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, March 17, 2018

The Medical Examiner

If you’re a fan of CSI type TV shows you would have liked the lecture I went to this week titled, Tales of a Medical Examiner. It was given by a guy who has literally done thousands of autopsies for the county. By law they have to be done whenever a death is unexpected, suspicious, accidental, violent, or no attending physician was present. He views forensic medicine as a way of seeing past the tragedy and focusing on giving answers to families and the community and he went into that branch of medicine, he jokingly said, because they don’t have emergencies in the morgue. We must have a bunch of morbid people down at the senior hall because 165 signed up to see this presentation. The room doesn’t hold that many and it’s rare that we have a waiting list for our Life Appreciation Lecture Series. 

He did a question and answer session before bringing on the slide show. Ohmygod! There was nothing remotely shown like you’d see on TV. The first case he talked about was of a guy who’d called the local funeral director and told him to come to his house with a body bag because he was going to kill himself. The funeral director called the police who had a long stand-off with the guy who was waving a gun around, finally it ended with the guy having two bullets in his head. It’s impossible to put two bullets in your own head if the first one goes through brain matter and the forensic examiner had to make sure the bullets were from his own gun and not from the police’s. Imagine a 12 foot wide movie screen filled with close-up pictures of his bloody head. Imagine pictures of his skull cap cut off so they could retrieve the bullets. One bullet went through his chin upward and out his forehead, missing his brain. I couldn’t even tell it was a face for the longest time until I finally located his ear. The next bullet went from the top of his head downward. No one lost their stomach contents viewing those gruesome slides but the mood of the room sure changed as he walked us through the powder burns, suet, various colors of blood and the shapes of entry and exist wounds. If anyone thinking of offing themselves with a gun could see those slides they’d change their mind.

The second case he showed us slides of was a woman, also with a gun shot in the head, but her mouth was duck taped shut. They treated it like a homicide, ran a rape kit, and looked for signs of a struggle---the whole ball of wax. Finding none, it was a true mystery until her diary was discovered where they learned she taped her own mouth shut because she planned on taking a bunch of pills and didn’t want to vomit them back up. The gun was her back up plan. The medical examiner, a guy almost retirement age, said it still amazes him the things people do to themselves and others. Another interesting fact he told was that only 20% of suicides come with notes of explanation.  

The third case he talked about was of a woman, found in a bath tub full of water. He said no adult drowns in a bath tub unless something else is going on---drugs, murder, health issues or suicide. It’s never an accident unless it’s a small child who can’t push themselves above the water line. He showed us the autopsy slides of her heart, proving she had a disease that made her heart rhythm beat erratically, long enough for her to slide down in the water and drown. And the moral of that story is never take a bath naked again unless you want to end up with a dozen people coming and going in a potential crime scene. Her bloated naked body was quite a shocking sight. 

But the case that was the most shocking in more ways than one was of a 21 year old guy who was high on fentanyl patches. He thought he girlfriend was a zombie and he was going around a neighborhood, punching windows out with his fists, and begging people to get a gun and shoot him. He took a dive off the top of a balcony head first on the cement parking lot below. We got “treated” to a dozen slides of his entire body including three slides of various views of his penis and balls. Up close, full screen. And in case you’re wondering why it’s because they were covered in pinky fingernail sized fentanyl patches. The speaker said people hooked on fentanyl patches get very creative in ways to get the most kick out of their patches. They’ll even soak them in water to get the last drop of drugs out of them, then they’ll draw the water into a syringe and shoot themselves up with it. Fentanyl overdoses drive people to do crazy, crazy things and we’re in the middle of a fentanyl overdose epidemic because it’s coming in cheap from China and it's cut into heroin.  

I’ve been to other crime solving type lectures and one that walked us through the steps of how bodies are embalmed. I’m not squeamish but I can honestly say I couldn’t be a forensic pathologist nor would I want to be married to one. “Guess what I did at work today, honest,” is not something I’d like to hear over a dinner table. But what the heck, a free lecture is a free lecture and I rarely turn down an afternoon to learn something new. ©

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

Blame my Mom – Elephants, Rocking Chairs and Rolling Libraries

One of the bad things about being a widow is we have no one to stage an intervention when our crazy or self-indulgent obsessions get carried away. When something grabs us we’re free as the wind to pursue it. One of the good things about being a widow is we have no one to stage an intervention when our crazy or self-indulgent obsessions get carried away. When something grabs us we’re free as the wind to purse it. Is that a dichotomy or what? I really don’t know. Am I using the word right? Is there a better one to describe how something can be both bad and good at the same time?

My most recent self-indulgent obsession has been binge-reading about African forest elephants and if a herd of them comes wandering through my yard here in Michigan this summer I’ll be ready for them. If they raise their curled trunks high in the air and spread their ears out perpendicular to their heads I’ll be hiding under the bed, knowing they were about to charge me. But the most fascinating thing I’ve learned is that elephants communicate with low-frequency rumblings that are below the hearing range of people. They can communicate this way over a hundred square miles and their favorite time to send messages is during the night when the atmosphere helps their rumblings travel farther. A researcher with Cornell University’s Listening Project, who is compiling an elephant dictionary, says they have identified and defined seventy distinct messages they send each other. Some of their messages can be felt by humans as vibrations in our diaphragms if we’re in the area and paying attention to our bodies. We can, of course, hear some of their vocalizations and trumpeting but the vast majority of their communication is infra-sound that can only be heard using special equipment that can triangulate the exact location of the elephant sending a message and the location of the elephant that replies back. Simply amazing.

I realize it might seem odd that a blog categorized as a widow’s blog is going on and on about elephants and I’ll only share one more story about them before I move on: They mourn their dead. As many as 300 elephants will line up and walk by the body of a dead pachyderm, vocalizing and touching it with their trunks and this can go on for days in the rain forest of central Africa, the funeral procession only ending when the head matriarch breaks away. Even after nature has reduced the carcass to a pile of bones the immediate family unit of that dead elephant comes to visit whenever they are in the area and they’ll fondle the bones---one was even observed for over an hour rocking a skull back and forth in her trunk and tears were running down her face. And some of the stories I’ve read on how a family unit works together in a circle to try to save a dying newborn can’t help but break your heart and make you realize the largest land mammals on earth are very much just like us.

I blame my mom for my wanting to share my binging on subjects that catch my attention. When I was in grade school I’d get home from school, settle on her lap and she’d say, “What did you learn today?” It was such a well ingrained habit that by the time I got too big to sit in her lap she’d still be the first person I’d want to tell if something new and exciting crossed my path at school. To this day when I see one of her two rocking chairs still in the family, I get a warm fuzzy feeling. She loved her rocking chairs and when she wasn’t rocking me, one of her cats or dogs or grand-kids she was reading.

After I met Don, I learned that he was just as interested in whatever I might have read as my mom was and he got my “book reports” like the one I shared up above. On vacations, he loved talking to the people he met along the way and I was content to stay in the motor home reading. When he’d get back in to drive the next leg of our trips we’d give each other “reports” on what we’d both just learned. One time out west he went into a gas station and didn’t come back out for several hours. After the first hour I went inside to check on him and there he was sitting with a group of locals around a pot-belly stove swapping stories and drinking coffee---his two favorite things to do. We traveled well together and I didn’t mind Don being Don, storyteller extraordinaire, as long as I didn’t run out of reading material. He lived life, I read about living a life. (I'm experiencing deja vu. If I wrote about Mom's rocking chair and/or the rolling library before, I apologize for repeating myself.)

With age comes wisdom, or so they say. To me it’s more like watching a 1,000 piece jigsaw puzzle coming together. We can see how all our life experiences come together to form the unique human beings we each become. With age and widowhood we have the time to reflect and apply our memories to explain away our idiosyncrasies. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. ©

The Elephant Whisperer: My Life with the Herd in the African Wild by Lawrence Anthony with Graham Spence 

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Hiking Africa

If you saw the movie, Out of Africa, the travelogue I went to this week would have caught your attention from the first few slides. They were of the plantation where Meryle Streep and Robert Redford roamed around while filming the movie and where the woman who wrote the memoir it’s loosely based on lived. She was a Danish woman who ran a 4,000 acre coffee plantation in Nairobi between 1914 and 1931. Our travelogue narrator says the place hasn’t changed much since the movie was made and you can even picnic in the exact same places as Streep and Redford did for a couple of scenes, high up on Kenya’s Oloololo Escarpment looking out at spectacular, panoramic views. I used to love that movie. I loved those views and so did movie goers. The movie won the 1986 Academy Award for Best Cinematography.

That was the only civilized place the travelogue covered. It was the starting point to a hiking safaris called The Great Walk of Africa. It’s a trademarked travel adventure tour that covers a 100 miles of hiking 3 to 6 hours a day, for 11 days covering 9 to 15 miles a day. Daytime temperatures: 80 to 90 degrees and at night it was cold enough to need hot water bottles in their cots to take off the chill. There are eight paying guests on each tour paying $7,000 each, plus you pay your own way to get to Nairobi. Along with the guests are four guides---two armed with guns, two with spears, plus fifteen others who move the camps each day and do the cooking and who mostly stay out of sight. The tour group walks in single file, five feet apart and you’re not allowed to talk which makes it easier to sneak up on the wildlife and to enjoy the smells, sounds, sights and feel of Africa as they follow the game trails first along the Tsavo River, then the Galana River in Kenya. It also makes it easier for the guides to protect the guests from danger if they’re not spread out and are paying attention to hand signals.

The speaker, a woman in her forties who lives very close by me, says she’s always had an incurable wanderlust and she’s gone on seven hiking tours like this around the world and this one, she said, was one of the greatest experiences of her life. She’s a paramedic as were a couple of her companions which would take some fear out of being off the grid. Even so, I can’t imagine me---even in my younger years---doing a trip like that. I’d be the one who’d have to go with a medical box full of allergy pills and potions for insect bites and hives and I’d still come back with malaria because mosquitoes love me. The company who does these hiking safaris’---Tropical-Ice---has been doing them since 1987 and they’ve only had one client charged and injured badly by an animal, a rhinoceros, and they’ve never had to kill an animal. A shot in the air usually keeps them from getting too close. The scariest part, our speaker said, was crossing crocodile infested water and they’d group up as close as they could, holding on to the person in front of them, hoping to fool the crocs into thinking they are a large elephant splashing across the river. Rhinos, though, are considered to be the most dangerous of the animals in Africa. They are “grumpy” and let humans know their presence isn’t appreciated.

I will never leave the country to take a trip like that. I will probably never even leave the state. Heck, I’ve even passed on several great day trips planned for this summer through the senior hall. But this speaker was inspiring none the less. “There is nothing better than enjoying the world when you leave your devices behind,” she said, “get out and walk around the block if you can’t go anywhere else.” And I learned that elephant dung is not gross or smelly, looks like a pile of bread loaves and is mostly grass. You never know when information like that will come in handy. She told about coming upon a dead elephant and a pride of lions was waiting in the bush to feed on it, none too pleased to have their meal interrupted. They concluded the elephant had died of natural causes and they called it into the wildlife people who flew in to harvest the tusks to take back and burn as part of their effort to stop the ivory trade. She said they were so heavy she couldn’t even lift one off the ground. One of the ladies in the audience said she thought that was so wasteful to burn that ivory when it’s worth so much. She got booed by several people to which she retorted rather loudly, "Well, it IS wasteful!"

This summer our speaker is giving another lecture about the efforts being made in elephant conservation and I signed up to go. She told us about one of their guides who had spent several decades working for Kenya’s wildlife department and had personally killed twenty-three elephant poachers which is legal there to kill them on sight. And don’t get me started on the fact that Trump quietly reversed a law Obama put into place banning big game trophy hunters from importing the spoils of their kills. The photo of his son proudly holding up an elephant’s tail he’d just cut off still disgusts me. In my book, trophy hunters are pond scum. Hiking a 100 miles across Africa and only bringing photographs back home is more “manly” than killing majestic creatures just for the “fun” of watching them die and hanging their heads on your wall. ©