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, November 30, 2016

Deck the Halls, Movies and Neighbors with Keyboards



This week I preformed the pagan ritual of bring evergreens in the house to decorate for the holidays. I say that tongue-in-cheek because, ya, I know, Christian churches use boughs and holly in their houses of worship so how can doing so be a pagan ritual? It just was before early Christian leaders tried without success to stamp out the practice that pagans believed would repel evil spirits, witches and ghosts from coming inside from the cold. Having failed at that then early Christian leaders tried with success to convert the idea to a Christian symbol. Oh, yes, a great and powerful metaphor was born that turned the boughs of evergreens and holly into a symbol for eternal life after death. But even as late as the 3rd century holiday trees and evergreen boughs in the house were strictly forbidden by the church and aren’t we all glad they did an about face somewhere in the tumultuous pages of history. Although it's important to note that it was the publication of the `Twas The Night Before Christmas in 1823 and a drawing of a tree at England’s Windsor Castle reprinted in Godey's Lady's Book in 1850 that did the most to popularize the highly decorated Christmas trees we know today. Ah, the power of an illustrator! With the exception of in Germany where Queen Victoria’s husband was born, most Christmas trees in the century before the mid-1800s were sparsely decorated with edibles.

I am neither a Christian nor a Celtic Druid afraid of ghosts or a Roman worshipper of Saturn, the god of agriculture. I just like the smell of evergreens in the house and playing with them brings me back to my days of working for a large florist where I spent my fair share of time before Christmas decorating rich people’s houses. Today they’d call it staging a house for the holidays. I was watching a Hallmark holiday movie over the weekend where a woman was hired to stage a house for the holidays and it took her nearly three weeks and, of course, she and her client fell in love along the way. 1) Any stager who would take that long to decorate one house would be out of business in short order. It was a one day on sight job---tops---with two days off sight prep-time, and 2) Clients aren’t usually young guys with beautiful houses and bodies and dimpled cheeks who gives you a key to come and go the whole month of December. Wander out in the morning to make coffee, there she’d be fluffing red bows on boxes. Come home from work, there she’d be hanging Christmas stockings. Okay, I admit it. I might be jealous that I never had a client like Mr. Dimples. I was young, single and looking for love back in my holiday staging days.

Don’t you just love movies with improbable and shallow storylines? I have a love/hate relationship with Hallmark holiday movies but the happy endings for the lost, lonely and often widowed people makes them like a bowl of popcorn I can’t resist. They might reduce falling in love to a two hour cliché but they’re available nearly 24/7 to remind us all of the warm, fuzzy-feelings often mixed with messy, confusing feelings that go along with finding someone to love. As I settle firmly into the world of widowhood, it gets harder and harder to remember stuff like that. 

Speaking of movies, it’s been twelve days since I went across the street to my new neighbor’s house to watch “a Christian movie” with some of her friends. She’s the one with Parkinson’s disease and a whisper soft voice I can barely hear. That night I gave her my contact information including my email address and we have both answered and received an email every night since. We have almost nothing in common. She's very religious and sweet and I'm searching for another word to describe her: not exactly naive or sheltered but definitely different from worldly me. We are connecting on a deep level, I think, because we both know how to be open when writing, with no questions too personal to ask or answer. I hadn't expected a relationship to develop but I'm thinking it's filling a role in both of our lives. For me, it’s a window into the feelings of a severely disabled person. After living twelve years with a disabled husband who couldn’t walk, talk or write I find her internal coping tools and journey fascinating.

And for her, I’m guessing it’s an opportunity for in-depth “conversations” that might be lacking in her life. She has many friends from her old life as a teacher. But from my experience watching old friends interact with my husband after his massive stroke, I know that conversations get shorter, shallower and less satisfying as time passes when someone has to work so hard to be understood. Time will tell if I’m right but she obviously is encouraging the friendship because she bought a copy of Big to play at her next “girl’s movie night” after learning that I’m a Tom Hanks fan and have never seen that film. Neighbors with Keyboards. I think I'll give our email chain a new name.  ©

Note: Tree at the top is the illustration that was in Godey's.

28 comments:

  1. For a few years, I didn't 'do' Christmas. Last year I caved and did some shopping online for family and friends. It went with glitches but ended up okay. This year is not starting out so well. I will not be decorating. It's nice that you enjoy doing that.
    I watch some of those Hallmark movies, just to have something that doesn't require me to think.
    'Big' was an okay movie, you may enjoy it.
    My best friend and I have nothing in common. It works. She would help me bury the body and I would give her a kidney.

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    1. I only do a faction of holiday decorating from what I used to. I even donated and sold off about 2/3rds of my decorations last summer. Last week my landcare guy trimmed my pine trees so I snatched a bunch of stuff before he hauled the branches off.

      You hit on one of the reasons I like Hallmark movies. I can do other things---read, computer work, knit, whatever---and still understand what's going on in the movie.

      Everyone should have a friend like yours. My husband was for me.

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  2. I was thinking about the rituals that you are describing in your first paragraph. I was thinking about them because sometime this past Sunday evening I walked past the window and noticed that my neighbors had clearly been busy putting up their Christmas lights. When I was driving the next day, it was clear that everyone lives by the same playbook: the Sunday after Thanksgiving is the time to put up Christmas decorations. I started to think about all the rituals that people perform like closing swimming pools on Labor Day and decorating front porches in October with pumpkins. All very conventional and understandable.

    Personally, I'm not much in the mood for convention at the moment but admittedly I have never been moved by convention. I remember so many years ago, a great aunt asking me if I thought it was ok for her to wear white shoes even though it was a few days before Memorial Day.

    I feel like I am being forced to rethink conventional society and that, in itself, is difficult and dark. Meanwhile I appreciate the smells of cut boughs of pine in the house and understand the rules of the conventional society that I live in. I'm an observer at the moment.
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. The whole universe has a rhythm to when certain things happens so it's no surprise that humans have evolved into a like pattern. It meant survival to flex with the seasons. For me, there is comfort in those patterns because the only things that get in the way of those patterns are things like wars, natural disasters or a death in the family.

      What I find interesting is how churches have changed over the years. Back in the '50s, for example, some church denominations preached against the evils of owning an TV but now they own some of the biggest broadcasting stations in the world. Around here, a lot of people put their antennas in the attic, instead of on the roof, so their neighbors couldn't see them thus bringing them a visit from their church elders.

      "Rethinking Conventional society"---that's an interesting and deep topic. I wish the world would rethink the reasons why we fight wars and just stop it!

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  3. Enjoyed reading about Christmas evergreens. I've never used fresh greens. This year my daughter bought me a fresh greens wreath, my first! I'm totally in love with it. In Texas fresh greens didn't last long but in Oregon this one should be very happy through the whole season.

    I like your developing email friendship with your neighbor. I think I would enjoy that kind of friendship. I don't care much for going out into the world to socialize but I do like contact with people. It would be nice to have someone to share thoughts and opinions. Blogging is nice but I often don't say all of what I really think for fear of offending someone. You may have a good thing going there.

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    1. Fresh greens are affordable here in MI too, bu mine came from my yard so were free and the fresh. I love them.

      I've had penpals often through out my life until I started blogging...but there is something different about being able to cross the street and give someone a real hug, if the spirit moved me or to ask how someone fared during a power outrage. She's going out of town with her parents for a week over Christmas so who knows what will happen after that with our exchanges.

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  4. Penpals! As much fun as blogging because you always get a response!

    I love the smell of fresh greens indoors! Might have to get some douglas fir oil for the diffuser.

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    1. I actually like blogging better than penpalling, but this situation is different because she's a neighbor and it's the only way we can communicate effectively.

      Douglas fir oil? I might like that!

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  5. Nice to weave a relationship together with one of our strong suits - writing. I'm not quite sure what you mean by 'no questions to personal to answer'. Does this mean it's not as personal as your blog?

    I haven't watched any Hallmark movies, but I'm enjoying Christmas carols on the satellite radio when I drive. I switch between CNN, MSNBC, Christmas carols and Spa (new age) music. You can imagine which stations drive my mood up or down.

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    1. I am not a fan of Christmas carols. Don't listen to them by design. Now, New Age music...I like a lot of it.

      What I meant is that she made a statement early on that, "I'm an open book. Ask me anything" and I replied so am I and we've been doing just that.

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  6. The background to Xmas evergreens had me shaking my head at religious hypocrisy, but I do like the sight and smell.

    I admire your energy in decorating the house - I did it for the kids when they were young, but no more!

    I'd enjoy blogging more than a pen-pal because of the diversity of readers. For the same reason, I like reading the comments to a news item just as much as the actual news. ~ Libby





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    1. Trust me, I don't do a lot of decorating...a centerpiece for the dinning table, a bow for the front door and two wreaths for inside. And maybe a bowl of xmas ornaments.

      I like reading comments on news stories, too, and I make some myself.

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  7. I love holiday decorations. Although I don't do outdoor lights, I always get a tree and trim it with mostly bright, inexpensive decorations. I, too, am a sucker for those made-for-TV holiday movies with their improbable plots. -Jean

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    1. I've never done outdoor lights for myself. Way too much work. I'd rather decorate at your house in the summer when all your flowers are in bloom, for maybe a garden party.

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  8. This way of developing a friendship between two women would make a good backdrop to a movie. I'm thinking a modern day Rear Window with Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly. Why haven't they done that. If they wanted a little romance mixed in, they could make one of the emailers a man. Ha! I'm silly this morning. So nice of her to choose 'Big.' You'll enjoy it. Tom Hanks is so talented.

    Loved the history about evergreens. I had no idea that the drawing of the tree reprinted in Godey's Lady's Book influenced our use of holly and other evergreens. Interesting.

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    1. I love the way you think! That would make a great movie remake of Rear Window only it's got to be another neigbhor besides the two emailers me that gets murders.

      The more I read about Godey's Lady's Book and Godey's Magazine the more fascinated I am. One place compare compare them to a combination of Vogue and O Magazine. Issues even made it all they way out to the Little House of the Prairie series from England.

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  9. The PC people want us to call the tree, a Holiday tree. My non-PC people refer to it as a Christmas tree. I like to call mine a Yule tree, because as far as I know, there were no pine trees decorated and standing in the Bethlehem manger. Yes--it is a pagan ritual to bring evergreens into the house and also that they must be out of the house by January 6th, or the evil ones will enter back into your house. Oh, pooh, boo and phooey. It's just nice to have lights and shiny objects hanging around during these, the darkest, shortest days of winter. I'm thankful Prince Albert thought of the idea of an evergreen brought inside and decorated.

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    1. In the real world it's still a Christmas tree for most of us. Interesting about the January 6th. I've never heard that one before.

      By the way, Prince Albert helped introduce highly decorated Christmas trees to English speaking countries but he didn't dream up the idea. It was done in his home country of Germany and he just wanted a touch of home when he was married to the queen of England.

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  10. Jean :

    I will sound as broken record now that I love your blogs so much I never know what new thing I will learn reading your blog it could be history, spiritual or being kind & nice human being. I am happy & jealous of your email palship with your neigbhour. Wish I could develop that kind of friendship with u.
    have merry Christmas & happy holidays.

    Asha

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    1. Move across the street where we can see each other's blinds open in the morning, that's secret to getting me back into penpaling. LOL

      Hope you have a great holiday season. I'll bet your son is coming home and you'll keep him very busy.

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  11. Unfortunately, I'm very allergic to pine, so no fresh pine in the house for us. It's all fake. I still love it though.

    Nice relationship you are creating with a very limited neighbor. Makes me smile. :)

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    1. It makes me smile, too, and I'm not entirely sure why that is.

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  12. The smell of fresh-cut greens is wonderful. I always associate it with Christmas, but it's hard to come by down here. Even if you order from someplace that presumably cuts them to order, by the time they get here, it's just not the same. Even the Christmas trees in the lots don't have that aroma. There are some tree farms popping up now, and if I were to have a fresh tree, I'd cut my own.

    The other scent that's hard to find is bayberry. Real bayberry candles just aren't around, and the ones I've found online are too rich for my budget. So, I stick with spicy smells. Whole cloves stuck into an orange and hung somewhere still does the trick!

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    1. I got my cut evergreens from my own yard but I live quite close to Christmas tree farms---five to be exact within five miles. There is one interaction where my husband I used to love to park the weekend after Thanksgiving and count the trees tied on top of cars. I highest we got was well over a 100 in an hour. You can either cut our own tree or pick one from their lots. A wonder tradition for families.

      I did not know that about bayberry!

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  13. I am fascinated by your new friendship. Isn't it amazing how something like that can happen out of the blue and with two people who would likely never really meet or stay connected in "real life"? It makes me smile to visualize your nightly email exchange. Very cool. Heartwarming, really. Not a romance, but maybe, perhaps, Hallmark movie material?

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    1. It is a fascinating kind of star-crossing, isn't it. I even entertained the thought that her God was directing the whole thing to turn me into a Christian. LOL I asked her once if she drank coffee or tea and she doesn't drink either one because they are addictive---against her religion. This came AFTER I'd already professed my car can't drive by Starbucks without turning in. I only brought it up because I thought to invite myself over for coffee some long, winter day. Inviting yourself over for water just doesn't sound the same. LOL I probably won't write too much about her here just in case she googles me and finds my blog. She very sweet and we're getting into some pretty deep exchanges already and I wouldn't want to hurt or shock her.

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  14. I like the aroma of evergreen -- people can refer to their trees however they wish and I'll do the same -- more important issues in life for me than to fret about P.C. or not P.C. But then, guess I've reached an age I wouldn't be caring about the conformity (whatever those outside your group thought -- or inside either, for that matter, but that wasn't an issue I gather.) As for conformity, I've heard some question whether or not all members wearing the red hat actually runs counter to the founder's philosophy. I'm just repeating what I've heard said -- I don't profess to know anything about it as you likely do. :-)

    Am not surprised about your neighbor -- I expect you have developed skills that became automatic over those years with your husband that you may not even recognize you possess and wonder if they may convey to your neighbor the potential for a deep connection others might not offer?

    My professional experience can attest to the fact that our culture, probably many other cultures, place a very high value on communication skills. Any variation from the so-called "normal" speech, voice quality, rate -- all aspects -- even accents, what's judged to be gender specific, results in others reacting in varying degrees of acceptance, tolerance, discrimination, stereotyping, is thought by some to reflect on intelligence. Impaired facial expression, as with Parkinson's at some stage, is a deterrent for many trying to communicate with the impaired person whose nonverbal face may show little or no expression. Visitor, even family member may even unintentionally not respond as they might otherwise -- unconsciously becoming uncomfortable with the nonverbal lips/mouth/face movement or lack of same. Conducting a one way dialogue not easy for many, either. Your neighbor may be more emotionally vulnerable, too, for all sorts of reasons -- responding to your efforts to be kind -- or your own intimacy needs. Or none of the above since I don't know either of you! ha

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    1. I have learned so much about Parkinson's from my neighbor like she's being evaluated for an operation to take fat from her thighs to add to her vocal cords in hopes it will give her volume. She doing a round of speech therapy now. I know you are right about the unintentionally not responding to people the same when speech issues are involved. Heck, I'm finding I'm starting to do it even with writing shorter emails to my neighbor because I know she has so much trouble with her eyes staying open right now. She gets Botox shots every two months to keep them open and she's due soon. I think your commons on our relationship have a ring of truth here.

      I've heard that criticism about the Red Hatters before but I don't think it's valid. For one, each chapter can make up their own rules, their own mission statement, have their own agendas for activities. Some it's just about fun, some like our group adopts service projects. The only rule that comes down from the national is that you must wear the colors and hat on all outings and it's not about conformity but rather a symbol of bonding and throwing caution to the wind with your "play clothes" on.

      Love your input on this blog entry. Thank you for taking the time to write it.

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