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, March 30, 2016

Passion and Parents



“Old people talk about the past because they have no futures and young people talk about the future because they have no pasts.” I’ve probably shared that Ann Landers quote before because it’s one of my favorites. The older I get the more I understand the scary truth in those words. Sure, I’ve got plans that go beyond daily living but none of those plans go beyond where my 2016 day planner ends---unless we count my 2017 colonoscopy, assuming I can find a ride by then. With so many decades in my rearview mirror and only one, maybe two decades in front of me, thinking of the future doesn’t come with the same optimism that it did in the past. Ya, I know it’s all in my head. There are people my age who are doing exciting things. Climbing mountains, jumping out of airplanes, running for political office, traveling the world, helping to solve the world’s problems. Developing a passion for projects and adventure can happen at any age. On the other hand it’s very First-World, New-Age of me to wish I could find my muse and live happily ever after wallowing in a passion project---that certain something that lights my fire every morning and makes me quit thinking about the fact that I’m drifting. How long should it take to retool a widow’s life? 

My dad always gave credit to my mom for the assets they were able to accumulate in their lifetimes. Not that accumulating assets is what anyone should use as a measure of success. However, setting aside the obvious----the love and caring my parents gave to whoever came into their lives, the examples they set regarding good values, humility and humanity---I’m amazed that they managed to accumulate not only a house in a middle class neighborhood but a cottage as well and all the creature comforts that went with them including two cars and a motor home. Both of my parents grew up dirt poor in hard times and without mothers in their lives from an early age. They both entered the work force before their teens and when they got married Dad was a machinist and Mom was a waitress. They lived in an apartment, often taking in my mother’s father who from all accounts was a penniless drunk dating back to the time his wife died fifteen years prior. 

My parents bought their first home at a time when the banks were eager to sell off all the houses they’d accumulated during the depression and couldn’t sell until the WWII came along, so they were able to buy it without a down payment. My mother was a long-range planner. She convinced my dad to turn the house into a two-family and rent out the upstairs apartment. I don’t remember that house but over the years I’d heard plenty of stories about it. My brother used to tell about all the mice that were in it when they first moved it. It was his job to whack them with a board when they came up through the heat register while my dad was in the basement making them scatter. Mom hoarded the rent money for a few years until she had enough for a down payment on a house in a better neighborhood, just in time for me to start first grade. And while they were landlords, my parents also bought a lot on a lake, contracted to down a house and used its lumber to build a cottage. 

When I look back over the first twenty-five years of my life, it seems like I was always living in a house that was either under construction or a project was in the works. Mom had remodeling plans running in her veins and Dad, over the years, taught himself how to do the plumbing, electrical, roofing, carpentry and cement work involved. And when my folks were winding down from their remodeling---they’d just finished upgrading the cottage for year-around living---Don came into my life with his newly acquired, little run-down house with a pink stove, another rental house and a four family apartment house and remodeling came on the my stage, again, for the next fifteen years. A lot of our earlier “dates” involved putting up drywall and painting. The pink stove, by the way, was the first thing Don moved out of the house and he never replaced it. The kitchen in his little bachelor pad was just a room he walked through to get to the garage and where he kept his coffee maker and a massive collection of coffee cups. It was a big deal to pick out a cup because it reflected his mood. If he used the “Don’t Let the Turkeys Get You Down” cup I knew something on the news was bothering him. But I digress. The point is my folks could see the same Remodel-the Nest genes in me that they had. 

Parents probably spend less time than me obsessing about the legacy they'll leave behind. They can see their families before them---their passion projects, so to speak. The years of work it took to guide their kids and how those traits and values are getting passed down to the next generation must be gratifying to see as you age. That gives me an idea. I wonder if I could find a vet to reverse Levi’s vasectomy. There’s a sweet Schnauzer that comes into the groomer on the same day as Levi. They could make cute little grand-puppies that I could train, spoil and knit sweaters for next winter and I’m not too old to accomplish all that before I die. ©

NOTE: The circa 1947-8 photo above is the front of the cottage my folks built. The boy on the tree on the left is my brother, the woman on the right is my mom and the guy kneeing is my dad. They were taking down a huge tree so they could add a porch on the cottage.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

From the Corner of Remembrance Lane and Keeping Busy Street



From where I sit at my computer I can see the plastered doorway to the laundry room and on one of the four corners was damage that was caused by my husband's wheelchair. Note the past tense used in that sentence. As of today, I finally fixed the plaster and repainted the damage area. It wasn’t the only damage his chair did to doors and doorways in the house---it was an on-going issue---but I fixed all the others fairly early into my widowhood. Why did I let this one go so long is anyone’s guess but I’m thinking a shrink would say that I didn’t want to let go of the past. Don would have told me that if you walk by something that is broken for more than two weeks it no longer registers in your mind. I’m going to split the difference and say the reason the damage didn’t get fixed is a combination of both. But here's how it came about: All the other damage was on wood and required a little sanding and stain and by the time I got them all fixed I was crying and bemoaning the fact that it was the last time I’d have to fix them. Then when I tried to tackle the plaster doorway, I discovered my spackling had dried up and it took me this long to buy another can.

I’ve been on a mission to fix all the broken things that have accumulated in the house. One of those projects involved the little green trunk pictured above. I’ve had it since before I started kindergarten. My mom bought it at the Salvation Army store and I kept doll clothes in it until my teen years when my dad made legs for it so I could use the trunk as chair-side table. Now it holds my oldest sentimental objects. Things like the straight-edge razor my dad’s dad brought over from Italy, brass bookends that my dad made, my childhood Disney characters cup, a pair of shell-pink silk panties with tiny buttons up the side that my mom saved in her cedar chest (I’m guessing from her honeymoon), the U.S. Nationalization & Citizenship paper that my grandfather always carried in his wallet and other treasures of no value unless you know the stories behind them and you share my gene pool. I wanted them all in one place so I could tell some hunky fireman, “Save that green trunk!” should the house ever catch on fire or it's handy to grab should I want to run away from home. Whichever comes first.

I always thought my dad could do anything. His formal education ended very early in his life but he was the wisest and most compassionate person I’ve ever known. He was good with his hands and he and my mom didn’t use gender as a guide when it came to teaching or encouraging my brother and me. My brother, for example, took an interest in cooking. To this day, I never did. Before I entered my teens Dad taught me how to draw blueprints and schematics and my mom bullied the high school principle into letting me be the first ever girl in the school to take mechanical drawing. And I was good at it, thanks to Dad. But when I repaired the legs on my little green trunk I realized that they wouldn’t have come apart if Dad had used longer screws. Don’t you hate it when the people you’ve put up on pedestals are rendered imperfect and human like the rest of us? After someone we deeply loved dies we tend to gloss over their flaws and foibles while we mourn. Then we go through a period where we remember them again and somehow even those flaws and foibles then become part of our warm, fuzzy memories. I still can't believe the length of those screws Dad used but on the other hand, they did the job for fifty-five years.

I need to get off Remembrance Lane and turn onto Keeping Busy Street. In the pursuit of keeping busy, recently I went to a Life Learning Lecture at the senior hall. The lecturer---Bruce Allen Kopyter---is an architect by trade with a passion for researching and writing books about the history of department stores. His first book was about Crowley’s in Detroit, his second one is about the Jacobson’s chain that had stores from mid-Michigan to Florida and he's currently working on a book about Macy’s. We had a Jacobson’s in town until the ‘80s but my family wasn’t wealthy enough to shop there. The lecture, however, was billed as a “fascinating history of the business climate in Michigan” so I thought what the heck, it's an afternoon out of the house. He told a lot of stories about the kind of service the old-time department stores gave. Sales clerks who would run their hands inside of silk stockings to show off their color. What woman my age doesn’t remember those days?  

After the lecture I took myself out to for lunch to a breakfast-all-day-long place. I don’t fry bacon---it scares me---so that’s something I often order when I go out. I have blood work coming up soon for my bi-annual appointment so I decided against bacon and eggs this time, opting instead for waffles. Then an evil waitress asked, “Would you like bacon with that?” God, I’m so darn weak! “I shouldn’t," I replied, “but I will.” If she hadn't asked, I would have gotten that gold star for a good decision. I'm dreading that appointment. I don’t have a prayer of losing the weight I gained since I saw my internist last fall and he’s going to give me the Bad-Girl Lecture! I’ve heard it before. About every other appointment. If nothing else, at least I’m predictable. ©

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Kindle, Books and Stupid Doctors



KINDLE: If you own an older Kindle you probably got the email notice about the required updates that if you don’t do them by midnight on the 22nd you will no longer be able to download books. The directions for doing the updates sounded easy enough and I followed them to the letter. Four nights in a row without success. Then I googled some troubleshooting advice and found out my 3rd generation Kindle can’t be updated with a simple sync via Wi-Fi like the email said, but supposedly there is another way. Once again I followed directions, this time to do a manual download delivered through my computer via a UBS cable and again multi tries didn’t get me anywhere. After a couple of hours of monkeying around and reading troubleshooting tips I refused to waste any more time deciding, instead, to go with Plan C. Plan C involved spending time on Amazon, downloading a bunch of free classic books----50 in all---and enough puzzles and games to keep me happy for a decade. Part II of Plan C also includes me deciding to take the plunge to buy an Apple I-Pad Air and putting a Kindle app on it. Like I need another electronic gadget to torture my patience.

BOOKS: I have a lot of trouble sleeping around the full moon. If I had any sense I’d take a sleeping pill at midnight but it usually doesn’t dawn on me that I need one until it’s too late to take an Ambien and still get up in the morning. Last night was no exception. I hung in the zone where my brain wouldn’t turn off but I wasn’t fully awake either. In my head I was busy "writing" about the lives of the people living on Guernsey Island during the WWII when it was occupied by the Germans. I’d been reading a book on that subject before I turned off the light. One of the first lines in the book was worth scribbling on a Post-It note: “Perhaps there is some sort of secret homing instinct in books that brings them to their perfect readers.” I think that homing instinct brought me The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. At the last Red Hat Society tea someone had returned that borrowed book back to its owner and everyone was saying such positive things about the book. So when the owner offered it for loan again, I raised my hand. I had no idea of the topic or time frame of the story or the fact that it was written like an exchange of letters between an England author, her editor in Australia and the islanders in the Society. With a title like that I thought it would be a bit of fluffy fun. It wasn’t. Nor was it as gloomy as the topic sounds. It's a great study of characters set in the little known---at least to me---occupation of an island in the English Channel.

STUPID DOCTORS: “Gloomy” did enter my life this week though. Tim, the son-I-wish-I-had called me looking for advice. His uncle just had a massive stroke that sounds very much like the one my husband had---right side paralysis and no speech. Tim was at the hospital when a doctor came in and told his aunt (right in front of his uncle) that there was no hope for recovery, his brain is gone. The aunt said, “But he can squeeze my hand! I know he understands what I’m saying” and the doctor told her it was just instinct like when a baby holds on to your finger. Then Tim told his uncle an insider-type joke that no one outside the family would recognize as a joke and his uncle laughed. (We did that with Don, too, to test his reactions.) The doctor didn’t believe the laugh meant anything! How can doctors who spend minutes with someone presume to know better than a family member if a speechless stroke survivor is or isn’t communicating in non-verbal ways? I was told that Don had half his brain destroyed, that he’d be "nothing but a vegetable for the rest of his life." I was so angry at the neurologist who said it that I snapped back, “Half his brain is still better than most people’s whole brain!” The more Tim and I talked the madder I got to the point that I was literally shaking by the time I got off the phone. 

The sad thing is that during the twelve years following Don’s massive stroke we ran into at least a dozen others in speech classes who’d been told the same thing---people who, like Don, had proven they were anything but vegetables. Speech therapists will tell you that communication is about more than just the words that come out of our mouths and anyone who’s been married a long time can back that up. A touch, a look, body language---we read it all and it gets sharper when vocabulary is gone. To be fair, I do understand why some/many ICU doctors act that way. They see the brain scans, see only the beginnings of the stroke but they never see a scan a year later when the blood has dissipated and new neuron-paths find their way around the damaged areas. And without a family member to be a strong, hands-on advocate for a massive stroke survivor it's nearly impossible to get a quality of life back on their own. Advocacy to push for therapies and a patient with a strong will to recover are key. One without the other doesn’t work. 

Well aren’t I ending on a little Miss. Sunshine note today? I’ll try to do better next time. I've got a couple of interesting things on my day planner if the coming snow storm doesn't knock them off. ©