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, 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? ©

26 comments:

  1. I should do that, too. I know someone who ended up in a cemetery because two of his sisters refused to agree to cremation even though he had expressed his wishes.

    H had a situation in his family where one cousin promised her mother before she died that she would get her mother's brother exhumed and moved to the family plot so the family could be together. All of the remaining seven cousins had to agree. Her lawyer told her to expect at least one to disagree. I thought everyone would agree. Who would care? But H's brother refused, saying that Uncle had been in one place too long to move him. Too long? What? You just never know how people will react.

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    1. Crazy isn't it, that people don't do what they promised and know someone wanted regarding matters like this. That can happen with an appointed funeral representative, too, but less likely if you pick the right one and give them a set of guidelines before they sign on the dotted line.

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  2. Be astonished! I love being this age/stage of life because I do take the time to enjoy the little things in life! I really do stop and smell the roses.

    Isn't it something that you have to put your death wishes in writing AND have witnesses? Goodness! Whatever happened to doing business with a handshake ....

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    1. It helps that you're helping to raise two little boys who make you stop and see the little things. What a blessing for you and them.

      You don't have to put your wishes in writing. You could let your family duke it out and the issue of cremation is one area where families often disagree. When my mom was cremated my brother took it really hard, couldn't even go with us when we spread her ashes. Her sister was distraught over it and her kids think that stress contributed to her death a few days later. Even the papers I signed is no guarantee that my nieces will do as I wish. It just gives them the right to by-pass my my brother to plan my final resting place/funeral. But the paper allows for changing circumstances, so they aren't legally bound---for example if I had a last minute wish to be buried in Ireland and I only had enough money left in my estate to be buried behind a dumpster at Wal-Mart, they wouldn't have to spend their own money to ship my body overseas.

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  3. You are smart to cross your T's. I keep meaning to contact the university medical school to donate my body to science but I keep thinking tomorrow will come. When the school is done with us as a teaching tool, they cremate the remains, at no cost. Thanks for the heads up. Gotta quit counting on tomorrow.

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    1. With something outside the norm like you want done, you really do need to get your ducks in order! Once it's done you don't have to think about it again.

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  4. Ah, at last. I've been so consumed by preparations of various sorts for the hurricane that I've fallen behind, blogwise. It takes something serious for that to happen!

    I really wonder if the guy who did the photo presentation isn't one I bumped into online a year ago. He called himself Father Nature, included quotations and original poems in his blog, and was Christian. I can't quite remember... I think he commented on one of my posts after my trip to Arkansas.

    I'm surprised you didn't know Mary Oliver, although there are so many good musicians, poets, artists and other creative sorts around none of us can keep up with them all. I've known her work for years, and often quoted her or included poems in my posts. Her sensitivity to the natural world is as great as Annie Dillard's, although quite different in its way.

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    1. I've been worried about you down there! So glad to see your name appear in my comments box.

      The guy has a blog here: http://walkwithfathernature.blogspot.com/ You will like his flower and bird photos. He has one of those sports shutters that clicks one shot after another he uses on birds in flight. He says he'll get a 100 shots but only use maybe one or two that way. I blogged his website last year so maybe you visited it then?

      I'm sure I've seen Mary Oliver's work before but just didn't know her well enough to connect it with a name. Father Nature also quotes her poems in his posts. I love the way his blog is organized and he's just using a common Bloggers platform layout with tweaks to colors and fonts.

      Stay safe down there!

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    2. That's the guy. I found him -- he landed on my blog first, and then I visited him. I laughed at your comments about his blog. Our responses are such a perfect example of different strokes for different folks. I visited for a few times, and then never went back, because I couldn't stand the disorganized layout, the over-saturated and over-tweaked photos, and all those colors for the texts! Isn't it funny how differently we respond to things? But it sure is interesting that he is the one whose presentation you got to see.

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    3. Small world!

      That is funny, our different reactions. I think my eyes are older than yours so maybe I'm not seeing the colors as brightly as you. I do have trouble reading certain fonts if they're color is soft. For example, I liked your old format better than your new-ish one. For me, it was easier to read but, of course, the content makes it worth the eye strain.

      Father Nature is a retired science teacher who was a meteorologist stationed in Vietnam during the war. He keeps as busy as he wants to be doing presentations to schools and groups of all kinds. He says they help pay for him to buy new lens and field trips.

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  5. I don't understand how people can go against the deceased final wishes. Both DH and I are in favor of cremation and scattering, if anyone fights it, it's their dime. Although I can't see any of either his or my relatives shelling out $8-10K for all that fol-dee-rol.
    I never have been good with names. It has nothing to do with age.

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    1. The emotions that come out when someone dies can be unpredictable. And for some people, I think it's a religious thing.

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  6. It's not a bad idea to cross the t's and dot the i's, Cindy's parents have done exactly that and it didn't stop one brother from trying to throw a monkey wrench into everything when Cindy's Mom passed, Her Dad has since gone down to go over all of his plans, re dot and cross, and then call all the kids to tell them what's what but the same brother approached Cindy to tell her, "You know that I am going to make trouble when Dad goes". Sheesh I'm glad Dad has everything spelled out and filed.

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    1. Wow! Hard to believe Cindy's brother plans on causing trouble like that. Sounds like her dad knows his children well, to re-affirm what he wants.

      In my case, my brother didn't try to stop and stand in the way of what my mom wanted but he was distraught over it and it took him a long time to make peace with the cremation and scattering. When my dad died, he actually had wanted his ashes scattered where my mom's were, but that didn't happen because my brother wanted them in a cemetery. Guess he really needed to have a place to visit so I didn't fight it, figured my dad would understand. Still wish some of his ashes could have been scattered, though.

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  7. I don't care what happens to my body after I'm dead. It's just a carcass. Cremation appeals because it's like recycling.

    I don't also understand about siblings fighting legal battles over wills. It's only the lawyers laughing all the way to the bank.

    I hadn't heard of either of the two artists. But, my knowledge of such stuff would fill a non-existent baby Barbie doll's shoe (to use your metaphor). ~ Libby

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    1. I just want it to be final..with my body so 100 years they can't add a chemical that brings be back to life to be a slave to a muton society. LOL

      Glad I'm not the only one who doesn't remember Mary Oliver. Father Nature isn't well know outside West Michigan, I don't think.

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  8. Very interesting subject about cremation.
    Glad you wrote this post, the comments are very informative as well!

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    1. It's a creepy subject sometimes, depending on my mood. LOL

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  9. Sigh. Like so many people, I hate having to think about final preparations at all, but it's prudent to. For me, I want to get all of it settled so that my sons don't have to have anything worrisome in their grief. And I always want to Keep Things Simple, if possible.

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    1. For me, I can't bring myself to plan my own funeral while I'm still feeling healthy, but I did type out and signed a short list of what I called Funeral Notes. It contained lines like: "Such and such is important to me. Such and such is not important to me." I've always believed a funeral is for the living, so those planning this final step needs to do what helps them the most.

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  10. Mary Oliver is a nice read, as are the books by Tasha Tabor.
    I have my funeral all planned out, my grave stone purchased and set. I actually like to go to the cemetery at different times of the day to see how the light looks on my stone. I guess I have some crazy idea that I will be able to view it all after I'm gone--even though I know that is nonsense!

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    1. I'd put duck tape over my side of the stone if I didn't think it would permanently stain it. Don't like seeing my name in a cemetery. LOL

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  11. I know what you mean about dying in stages. I think my husband began to do so when he stopped taking photos as he was once so enthusiastic about doing. I've considered transferring his slides to digital but haven't done it. Another of those good intentions on that road you likely know about. Re your nieces -- wise to set up provisions for when we're either unable, or not around, to make it easy as possible for whoever takes care of our affairs. Important, too, for those with children, even spouses, as I've seen some situations that became very complicated for some of them when I was working in retirement communities -- even with patient signed directives.

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    1. I have slides to transfer too. I got as far as sorting out a small part of a huge box I wanted to do that with, but I can't bring myself to throw out the rest. They were such a big part of my husband for so many years. As with yours, too, it sounds.

      When I was in the stroke community I saw a lot of complications and horror stories resulting from people not taking care of signed directives and POA's. I'm sure in your line of work you saw it often. It's hard enough to deal disabilities and death without complicating things by pretending it can't happen to us.

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  12. Mary Oliver is one of my favorite poets, along with Billy Collins. I like them because they write about every day things with such insight and perfect pitch for finding the right way to describe and analyze the world in a way that is so realistic, yet inspiring. Read Mary Oliver's The Summer Day....the last lines are so beautiful and a mantra of mine, especially when I think I'm spinning my wheels on things that are causing me suffering....I read it to honor and get on with "my one wild and precious life".

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    1. Okay, you guys are making me feel guilty for not reading Nary Oliver. It will be my homework soon. "Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?" I think I'm too old for that line of hers to be a mantra for me. It makes me sad because I feel like I've wasted too much of my life.

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