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, April 29, 2015

Laughter, Politics, War and Race


LAUGHTER: Monday morning I had brunch with my Red Hat Society sisters before we went to the multiplex movie theater near-by. I hadn’t been to an I-Hop in over a decade so I was looking forward to it. Where else can you get an enormous sugar high before noon and we should do it more often. We were being old, honest women opening up about our changing bodies and our sense of humors were operating on all their cylinders. Yup, I had a great time. After the movie we stopped for ice cream at one of those places where you build your own sundae and pay for it by the pound. I was relieved that my sundae wasn’t the heaviest one in the group. It was a pig-out-day, and I paid the piper with a pair of tighter pants. Next time I’ll remember to wear an elastic-waisted model.

POLITICS: The movie we saw was The Woman in Gold. What a good film! It was based on the true story of an elderly Jewish refugee who fought the Austrian government in the courts to recover artwork she believed---and eventually proved---belonged to her family. The Woman in Gold was valued at 135 million dollars and it was considered to be the crown jewel in the Austrian art world and they didn’t want to let it go. Sounds boring, doesn’t it, but it’s not by any means. There’s a lot of flashbacks to when Austria was annexed by Nazi Germany and the topic was kept from getting too dark by the interplay between the main characters, octogenarian (Helen Mirren) and her young lawyer (Ryan Reynolds) which was often laugh-out-loud funny. If you like story-lines that are ripped from the pages of the history books, don’t miss this movie.  

WAR: The next day I went to a lecture titled Mr. Lincoln’s War given by a Fulbright Scholar and history professor from a near-by college. He was born and raised in Texas, still had a southern drawl and he had a gift for making history relevant to modern times. He was also great at interjecting humor into his presentation and that kept it from being dry and boring. As I sat listening to him describe the ‘Velvet Glove’ approach to war as opposed to the ‘Iron Fist’ approach I finally got it---got why people join Civil War Round Tables. When he talked about how the Confiscation Acts helped to humanize the slaves that had been confiscated when found doing work for the Confederate military, I was fascinated. He made you want to hear more. Especially when he touched on how the war fed into West Michigan (where I live) becoming---at one point in history---the most segregated state in the union. 

When the lecture was over a woman came up to the microphone and she asked any women in the audience having ancestors who served in Civil War to come up front to see her. I did, along with seven or eight others. We were invited to join the Daughters of the Civil War. I asked what they do at their monthly meetings and she talked about their projects around the community. When she calls with more information, I just might give the group a try. If nothing else, she offered to take me to my ancestor’s grave at the Veteran’s Home. Her group actually plants flowers on his plot! 

RACE: Honestly, it gets increasingly hard to keep a blog and not write about current events. It feels weird sometimes to be writing about milk toast when the media is serving up chili pepper pie. However, I probably won’t shock anyone if I write about growing up in a white bread community where the only black people I ever saw were the bathroom attendants in the department stores downtown. It might, however, surprise people to know that here it is sixty years later and the only black people I see day-to-day are on TV. I thought about all this a few weeks ago when there was a panel discussion on a local news segment on how businessmen here in West Michigan are concerned about the lack of diversity in the community. Headhunters, they said, are having a hard time recruiting specialists, scientists, doctors, chemists, engineers, etc., to move here to work in our growing medical research facilities and their supporting industries. Surprise, surprise people of color want to live in a more diverse environment. The recruiters, it should be noted, are recruiting from all over the world. It seems we’re not producing enough professionals here in the States to fill our growing needs.... 

….And yet too many politicians want to bleed the schools dry, demoralize teachers by chipping away at their benefits and not invest in higher education. Does that make sense, especially in places where there’s so much civil unrest, due in no small part, to the fact that industrial bases have disappeared drying up all the middle class jobs? When I hear fans of FOX TV pundits parrot: "Baltimore is all the President’s fault” I can’t help wondering how it feels to live in such a simple-minded world where everything is Obama's fault, where history has no relevance to current events, and where white America never, ever has to accept an iota of blame for any chaos that goes on around the world. Please don't misconstrue that to mean I'm giving a free pass to those creating the violence and destruction in Baltimore. I'm not giving a pass to anyone; what's going down there is wrong, plain and simple. I'm just saying it's far more complicated than a catchy, baseless bullet point from FOX pundits and tweets from the likes of Donald Trump. We didn't blame Bush for the 1992 LA riots after the beating of Rodney King and to blame Obama, now, for Baltimore's disenfranchised is race baiting in its most insidious form. And it bugs me, can you tell?

Note: I'll go back to serving up milk toast in my weekend post. Maybe sweet, savory milk toast with a clown face gracing the top. ©

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Books, Illusions and Change



Recently I got it into my head that I should start reading (or in some cases re-reading) the classics. I started with Thomas Wolfe’s You Can’t Go Home Again. Weighing just a few ounces under two pounds I was shocked when it dawned on me I’m getting too old to read books like that. War and Peace? Forget it! Ya, ya, I know I could have ordered the Kindle versions, but I wanted to be able to underline passages that I knew would be elegantly written and worth going back to from time and time. And e-readers don’t feel as good in your hands. My poor, aging hands! Have I mentioned lately how much I hate seeing my once perfect fingers start mutating and conforming to the wanton will of arthritis? I’m not a vain person but when I see my three crooked fingers and the blue veins on the backs of my hands, so characteristic of the elderly, I can’t help but be annoyed by how we get time-stamped as we age. 

In this 1940 Wolfe novel he wrote: “The voice of forest water in the night, a woman's laughter in the dark, the clean, hard rattle of raked gravel, the cricketing stitch of midday in hot meadows, the delicate web of children's voices in bright air---these things will never change.”  I read that and then I got lost trying to figure out what the heck does a “cricketing stitch of midday” mean. A Google search can usually help me figure out what my own brain can’t crack, but with ‘cricketing stitch’ I came back from the hunt more confused than when I started. Does it have to do with the game of cricket or the sounds of insects or something else? I wish I’d been born with a silver spoon in one hand and an Oxford dictionary in the other! Or better yet, be born with a brain that doesn’t give a wild fig in the forest about figuring out the mystery of words. Maybe in 1940 ‘cricketing stitch’ was a common term that got lost in time like ‘rottenlogging’ and ‘canoodling’ which, by the way, pretty much mean the same thing.

The meaning of words and how they change over time always brings me to my favorite quote of all time. It’s from John Steinbeck’s East of Eden. It comes half way through the book when three of the characters are discussing the fourth chapter of Genesis and how the differences in the way a single word was translated effected the various directions religion took. "'Don’t you see’, he [Lee] cried. ‘The American Standard translation orders men to triumph over sin, and you can call sin ignorance. The King James translation makes a promise in the ‘thou shalt,’ meaning that men will surely triumph over sin. But the Hebrew word, the word timshel---‘Thou mayest’---that give a choice. It may be the most important word in the world. That says the way is open. That throws it right back on a man. For if ‘Thou mayest’—it is also true that ‘Thou mayest not.’”

Another book that should go on my quest to read/reread the classics is anything written by Virginia Woolf. Can you believe a self-described feminist like me is even admitting that I’ve never read her? But to quote screenwriter and director, Quentin Tarantino, “Every writer should have a little voice inside of you saying, tell the truth. Reveal a few secrets here.” So between this revelation and the one about me hating my aging hands, I’ve revealed my quota of secrets for today. I have more hidden under the carpeting which is probably why I’m afraid to get hardwood floors installed. Yes, now I’m just getting downright silly. 

Back to books: I’ll also admit that I’ve never even read Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (That title, by the way, he supposedly got off a public bathroom mirror, scrawled in soap and it wouldn’t leave his mind. Reportedly it's meant to be a metaphor for being afraid to live a life without false illusions.) I do know the answer to that title if taken literally. I'm afraid to read Virginia Woolf which is why I haven’t done so. I should care about her place in the history of womankind, but I just don't. I just care that we gotten as far as we've come. That title taken metaphorically, however---well, aren’t we all afraid of living without our false illusions? If illusions were teddy bears, I'd squeeze the stuffing out of mine and their button eyes would fall off.

And that brings me to a quote of Orson Welles: “We’re born alone, we live alone, we die alone. Only through our love and friendships can we create the illusion for the moment that we are not alone.” I think widows, especially, hear a ring of truth in that statement. When the illusions comes down and we have to reinvent ourselves without our life partners we flounder at first, then we start taking baby steps toward accepting our aloneness (not to be confused with loneliness). Aloneness in time becomes like pair of comfortable old shoes. People might even tell us we need new shoes, that we’re not meant to be alone. Even Mother Nature tells us that---sorry Orson---and that’s when a good book comes in handy. The characters come alive and while we’re reading that book we’re invested in their pursuit of whatever will make them happy. And as they search we learn things about ourselves. We learn that we create our own stories and if we want anything to change, we are the only ones who can make that happen---illusions to the contrary, or not. ©

Friday, April 24, 2015

Two Doctors Plus Honoring and Surviving the Sadiversaries



It snowed off and on Wednesday and we even got some hail but nothing stuck to the spring landscape. According to the local weather guy we’ve gotten snow this late in April before but I don’t remember the last time it happened. Mother Nature, I guess, wanted to let us all know who rules the earth. Still, it’s disheartening to see snow so late after the robins had moved back to town.

That day I had an eye doctor appointment and I was sweating the encounter. My eyes have been bothering me all winter and since I’d just seen him in June of 2014 and got a new prescription back then, I was sure he’d find a dreaded disease or at least want to rush me into the cataract surgery rat race of follow up appointments and eye drops. My sight had changed a lot, he said, and I have to start seeing him once a year now instead of every two years. Oh, goody, another sign that I’m getting old. As if I didn’t already know that. He pronounced my eyes free of macular degeneration with no glaucoma or retinopathy---and my cataract, although cloudier than he normally sees, is still too small to remove. I do have extremely dry eyes (who knew) and vitreous detachment which is causing some distortions that glasses can’t help but eye health-wise that’s not considered serious. Once the detachment is completed, I should see better. In the meantime I’m to start using artificial tears throughout the day and wait a month to get my new glasses made. It got lost in translation why I have to wait, but he’s the boss of my eyes, so I'll do it. I’m just glad I won’t have to add a white cane to my shopping list.

Also on the day planner this week was my final follow up for the shoulder surgery I had last October. What a long haul! I’m 98% pain free but I can go back to the bone doctor any time for follow up shots, should the pain not stay at bay. I should be good for a year, though, if I mind my p’s and q’s. In the process of giving me a list of do’s and don’ts the orthopedist asked me what kinds of hobbies I like to do and when I rattled off the list they sounded so stereotypical old ladyish that I threw in skate boarding. The look on his face was priceless. It’s the only time I’ve ever seen him speechless. He likes me and probably thinks I’m smarter than I am. That’s because I’m usually reading a nerdy magazine like Scientific American when he comes into the room. I don’t understand much of what I’m read in that magazine but he doesn’t need to know that. This time, however, I was actually engrossed in an article about experimenting with using electrical shocks in the brain to control pain associated with chronic diseases and it had several paragraphs on how the history of strokes fed into this path of study. It was quite detailed and mentioned precise speech issues I know about because of my husband’s stroke damaged brain. You just never know when something around you will trigger flashbacks to your pre-widowhood days.

On the way back from the orthopedist’s office I was on the belt line that skirts the city when I got behind a 2015 Corvette with its top down. I was in my Trax, the heater turned on and I was wearing a winter coat. I kept pace with that car, remembering all the good times we had in my husband’s Corvette. That old car and this new model both have such beautiful lines. Reluctantly, I had to turn off the road at the sculpture park; I was enjoying my Corvette related ride down Memory Lane. 

Every April since Don died I’ve made a pilgrimage to the sculpture park and gardens where the annual butterfly exhibit reminds me of the cycle of life and how fragile yet beautiful that is. The pilgrimage is meant to offset all my April sadiversaries. While I was at the park I wandered through the exhibit of ‘treasures from Japan’ and I also hiked back to where the oriental tea house and gardens is taking shape for its June debut. Then I walked deeper into the woods. Daffodils and hyacinths were in bloom everywhere and beds of tulips looked ready to do the same. I took a bench overlooking a pond and listened to the Red Winged Black birds calling back and forth as they took turns sitting on cattails. The air was so crisp and clean, the sun was bright and warm and it made me as toasty as a Ball Park Frank in a steamed bun as I sat bundled up in my winter coat. My widow’s heart although tinged with memories of better times was accepting of my past and the present. The future? None of us can know what the future will bring but I did know that a slice of brown cow chocolate pudding cheesecake at the sculpture park’s restaurant would make a good ending to my April pilgrimage so I left the bench in search of a widow’s best friend: chocolate.  ©