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, August 30, 2017

Stephen King and the Voices in my Head



By the time this blog entry gets published it will be Wednesday which is smack-dab in the middle of a week where nothing, absolutely nothing is written in ink on my day planner but my house cleaner is coming on Friday. That’s a bad thing if you’re struggling to find a topic to write about. If rain hadn’t been in the forecast I would be painting my outdoor, metal chairs this week. Likewise, if I wasn’t on the Trump Diet---the one where you stress-eat everything that isn’t nailed to the wall---I’d put down the Tostitos Scoops and go to a Tia-Chi class at the senior center instead of sitting at my computer. I’ve only gone to a handful of those drop-in classes so it’s safe to say I’m not highly motivated to do slow-motion exercises. I did get outside to do some weeding and I filled up two 13 gallon trash bags and I still have enough weeds out there to fill another. They’re at the top of a slight hill and I should have pulled them on Monday in case my mountain goat skills have waned and I fall and can’t get back up. That way my lawn care guy would have found me the next morning. You’ve gotta plan ahead when you’re old and living alone.

At times like this, when there is nothing going on in my life to write about, I can’t help thinking of some advice that Stephen King gave to would-be writers: “You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair---the sense that you can never completely put on the page what's in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” 

I’m not fond of Stephen King’s horror genre books but he’s a productive (and many would say a brilliant) writer and two of my all-time favorite movies are adaptations of his stories---The Shawshank Redemption and Stand by Me. I am, however, a huge fan of his thoughts about writing. More than once when I’ve wanted to write about something that others might view as too personal or too controversial I think about that quoted paragraph above, screw up my courage and start writing while trying not to let the voice of a friend get into my head. She once told me my writing is too personal, that I reveal too much and it made her feel uncomfortable. That was back at the beginning of second year of my widowhood and her words are one reason why I tell so few people in my off-line life about my on-line presence. I did some soul searching after she told me those things and I decided that what she said doesn’t jive with anything I’ve ever read about writing and writers. “You must not come lightly to the blank page.” Opening up, being vulnerable in memoir-style writing goes together like salt and pepper shakers. And make no mistake about it, most non-commercial blogs are memoirs in a roundabout, coming-in-through-the-back-door way.

I suppose it’s normal for people in our circle of casual friends not to want to know about the inner workings of our minds, especially if our outside image doesn’t match what’s going on inside our heads. We humans are good actors. We can walk around looking and acting perfectly normal while we’re falling apart inside and we want to scream, “Make the world stop! I can’t take it anymore!” We can go here and there like good soldier ants on a mission but inside feel lost and alone. “The mind can calculate, but the spirit yearns, and the heart knows what the heart knows.” I have no idea in what context Stephen King wrote those words but it doesn’t matter. To me, it’s a statement that explains how our minds, spirits and hearts can be in three different places all at the same time.

I don’t do well with unscheduled time---too much of it makes me feel guilty about what I’m not doing and should be. “Purging here, purging there and purging everywhere,” says all widows I’ve even known. There’s always something productive I could be doing if I could get my head out of the clouds. I did pencil in a day to paint at my easel this week and that went well, but I could still hear my mom’s voice in my head saying, get your chores done before you go outside to play! And I answered back, didn’t you see me pencil in a day to pack up stuff to take to the auction house? But her voice came back even louder: Thinking about doing something isn’t the same thing as doing it! At least I’m not delusional enough to believe the voices in my head are Stephen King-like demons and they’re telling me to kill the neighbor’s Siamese cat. ©

“I'm one of those people who doesn't really know what he thinks until he writes it down.”
― Stephen King

This blog entry is an example of me writing with no idea what I’d end up saying.




Saturday, August 26, 2017

Poets, Photos and Cremations



“Instructions for living a life: Pay attention. Be astonished. Tell about it.” I came to read these words from Mary Oliver’s poem Sometimes in a round-about way. I went to a lecture/slide show this week presented by a guy who said this stanza was once printed on his business cards because it describes his philosophy for taking photographs and writing poems about his walks through nature. It’s the second presentation of his I’ve been to and while I wasn’t totally impressed with his first one I wanted to see what his photos looked like on the senior hall’s new A/V system with its two curved split screens that allows the center to rearrange the chairs so that no one has a bad seat. We’ve been fund raising for this system for what seems like forever and it was worth it. This time, his flowers and bird photos were like high quality greeting cards---so sharp, colorful and detailed. I actually felt sorry for the guy because with his first lecture/slide show there was over a hundred in attendance but only sixty-five showed up this time. If my curiosity hadn’t brought me back and I would have missed seeing how good he actually is at paying attention and telling about it.

My husband was an amateur photographer. He had a fancy-dance, foot-long camera with all the special lens and filters and he took the kind of close-ups I saw at this senior hall presentation. I used to think he got interested in the hobby because I was into photography at the time we met but I came to believe that his mom, with her little box Brownie, probably planted the seeds and I just helped them grow by introducing him to bigger and better gadgets. Mostly I loved taking photos of people but Don was into nature shots and he ran with that theme. He was good at it and he credited Canon Cameras for that, but the guy from the lecture said he gave the credit to God…“if that’s okay with you,” he added, “and if it’s not, I’m going to do it anyway. I’m a Christian through and through.”

On the way home from the slide show I got an unexpected lump in my throat thinking about the similarities between the photos taken by Don and this guy who calls himself Father Nature. They both love/loved photographing the mountains, vegetation and wild life in Colorado. I swear Father Nature and Don must have been standing in the same places taking pictures. Calendar shots, one after another. After Don’s stroke he couldn’t use his camera one-handed and I found him another that could be managed one-handed/left-handed and after I taught myself how to do it, I tried teaching him. But I couldn’t stoke his creative embers back to life. Long-time family caregivers will know what I mean when I say that sometimes people die in stages.

Back to Mary Oliver. If you’re like me, you didn’t know that Mary is an American poet who, according to The New York Times is “far and away, this country’s best-selling poet.” If you look at her list of published works, you get the impression that she’s prolific which begs the question, why hadn’t I heard about her before?  She is 81 and apparently is famous for saying things like: “I don't want to end up simply having visited this world” and “He is exactly the poem I wanted to write.” At first glance at Mary Oliver’s popularity I wondered which came first the chicken or the egg. So many of her lines fit perfectly in memes, on coffee cups and other what-nots you can pick up in a gift shop but was she popular in literary circles before she hit the mainstream marketplace? At second glance, the answer is a resounding “yes.” Obviously, I need some of that educating they talk about in them there schools. My knowledge of American poets would fit into a Barbie doll shoe.

This week I also got to see both of my nieces at the same time, a rare occurrence unless it’s Christmas. I had some papers we had to have signed and witnessed in front of a Notary Public that will give them the right to plan my funeral, more precisely to order a cremation. Evidently, if you don’t have children or a spouse in my state, it creates a problem if you don’t want your nearest kin (my brother in my case) to make that decision. These papers will save my family some headaches after I die. And my body won’t have to cool its heels waiting for the coroner to establish who has the legal right to say where and how I end up. It doesn’t matter if you write out your wishes or how many people you tell, if your next of kin doesn’t want you cremated, it won’t happen…unless you've taken this over-riding step of naming a designated funeral representative who you're pretty sure will follow your wishes. Am I a cross my T’s and dot my I’s kind of person, or what? ©

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

The Generals, the Eclipse and the Donut Diet



During WWII it was discovered by the U.S. military that too many young men had rickets---soft and weaken bones caused by a prolonged vitamin D deficiency---and they had to be rejected from serving. Alarmed by what they considered to be a danger to our national security, the generals pushed for solutions and thus the 1946 Congress passed the National School Lunch Act: “It is hereby declared to be the policy of Congress, as a measure of national security to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children and to encourage the domestic consumption of nutritious agricultural commodities”…yadda, yadda, yadda all boiling down to the reason why I have memories from kindergarten of getting raisins, an apple and a cup of milk every morning at recess, compliments of the federal government. I liked the milk and raisins but I still don’t like apples unless they’re baked in a pie and smothered with ice cream. 

I thought about this little known bit of military history this week when columnist and CNN host of GPS, Fareed Zakaria, wrote the following regarding what happened in Charlottesville: “The public figures who deserve the most praise this week are the military brass. In a remarkable act of leadership for people who actually work under the president, the heads of five branches of the armed forces independently issued statements unequivocally denouncing racism and bigotry. Perhaps this is because the military has been the institution that has most successfully integrated the nation’s diverse population. Perhaps it is because the military remains an old-fashioned place, where a sense of honor, standards and values still holds. The military chiefs have shown why they still command so much respect in the country…” I don’t know about you, but those words give me comfort. They tell me the generals have the balls to speak truth to power and will be the firewall that keeps the crazy guy in the White House in check.

Okay, enough rehashing of last week’s collective “melt down” and on to how I spent the eclipse. I started out on Sunday by converting a Post’s Great Grains cereal box into an eclipse viewing box. I also read an article on protecting pets against getting their retinas burned into half-moon shaped damage. A lot of good that did, I couldn’t find a pair of eclipse viewing glasses for myself let alone a second pair to custom-fit on Levi. I had lunch plans with one of my Gathering Girls friends on eclipse day, made before I thought about the fact that something important was happening in the sky then. And while we’d planned on eating outside near the river in my adopted home town, I thought I’d feel silly carrying my viewing box around in public. Seriously, why do I care about things like that? Still, I do and if I had had the drying time I would have decoupaged my Great Grains eclipse viewing box, put a handle on it and pretended it was a purse. Instead I left it in the car.

West Michigan was not in the path of totality so we only saw an 80% eclipse of the sun where I live and as we sat next to the river waiting for it to happen a couple of sweet little girls came over and let us use their glasses for a few minutes. It was cool to see but we were both surprised that it didn’t even get twilight dark at 2:22 when the moon reached maximum coverage of the sun. But what we did notice was the temperature dropped and the algae smell of the near-by dam intensified. It was eerie and I half expected the water to quit flowing over the dam. A man---as sweet as the little girls---came by and offered us a look through his glasses so we got to see the tail end of the eclipse as well as the beginning. That night on the news they said the temperatures in the eclipse path dropped from six to twelve degrees across the nation. Holy cow, it wasn't just our imaginations!

In the 21th century we understand the science behind eclipses. We appreciate the smarty-pants people who figured out what’s been happening in the skies since before the first eclipse was documented on ancient clay tablets. But if I live to be 100 I’ll never understand how scientists knew the so-named Einstein's Eclipse of 1919 could confirm Einstein’s Theory of General Relativity---you know the one, the theory that describes gravity as a “warping of space-time.” They did that by measuring the bending of light from stars during the nearly seven minutes the sun was blocked by the moon. Say what? How did they measure that? And how the heck do people get so Sheldon Cooper smart? I can’t even figure out why the bakery at the grocery store just added a prominent sign saying that the maximum number of calories an average person should eat daily is 2,000 and most donuts are 160 calories. Are they saying we can eat twelve and a half donuts a day if we skip all the nutritional stuff? And if we do that will we all get rickets? ©