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, April 30, 2016

The Islamic Center and Mosque Tour



Finally the day came and went and I’m still here to tell about. It was ages ago since I signed up to go on a field trip to an Islamic Center and Mosque as part of the senior hall’s monthly series, How We Worship. It was January 4th to be exact when I put in my RSVP, one month after the San Bernardino rampage leaving fourteen people dead, the victims of radical extremists. I’ve been both looking forward to this trip and slightly apprehensive at the same time, and that latter emotion is one I wish I didn’t have to admit. I’m an open-minded woman after all, nothing to fear. So what if we had to dress conservatively with long sleeves, no shorts and scarves covering our hair. All that meant is I didn’t have to wash my hair on Thursday when we went to learn about Muslims and the Islamic faith and to be served a traditional Mid-Eastern lunch.

Knowing this field trip was on my day planner my feelings of apprehension were heighten last month when a man---not far from the very Center I signed up to tour---made the national news when he was caught on video chanting at the top of his lungs: “Kill the Muslims! Kill them all! Trump! Trump! Trump!” He had taken a swing at a Muslin and was fist-pumping his chant as he walked away. Trump had been in town for a rally not long before this incident which, I’m guessing, emboldened the chanter. I saw the entire rally on TV and it’s not hyperbolic to guess that’s what happened. Watching that news clip, I could visualize that radicalized Trump fan showing up with an assault rifle at the Islamic Center on the day of our tour and opening fire while we all sat eating hummus smothered bread. With our Anglo-American heritage tucked under our head scarves he’d never guess our group was collateral damage. Oops. None of that happened, of course, but we met the Egyptian Muslim leader---I can’t remember his title---who the Trump supporter tried to slug. He was quoted in our local news as saying that he was shocked when it happened and something else about showing patience, ignoring it and that “time would mend it.” 

When we first got to the Center we were served a fantastic lunch of the freshest of fresh salad, rice and almonds, chicken, beef, mixed vegetables, pocket bread and hummus. None of us at my table could identify the favor profile of the meats or the oven baked peppers, carrots and zucchini slices. Coffee and an array of rich, nut-filled desserts came next while a man gave an hour long presentation about Islam. We learned, for example, they believe that Jesus was not crucified on the Cross, that a secret stand-in or swap of some sort took place to protect him. We learned that women wear head scarves to honor Mary, mother of Jesus. “Mary the Blessed” they call her and the Quran has a whole chapter devoted to her. They also believe there is no such thing as original sin. In Islam, everyone is born pure. And if you wrong someone, you must first seek their forgiveness before you can ask God to forgive you.

We were told they believe that God sent the Torah, the Christian Gospels and the Quran to guide humanity through His prophets…Moses, Jesus and Muhammad. To quote the handout we got: “Islam completes the long chain of guidance from God to humanity. Meticulously preserving and thoroughly documenting, Islam’s message has a familiar resonance with other Abrahamic religions, owing to their shared history and common values.” Muslims all keep a ‘family tree chart’ from Adam to Muhammad to honor early prophets including Adam, Moses, Abraham, Jesus, Noah, Jacob and others all Christians would know.

We learned so many interesting things that I couldn’t possibility list like why they’re called to prayer five times a day, what words are actually said during the call and why they separate the sexes while at prayer. Our presentation ended when the call to prayer came---get this---on a cell phone app. It’s not always at the exact, same time because they’re based on the setting and rising sun. At that point we were able to go into the Mosque (worship area) where we sat in back to observe the prayer. But before we could go into the Mosque we had to park our shoes in a large shoe closet or put paper booties over top of our shoes. After it was over we were able to ask questions. Someone asked about the bookcases inside the Mosque that were full of Qurans written in a dozen or so languages and we learned that only the Qurans that are written in the original Arabic are considered to be Holy Books. Once something has been translated it loses its purity and possibly some of its original clarity.

In addition to the theology and history presentation we were all fascinated by the bathrooms. (Not many world travelers in our group, I guess.) They had stations for sitting to wash your feet and an assortment of rubber sandals by the stall doors that you are instructed to wear while inside the stalls. Inside each stall was a small watering can that none of us could figure out what it was for and also a long hose (like a flexible shower sprayer but called a bidet shower) that was to be used to wash your private parts off while on the toilet. Thankfully, they also had toilet paper. There were no mirrors in the bathrooms, either, and talking is forbidden in restrooms. Our male bus driver, on the way back home said the men’s room had individual stalls and no urinals in addition to what was in the woman’s. The senior hall director lead a conversation on the way home and none of us could quit talking (in positive ways) about the things that surprised or impressed us. All in all it was an afternoon well spent and the Muslims we met couldn’t have been nicer or more welcoming. ©

Note: I didn't take the photo above but it is of the Mosque I was in.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Emotional Intelligence and Dumb Phones



It’s only day three in the week and already I’ve had a unique experience to fill up time in my weird widowhood world where sometimes it seems like that’s all I’ve got is time. Woo is me. I want something more meaningful in my life but until I make that happen for myself I go to things like an OLLI class that was billed as “a stimulating and thought-provoking session about the fascinating field of emotional intelligence.” Would you sign up for a workshop like that if that’s all you knew about it? Thankfully I wasn’t the only one who was intrigued and foot-loose enough to act on that impulse. Fifty people showed up and we had a great time laughing our gray-haired heads off as we learned that emotional intelligence is about “managing our own emotions and the ability to ‘read’ emotions in others.” We talked about the nine ways people learn and how IQ alone is not an indicator of success in a person’s life. We talked about the characteristics of emotional intelligence---the other indicator of success---which includes handling relationships and being a self-motivator. We touched on that fact that emotions are impulses to act (flight or fight) and feelings are more mind based, our reactions to emotions and we base those reactions on our past experiences. 

I’d been to one of the speaker’s workshops two years ago so I knew he’d be entertaining. That one was titled, “I’m Dying to Talk to You” which was about end-of-life conversations. He had worked for Hospice for 25 years and he’s one of those people with a thousand anecdotes on the tip of his tongue and he likes to interact with his audience, letting us share stories as well. If he could be cloned he’d make the perfect “gift” to give to lonely widows and children you’d like to grow up to be good citizens of the world. Up for auction! One male who actually listens, who can tell funny stories, who has a generous heart and throws out sentences that you want to write down like, “Human souls don’t want to be fixed, they just want to be heard” and “we’re all recovering children” and Emra Bombeck’s “Worrying is like being in a rocking chair. It gives you something to do but does not get you anywhere.”

That last one about worrying is a hard habit to break. At least for me. If you don’t worry, you don’t troubleshoot your way out of potential problems. Or is that a cop-out, something I tell myself to justify things like getting naked in front of a dermatologist so he can look at my moles? What’s the difference between worrying and your mind subconsciously working on ways to avoid what you’re worried about? My biopsies came back, by the way, and two are cancerous so I’m scheduled for what they call “surgery” but is really just them digging out more skin around where the moles were removed for the biopsies. Sorry, Emra, but my ‘rocking chair’ did get me somewhere. 

Changing topics: I bought a new smart phone that was absolutely the stupidest phone I’ve ever had and between Don and me we’ve had a lot of cell phones going back to the ‘80s when Motorola bag phones first came on the market. (See photo above.) Can you believe it, the plan we had with that first cell phone was $9.99 a month for life for unlimited calls and we were able to keep that plan, transferring it to upgraded phones, until 2005. We finally voluntarily gave up the contract because the company got fussy and would only let us use it with a basic cell phone and I wanted one with more bells and whistles on it. But I still have that same cell phone number---31 years!

The phone I bought had some (new to me) features on it that I wanted like voice texting and voice maps but what it didn’t have the ability to get itself activated. After making four calls to the company spread out over 11 days and waiting on hold for over four hours finally a technical support guy declared the phone is defective and they’d send me a pre-activated phone to make a swap. The good news is they said they’d wave the $35.00 activation fee and drop five dollars off the monthly service fee. The bad news is when the phone arrived today in the mail it wasn’t the right model. It was a phone that cost nearly $100 less than I paid! Back on the phone I went but this time I had a direct line to technical support so I didn’t wait on hold. I got the apologizes one would expect and the promise that they’d use overnight delivery to get me the right phone. This whole saga has been frustrating but I’ve kept my cool through it all. However, if one more thing goes wrong with this fiasco my emotional intelligence will go down the drain and I’ll be back here writing Dumb Phones, Part Two. And I’ll be naming names. ©

Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Public Bathroom Controversy


Where do you stand (or sit) on the bathroom controversy that started when North Carolina passed a law making it a crime for transgenders to use men’s or women’s bathrooms that don’t match the sex named on their birth certificates? The state where I live could see a similar bill soon. One is being introduced in our state legislation next month, but I was shocked to learn that people can already be arrested in Michigan for “disturbing the peace” if you have 'outside plumbing' and go into a woman’s bathroom or vice versa. In the twelve years that my husband was wheelchair bound I had to take him into a lot of women’s bathrooms, especially before family bathrooms started popping up here and there. I’d usually check them out first to make sure the handicapped stall was open and I forbid Don to talk while we were in them. I didn’t want someone who’d come into the bathroom after us to get scared hearing a deep male voice in the next stall. I had no idea we were law breakers and here I thought I was a goody two-shoes all of my life.

North Carolina’s House Bill 2 got stuck in my mind a few days ago when I stopped at a gas station to use their restroom and I was surprised to see they’d renamed the men’s and women’s single stall bathrooms since last month. They are now both “unisex.” That solves a problem on single stall bathrooms and that common-sense solution has the side benefit of helping to keep lines from forming by the formerly women’s side. After leaving the gas station I spent the next ten minutes wondering why the owners took it upon themselves to make the change. Is someone in the owner’s family transgender? Did they have an incident that triggered a demand that the ‘disturbing the peace’ law be enforced? Are they just compassionate business owners who believe in being politically proactive? Why, why, why didn’t I have the guts to ask about the unisex signs?

Two years ago I never would have ever guessed this topic would come up in our presidential election cycle. When I was young it was ‘whites only’ bathrooms that they fought about all the way up to the Supreme Court. Ted Cruz is on a rampage about men in “girls” bathrooms---he never calls them “women’s” restrooms---and last night Trump said, “Just leave things the way they are” because it would cost businesses too much to make changes. Then this morning he flip-flopped to match the Republican Party Line and he said it should be left up to each state if they want to change the law, it shouldn’t be a federal issue. Ya, Donald, if they’d done that with ‘whites only’ bathrooms, drinking foundations and lunch counters guess what the South would still be doing today. And now the United Kingdom and a handful of other countries have issued travel advisers warning their LGBT communities against going to North Carolina and Mississippi. I’m not sure, but I think this is a first for the USA to have other countries declare parts of our country as unsafe for tourist travel.

There probably isn’t much middle ground between where each of us stands on House Bill 2 issues. We either think it’s needed or it’s over-kill but I’d like to know what they’re going to do down in North Carolina to implement the new law. Do they expect people to have their birth certificates with them at all times in case someone questions if the sex you look is in opposition to what they suspect you might be hiding? I ask myself how I would feel if Caityn/Bruce Jenner came into a restroom I was using. I've seen other caregivers like I was bring their husbands into the ladies room and it never bothers me nor did it ever appear to have bothered other women when I did it. Many even went out of their way to be nice. How would a transgender be any different than a handicapped guy in a woman’s restroom? I ask myself how I’d feel if I had a transgender son who got beat up a few times for being in a men’s bathroom while dressed like a woman. 

Life was simpler back in the days when people in the LGBT community were still in the closet---simpler for many of us but vastly more complicated for those who suffered in those closets. I truly believe that someday (within 10 years) science will figure out how to test for and correct what goes wrong in the gestation period that causes a baby to be born wired in their brains differently than their sex organs. And do it while a baby is still in the womb. But until the research brings us to that point is it fair to expect transgenders to live life suffering in silence or with daily ridicule just so the rest of us don’t have to face our prejudices and fears? Knowledge is power but that doesn’t mean newly acquired knowledge doesn’t challenge our core beliefs from time to time and require us to grow...or be left behind on the wrong side of history. ©