad to play and rest then roles reversed.

      I have been to a psychiatrist for help-useless. Your site has provided me better help. Strangers in the ether!!

      Mary

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    3. Thanks, Mary! I'm glad to have a name with your narrative.

      What you said about your marriage before your husband died---"too little time to reflect. Now too much time to reflect"---is something most widows, I think, deal with. I was at a Red Hat Society party yesterday and sat next to a widow who belongs to three or four chapters plus some church groups. She's on the run every single day. I think she's running away from having too much time on her hands to reflect. Whatever works! She's such a nice lady and I use her for a gauge of myself because her husband and mine died days apart.

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  7. I am so moved by your telling of checkers, then, and now. How attentive he was, and how attentive you were. Brings me back to those days at the end of my hubby's life, when every gesture mattered, and the clock was ticking, ticking down the hours until... we were by ourselves. I'm so happy you're still playing checkers, even if you're stacking the deck (ouch. Mixed metaphor)

    I think of writing as that yearning to tell the truth, too. I think I'd pull the covers over my head were I to consider it my art form. It certainly is yours, and it's such a pleasure to step into the scenes you evoke. I take heart for my own writing, that even a child's scribble is priceless. Please, have no fear. Were your truth telling to be scribbles, too, we'll still be hear to listen and to care.

    Much love to you, Jean, as you approach your fourth sadiversary.

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    1. Thank you Gowithflo. But don't be so modest. Your writing and certainly the way you approach life in general is an art form. People like you who are into the visual arts have to be observant and that cares over to all art forms.

      I appreciate your hearing my truth. I was actually inspired to write this blog because of that quote I put in the blog. I'm reading a book about writing non-fiction (where I found the quote) and how you have to take chances and write with total honesty if you're going to relate to others.

      Have good holiday season!

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    2. Thank you, Jean. Your validation helps me feel my efforts are worthwhile :-)

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  8. Blog writing is where I tell my truth and fears and just a note to Mary--I feel the same way you do most days. Is it depression or reality? The older the kids and grandkids get, the more they leave me alone. What use am I to the world anymore? Not scared of death anymore, I would welcome it. BUT--I rely on my faith in God more and more. I guess He handles the timetable for our departure. In the meantime--I have a blog to write, two cats to care for, and the Soap I have watched for 50 years that I don't want to miss one day of. Joking, but at this time of my life, it seems that's about it. My own fault that I'm not more social, but I actually enjoy my alone time. My 4th Sadiversary comes on New Year's Day. We'll be fine!

    Jean--I always hated Checkers!!! I do like the games I play on Face Book however. Fred & I used to play a lot of Scrabble. Of course, he never lost his mental keenness, until the moment he unexpectedly died. "This is just a minor test," they said. Yeah. Right!

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    1. You're probably one of the most honest blogger I know. I knew you struggle with depression but most days? I would have guessed 25% of them. One the good side, you know what it takes to keep you going---your cat family, your Soap and God. Not necessarily in that order of course. LOL

      I hate Scrabble worse than any game on the face of the earth. Dyslexia and spelling do not mix.

      I know we'll be fine on our sadiversaries but still, I can't help knowing it's coming and thus feel the need to re-evaluate where I'm at and where I'm going. Not ready to put it in writing yet but the back of my mind is working on it.

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    2. Yeah--been writing a bit for my 4th Sadiversary post too.
      Can't help but be a sad day, but I have many Sadiversaries in my life--grandmother, mother, best friend(s). If I posted for each one of them---I'd be sad all the time and depressing everyone who read them. :-)

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  9. Judy- thank you for your acknowledgement. Its because on some blogs people write the unvarnished truth that I have found solace, in knowing that I am not alone in my feelings (which I would never say face to face to anyone - thank God for the passing strangers in the night/ether). Like you, I keep myself busy. Thank you again for your honesty.
    Mary

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    1. Mary, your welcome. Come visit my blog sometime and read about my very dull life. I had 2 previous marriages, abused in both of them and no self esteem so I got in other relationships that were miserable--always trying to please. DONE WITH MEN! At 65, met a man who was so like me, I thought he might have been my 61 year old unknown brother. LOL Seven beautiful years together. I seem to find myself more grateful that I finally found true love and learned how it felt/was, then the fact that he ditched on me--on New Year's Day, no less. The title of my blog is: Onward & Upward--Ever Forward. That's just what we have to do. XXOO

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  10. My own game addiction is Free Cell -- and I loved it when they issued a new version that allows you to undo and redo moves endlessly. Now I win every game -- eventually ;-) !
    Sometimes your dyslexic spelling is a creative gift. The thought of recused sex trade workers had me laughing so hard I almost fell off my chair. :-) -Jean

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    1. Now you've got me laughing so hard tears are rolling down my face. Where were all my spelling checking blogger friends when I needed them?

      I like Free Cell, too. I didn't know they have a new version, though. I've got to get that! Honest, I think redoing moves does actually teach us to be better players at games. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

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  11. First, love the Carolyn See quote. Thanks for sharing that.

    I'm not a "gamer", but recently signed up for Posit with my AARP renewal and it's fun! It does stress me out a bit though since I want to "win" and of course, there is no winning -- just improving and some days I don't do so well. I think the thing that terrifies me most about aging is losing my mental capacities. I'm always checking in with myself to see how I'm doing -- every forgotten name, date, memory makes my heart skip a beat -- "Is this the beginning???" My mother developed vascular dementia for no apparent reason-- no risk factors and physically she was healthy as could be. It's scares me. If game playing will help, deal me in!

    I am so fortunate to have my husband with me. I read the comments from the widows who post here and my heart breaks for the losses and unbidden changes to life. I believe women who go on with a full and active life after such a loss are so courageous, like you Jean, and I wish for all to find a place of peace and gratitude for every new day, even if it is one where grief sits silently in a part of the heart, a constant companion. I hope if I'm ever a widow I will find the strength to appreciate my life without my husband (unimaginable to me right now); I know that's what my husband would want for me. Love to you all...

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    1. I love books of quotes and advice by published authors to those of us who aspire to be better at the craft.

      I've got to sign up for those POSIT Science games through AARP. I keep forgetting to try it. I once asked my husband's neurologist what happens to the brain of someone who is dyslexic when they get old. Since they are mis-wired to begin with I was hoping he'd say our wiring gets rerouted to the right way. He only answered that it was a fascinating question. LOL

      On widowhood, let the future take care of itself. I think most widows handle it the same way they've handled everything else that's come alone in their lives. If you seek peace and gratitude now, you will find a path towards that again should your husband go before you do. It's who you are. Our basic core does not change.

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