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, May 5, 2018

Veterans in Hats and Bare-Headed Widows



I take myself out to lunch quite often in good driving months and this week was no exception. Often I’m struck by how many older guys I run across who are wearing baseball hats proclaiming that they are veterans and if you could hear the jumble of thoughts going through my head when I see them, you’d probably be shocked. I get the whole proud to have served thing and how the hat elicits strangers to say, “thank you for your service” and how veterans often stop one another to compare service stats but it also makes me sad and stirs up thoughts I’d rather not have. And I wonder how many of these guys are letting their hats proclaim that their few years in the service were the most significant thing that happened in their entire lives. Do you think I’m being unpatriotic or anti-military or disrespectful to question the message a person’s head gear is expressing?

The sad truth is for many veterans of the Vietnam War it was the most significant and life changing thing they went through in their roughly 60+ years of living. The controversies surrounding the war and the dismissive way our servicemen were treated for many years was different than after previous wars. At least in this country. After WWII the French had collective amnesia about their own dark history. Exhibit A of many: The Vél d'Hiv Roundup when the French police did Hitler’s bidding and rounded up their own countrymen---thousands of Jewish people living in Paris including nearly 4,000 children and shipped them off to Auschwitz. The children were separated from their parents before they got on the trains and when the children got to Auschwitz they were marched directly to the ovens. It happened in July of 1942 and it took until 1995 for the country to officially acknowledge the part France played in delivering so many of their own citizens to their deaths.

I suppose the reason the veteran hats bother me is because they remind me that I can’t live in a bubble where everything is a Disney movie. Letting it go when we should never forget might work for many things but not when it comes to the atrocities that follow on the heels of unfettered hate. In our current political climate it's easy to see how intolerance can creep into public policies that, in turn, could lead to unspeakable acts. I guess that’s one of the good things about old men wearing veteran hats, they remind us not forget those who fought for---hopefully----noble causes. Admittedly, the line between noble causes and self-serving lust for power were clearer during the Civil War, WWI and WWII. Not so much with the Vietnam War. We were lied to. We trusted our leaders and our returning servicemen paid a price for those lies. 

I’ve never thanked a veteran for his service. Why can’t I bring myself to do that? I see others do it and it seems so easy-peasy for them---like a greeting and a handshake. Hello, nice to meet you. Have a nice day. I can’t presume to know what that hat represents to the person wearing it or to the person doing the thanking. Maybe I’d presume too much, maybe not enough. A military hat is not a like college t-shirt on a forty year old, balding guy where you can safely guess the shirt presents a carefree time in his life when he had time to play sports and flirt with the campus cutie pies. It’s not like a hat from a concert or a souvenir hat from a place where you left your heart and half the money in your wallet. 

My husband had a large collection of hats with logos and t-shirts with sayings on the front. It was a big deal every morning to decide what mood he was in when he picked out his fashion choices, especially after his stroke when he couldn’t communicate in other ways. But reading a person’s mood by the messages on his clothing never worked with a friend of ours who, when asked about the logo on his shirt replied, “I don’t know what it is. I buy cheap shirts at the Salvation Army so I can throw them out when they get too grubby to wear.” 

I’ve often wondered what message I’d want to wear on a hat, if I could design one that sums up the most significant thing that happened in my entire life. Sexual abused as a toddler, rape survivor later on? No, those things happened to me but they never defined me. Same goes for surviving the death of my parents and husband. Those things helped make me stronger, but they don’t define me either. Caregiver to a stroke survivor? Now, if I could figure out how to put that on a hat that might work. I stepped up to the plate to care for my severely disabled husband in a way that gave him the best quality of life anyone could have under the circumstances and I am proud of those twelve and a half years. If all that would fit on a hat, I’d no longer be a bare-headed widow. ©

38 comments:

  1. Hats, shirts, bumper stickers. We do seem determined to let strangers know our past or beliefs. The closest I have come is that I have a tee shirt with a dog's face and the saying "My therapist has a wet nose." It does get giggles and approval nods.

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    1. I love your t-shirt! I have a couple but I don't wear them often...and no hats other than two of my husband's I saved but never wear.

      When my husband died he had over 50 coffee cups and he could never just grab one for the day. He had to, like you said, let people know what was on his mind.

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  2. I'm so sorry those terrible things happened to you early in your life. There are some battles in our lives that we've survived that we don't proclaim outwardly; that's true. It's not that we're ashamed or anything, either. We've fought, won perhaps, and then we've moved on. We did what we had to do, and it's over.

    My father, who was a WWII vet, almost never spoke about his service. I do know he was at a concentration camp shortly after its liberation. That can account for a great deal of his silence, I'm sure.

    Talking about things can feel like reliving them or giving them renewed power or importance. For some parts of our past, we'd rather not do that.

    Additionally, I don't think my life has One Defining Moment. I'm more complex than that, and I'm sure you are, too.

    (And I don't look too terrific in hats.)

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    1. "Fought, won and moved on." Boy is that true of a lot of things in my life. I think it gets back to resiliency like I wrote about in my last blog.

      I remember a Life Magazine my mother kept for many years that was filled with photos taken of the concentration camps on liberation day. It was truly shocking and I can't imagine what it was like to be there, to see first hand what our soldiers were fighting against.

      I agree talking about things can feel like reliving the event for many/most people but on the other hand, it's also said that purging our darkest thoughts takes their power away to hurt us in the future. We are complicated and there is probably no right or wrong here. We do what we have to do.

      I often think about the One Defining Moment in my life. I'm not sure why I need to know that about myself, but considering how often I think about it it must be important on some level I don't understand. Yet.

      I don't look good in baseball style hats either! I wish I did on bad hair days. I just bought a silk pillowcase hoping I'll have less bad hair days. Can't wait to try it out.

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  3. My husband had a lot of hats too, but football teams. I hate to say it, but my defining moment was my husband's death. It changed everything and altered my life. I have moved away, new friends, new home, new hobbies, which has been good and I do feel I've finally become me. I'll admit to in my younger years, just wanting to get married. I didn't have much self identity, but now I do. So that's a good thing. But I feel an emptiness and a longing for what should have been and I get very lonely at times, so there's always the ying and the yang.
    The odd thing to me about these veterans and what they originally fought for and against, is that many are Trump supporters...the very thing they fought against. I don't get it. Sometimes I fear for the future generations and fascism and church controlled government becoming the norm. I'm glad I'm old.

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    1. Defining Moments are usually not of our choosing. They choose and challenge us. I recently heard someone say they they allow themselves five minutes in the morning to grieve the past and feel the loneliness of that, then they shake it off and go on with their day. If only it was that easy.

      Your second paragraph is spot on. I just don't get it either. Although I do believe the generation in high school now are going to bring about positive changes.

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  4. I have too many defining moments in my life to even look back on. They are in the past and I try and concentrate on now. I not only thank vets when I see them, I also chat with them for awhile. But you know me, my mother never taught me not to talk to strangers, and I always come away feeling blessed by my chats.

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    1. I was thinking about you when I wrote about how easy it is for some people to thank veterans. I guess it helps to be outgoing and chatty in general with strangers.

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  5. You know Jean, I love to wear caps, usually golf caps or the ones I buy on the ship. I thought of wearing a hat in reverence to Bee's husband Charlie. He fought during the Vietnam war but decided not to mainly because I'm Canadian and maybe the Americans might get upset of me. Once I had a NYPD hat and I wore on one of my cruises. I just liked the cap but when a guest on board said to Thanks for being a policeman or even one said thanks for being there at 9/11, I felt so bad and I never wore a cap from any other countries cap.
    Now about that idea about you think not being unpatriotic or anti-military or disrespectful,don't even think about it. Some say it and others do. John Heald says it when he see men who fought in the wars and he's British. I think he says it because he's Carnival's Ambassador. I could be wrong but I think it is or just for respect.
    I think anyone can respectful without saying it every time one of the vets passes by. Oh well that's from me Jean. Have a great Saturday.

    Cruisin Paul

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    1. I'm always surprised when a Canadian says something about an American getting upset with them. Yet I know it happens, I know how rude some Americans can be to foreigners because I've seen it for myself on political debate sites. I apologize for those who act that way. I have a couple of followers from other countries who comment here from time to time---including you---and I really value those opinions from another perspective.

      I know it's a respect thing to thank someone for their service when you see a vet in a military hat but I guess I'm too stubborn for my own good. I just wish all need for all wars would go away...like in that Disney movie I mentioned.

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  6. Dear Jean, thank you for sharing with us your musings on veterans wearing hats. I used to live next door to a Vietnam vet who had hepatitis from being there. He's dead now, but I did one day thank him for his service. And he was deeply touched. We didn't discuss the fact that we disagreed about the war (he knew I'd been part of the protest). But he knew that I appreciated that he was willing to give him life for a belief that I couldn't embrace. I respected him for that. I'm not sure that I've ever been as deeply committed to anything as he was to that war effort.

    Thank you also for ending your posting with your thoughts on what has defined you--what you have allowed to define you--in your life. I'm probably going to be thinking about that the rest of the day. I don't know what defines my life and I'd like to ponder that. Thank you. Peace.

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    1. Dee thank you for sharing that about your neighbor. If I ever do thank a veteran for his service I want it to truly go deeper than just a greeting. Your neighbor was probably touched because he knew it was from the heart.

      If you figure out what defines your life, maybe you'll write about it in your blog. I think the reason why it fascinates me is because most of the really good coming of age books revolve around a defining moment and I'm still looking for that story that only I can tell about my coming of age and/or defining moment in life.

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  7. I also get my tee shirts from thrift stores. I was startled one time when a friend said, I didn't know you were from Iowa! What?? Turns out my shirt was from the school in the neighboring town from where she grew up. Oops! I also have never played or even seen la crosse, but it turns out that's what's depicted on another shirt I got at the thrift store.

    Sheila

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    1. That makes me smile. Who knew getting t-shirts from a thrift store could be educational. LOL

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  8. I don't think it is a "sad truth" about wearing a Veteran's hat. In my opinion, being in a war probably wasn't their life defining moment but the hat or bumper sticker is there to help remind us of what DID happen ... and what continues to happen. I do thank them. Let us never forget. A lot of young men grew up by being a soldier.

    And I had no idea about your horrible childhood! OMG. You did fight, win and move on. Being a caregiver is the most grueling 24/7/365x12 and a half years act of love you can give to a person. In for a penny, in for a pound. Hugs!

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    1. It's funny you should mention the "sad truth" because I had the word "sad" in and out of different drafts as I was writing this.

      It wasn't my whole "childhood"....it was 5-6 times and the guy went to jail. Beginning, middle and end of the story.

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  9. I don't think you're being unpatriotic or disrespectful in your musings about the veterans' hats. (On a tangent: I do look quizzically at teenagers, and even adults with serially suggestive - or explicit - messages.)

    I admire what you've overcome. What doesn't break you makes you stronger.

    My parents went through an horrific historical period too. But never spoke about it. Perhaps it's a generational thing. ~ Libby

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    1. For me i think it has something to do with having some relatives who seems to want to put guilt trips on anyone who isn't wrapping themselves in the flag. It seems phony to me, especially when their idea of patriotism includes hating anyone who looks different than they do.

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    2. I agree wholeheartedly. It's been twisted. Many (not all) Americans are becoming so hateful towards anyone but white Christians. I'd hate to be a minority is the US right now.

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  10. Jean R. - I am always amazed at the person you are, from the family relatives you describe. Racism, homophones,misogyny etc are learnt behaviour. I *don't* understand how you didn't absorb those sentiments. I can only ascribe it to your parents. But, then again, how did they not absorb those negative sentiments?! ~Libby

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    1. I did have good parents who were welcoming to everyone but the relatives I spoke of are the shirttail kind that I don't see often. The Trump administration has given them the courage to expose their true feelings of hate and prejudices on Facebook. Before that, they hide it. Not since the Vietnam War have I seen so many people break off ties because of politics.

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  11. *sexually (not serially) suggestive....
    ~ Libby

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  12. Jean, your post is what the world needs. If only all of us could wear clothing or hats that proclaim on the outside what we have gone through on the inside, perhaps there would be more compassion and respect in the world for all peoples. This is the epitome of the saying: "Be kind to everyone you meet, because we are all dealing with something."
    You are an amazing woman, to have survived AND THRIVED despite all the world has done to you or thrown your way. I'm so glad I found your blog.

    Deb

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    1. I need to remember what you're saying about being kind to everyone you meet because we don't know what they've dealt with. I am polite to everyone but often it's coming from a place of good manners and not genuine compassion or kindness. That might be a good topic for a blog....

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  13. I have a similar feeling to you about old men in veterans hats. Mine comes from knowing an old man or two who did use the hat and car stickers to proclaim what seemed to be defining aspects of their lives. I was not disrespecting their experiences but sad to see that for the people I knew that they did not have more defining aspects of their lives.
    It reminds me of some people I know who go to college reunions or talk about their times in high school. A woman I know told me that she was going to her 50th high school reunion (she has always lived fairly locally) and she asked me if I was going to mine. When I said that I had no communication with my high school (and didn’t comment but have absolutely no interest in my high school) she was really surprised.
    There is something about the moving on aspect of life and change that a lot of people don’t experience and instead live in nostalgia.
    There is nothing wrong with reflecting on your past; it’s an important part of growth but the present is important too!
    Regards,
    Leze

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    1. I didn't go to my 50th high school reunions either. I went to the 5th and the 10th but I honestly don't have a lot of memories (good or bad) from those days except the memories involving my best friend since kindergarten and I still have frequent contact with her.

      I can't put all high school reunions down though because my niece is organizing her school's entire alumni association and reunions including raising money for the alumni to give out scholarships. She's also the school's historian. I know she's not living in nostalgia. She's traveled the world, had a wonderful career she loved and has a great family. She just has skills that needed a project to keep her busy until her grandson is in school full time. She's committed to being his daycare nanny while his mom follows in her steps into teaching.

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  14. I'm a military veteran (service in the 70's and 80's) and don't get it. To me, my accomplishment as a mother is far more important than than my military service.

    I also dislike being asked to show appreciation for vets everywhere - cruise ships, airplanes, etc. I didn't do it for the recognition and it makes me uncomfortable; don't others do things just as hard or more so often and they're not being singled out.

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    1. Thank you for weighing in on this top, Kay! Your first paragraph is exactly the point I struggle with when I see many of the vets out and about wearing the hats.

      I was trying to remember when it started...this asking for a show appreciation for veterans at concerts, group luncheons, etc., etc. I go to a lot of places where it's common practice. I'm guessing it was when military personal started coming from home from Iraq and the Vietnam vets didn't want them to be ignored like they were back in their day. That world is a complicated place, isn't it. Nothing is black and white, all good or all bad.

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  15. It seems I thought no one knew about Vel d'hiv other than me. This post has much to ponder. I never really thought about the veteran hats. As for your thoughts about being unpatriotic or disrespectful -- get that one out of your head!

    But you do bring up a great point -- what would we wear on our hats. I couldn't begin to start a list -- it would be far too long.

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    1. I'm not surprised that you picked up on the Vel d'Hiv because I know you have an interest in France. But it's a perfect example of how people can bear witness to something (or even take a minor part in it) and afterward not talk about it for decades because the shame was too great.

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  16. Thinking about "a defining moment" in life makes me think of the practice of choosing "a word" to live by in a new year. It just seems so limiting to me. Of course there have been significant experiences in my life, but then again -- there's a sense in which I've lived at least a half-dozen lives, each with their own special characteristics, and each with their particular moments.

    As for the tee-shirts and hats: I've never worn anything with a logo. For one thing, I prefer not to be a walking, unpaid billboard for some corporation or fashion designer. But for another, I tend to be such a quirkily private person that I don't want to advertise whatever's been special to me, either.

    Now, coffee cups? That's a little different. I do have a small collection of cups from places I've really enjoyed. It's great fun to have a morning coffee in one, and remember the pleasure of the place it represents.

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    1. The defining moments questions comes up often on lists of writing prompts but I can't see you as a person who has ever needs writing prompts to begin with. I kind of like rearranging mine from time to time. For me, its a way of trying to understand myself better.

      The right coffee cup in the morning can make difference. I have a couple I really like that have been reduced to pencil holders when the handles got cracked and not safe to use...couldn't throw them out.

      My husband had so many cups that were important to him that it was a very hard day when I had to donate them. I had to rotate them in and out of the cupboard and boxes when he was alive. Tee-shirts from places you had a good time brings back those same pleasures you mentioned. Whatever floats your boat.

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  17. My thoughts exactly on the military hats. I get uncomfortable seeing them. That's about ME, I know, but somehow I feel something is expected of me...it's weird. I'd guess they demonstrate the pride the owner feels in having served. And it tells me something important about them. What's sad is my judgment about the message and how partisan it sometimes is. Like my window stickers on my car -- one with the Om sign and the word YOGA and the other Freedom of the Press. Do those make me a flaming liberal? Is that what people think when they see them? Does my Seahawks Super Bowl Champion license plate holder modify the judgement. (Yogis and NFL often don't go together). It's so interesting to me how the "symbols" we display tell a story. Like my "RESIST" t-shirt. Ha.

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    1. Me too...the hats bring out a feeling that I'm expected to do something I'm not comfortable doing. It is partisan in a way but I think it's the far-right that has tried to claim ownership of patriotism that's made it that way. The whole thing about whether or not Obama was wearing a flag pin was when I first noticed it and got my hackles up. Yes, we are both flaming liberals. LOL

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    2. I'd love a Freedom of the Press sticker, as I feel we are in danger of losing it!

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    3. I'd like one myself. You can get them at cafepress.com I've seen them on eBay and Amazon too, but Cafe Press usually has a variety.

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