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, March 12, 2016

The Human Spirit



The director of our senior hall tells us to trust that she picks engaging speakers for the monthly Life Learning Lecture Series and to come even if the topic doesn’t sound particularly interesting. I’m glad I took that advice this week. I’ve been in a ‘down mood’ lately with no discernible explanation for feeling that way so I was afraid that listening to a recounting of personal experiences about living in Nazi prison camps might add to my melancholy. But it didn’t. In fact, afterward I was intrigued with exploring the unanswered questions posed at the lecture: “How do you survive surviving something as heinous as the Holocaust? How are people able to accept the past injustices and put faith in humanity again? 

The lecturer, a medical anthropologist, wrote a well-researched book based on her mother’s personal accounts. The back cover summary reads: “Jadwiga Lenartowicz Rylko, known as Jadzia (Yah’-jah), was a young Polish Catholic physician at the start of World War II. Suspected of resistance activities, she was arrested in January 1944. For the next fifteen months, she endured three Nazi concentration camps and a forty-two day death march, spending part of this time working as a prisoner-doctor to Jewish slave laborers. [The book] A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps follows Jadzia from her childhood and medical training, through her wartime experiences, to her struggles to create a new life in the postwar world.”

Barbara Rylko-Bauer gave a spell-binding lecture and if you get a chance to see her, don’t shy away. She’s been traveling all over the country on a book tour and has even been invited to speak in Paris this summer. The book has won many prestigious awards, has gotten a lot of media attention and I can't believe Barbara lives close-by. The lecture was more than just another survivor’s story. It showcased a unique mother/daughter experience, of a woman who didn’t talk about her wartime years until late in her life, of the two of them going on a pilgrimage back to Poland and Germany to retrace and document Jadzia’s life including her time spent working for the U.S. Army after the war helping to treat concentration camp survivors. That's where she met and married another Holocaust camp survivor before resettling in Michigan. She was 100 years old when she died.

One thing that the author stressed throughout her lecture is how people in the camps found ways to “resist” and increase their odds of surviving and to hold on to their own humanity. For example, at a slave labor work camp the women would smuggle sewing thread they were making for German uniforms back to their barracks where they would braid it into chains that they used to crochet socks. In that same work camp she slept in a 10’ x 10’ room with thirteen other women, sleeping on a straw covered floor “like sardines in a can.” And the ‘crime’ that got her arrested and imprisoned in the first place? She belonged to a small group of friends who listened in secret to a radio which was against the law in occupied Poland. 

After the lecture I went through Mr. Burger’s take-out line to pick up some lunch. It’s green shakes season in honor of St. Patrick’s Day and after that thought-provoking lecture I needed some comfort food. (Who am I fooling? I always want/need comfort food.) I took my lunch over to a place that overlooks a contributory river to Lake Michigan. My husband and I used to go there often after he became wheelchair bound so the place weeps with widowhood memories. Its serenity made it a perfect place to reflect on how people survive surviving heinous life experiences. Where does the strength come from to pick up the pieces and go on? And if they can do that, surviving ordinary life experiences should be a piece of cake.

The ice on the river was gone, the current was strong and it carried a large fallen tree along at a fast pace. Spring is here and I realized that’s the source of half of my melancholy. I don’t even have my wintertime To-Do list done and it’s almost time to roll out a spring list. Why do I (we?) get caught up into micromanaging life to the point that not doing something like cleaning the kitchen cabinets can make me feel like a failure or lazy or old? Why do I turn stuff like that into a big, mood-alternating deal? And, for me, that’s why going to lectures like the one I heard on Thursday is important. They’re a good kick in the butt for getting lost in the minutia of life. No one is going to die if I don’t throw out my outdated vinegar or donate the biscotti pan I never use. No one cares what I do or don’t do…and that’s the source of the other half of my melancholy. Woo is me and shame on me at the same time. I’ve got some broad-brush, important things going on in my life like good health, freedom and financial security and if there are missing pieces---oh, well, I'll find them when I find them. The human spirit is amazingly renewable. ©

If anyone is interested in an in-depth review of A Polish Doctor in the Nazi Camps click this link:  The Boston Review  The author's website is here.
 

22 comments:

  1. Most, if not all, of us rise to the ocassion when there are adverse conditions. I remember reading once about a group of well-off middle aged people, all in poor health, starved and forced on a long POW march for many days (they were rescued shortly after). Many reported later that their health actually improved - they lost weight, and were fitter than they had been for many years.

    Its the drudgery of routine life that is the killer, especially alone with no real goal ahead, as is my present position. I now recall an older relation from years before, similarly placed. Why didn't it occur to me how lonley and desolate she must have felt? I just (stupidly) envied her the leisure and lack of family responsibility.

    We've all been through not-good times and survived, and yes, even had days after that it was good to be alive. "It is the darkest before the dawn" or words to that effect - I hang on to that thought. While life could be better, it could also be so much worse and I take comfort from that.

    Spring is around the corner, and the increasing sunshine is bound to improve the mood. ~ Libby

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    1. Interesting comments, Libby. "The drudgery of routine life that is the killer..." I can sure identify with that and with the idea that life could be better but also so much worse.

      I can usually view life as a half full glass (rather than the half empty) but sometimes I wish that glass has something more interesting in it besides water. LOL

      Sunday is daylight savings here which means an extra hour of daylight. That always makes me feel better.

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  2. Should add that I'm aware that today my younger ex-colleagues, and even some married and retired friends envy ME my 'freedom'!! Grass always greener on the other side... ~ Libby

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    1. People project/see what they want to see about other people's lives, don't they. I remember after Don died, someone at the funeral said words to the effect that now I was free to live my life. WTF???

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  3. Sure is tricky maneuvering through life's assaults, especially one that strips you of your humanity, like Jadzia Rylko went through. What extraordinary faith, to not lose your moorings during such a time. Actually, I wonder if she DID lose her moorings during her confinement, yet had a community round her who had faith in her, to find new moorings. Which she did, amazingly. Thanks for sharing this!

    Are you not on a journey to find new moorings? This may sound psycho-babbly, so forgive me. The same "No one cares what I do or don't do" plagues me. IT ISN'T TRUE, though it feels true. Recently, I finally 'got it' that there is a little girl inside me, and I have to be here now for HER. NOW is the only time zone she lives in. Little girl, little spirit, Soul, our essence - whatever you call it, she only knows who is with her NOW. And that 'who' is you. And that 'who' is EVERYTHING to her. She hangs on our every thought, deed and embrace.

    This perspective is helping me loosen my moorings from one time zone - where awesome memories live - to this time zone, where my golden girl lives.

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    1. I think Jadzia did at some point lose her mooring. Her daughter talked about her being thrown in solitary confinement at one point where she nearly lost touch with reality. I'm not going to read the book but it wouldn't surprise me if they make a movie out of it. The Boston Review I linked is comprehensive enough for me.

      You're right about being on a journey to find new moorings. That's true of people who have a major life changes. I know I have family who would care if I fell off the face of the earth. I guess what I meant by "no one cares what I do or don't do" is that I really miss having feedback on what I do or don't. That daily contact you want when you are pleased or distressed about something you want to share.

      I'm glad the journey you're on is working for you.

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  4. Where is it written that your glass has to hold water? Why not wine or tea or lemonade? On the other handed how will we survive without water? Of course clean water to drink brings up more than one world wide problem.
    I envy your access to such a great senior center. Health issues have curtailed my participation in the Lifelong Learning programs in a nearby town.
    I enjoy your blog posts very much, the well written honesty is inspiring.
    Think Spring ;-)
    Genie

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    1. Genie, thanks for commenting and for the compliment! It's always a Red Letter day for me when someone new weighs in on something I've written.

      Okay, from now on my half full glass is going to contain hard root beer. LOL

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  5. Jean:

    I love your writing & OMG gowithflow comment nailed it, love love her comment. I always thanked god for having our young son & hubby, that gave me purpose bigger than myself to pick myself up from my stroke adversity. and wondered where people find their strengths if they don't have young families. I love what gowithflow said you have to do it for that little girl sitting inside you. I still need to remember those comments as I have become empty nester & kido needing mom less & less.

    Asha

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    1. I imagine being an empty nester is very hard and full of mixed emotions about sending a child off to college. On one hand it's a mother's job give a child the tools to be able to take care of themselves but the worrying doesn't stop. I was talking to a woman who is 80 today and she still worries about her kids!

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  6. I grew up next door to holocaust survivors. Their elder daughter and I were best friends. We all wondered how they reinvented life...by that I mean that I remember my mother wondering how hard it had to be. From my perspective now, I realize how much we, as children, pushed them to live (especially the little rascals that we were and how they had to engage with our little culture of childhood). So much of my memories involve us asking our parents how they could let it happen.
    Which brings me to ask you if there is not another underlying source of your melancholy. I, along with many, have been asking for weeks, or months, how can the Republicans let this happen. I was actually encouraged by the Chicago rally on Friday because there is finally sufficient opposition to attract attention and move us beyond a scary situation. Otherwise we are condemning ourselves to live with that question "how could we let that happen".
    Regards,
    Leze

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  7. How interesting! It would be hard to stay in the past with little children in your present. The lecturer said her parents made a pack when they came to America that they would never talk about what happen, that it was a new start. Still, the melancholy must have come to the surface from time to time.

    Your second paragraph is right on point. I am upset over Trump's shocking rise in the primaries. He feeds off the worse in people---their fears and hatred---and it makes it easier to understand Hitler's rise to power who did the same thing.

    There is theory going around that Trump wanted what happened on Friday to happen. No other Republican has ever held a rally at a downtown Chicago university. They hold them in the suburbs where the student bodies are more Republican and white. He wanted to grab the weekend news cycle away from the others who were all holding events as well. I understand people's anger over the gridlock in D.C. but Trump isn't the answer.

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  8. I should probably follow the advice to go to the monthly lunch talks at the Senior College whether I think I am interested in them or not; I tend to only go to the ones on subjects I'm already interested in.
    Leze's observation about this election season is very interesting. I think many of us who grew up with WWII and the holocaust very close at hand see parallels between Trump's campaign and the election of Hitler, and I find it very frustrating when others can't see the similarities. -Jean

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    1. It's good advice. I have gone to all the lectures and someone of the ones I enjoy the most are the ones I didn't think I'd like at all...like on baseball or this most recent I wrote about.

      It is frustrating to watch Trump's campaign and popularity. No matter what he does or says, he seems to have blind followers who deny he's peddling hate and fear.

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  9. Thanks for the info. I'm sure the lecture was riveting. A friend of mine worked for the resistance. She was only 14 but spoke a number of languages. She was captured on a Sunday when leaving church and spent several years in a concentration camp. She died a couple of years ago. Her life was extraordinary.

    I think that recovering from a horrible period in life and finding a way to go on can be as challenging as the actual event.

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    1. I think you are right about the enormous challenges of going on after something like what your neighbor and so many others went through. Lately, with the Holocaust Deniers I can't imagine how hard THAT is to hear!

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  10. I suppose you heard that George Soros paid for the moveon.org group to send out notices to their members to get to the Chicago rally and protest? Some "professional" protesters weren't even from the area. Now the same Soros has contributed to John Kasich's campaign, hoping to take down Donald Trump. This may all work against them as Trump supporters are so in love with him and angry at the world that they may increase in numbers. Reminds me somewhat of the 1968 Democratic convention in Chicago. After tomorrow's primary votes are counted, I am done listening to any political news. I might get interested again in August. Or I may move to Cape Breton, Canada. :-)

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    1. That's an unsubstantiated rumor floating around sites like infowars. There are also rumors that Hillary is funding the protesters and another that Bernie is. A lot of people are dumping money into Kasich right now including Romney because him winning Ohio is the best chance of ending up with a brokered convention. In 1968 there was violence at the Republican AND the Democratic conventions---just more at the latter. I hope that doesn't happen this year. Going to be a long summer. Tomorrow will be very telling, won't it. It's very sad that Trump's rhetoric is so borderline that he was investigated for possible charges of inciting a riot. He doesn't have a clue that words have consequence.

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  11. Trump'a behaviour is like watching the Joker (Jack Nicholson) in that Batman movie. ~ Libby

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    1. Good comparison in my opinion, Libby. I only know one person in my off-line life that is voting for Trump and he's a huge racist, always has been.

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  12. What a great blog and what a great woman. Everytime I read about what the Nazis did to the Jews, it just burns my mond & heart. How can people do what they did to them and be able to live. They must have been animals. It's great to remind the world of these atrocities. Unfortunately, there are still atrocities going on in our world. No one seem to learn.

    Have a great day Jean. See ya.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. Thank you Paul! I never really understood Hitler's rise to power, either, until Donald Trump started running for president. He is giving the masses permission to hate and blame others for their own failures. If he becomes president and gets to appoint 3 supreme court justices America can change on a dime as did Germany. Very scary that society does not learn from the past.

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