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, July 22, 2017

No Cardboard Box under a Bridge for me!

Don’t leap to conclusions on what I’m about to tell you but I had an appointment with a person whose business card says he’s “a specialist in home care and assisted living placements.” I met him in March on a bus tour of independent and assisted living facilities and I was impressed with him enough to want to take advantage of a free service where he can estimate how long your money and assets will last in places like. I’m nowhere near wanting or needing to move into a facility but I wanted to get some footwork done for someday maybe. And don’t we all worry about whether or not we’ll end up in a fleabag Medicaid dumping ground or worse yet, get loaded up in a shopping cart and set loose at the top of a hill. Bye bye, there’s cardboard condo community down there under the bridge that you can afford.
He said I have enough assets to qualify to get me into most continuing care places---the kind where you start out in independent living and as needed they move you up in care levels plus they won’t kick you out if your money runs out. Not that he’s recommending that for me (far from it) but he said---and this is the important part---qualifying for those kinds of places is an great indicator that a person has enough assets to private-pay at nice/r places, with lower monthly fees for the rest of your life. (Continuing care places cost more up front in exchange for that life care guarantee and no one gets anything back if you die long before using up all your own money.) Of course, no one knows how long any of us will live but it’s the same principle as buying extended warranties---the companies selling them are betting you won’t need to use them i.e. continuing care facilities have developed extensive mathematical formulas and they are gambling you’ll die before it starts costing them money. And they are factoring into their calculations a two year stretch at the highest cost level at the end. I didn’t tell him this but the dark side of me wonders if when your money runs low if that's when you have a "tragic accident” like my sister-in-law did, chocking on a pill because no one was around who was certified to do the Heimlich in a timely manner?

The guy was here for nearly two hours and by the time he left I felt so much better---no eating cat kibble to save money for me! If there’s anything he doesn’t know about the various facilities around town, it isn’t worth knowing. For example, he asked if a religious affiliation was important to me and I said, “Quite the opposite” and I told him I didn’t like one of the places we toured on the bus trip because it felt “too churchy.” He replied that it’s common in this town for places to boast that they do prayers, devotions and Bible readings daily with their meals. “Not a good fit of me!” I said emphatically. And he named some places in my target area that don’t let religion bleed all over their mission statements. We covered the dog-friendly places, the view out the unit window, the ideal location for family support, the food and activities, etc., etc. Three pages of questions and answers and it will all be on file for my nieces when/if they need it. He’d take me and/or them on a tour of his top three recommendations when the time comes, or even next week if I wanted. I’m not ready for that. I hope I’m never ready but we all know our health can change in a heartbeat so when ‘hope’ fails it helps to have a plan. 

Change of topic to something else I’ve never done before: I had my first e-visit with my doctor’s office. I got diagnosed online for ‘acute cystitis’ otherwise known as a UTI to the ladies out there. I filled out the questionnaire at 9:00 Monday and by 11:00 I had the promise of an antibiotic called in to the pharmacy and orders left for a urine test. By Wednesday morning the lab order still had not shown up on my patient portal and I thought, well, maybe e-visits don’t do it the same way as office calls, so I went to the lab. No order was on file and I had to wait for them to call the doctor’s office. Finally, I got to pee in a specimen bottle.

I made three trips to the same medical building that day. One of those trips was for a mammogram and we all know how much fun that can be. I was getting pulled, stretched and pressed at the exact same time a lab technician two rooms down was leaving a message on my home phone that I’d failed at giving an adequate urine sample and I needed to come back and do another. Great! I’ve been peeing a million times a day and the one time it counted, I did a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am quickie that only satisfied one of us. The bummer part is the e-visit doctor told me not to start the antibiotics until after I’d taken the urine test so I had to spend over 48 hours lusting after the promised relief sitting in a medicine bottle on the kitchen counter-top. ©

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Cemeteries and Guru Ants

Over the weekend I did something that should have been done around Memorial Day. I packed a bucket up with garden gloves, a spade, scrub brush, plastic bags and a gallon of water and headed off to the cemetery to tend to my husband’s grave marker. If the sod around the stone isn’t edged once a year, it wouldn’t take long for the entire stone to be covered over with dirt and grass. Location, location, location---like buying a house, when you pick out a gravesite location matters. Don’t buy one in a low spot. Of course, we didn’t think of that when my husband and I picked out our site. It’s in the same row as plots our friends bought and that pleased our funny bones to be neighbors when we die. Don is there waiting all by himself. Well, not exactly. He grew up near the small town where his ashes are interred and he delivered newspapers to most of the houses, back in the days when newspapers were the kings in the media world. He knew a lot of the people buried in the cemetery. He also trimmed trees and cut the grass in the grave yard for an entire summer of restitution for a juvenile crime. Hint: Don’t move city-owned picnic tables into the river. Yup, the guys in our row at the cemetery will have much to talk about when they reunite.

It was a pleasant day, sunny but not too hot and I got the edging done without taxing myself. Last year I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep up the stone’s maintenance but this year I realized my recent strength training at the gym made the chore not only manageable but almost meditative. I was so in the zone of what I was doing that when I walked back to the car I was surprised to see another woman was working less than 50 feet away. I’ll have to go back another day to affix a Snoopy trinket to the corner of the stone. It was too wet to do it while I was there. But I don’t know why I keep that tradition going because by fall some little kid will have peeled the trinket off the stone. I use Crocs shoe charms and if you hear about an old woman mugging a little kid to get the Snoopy charm off his shoe it will be me, taking back was as taken from the cemetery. 

I picked Saturday to go to the cemetery because there was an art show going on in the community pavilion in town and I wanted to know if any of the artists knew of someone who teaches painting. At the sponsoring group’s table they took my email address and I was told one of their members does hold classes. (Fingers crossed.) After checking out all the artist’s work I walked across the street to a hot dog place that overlooks the town’s damn and garden park. With my lunch packed to go, I went out their back door and ten steps later I was connected to the nature trail. I found a bench in the shade about a block away where I could watch the swans and kayakers go by. The trail was busy---bikers of all descriptions, skateboarders, joggers, dog walkers, fly fishermen, and people pushing wheelchairs. I’d done my share of pushing a wheelchair and walking the dog on that trail but a bad tick season made me stop doing the latter and Don’s death, of course, ended the former. It wasn’t a sad day of memories although earlier when I turned into the cemetery I was swallowing hard the way you do when you think tears might spill. That brief moment made me wondered if that was the reason why I’d put off doing my spring chore until mid-summer. But it wasn’t. I just got too busy.

As I sat by the river a slight breeze carried the sweet scents of summer and I glanced down to the cement pad my bench was sitting on and I got side-tracked watching a black ant carrying off a shredded pickle longer than he was. It had fallen off my hot dog. A piece of shredded cheese was near-by. I picked it up and put it down in the path of another black ant but he just walked over it and before I knew it I was engrossed in the curious dietary preferences of ants. Pickles and bun bits, yes. Cheese and onion, no. I thought about giving them a few drops of my Coke but I’m pretty sure that would have been akin to yelling “THE KEG'S HERE!” in a college frat house. Without planning it, without consciously commanding myself to relax and live in the moment, to mediate myself to a place of peace, it happened anyway. I was both in and of world, a god to ants in the same way some higher power might be putting ‘pickles’ and ‘cheese’ in my path to see how I’ll react. They say the benefits of Mindfulness (living in the moment) are: It reduces brain clutter, brings better force in your life, lowers stress, helps you better understand your pain and connects you with the world around you. I get that. I got that tenfold on Saturday. After spending over three hours between the cemetery, the art show, lunch and playing mindfulness games with my guru ants, I went home and took a long, dead-to-the-world nap. ©

“In today’s rush, we all think too much — seek too much — want too much — and forget about the joy of just being.” ~Eckhart Tolle

Saturday, July 15, 2017

Computer Geeks and Rowing Crews

I have a tech guy---young, cute as a ladybug if ladybugs were males that wear black leather pocket vests full of tiny tools. I’ve loved those pocket vests since I first noticed them on gutsy photo-journalists running around dodging bullets to report on some long-ago and far-away war. It’s the one piece of clothing that I’ve lusted after for decades but would never let myself purchase. Maybe if I become a bag lady a pocket vest would be become a necessity but for now I’m too vain to add that much bulk to my already bulky mid-section. But every time Nate makes a house call to fix my computer woes he kick-starts the vest lusting all over again. This time the guy was sporting what I’m guessing was a two-day old beard. Talk about a lethal combination! A black beard with inky dark eyes, dimpled checks and that leather vest. Be still my heart. My days of seeing him might be coming to an end, though. He suggested we set up my two computers so he can do repairs and maintenance remotely from his shop for a fee of seven bucks a month. My computers would send him reports when things need doing or aren’t working and he’d do what needs doing. Every time he walks through the door it costs a hundred dollars so on one hand, his suggestion would save me money, but on the other hand I’m not sure I want to give someone a backdoor into my computers. Even though I know and trust Nate, there are others working in the business. It’s a local chain with five locations.

While he’s here we always have interesting conversations but this time I was struggling with my voice. I’ve just come off from a round of Prednisone (for joints inflammation) and one of the side effects for me is my voice gets very hoarse and soft which is shocking at first because I don’t get Prednisone often enough to remember this happening. I googled the drug and learned that sometimes your voice doesn’t come back! I’ve had the Prednisone medrol dose packs five-six times in the past---a year apart each time---so I know it’s just a matter of time when I will get my voice back but for the two days when I didn’t remember this side effect, I was bummed out thinking, First my eyes, then my ears, now my voice! What’s next?  But I know what’s next. I have to do something about my clicking, painful jaw. In the mornings I’m starting to have trouble opening my mouth wide enough to shovel cereal inside. Google is telling me there isn’t much that can be done except exercises so I’m letting it ride until my next dentist appointment. 

This week was my monthly book club and we had a great book to discuss, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. The cover describes the book in one precise sentence: It’s a true story of “nine Americans and their epic quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics.” Almost 400 pages long but, boy, did I learn a lot about rowing crew teams and what it was like to grow up during the Depression, the socioeconomic landscape of the 1930s that molded the characters of these nine young men. The research and details that went into this book is mind boggling and it includes a lot about how Hitler prepared his country for the event. The boys in the boat who won the Gold in Berlin were the sons of loggers and shipyard workers in the Pacific Northeast, college students at the University of Washington in Seattle. If you like Olympic sports history you’d like this book. But it’s also a very human story about overcoming family dysfunction, nearly impossible odds and never giving up. 

George Yeoman Pocock, a designer/builder of racing shells and a mentor to the 1936 Olympic Team was quoted near the end of the book as saying, “Good thoughts have much to do with good rowing. It isn’t enough for the muscles of a crew to work in unison, their hearts and minds must also be as one.” Couldn’t the same be said of families and other groups to succeed? We have to give up our individual desires for personal fame or power in favor of working together, setting one goal to move forward.

Most times when I leave my house I go past a place on the river---a shell house---where rowing crews from the area high schools store and launch their shells. In the fall, when they start practicing again I will have a new appreciation for a sport I erroneously thought was just for yuppies. I look forward to pulling into the riverside park and watching for a while. I’ll know if they’re doing sweep-oar rowing (one oar per rower) or sculls rowing (two oars per rower). I’ll have a label---the coxswain---for the person who sits in the back and coordinating the rhythm and power of the crew, who has to factor in the wind, the weather and the position of the other shells in the race as he/she barks out orders. That’s what good books can do for us, they can make us see our own little world through a new and broader lens. ©