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 30, 2017

The Dog, Dying, Hillary, Laurel, Eleanor, and Victoria---Oh My!



I will never understand why the dog always wants to take one of his stuffie toys outside on his first trip in the morning to pee. Does he think his frog, duck or squirrel needs to pee too? Does he not trust me with his toys? I’ve never played with them without him being present, but Levi might not know that fact of his furry little life. It took a long time to train him to leave his playmates on top of the deck when he goes down to his duty yard and often times when he comes back up the steps Levi will sun bath lying next to his stuffie. It’s his ten o’clock ritual here on Widowhood Lane while type on the other side of the kitchen window. 

I heard a story the other day about woman who died and when her daughter got in town to plan the funeral she had the woman’s dog put down. Just like that. Didn’t ask around to see if anyone would take him. Didn’t give him a chance to find another home. I tell everyone who will listen that Levi has a little stippling that follows him for his care, should I die before he does. The idea of putting down such a sweet and likeable dog like Levi for no reason other than my death inconvenienced someone makes me sick. I don’t know. Maybe she thought the dog was unadoptable and she was doing the lesser of two evils. But I doubt that. The person who told me this story said the daughter “isn’t a dog person.” I hate thinking about this topic. 

I also hate thinking about dying. I’m not ready yet and I carry around too much guilt because I waste so much time. I’ve always been a self-absorbed time waster but now that the hour glass is running out of sand, I wish I had more to show for my time on earth. Yadda, yadda, yadda. You’ve heard me sing this song before: Poor me! I’m in one of those moods again. I’m beating myself black and blue because no one but the dog will miss me when I’m gone. This time, it might be Hillary Clinton’s fault. I’m three quarters of the way through her latest book. Now, there is a woman who didn’t let any grass grow under her feet. I know she’s a polarizing figure---I get that---but I also get the truth in the phrase Laurel Thatcher Ulrich coined: “Well-behaved women seldom make history.” Ulrich is a professor at Harvard and a historian of women’s history and she was referring to ladies like Elizabeth Cady Stanton who had a chance encounter with a runaway slave that caused her to break with conventional behavior to become an important figure in the Woman’s Suffrage Movement. Yup, I understand why Hillary identifies with that “well-behaved” line. I wish I could. 

I admire Hillary. With her pragmatism and geekiness she would have been a good president. To the haters who don't trust her I say, "If she did a tenth of what the conspiracy sites and rumor mills claim she’s guilty of doing she’d have superpowers." No one living in a fish bowl, like she’s done since college, could get away with that much "junk" without superpowers. I’m glad this woman I admire admired Eleanor Roosevelt and followed her words of advice, “Do what you feel in your heart to be right---for you'll be criticized anyway. ‘You'll be damned if you do, and damned if you don't.’” Interestingly enough, Eleanor was quoting an evangelist’s sermon delivered back in 1836. He was preaching about how the Bible contradicts itself. “You can and you can't-You shall and you shan't-You will and you won't-And you will be damned if you do-And you will be damned if you don't." The things Google can teach you. I wish it could teach me how to be young again. Google has many tricks up its sleeves but so far, it doesn’t have superpowers either. 

I saw an interview of Judi Dench and Ali Fazal about a new movie coming out titled, Victoria & Abdul. It’s based on the true story of elderly Queen Victoria’s unlikely friendship with a young servant from India, an 1887 story brought to light by a journalist who studied their journals and diaries. In the official synopsis of the movie it says the pair “humorously explores questions of race, religion, power, and the farce of Empire through the prism of a highly unusual and deeply moving friendship.” In the interview these two leading actors shared that at first Victoria was joyless, even though she was the richest and most powerful person in the world at the time, but she was able to find a new zest for life after meeting the servant. That’s the kind of movie I need to get me out of my funk! I thought. We’ve got four multiplex theaters in town with a zillion screens between them but guess what! The only play time I could find for the movie is at 8:30 at night. What is wrong with people? They make a movie that appeals to people in my age bracket but they don’t consider the fact that many of us don’t drive after dark! Jeez! When it’s a box office failure someone will say, “Told you, senior citizens don’t go to the movies.” ©


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

From Walls of Sorrow to Freedom of Speech



I was in the house with the windows closed and the air conditioner going when I heard a thunderous roar that I couldn’t identify. After checking around the house, I went out my front door where I could see the road leading to the baseball park. It was filled with motorcycle riders, their rolling rumble piercing my ears. Over two hundred, I read later. They were the escort riders for the Wall That Heals, the mobile exhibit that would be in town for the next four days. It’s a 250 foot, ½ scale replica of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall on the National Mall in D.C. and its 24 panels contain more than 58,000 names of those who didn’t make it home. I’ve seen the actual Wall in Washington D.C. and it was an emotional experience. I had penpal relationships with over fifty guys over in ‘Nam spread out over four-five years and I tried to look them up in the index book by the Wall, but after finding a few listed I just couldn’t continue. It was too haunting and hard. I left behind a poem I wrote, tucked in a seam between two panels of the Wall. A very dark poem filled with unspeakable pain about one of those penpals who I had met in person and who nearly destroyed me. 

The traveling replica was in our state once before and Don and I went to see it. This time it was my husband who left haunted by the experience. At the very end of the 24th panel was a homemade sign on a stake that contained the name of a friend of Don's. It said he’d died of Agent Orange. This was in the ‘90s, just after our government finally got around to acknowledging the connection between Agent Orange and all the medical problems the guys who were exposed to those chemicals suffered. My husband’s friend had taken his own life just weeks before his wife placed that hand-painted sign at the replica Wall. He was a good guy, a guy who endured too much pain to stick around.

This week, when I heard the mobile Wall was going to be in the neighborhood I thought about going. I decided against it but the thunderous roar of the escort riders gave my mind’s eye perfect recall of the emotions that I didn’t want to revisit. You’d think after fifty years the edges of darkness would be dulled down, you’d think by now I could tell my story, the one in the poem I left behind in D.C. But I can’t. I’m not unique. Everyone who goes to ‘The Wall’ has a story of regrets, sorrows and what-ifs---many, like mine, are still held close to the vest.

When the Wall That Heals caravan reached the field where the Wall would be displayed a ceremony took place that included four vintage airplanes flying over my neighborhood. A relative put a video of them on Facebook circling around the field, thick streaks of smoke trailing behind them. I saw them when they passed over my house in close formation before they started their tribute. They made me sad but my nephew-in-law who posted the video commented that he was “honored to see them.” The Vietnam War ended before he was old enough to get drafted but the war was the backdrop to his entire childhood. He’s also an avid Trump supporter.

Civil War Union Army General William T. Sherman is noted for saying, "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell." Yet here we are again, this time teetering on the edge of a nuclear war. And why? Because two bullies are itching to have a quick draw contest to see who has the biggest dick? If they don’t ratchet the rhetoric down, the next memorial wall we build will have the names of those lost to a nuclear war and its fallout and it might be long enough to double as Trump’s border wall.

I have mixed feelings on what it means to be patriotic in the year 2017. How can anyone claim to honor the flag and fallen soldiers and at the same time support a president who doesn’t respect free speech? We fought a war to cement that cornerstone into our Constitution. We are in dangerous territory with this president! He demonizes the press at every opportunity, then this past weekend it was six black athletes who were taking a knee in peaceful protest during the national anthem that he labeled "son-of-a-bitches" and called for boycotting the NFL until they are fired. Trump seems bent on dividing us, starting a culture war. We don’t have to like or agree with the point those athletes are trying to make about racial injustices but it is important that we all understand it’s their First Amendment right to dissent. Countries that demand total respect for their flags and anthems are call dictatorships. What comes after threats of getting fired? Jail time? A bullet in the head? What would Kim Jong-un do? What would an unfettered Trump do?

Taking a knee in peaceful protest historically goes back to Martin Luther King Jr. in the ‘60s. And have we forgotten Hall-of-Famer baseball legend Jackie Robinson? He didn’t kneel but as he wrote in his autobiography, "I cannot stand and sing the anthem. I cannot salute the flag; I know that I am a black man in a white world." Times have changed since 1947 when he broke the color barrier in baseball but anyone who thinks that Lady Justice is color blind in 2017 is lying to themselves. I doubt Trump cares about the kneeling as much as he cares about distracting everyone from his ineptness in office. ©

“When fascism comes to America, it will be wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross.”
 James Waterman Wise
1936, The Christian Century


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