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, October 19, 2016

Forging Ahead While Glancing Behind



Back in the days when I worked a lot of overtime hours around the holidays---Easter, Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas---I’d get to work at 8 AM and didn’t leave the flower shop until 8 to 10 PM. With a quick lunch out of a sack and dinner brought in by the boss we never left our work stations. It was a wholesale/retail operation so holiday schedules dragged on for several weeks. Decades later when I worked for my husband we’d be out on parking lots plowing snow for long hours. And during a notable, record breaking blizzard we didn’t get out of our trucks for anything but bathroom and gassing up breaks for three days straight. We’d take turns sleeping in two hour shifts while slumped over in our seats. Where on earth did all my energy and stamina go since those days? 

The past two days I’ve had four things penciled in my day planner with three other events on tap for the end of the week and already I’m dog tired and wishing it was Sunday so I can sleep in. Monday it was to the dentist and The Gathering at the senior hall. As I drove the long trip to a dentist in another county south of town, I made a decision that I need to find one closer to home. Heck, I probably go past 100 others as I drive the dreaded S-curve through the city. I’ve known my dentist for forty years, before he even went to dental school. But on the way back home I made another decision to postpone the idea of leaving my tooth guy. Being around people who knew my husband and me before and after Don's stroke makes me feel good.

Though I have to admit at The Gathering (for people looking for friends) I came close to feeling that same way with some new acquaintances. A woman in the group who has an extensive background in dealing with deaf people got us all sharing our life experiences with disabilities. I was able to talk about my husband’s and my experience going to speech classes with future speech pathologists. For six years, two days a week, I sat behind a one way mirror with a college professor and her class as a series of student clinicians worked with my husband on the other side of the glass. Even though his vocabulary never got above twenty-five unprompted words), my husband often had all of us laughing so hard it was hard to stop and he could intone a single word in a dozen ways in an effort to be understood. The professors kept him at the college for so long because, they said, he taught their students to see their clients as more than just textbook language disorders; that real people with unique personalities are underneath the disability they’d be treating out in the field.

Most widows who were caregivers to our spouses have our battle scars and war stories to tell. Some fought the revolving doors of medical clinics and treatment changes. Some witnessed the slow decline of the mind and/or the body. We caregiver veterans recognize kindred spirits and we seem to bond over being “valued and understood” in that context. I was a daughter, a sibling, an artist, a wife, a florist, and a snowplower and people everywhere understand what those labels mean but somehow summarizing the last twelve years of life with Don up with the single word of “caregiver” seems like it lacks clarity to anyone who has not-been-there-done-that. One woman who was at The Gathering talked about how the local widows group helped her with that. I had been invited by mail to join that widow's group in my first year out from Don’s death, but going meant I’d have to go through the dreaded S-Curved after dark so I passed on the opportunity.

Tuesday I was back to the senior hall for the Matter of Balance class and a luncheon where a Korean violinist entertained us with Bach and a few hard rock pieces that he arranged himself. His talks in between sonatas (or whatever they’re called) made me wish I could find a music appreciation class. That guy could make his two hundred year old instrument sing and he had a wonderful sense of humor as he answered our many questions. Someone asked how long he'd been playing and he took out his phone and said, "About ten minutes." Someone else asked if he could play The Devil Went Down to Georgia and he answered that he can play it but he won’t, adding that all violinists hate getting that request. He didn't explain why but he did explain the differences between a fiddle and a violin—the same instrument held in a different way, one featuring finger work, the other featuring bow work. Being a long-time fan of blue-grass music it wasn’t much of a stretch for me to thoroughly appreciate this solo act. Lunch and a great floor show for $6.00. It doesn’t get much better than that and he made it worthwhile to be dog tired this week. ©

I love this two minute video with its upbeat message about love, death and looking at life. If anyone knows who this guy is, please clue me in. I should know but I've been drawing a blank for days.


20 comments:

  1. I have been lucky enough--or is it unlucky--not to have been a care giver. Perhaps unlucky because I am sure that role would have made me a kinder more patient person. I can be very selfish in wanting my alone time that, I'm sure, it would have been lucky, for the person needing care, that I wasn't involved. i love the video!

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    1. Isn't video great. "It's a beautiful glass" is my new favorite quote.

      If you had been "called" to be a caregiver, you would have stepped up to the plate and done a good job of it. Few people want the job but it does have its rewards in the end.

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  2. Your 4th paragraph is so poignant. Really hit an emotional nerve with me. "Caregiving" doesn't begin to describe it, does it? Don making everyone laugh and the hospital wanting to hang on to him tells me a lot about what a great guy he was!

    I had to google the guy in the video; didn't know him, but he looked familiar. I found him at this link, but I still don't think I know him...https://www.youtube.com/user/halcyonstyn

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    1. I don't know how you found that link, but thanks! According to Wikipedia he's a blogger and motivational speaker. I thought he'd turn out to be someone famous in the music industry.

      Yes, 'caregiver' covers such a wide range physical tasks and emotional transitions whether caregiving for a parent, spouse or child. Everyone's story is so different.

      One Correction in what you wrote: the speech therapy program Don tool part in for six years was on a college campus. He had timed out (aka insurance ran out) for transitional therapies connected with hospitals. They have a long waiting list and Don's the only person they ever kept past two years.

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  3. Good post. Have to admit that lately I've thought about what my life might be as a widow. The first thing that came to mind was how much I would miss the people in all the medical offices we visit, they're like friends. I would miss that connection. I love where I currently live but I miss the academic connection I had working at a university. There's stimulation there you don't find anywhere else. I think I might enjoy living near a college campus where I could walk on campus, sit in the library and read, and attend some of the events that go on there. My grandson plays the cello in a group that's part of the music department of a university. I always enjoy visiting there.

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    1. A lot of colleges now have Olli classes for retired people to take and teach. You don't get credit or grades but I'll bet they would fill the academic connection you'll love. They are all over the country. What you said about missing the people in the medical offices you and Bob visit is a common thing to hear in widow circles. I really missed the speech clinic people but tried to find things to replace the time slots.

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  4. That short video was great! I love your blog posts. I don't comment often but I'm still here enjoying your posts. So many times you say exactly what I'm feeling and just keep it inside. Thank you Jean.

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    1. Thank you! It's always uplifting to me to know I'm connecting with and maybe channeling the feelings of others who come here to read.

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  5. I know I can do whatever is thrown my way but I don't believe that. Six hard months was hard enough that I can't imagine years.

    The mystery man looks similar to Bono ...

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    1. Bono! Yes, he does look like Bono and that's who I was thinking he is, but I think Donna (above) was able to figure it out that the guy is John Halcym Styn.



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  6. My husband and I were having dinner outdoors at a cafe in Burlington Vermont. There was a violinist playing and it was very pleasant. I got up to put some money in his hat and we chatted. I complimented him on his playing and he told me that a lot of people request Happy Birthday and other little tunes. He said he doesn't even know how to play Happy Birthday! What he was getting at was the difference between his classical violin playng and popular fiddle tunes that people want to hear!
    I really like when musicians present and talk about the pieces that they are playing. I heard a Bach piece played by a guy from Montreal and his introduction was so amusing and instructive.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. At the senior hall, we get a lot of teachers who preform on the side and they are the best at talking about the music and instruments. This guy plays in our city's orchestra but he was funny.

      Vermont is such a pretty state for outdoor dining. What a neat experience with a violinist for a bonus.

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  7. I spent yesterday and last night with an aunt and cousins from the Kansas City area. We met south of KCMO, and had a fine time. But, one of my cousins is now moving into the caregiver role, as her husband has early onset Alzheimers. She started to talk about the various challenges she faces from the minute we sat down after dinner, and didnt' stop for hours. Some of the incidents she recounted were amusing, but not all. As she said, rather wryly, "I don't remember signing up for this duty, but I guess I did -- in that sickness-and-health part of the ceremony."

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    1. Alzheimer's caregivers have it the worst, I think, and humor is one of the greatest coping tools in the box. Marriage vows or not, a lot of people do bail when it's their turn to be in a caregiver role.

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  8. Your comment on depleted energy resonated with me. I've been trying for several months now to muster energy to re-start the decluttering that I started last year. Each time I give up in despair. I wonder how I. handled a full time busy job, growing family, etc. and now can't even look after just me. One reason is that I'm not accountable to anyone other than me. Plus, the busier one is, the more one gets done.

    I hate making changes, and prefer to continue with service provider (unless they stuff up). I can only tip my hat to all the care givers out there, including the health professionals who do it day in, day out. ~ Libby

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    1. You and me both, Libby, on the downsizing. I am disappointed in myself. I had good intentions of having another summer of selling and donating stuff like I did in 2015. I never made it out to the auction house once. Lack of accountability is part of it but for me, it's also the emotional aspect of living my life in reserve, so to speak. It's just hard work emotionally! And I can't afford to just give things of value away either. Next summer I hope to get back in the downsizing zone. The guilt of not doing it weighs heavy, doesn't it. We CAN do it, Libby, we just have to find the right frame of mind and pace our selves.

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  9. What a wise Grandpa. I see John Styn has a book: Love more. Fear less. It's gotten good reviews, so I'll order it.

    Tell me, would you have been able to write a blog back in the flower shop and snowplowing days? Was it only after Don was less a conversational partner that you began writing?

    When I was a caregiver, it bothered me when people would romanticize it. (These of course weren't the folks who had actually done it.) I have felt so good providing my caregiving brother some 'been there/done that' emotional support as he carried the weight of full time duties. He's still the Go-to man for my Dad. Though some in my family balked, I channeled some of his money to my brother, as payment (I'm my Dad's POA). It's the right thing to do for all his generosity - yet it still doesn't go far enough.

    Wow. Some new acquaintances are bringing you that warm hearted feeling? Almost like you had it with Don? Could you give me an idea...Is it 20%, 40%. 60%, 80%? I feel like I've got 15% of the warm connection I had back then. But I'm not complaining! It's a beautiful glass! Thank you for this video.

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    1. I hope you review the book when you're finish. He fascinates me. I have looked at that video a dozen times now and still love the message PLUS his smile and facial expressions are so expressive and sincere.

      I've always kept diaries about what I was doing, even back in my flower shop snowplowing days only I didn't publish them online like I do now. That started after Don's stroke when I though documenting our speech classes might help couples who couldn't get therapy anymore.

      That's really nice that your brother is getting some compensation for caring for your dad. Being in that situation with siblings, it's nice to feel appreciated if others aren't around to do firsthand help.

      The warmhearted feeling was only with that one Gathering meeting when we got into such a deep conversation...and I'd give it maybe a 65%. Most of my interactions are no where near that.





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  10. Sometimes when my caregiving days come up in conversation, I know that it's hard for people who've never done it to know what it's truly like. I know that my experience in caregiving made me appreciate my life now, but it took so much out of me that I didn't even realize at the time.

    I can tell from your words that Don was a fun and funny guy. A sense of humor is a wonderful thing, and how great that he was able to express his humor even after the stroke. Strokes can rob a person of so much.

    I'm glad that you're getting good things from The Gathering.

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    1. You hit the nail on the head when you say caregiving, "took so much out of me that I didn't even realize at the time." That is a common thread for all of us.

      I dwell on the funny stories regarding Don's post-stroke language disorders but there were plenty of very stressful situations as well. Humor really does help.

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