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

Friday, February 27, 2015

Dreams, Lighthouses and Moving



If dreams are a window into our subconscious thoughts then I must be obsessed with toilets and my husband. I often wake up during dreams where I’m looking for a bathroom. It might be in a building with a hundred doors to open or I might be looking in a house of hallways with no doors at all. It’s not hard to figure why these reoccurring dreams happen because I wake up with an urgent need to pee. As for my husband, the past few months I’ve dreamed of him nearly every night and I can’t figure out why. I did that at the beginning of my widowhood but those dreams got farther and farther apart until it would only be a night or two a month when he’d come to me in my sleep. 

Last night was the first time when I dreamed about toilets and my husband in the same dream and it was freaky because he was doing something I hadn’t thought about or seen done in nearly fifty years.  Back then, I remember seeing women take dirty diapers---the old clothe kind, not the paper ones like they use today---and hold them tight at one end while flushing the toilet to clean the solid waste out of them. Having never been a mother, I never did it myself or if I did I was babysitting and it wasn’t very often because over the years I developed a rule: I don’t babysit any child who isn’t old enough to say, “My stomach hurts. I want to go to the hospital.” 

Anyway, in my dream Don was in the bathroom holding various things over the toilet bowl and flushing---ordinary clothing and hand towels, etc. I asked him what the heck he was doing and he said he was doing the laundry. Sure enough, sitting on the floor was a pile of wet, soggy stuff. That’s when I woke up, aghast that he would do such a thing. I cannot figure out where this random diaper memory came from and why all these years later it appeared in my subconscious thoughts. And as for Don doing the laundry, the man barely knew where the washing machine resided in the house. His idea of doing the laundry was to pack it up and drop it off to a laundromat where an attendant would do it for him. He could drive and repair any piece of heavy equipment on a military base or on the road but a washer and dryer was above his pay scale, as they say. I think one time he tried doing laundry and he got the classic, pink underwear of a beginner and he never tried doing the laundry again. 

This week I went to a lecture titled, “Ladies of the Lights.” It was presented by an energetic speaker from a group that promotes Michigan’s tourism industry. It was about forty women who were lighthouse keepers on our Great Lakes, dating back to the 1840s. (We have thirty lighthouses within 100 miles and about a third of them are on islands.) She read diary excerpts from some of these lighthouse keepers and, boy, were those passages engaging! When you think about the cold, ice and snow we’ve had this winter and how it can isolate us in our homes, can you image being in a lighthouse in the decades before the internet, TV and even telephones were invented?  It was a fascinating lecture and one I’d recommend to anyone who gets a chance to see it as it moves around the Great Lake states. I can’t wait until her next lecture in the fall when she’s coming back to do one on haunted lighthouses. 

I just realized I’m signed up for a day trip next week, to go to a large antique mall near Lake Michigan in my favorite tourist town of Saugatuck. When I signed up, March sounded so far away and warm and spring-like but it’s still supposed to be cold and snowy. Great. If you hear about a highway pile up in West Michigan think of me. I don’t like being on the highways in the winter! If the weather turns out to be bad enough to close the schools, though, the trip will get rescheduled. Our senior hall bus is housed and maintained by the school district, even though we raised the money last fall to buy it and pay for its upkeep. This will be my first time riding on it. In the past we’ve always rented buses. But through the winter they’ve used the new bus to go to plays, musicals and other productions downtown which aren’t my thing but I mention them here because senior halls “can be” a wellspring of activities at a reasonable, no profit-built-in price. 

And that fact makes it so hard when I think about moving to the other end of town. I’ve checked out the senior hall activities down there and they can’t compare to what’s only five minutes away up here. Oh, they have the card games, exercise classes and the crafts the same as we do up here (that I don’t take part in) but they don’t have the lectures and day trips that I like the most. I’ve been driving myself crazy weighing the pros and cons of moving closer to my family. I’ve pretty much come to the conclusion that I’d have to find a pet friendly, zero-steps condo community that has planned activities to balance out what I’d be losing in my social life up here. So far, I’ve only found one community that checks all the boxes and I’m not sure I can afford to live there. When the weather gets nicer and I can do their tour, I’ll find out more. Too many “ifs” and “buts” to make this old widow sure of anything! ©

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Sexual Attraction and Second Chances at Love



Sex. Sexual attraction. Yes, I just said those words out loud. Since the weekend I’ve been trying to come up with another word that describes a feeling that coursed through my body when I saw a young man in his early thirties pass by, a man young enough to be my great-grandson. A word that doesn’t make me sound like a cougar which I most definitely am not and don’t aspire to be.  Cougars---women with lust in their whole demeanor who paw all over guys half their age---are not high on my chart of woman whose conduct I respect. Sorry if I just offended someone. Now that I think about, I’m uncomfortable around women of any age who paw all over guys in their own age bracket IF the guy is not into to them in equal measure. Yes, young lust shared is a beautiful thing, but one-side lust reminds me of Hee Haw, hillbilly land. At least I think it was on that 1970 TV show where a reappearing, old grandpa character would lust all over a shapely young lady in pig tails and short-shorts. If the show came back on air in this century, it would no doubt give equal time to cougars. We make fun of men who collect sugar babies but don’t cougars have the exact, same mindset?

Anyway, back to sexual attraction and the young man who walked by me in the grocery store who started this whole train of thought. There was something about him that reminded me of what it was like to be young and in lust. He had a confident swagger, broad shoulders and sparklingly eyes that made contact with every person he passed by---young, old, male or female---very much like my husband used to do. There was no such thing as a stranger in Don’s world. He never lost that trait, even after his stroke and he could no longer talk which got him into big trouble a few times, but that’s another story for another time. Grocery store guy shocked me because I wondered if that’s how cougars get started. Do older women enjoy the memory of youthful lust so much that they forget their age and think they are on an equal footing with guys half their age? Do they over-doze on their hormone replacement drugs? I do know one thing for sure. As I age my ideal of male perfection isn’t aging as fast as I am. Few men in my own age bracket can prompt me to think, what an attractive man he is! I guess I’ve bought into the media propaganda that says only people under “a certain age” can have sex appeal. Even Richard Gere has lost his appeal lately and if someone would have told me I’d be saying this in my seventies I’d have labeled it crazy talk. He left his height of coolness back on the set of An Officer and a Gentlemen. Egad, he was 33 years old when he made that movie!

I know a couple of widows my age who are almost desperate to meet another man. I don’t doubt their sincerity and I am trying to understand where those longings come from and why I don’t have them. Are they less independent than me? Maybe. Are they lonelier than me? Possibly---I have Levi the Schnauzer in my life---but maybe I just manage my loneliness in a world where I don’t believe it’s possible to replace or substitute what I had with Don. Ya, ya, I know a second “significant other” doesn’t have to be the same to still be good. Many couples who have lost spouses are able to find companions to do things together with, but they don't feel the need to get re-married and live together as if they didn’t have histories to honor. My dad, for example, found a wonderful widow and they dated for 10 years before he died. My older brother is in the same kind of second-chance-at-love kind of relationship. They’ll never marry, they say, but they travel together, go to parties in both families together and see and call each other often. Relationships between senior citizens come with a whole different set of values, complications and solutions but I’ve never seen my brother happier in his life and he deserves it. His wife died after a long wind-down of suffering from Early Onset Alzheimer’s and he is grabbing whatever happiness he can find in his later years. What’s not to admire about that?

Still, for me it’s much more tempting to get another dog than another man. With dogs you can get kisses whenever you want them, no “Hey, I’m watching football and you're blocking the screen!” Dogs are low maintenance, men are not. They never complain that you’re feeding them the same kibble day after day. And with dogs you can put them in a cage when they get annoying. If I tried that with a man I could go to prison and I’m too old to start committing crimes----heinous or otherwise. ©

This made me laugh out loud.




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.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Invisible Boyfriends, Dance Cards and Kanye West



It was too cold for men and mice to be outside but being a woman who had run out of Boulder’s Ancient Grains Chips---quinoa, millet, teff, sorghum and chia---I had no other choice but to brave the brutal, single digit temperatures. The long range weather forecast didn’t include a break from the cold anytime soon, except for Tuesday when I already had a full dance card lined up at the senior hall. So it had to be Monday when I picked up a few can’t-live-without-them things at my friendly grocery store and I got home in time to feed the greedy squirrels and my sweet rabbits before dark. They think I’m their downstairs maid and I guess I am. I’m the only one in view who doesn’t drive themselves crazy trying to keep the wildlife out of their bird feeders. The tracks in the snow in my back yard look like spokes on a wheel with my deck as the hub. It’s a regular highway system sculpted in white.

Does anyone even know what a dance card is this day and age, or has my knowledge base crossed over that line where no one under my age understands references like having a full dance card? I remember my first dance card. It was a small, folded card with numbered lines on it and it attached to my wrist with a pink ribbon and at the beginning of a party boys came up to the girls to ask to be penciled in for a dance. I couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven and it was a formal ballroom dance, a graduation of sorts from a class at the Arthur Murray Dance Studios. I think Mom wanted me to be the next Shirley Temple. She enrolled me in every kid class offered at the studio. Where do little kids go, now, to learn how to dance? Do they get plopped down in front of a Beyoncé video where they learn how to do booty pops instead of the steps to a box waltz or tap routine? I could shuffle-ball-chain with the best of them by the time I was six and we kept our butts tucked in. Butts were not pretty when I was a kid.

Speaking of Beyoncé I wish someone could explain Kanye West to me. I have eclectic tastes in music from Bach to Bono but I don’t get that guy’s popularity. At the Grammys he was arrogantly saying that Beck “should respect the artistry and give his Album of the Year award to Beyoncé” and then he was on the SNL 40th anniversary show rapping a “song” while lying flat on his back, a camera and microphone overhead. If that’s his idea of artistry then I’m glad I grew up when rock-and-roll first hit the proverbial fan. You could dance to it, you could sing along and you could drive you parents crazy with it when you played the same record over and over. Kanye West’s so-called music makes me feel like I’m my mother yelling up the stairs, “Turn that record player down!” The more things change the more they stay the same.  

There was a segment on Inside Edition the other day about a new company that provides a service called Invisible Boyfriend and Invisible Girlfriend. The company gives you “real-world and social proof that you’re in a relationship, even when you’re not.” You create a profile, name and back-story for a fake boyfriend or girlfriend and he/she sends you text messages you can show your friends. I had a fake boyfriend when I was a teenager. His name was Kelly Sailor and that name is plastered all over my diaries. I even had a set of pilot’s wings that I wore to school a few times---borrowed from my mother’s jewelry box. She actually did date a guy in the Air force before marrying my dad. My fake boyfriend was conveniently stationed in Japan. I don’t remember where I got his photo but I do know for sure I would have loved getting text messages from him. I might even enjoy it now. Maybe I could sign up and have Kelly Sailor find his long lost love fifty-five years later. Our back-story could be that my mother had forged 'Dear John' letters to both of us to break us up because she thought we were getting too serious. Gosh, “Invisible friends” also has a link to apply for a job. Wouldn’t it be fun to be the fake friend, writing text messages under assumed personalities created by their clients! For $24.99 clients get 100 flirty texts, 10 voice mails and one hand written postcard. I wonder if Kelly Sailor could send me a postcard from Japan. 

The company also plans on adding the option for you to get gifts from your fake boyfriend or girlfriend. I want a silk kimono. I had one once, sent to me by an actual guy I knew who was stationed in Japan. Sadly, it got downsized out of my life after my husband’s stroke and I could use it now. The largest Japanese tea house and garden outside of the orient is opening soon in my town---at a cost twenty-two million dollars---and I could wear the kimono there where I could get stood up by my fake boyfriend. Not to worry, he’d send a text that would have me laughing as I enjoyed my green tea and chinsuko cookies. ©