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, September 23, 2017

Mary, Hillary and the Handyman---Sounds Kinky, Doesn’t it



A few months ago I signed up to get Merriam-Webster’s Word-of-the Day delivered to my e-mail box. The idea was to build my vocabulary and I had planned to use a new-to-me word in each blog entry. That didn’t work out. Although I still read, listen to and study each daily word, I’ve only used two of them in my own writing. Today is my third attempt and the word is ‘holus-bolus’ which means “all at once.” The example they gave was this: “If you shout your questions at me holus-bolus, instead of asking them one at a time, then I won't be able to hear any of them.” The minute I read that word I thought of Mary Oliver. I think she’d like ‘holus-bolus.’ I’ve been reading her book titled, A Poetry Handbook: A Prose Guide to Understanding and Writing Poetry.” I bought it because I have a secret desire to write poetry and because everywhere I go lately Mary Oliver’s name shows up. Even Hillary Clinton mentioned Ms. Oliver in her new book, What Happened. (I’m reading both books at the same time. Well, alternately but wouldn’t it be cool if we could read one book with one eye and another book with the other eye? Think how much smarter we’d be if we could maximize our reading time like that.) 

Mary’s book starts out with gobbly-goop about the alphabet of familiar sounds. Vowels and consonants and semivowels and mutes. Oh, my! She writes stuff like, “In this run of short i sounds, the i used as part of a diphthong (in ‘their,’ ‘coin,’ ‘eerie,’ and ‘fusion’) is not a part of the assonance proper; neither, of course, is the long i in ‘spinal.’ But the y sound in the word ‘crystal’ is.” If I have to understand gobbly-goop like this I’ll never learn how to write poetry. It doesn’t help that I never learned how to sound out words. Still can’t. But I can still remember the opening line to a poem I wrote in high school: “Oh, how I hate to sit at home and rack my brain to write a poem.”

Hillary’s book is much easier to understand. In the early pages she wrote about how she reread one of her favorite books after the election, The Return of the Prodigal Son. She quotes the author, Henri Nouwen’s, lesson of the parable of the Prodigal Son---“I can choose to be grateful even when my emotions and feelings are still steeped in hurt and resentment. I can choose to speak about goodness and beauty even when my inner eye still looks for someone to accuse or something to call ugly. I can choose to listen to the voices that forgive and to look at the faces that smile even while I still hear words of revenge and see grimaces of hatred.” Hillary says Nouwen’s “discipline of gratitude” to her means that having gratitude for the good things isn’t enough, that’s too easy. She says we need to be grateful for the hard things too because, “in the end, they make us stronger…. My task, “she wrote, “was to be grateful for the humbling experience of losing the presidential election. Humility can be such a painful virtue.” Personally, I don’t know how she ever got out of bed let alone go through the cathartic process of writing a book and going on a book tour.

This week I finally got into the ears, nose and throat doctor. He was running nearly an hour late but it was worth the wait to have him find a ball of gobbly-goop---I love those words---in my ear made up of blood, dead skin and wax. He suctioned it out and wrote me a prescription for ear drops for the infection left behind. Afterward I rushed home to meet with a contractor I found on Home Adviser, a franchised service called Handyman Connections. I had a piece of siding in the peak of my garage, that had fallen off and it required a fifteen foot ladder to put it back on. I only have a two step ladder lest I’d be tempted to do anything farther off the floor than that. He was ten minutes late and he got the job done in fifteen minutes but it could have been done in ten if a family of wasps hadn’t built their nest on the vacated space left behind when the shingle fell off. Ninety-five dollars and I was glad to pay it since two other near-by siding companies I contacted didn’t even bother to respond. 

When I think of all the ‘honey-do’ projects like the shingle job that my husband did for us, his mother, my parents, the neighbors and other people who knew he always had the right tools for any job, I realize how under-appreciated he and most handy husbands are. Handyman Connections earned extra bonus points because I didn’t have to nag the guy to get the work done in a timely manner and he picked up after himself and that can’t be said about all handy husbands. What more could I have asked for on a bright, sunny day? Well, I could ask for my husband back but we all know that’s not the way the world of wishes works. (Did I just write an assonance at the end of that last sentence? Mary has me so confused!) ©

“In this universe we are given two gifts: the ability to love and the ability to question.
Which are, at the same time, the fires that warm us and the fires that scorch us.”
Mary Oliver

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Fall Chores, Olds Books and the Devil’s Vomit



The weather here in West Michigan has been perfect. Warm. Sunny. Just the way I like it. But I didn’t like doing my weekend project. I had two vintage outdoor chairs and a couple of side tables that needed spray painting. The last time I did them I thought it would be the LAST time because, back then, I was hot and heavy into shopping for a condo and I planned on leaving them behind in a history-of-my-life tag sale. I’m too old to be wrestling metal, clamshell back chairs around. I built a cardboard paint booth so I could spray them on top of the deck instead of dragging them down to the back yard. Worked great but I still can’t figure out how I got sail blue paint up my nose. I was wearing a face mask and safety glasses. I hope the ears, nose and throat doctor I’ll see later this week for my ear doesn't notice, but I bet he will. It’s not every day he comes across blue nostrils. 

I make no secret out of the fact that fall is third place in my Favorite Season Contest. Over the years it’s brought nothing but hard work into my life. Now I hire most of my fall yard work but for more decades than I care to count I had to rake leaves at four houses. Sometimes more if Don was in one of his do-good-for-the-neighborhood widows mode. Plus we took down screens, wash windows and put up heavy wooden storm windows at two houses. That was in addition to moving an army of snowplow equipment out of storage in the country to maintenance and then to the parking lots where they’d be used. I’ll be in a nursing home before I'll get over the notion that with fall comes work and that I have to start gathering nuts and seeds and stocking my cave for the coming cold and snow. Metaphorically speaking, of course. I've never lived in a cave.

And have I mentioned I hate the orange color palette that Mother Nature will bring us soon? I appreciate that the trees turning into a riot of color is pretty but don’t expect me to like the fall landscape painting on your wall or that orange sweater you like to wear around Halloween. My grudge against orange runs deep. I wouldn’t eat anything orange as a kid---didn’t start doing that until I was forty---and I doubt that had anything to do with my brother telling me that Satan’s vomit is orange. I was spitting out carrots and squash before I understood words. Whoo! Do you think he was calling ME the devil because anything orange I attempted to eat came right back out Linda Blair style?

In college I acquired a book titled, Your Color and Your Self: The Significance of Color Preference in the Study of Human Personality. It help solidify my hate-fest toward orange. “In the general study of human likes and dislikes for color, orange ranks very low among the hues of the spectrum,” the author wrote. “Red personalities are wont to state that they ‘hate’ the color, while blue personalities may scowl at the sight of it.” That’s me. I openly hate the color and scowl at it too. I haven’t taken that book off the shelf in years much less opened it to read the passages that are underlined. Here’s what it says about my color preferences: “You have a secure hold on your passions and enthusiasms. There is weight to your character, real and implied. You like to be admired for your steady character and for your wisdom and sagacity, although the truth may be that you may spend little effort to warrant admiration.” Ohmygod! I wonder if I could use that in my obituary without getting in trouble with the gods of plagiarism! My apologies to the author, Faber Birren, if I ask my heirs to do it. Faber is dead now but he wrote forty books and 250 articles about color. 

In the above mentioned book there’s a chapter on how color effects people with neuroses and psychoses. Scary stuff on how our color preferences change with increased mental illness. For example, intoxicated alcoholics will prefer red but most of them will prefer something else when sober (and hint, be weary of anyone living with brown walls). You know what else is scary? The library fine that would be due on this book. It was checked out in 1962 but never returned. Oops! In my defense, it was probably the end of my junior year and I didn't return to the same campus the following semester, though I don't recall ever getting a letter from the college librarian demanding its return or they'd withhold transferring my credits.

Speaking of memory loss, this week I got two more punches on my Old Person Card. One because I hopped in my car to go to a Red Hat Society tea, unfortunately I was one week less five minutes too early. We meet in the community room of grocery store that has an extensive deli department so I loaded myself up with a spinach wrap and an orange-cranberry muffin for dinner. A half-gallon of French vanilla ice cream might have jumped into my basket as well. My other Old Person mistake was I signed up for a ‘Making Soup’ class at the senior hall and half way through the session I remembered I’d taken the same cooking class a few years ago. Not that it mattered. The chef served a good lunch and no one seemed to notice my sail blue nostrils. ©

Saturday, September 16, 2017

Life Changing Secrets and Leg ‘Magic’…or so They Claim



Do you wear compression stockings? If so you might have liked a class I went to this week called, Healthy Legs. The class description started out, “Maintaining a healthy active lifestyle starts with energizing your legs” and I didn’t bother to read the rest. Had I done so, I would have known it was put on by Juzo Compression Garments. I don’t wear compression stockings and after watching three 30ish, skinny model types pushing the idea that, “EVERYONE needs to wear these no matter your age” I did not join the cult. Although they did have styles for everyone---ankle, knee and thigh high, open toed for scandals and panty hose plus garments just for sleeping. Each of those came with compression rates from 15% to 50% and even though they come in some cool tie-dyed and jewel colors, none of those young women fooled me with their “Spanx for legs” jokes. They still looked medicinal.

And it wasn’t just the stockings. You’d need accessories just to get them on---special gloves, a ‘donner pad’ for the floor, donning lotion and a parachute-like device that helps you thread these stocking up your legs. It all made me feel very old for reasons that are probably related to why I resisted having a magnifying glass next to my chair in the living room for so long. Old people gear here and there and before long I might as call my house a nursing home.

Someone asked why the compression stocking she wore didn’t stay up and the answer was: there are two types of human legs---stove pipes and pie shaped and if you are in the wrong type and/or size garment they won’t work. You need measurements taken up and down and around your legs at several places to get the right compression in the right places. The garments has different compression ratings in different parts, the higher up your leg they go. So why compress your legs? Apparently it helps push the blood from your feet up to your heart where it gets oxygenated before the blood returns to your feet. I did not stick around to get a fitting. I will not be asking my doctor next month at my bi-annual appointment if I'd benefits from compression stockings like these ladies suggested. I wanted to stick my fingers in my ears and sing, "La, la, la, la, I can't hear you!"

Also this week I went to my book club where we had our best discussion ever. The book that inspired it was The Memory Keeper's Daughter by Kim Edwards. The blurb says this: “…the novel begins on a winter night in 1964 when a blizzard forces Dr. David Henry to deliver his own twins…but the doctor immediately recognizes that his daughter has Down’s syndrome.” In a split-second decision he asks his nurse to take the baby to an institution and tells his wife the girl was born died. Instead, the nurse left town, keeping the baby to raise as her own---two secrets that the wife and other twin didn’t find out about until after David died sixteen years later. 

Everyone in my book club had a story to tell about babies given up for adoption, most in secret that got revealed years later. One woman found out a week after her mother died that she had an older brother. It seemed her two aunts had kept the secret long enough and they gave her the contact information for the long-lost older brother. She said she felt like her whole life had been based on a lie because her mom had told her she was a virgin when she got married when, in fact, she’d had an affair with a married man. Her younger brother refused to believe it and didn’t want anything to do with meeting the half-brother. Fast forward ten years she hadn’t contact the older sibling, lost his contact information during a move and the aunts died. And she is left to wonder why her mother lied.

Another woman had recently found a message on her phone from a cousin who wanted to get together. “My mom told me a secret about your mother that is going to blow your mind.” She was afraid to call the cousin back. On one hand she wanted to know what it was but her older sister told her, “Trust me, you’ll wish you didn’t know.” The consensus in the book club was that a lot of secrets went to the grave with women in past generations. It was a different time for unmarried and pregnant young women and none of them could have ever imagined how easily their babies-out-of-wedlock secrets could get tracked down in our modern, internet savvy world. There are whole websites devoted to the effort. ©