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, November 28, 2015

What in Your Life is Calling You?



I was looking for a writing prompt when I ran across something called “Terma Collective, a quote by zaadzster.” I’m having a hard time not capitalizing the word ‘zaadzster and even more trouble finding an explanation on Google for who or what ‘zaadzster’ is. If anyone knows, clue me in. I think it has something to do with spreading spiritual awareness but whatever it means, what do you think of Terma Collective (below) as a prompt for widows or anyone else in transition? Do you want to answer the summons---that something in life that is calling you---or do you continue pretending it’s not there?

What in your life is calling you?
When all the noise is silenced,
the meetings adjourned,
the lists laid aside,
and the wild iris blooms by itself
in the dark forest,
what still pulls on your soul?

In the silence between your heartbeats
hides a summons.
Do you hear it?
Name it, if you must,
or leave it forever nameless,
but why pretend it is not there?

Time to grab my stream of consciousness and record what the voices in my head are saying. Yes, I hear the summons…some would call it a restlessness with the status quo. A restlessness caused by knowing there has to be something out there that will allow me to keep my fiercely valued independence and at the same time will bring me closer to others who can keep an eye on me as I age. Is it moving? Is it trying harder to build new friendships? Do I initiate more frequent contact with family? I need more human contact in my life and not just more of the same that I get now---friendly acquaintances at senior hall events. I need more contact with people who value me in their lives. People who’d notice if I fell off the face of the earth besides the dog who, as smart as he is, couldn’t dial a 911 if I tumbled down the basement steps.

Yesterday a niece in-law dropped over with some deserts left over from her family’s Thanksgiving get-together and she asked me why I want to move so far away, that she’d miss me not being in the neighborhood, and I said something inane about wanting to be closer to family. It was an inane (and maybe hurtful) thing to say to her because my husband’s brother’s kids and their spouses---where she comes in---all live close-by and would help me in a heartbeat if I called. If it was hurtful, I didn't mean it to be but down deep, I know blood ties me tighter to my brother's kids. I can't help it. Is that normal or am I a bad person? Then she said, “I hope you know you’re always welcome at our house on holidays. If I’d known you were going to be alone I would have had you over.” And the fact is, I know she meant it. Taking it a step further, if it had really bothered me being alone on Thanksgiving I could have called people on Don’s and my side of the family both, invited myself over and I would have been welcome. What does it take to make me feel valued? Why isn’t knowing the welcome mat is always out enough? Am I turning into one of those needy people who forgets to see the half full glass next to the half empty glass sitting on the table of Personal Choices?

What in my life is calling me besides quality human contact? A vague and undefined picture of ‘contentment’ but I can’t focus the lens to see what contentment looks like, so how do I find it? Do I bring back the artist in my soul that got lost years ago in the fog of making a living and then being a caregiver? I open the door to my spare room where my long neglected painting easel was recently placed and I see the stack of how-to books that was unpacked last week. Maybe I’m on my way. Maybe I’m about to answer the summons every person in transition hears. I just wish I knew exactly what in my life is calling me and will I have the courage to answer? I am old and I worry my procrastination will outlive me. ©

Monday, November 23, 2015

The Widow at Thanksgiving Time

It’s hard to believe this Thanksgiving will be my fourth one since Don died. Like most widows probably get, I got my share of invitations the first three years---family who didn’t want to see me spend the day all alone. Heck, one year I even got an invitation from a Red Hat Society sister who said, “We have so many people, no one will notice one more.” I can laugh about that now but I think I can speak for all widows when I say that being a guest in a crowd of strangers who don’t notice we’re in the room ranks right up there with getting a full body waxing from a hunky Swedish lady who speaks no English and wears a strange smirk on her face as she works on our privates. This year there were no invitations. And that’s okay. I am woman. Hear me roar that I’m in charge of my own happiness or lack thereof. 

On a widow support site where I’m an occasional lurker one of the widow bloggers wrote that people have quit asking her to holiday gatherings. What she thought were good friends and close family, she said, she now thinks were only asking her out of duty and not out of love, so she’s saying goodbye to those relationships. Say what? To me, that’s akin to suggesting that it's other people’s responsibility to fill the empty hole in a widow’s life. Where is the appreciation for people taking time take out of their busy lives to be there for us when our grief was fresh and having done so, should we expect it to be their ongoing, no-expiration-date responsibility to cure our holiday blues? Maybe they have newly minted grieving people to invite. Maybe they are going away instead of hosting this year. Maybe their family size is increasing and they no longer have extra space. The ‘maybes’ are endless, so why take it personal? Sure, holidays can be bittersweet. We remember the happy years when we had a close relationship/spouse in our lives. We remember the joy of shared laughter and fellowship with people we loved. And if we give into it, it would be easy to get jealous of others who still get to enjoy those things but is that really in our own best interests? Say it with me: "I am woman. Hear me roar! I’m in charge of my own happiness of lack thereof."

I miss turkey, though. At the senior hall luncheon I managed to trade plates with another person so I could get all dark meat. (Enjoy trading while you can. Once we get to that nursing home they might not let us elderly folks do that.) I was in nirvana eating it and I’ve figured out a way to get leftovers for turkey sandwiches. I bought a package of three turkey legs, then spent the rest of the day trying to figure out why the turkey processing plants put three and not two or four legs per package. Are turkeys so pumped up with hormones and chemicals that they grow an extra leg? Are some of them born with only one leg? Why? Why? WHY? I really want to know. I also bought a five inch pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving. Cut it into four pieces and put it in the freezer. Someone came along and ate all four pieces---I think it was Levi the Mighty Schnauzer---and now I have to buy another if I’m going to have one for Thanksgiving. Living alone has its perils. There’s no one around to blame your dietary sins on, but I try. "Levi, you are such a bad boy!"

At the senior hall luncheons we are led in prayer by a woman who is extremely caring and kind but her prayers always leave me wondering when someone will object to their decidedly non-inclusive nature. Something a little more non-denominational would seem more appropriate with 115 in attendance. As I worked on ideas for this blog I got to wondering what Google would turn up in the way of Thanksgiving prayers and all I managed to find is something that made me mad. “Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it and it will be yours. Mark 11:24” That’s from the new international Bible version but all the other versions say pretty much the same thing. It made me mad because millions of people have been praying for peace on earth for eons and with the recent terrorist attacks in France and Mali it feels like we’ll never achieve it. I didn't find a perfect, non-denominational prayer but I did find something I like that was written by Hesham A. Hassaballa, a Muslim American internist and the author of A Guide to Islam. In his prayer for peace he wrote, “A cynic (or realist) will say that this day is still a long way off. Yet, with God all things are possible. Thus, during this season of giving thanks, I raise my hands up in prayer.” Amen to that twist on Mark 11:24. Hesham’s Facebook page, by the way, has some interesting reading. Google is crazy. You never know where it will take you.

Since I can't have peace on earth any time soon, as a widow I still have other things to be thankful for: 1) I am healthier than I was last year both in mind and body; 2) My brother's cancer treatments end this week---he's doing well---and everyone else in my immediate family seems to be healthy and happy; 3) I have choices in life that many others living around the world don’t have; 4) I have a past worth reminiscing about and a future worth dreaming about; and last but not least, 5) I am thankful that I am woman and I'm in charge of my own happiness or lack thereof! ©

“Your life is now. Don’t miss it.”
a line from a Hallmark movie playing in the background

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Airports and Suffragettes

What a busy week I’ve had! It included a Thanksgiving luncheon at the senior hall where the food was great and it was the only opportunity I’ll have, this year, for a traditional holiday meal. The next day was a Red Hat Society tea and I was supposed to go to their craft show crawl, today, but I was beat, so I canceled. Thursday I had three major things going on that kept me running from morning to night. First was an airport tour in the morning followed by a lecture on Kennedy conspiracy theories in the afternoon and in the evening a Write and Share MeetUp. I didn’t actually sign up for a crazy day like that. The airport tour and the MeetUp were both moved around the calendar after I signed up and it was either go along with the changes or not go at all.

The airport tour was awesome. The airport covers 3,000 acres and the tour started out with us traveling the entire distance around it, doing a fence check of sorts. We found a flock of wild turkeys trying desperately to find their way back out of the airport. They probably heard our tour guide talking about the wild animal wrangler. Then we toured the fire station on the grounds where we learned the extensive differences between regular firehouses and equipment and those at airports. After leaving that building we went to another, the winter maintenance building where they keep twenty some machines for pushing, sweeping and blowing snow. Most of them are twenty feet wide and not allowed on public streets. Their newest blower cost one million dollars and it’s the largest model available in the world. Ever since my husband saw the 1970 movie, Airport, he was fascinated by airport snow removal so on the tour I soaked up every bit of information I could in his honor, asking all the stuff I thought he would have wanted to know including the fact that their giant sand pile is heated. After leaving there we drove around the other outbuildings at the airport, the private plane hangars and FedEx was the most impressive complex. It was mind boggling, actually, to see all the containers filled with packages ready to get shipped. 

Friday was my Movie and Lunch Club. There were 14 of us for lunch but afterwards we broke into two groups. Eleven went to see Secret in their Eyes and I was one of three who went to see Suffragette, a movie based on real events in England in 1911 to 1913. Here’s the synopsis as it appears on the movie’s official website: “A drama that tracks the story of the foot soldiers of the early feminist movement, women who were forced underground to pursue a dangerous game of cat and mouse with an increasingly brutal State. These women were not primarily from the genteel educated classes, they were working women who had seen peaceful protest achieve nothing. Radicalized and turning to violence as the only route to change, they were willing to lose everything in their fight for equality - their jobs, their homes, their children and their lives. Maud was one such foot soldier. The story of her fight for dignity is as gripping and visceral as any thriller, it is also heart-breaking and inspirational.”  

Maud worked in a laundry under deplorable conditions that included low pay and sexual assaults and she gets caught up in the Vote for Women Movement and the story ends with her friend throwing herself under the king’s horse on Derby day. The friend, Emily Welding Davison was a real-life suffragette whose death at the Derby earned her a place in women’s history. It also earned her a funeral procession attended by thousands and the movie showed actual newsreel footage of the event. Another famous real-life suffragette was Emmeline Pankhurst who was played by Meryl Streep in a two minute on screen scene.

I went into the movie expecting to like it and to be reminded of the price that the suffragettes paid for the freedoms we enjoy today and I wasn’t disappointed. One review I read, however, took the screenplay to task for telling the story from the viewpoint of Maud instead of from the viewpoint of the well-known women in the historical events the movie covered---the beatings, bombings, imprisonments, hunger strikes, and forced feedings. etc. I didn’t have a problem with that. It wasn't a documentary and if it had been, less people would go to see it. If I have a criticism to share it was the fact that I wasn’t crazy about the sepia tone and extreme close-ups used in much of the film. It was hard on my eyes. (Maybe we just sat too close to the screen?) I will say this too: It’s the only movie I’ve ever gone to where total strangers were talking with one another as we walked out and the general consensus was that film made us appreciate how far we’ve come as women over the past 100 years....and yet we still don't have full equality. If I had granddaughters, I'd take them to see this movie. ©



 This is an great video for anyone who might want to know about the making of this movie and the research..

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Condo Rules, Widowers, Breasts and Pocket Change---Oh, My!



I went to an open house on Sunday of a free standing condo in my target area and price range. Loved the place except for the carpeting and paint which are easy enough to replace. They have a beautiful dog walking path, perfect for Levi and me. Flat as a pancake and it starts within 50 feet from the condo. I asked about the dog policy in the community of 50 condos and found out you can’t even put in an offer on the place until you get approval on your dog from the condo board. You fill out a form, provide a photo and DNA of your dog and wait for them to call you in for a doggie interview. DNA? Okay, I do get why they want a poop sample for residences who might make a habit of not picking up after their dogs but why would you have to pay to provide and process one before you’ve even made an offer on a house? 

I called the condo management company the next day to see if I could get more information on their dog rules like weight and breed restrictions, etc. I know many places have a 25 pound limit and Levi is 27 pounds and he’s got nothing to lose. The woman started rattling off restrictions pertaining to keeping birds inside your condo. Birds! Inside! Only one per condo. In my wildest dreams I never dreamed condo boards would get that deep into your pet business. Then she started in on cat rules but I was still processing that they have a bird rule and I didn’t hear what she was saying about felines. Finally, she got to the paragraph on dogs and it was vague on size and weight saying only words to the effect that everything was at the discretion of the board. You can’t have underground fencing---duh, you don’t own the land---or tie a dog by your back door. You have to walk it every single time. And anytime they want, the board can vote your dog off the island. “Put your condo up for sale or take a trip to the kill-shelter,” they could order. “Last night your dog peed ten feet short of the dog walking trail and we have yellow DNA in snow to prove it.” But the condo board are all lovely people, the manager told me when I balked a little about the each and every time rule. Yes, lovely people who get bent out of shape about someone having a cage full of parakeets.
 
On the way home I stopped at the Guy-Land Cafeteria and an old guy struck up a conversation with me while the cashier was off chasing down change for 100 dollar bill from a customer ahead of us in line. “I see you eat breakfast anytime of the day,” he said. “I do. Especially when I come here.” “Me, too,” he replied. Then he went on to tell me about the wife he lost who always made big breakfasts on Sundays and how he can’t seem to make everything come together at the same time when he tries to make breakfast at home. “Don’t feel bad,” I told him, “I’ve been trying to do that my entire adult life and I still can’t do it.” I visualized him taking out a pencil and crossing me off the list of possible lady friends. Seriously, though, I don’t know how long ago he lost his spouse but it was still painful for him to talk about his loss.

The Guy-Land Cafeteria does get a few women customers and this time there was a table with four generations in attendance. When the youngest one got hungry her mom took her to the bathroom where I found the young mother still sitting on a toilet stool fifteen minutes later. It made me sad/mad to see her there nursing with toilets flushing around her. One of my great niece-in-laws is militant about (discreet) breast feeding in public places and I admire her dedication to the cause. I've followed some of the Facebook discussions on the topic and I can’t believe how much attitudes have changed since I was a kid when I often saw breast feeding mothers. When did it become disgusting to so many people to the point that we have to have a movement to bring back the notion that breasts are not pornographic when used for the purpose they were intended?

After lunch I stopped at the dollar store to pick up some things for a Red Hat Society tea later in the week. We’re packing Christmas gift bags for nursing home residents again. As I paid the cashier she asked me if I wanted my (seven cents) change. “As opposed to what?” I asked thinking there must be a charity box for change near-by and she was suggesting I donate it. “Well, a lot of people don’t want their small change,” she said. This was the fourth time this year that's happened to me and at three different places. One time my change was seventy-something cents! All I could think of to answer back was “Yes,” but I wanted to ask the cashier where all that extra change goes at the end of the day. What ever happened to having retail registers balance at the end of the day and cashiers couldn’t leave until they did? I’m age-challenged to understand why/how this ask-people-if-they-want-their-change thing came about. Wanting my seven cents made me feel both church mouse poor (as if I really needed it) and Mr. Scrooge rich (as if I didn't want someone else to have it) at the same time. I couldn’t decide which but it wasn’t good either way. ©

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Travelogues and Starbucks


Feast or famine. That’s the way my social life goes. This week was the latter, having had only two thing on my day planner. One was my house cleaner who came to do her monthly magic, and two I went to a travelogue about river cruises in Europe, Asia and South America. Avalon, the company that owns the river ships, has eleven tours and when their very enthusiastic speaker was finished giving her talk even I---the non-traveler---wanted to sign up. They have two sizes of ships. The smaller size holds 126 passengers and the large one hold 160. I want to call them boats because they aren’t tall and stately like the ocean liners and they don’t have on-board entertainment. No pools. No floor shows but the speaker made a point of repeatedly telling everyone that all the beds face windows. (Does that mean passengers are the floor show for people on shore if they don’t close the curtains?). They gave us all a glossy, 260 page book outlining the details of all their tours, the rates and schematics of the ships plus gorgeous, scenic photos---costly, slick printing. I felt guilty taking one since I have no intentions of going on a cruise but they count on word-of-mouth advertising so caulk up this blog entry to me dispensing myself of my self-inflicted guilt.

If I was signing up for one of their tours it wouldn't be on the one the travel escort service that works out of my senior hall is setting up for 2017. They’re doing ‘Amsterdam to Amsterdam’ during tulip time which seems weird considering we have large tulip farms and a tulip festival within a 45 minute drive from my house. They draw in tour buses from all over The States and then some. Another tour  that Avalon offers would be more fascinating to me. It's on the Burmese river named Irrawaddy (see the photo above). Or their trip on the Yangtze River that takes you through China and Tibet. The day trips on land in China are ones my niece recently did and she couldn’t say enough good things about the country and travel there except for maybe the fact that she couldn’t get Wi-Fi in all of China. The Egypt’s Nile River tour would be awesome, too. I just wish I wouldn’t have to get on an airplane to do any of these trips. I’ve flown to Washington D.C., Denver and the Bahamas. I did not enjoy the experiences and that was long ago when airplane seats were bigger, the crazy people all took buses and the flight attendants were from the “coffee, tea or me” era of passenger service.

Speaking of crazy people, I cannot believe that a front-runner for the President of the United States is calling for a boycott of Starbucks because they are using a plain red cup for the holiday season! Not only that he’s talking about not renewing Starbucks leases in his Trump Towers all because some whack-a-do made a video that went viral claiming the all red cups are a war on Christmas. The topic was trending on Twitter and Facebook for several days and late night comedians were having a field day with the controversy. The political debating sites racked up pages of posts about Starbucks’ so-called war on Christmas and YouTube videos on the issue are exploding. Even Bristol Palin weighed in accusing liberals of trying to "make Christians look stupid.” Say what? What is stupid, Bristol, is calling for a boycott because of a plain red cup! I swear I’m going to be so jacked up on caffeine through the holidays that I’ll be talking a mile a minute; this topic made me so mad I vowed I’d stop at Starbucks every time I’m near one. If I was Starbucks, next year I’d use a plain white cup and put a box of color crayons by all their cash registers so people could make up their own designs of whatever won’t offend their tender sensibilities. 

Starbucks is one of the most socially responsible corporations on the face of the earth. They give their full AND part time employees health insurance and reimburse them for college tuition. They practice ethical sourcing for fair-trade coffee and have set up Farmer Support Centers in key coffee growing regions. This year they opened up five “military stores” (and have ten more planned) that are entirely staffed and run by veterans. And contrary to what the boycott rumor mill says, they don’t script their employees on what to say or not say to customers in the way of a holiday greeting other than to “make them feel welcome and glad they came.” Trump, who loves to wave a Bible at his rallies, ought to sit down and read it sometime. Starbucks does not deserve to be used as pandering bait to get votes. Rant off.

If this week was void of things to do then next week will more than make up for it. I have eight things penciled in on my day planer including a tour of the non-public areas of the airport. I’m looking forward to that tour although I’m kind of surprised the TSA allows people into the areas we’ll be going. I guess they don’t think a bunch of elderly widows from a senior hall could be terrorists. And that’s a good bet to take. The most militant thing I’m likely to do is to walk past the ill-informed sign holders in front of Starbucks and say, “Happy Holidays” just because I know it will annoy them.©

2015