Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow. senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. 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. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Saturday, December 3, 2022

The Season of Parties

Saturdays are a crap shoot when it comes to trolling for conversation at the cafe’ here at the continuum care complex where I live. We old people seem to be creatures of habit honed to perfection back in our working days when Saturdays were for shopping and catching up on laundry and housework. Was never my day off day per se. Being in the wedding business for twenty years, my Mondays were other people’s Saturdays but here Saturdays are slow. No classes take place, no card games. It’s not unusual for me to be the only one keeping the waitress and cook off the unemployment line. Today, however, they were hosting a viewing party for residents who are into college football so they could watch a game together. Me, I don’t like contact sports---baseball isn’t one, is it?---so when I came down for lunch I sat in the farthest corner I could get away from the TV.

My brother played football in high school so I understand the objective and rules of the game and I spent a year during my chameleon dating era pretending an interest in more than the chips and cheese at tailgate parties while my jock of a boyfriend went full-out fan supporter. His life, thus my life by the rules of The Chameleon Girlfriend Club, revolved around college and professional football schedules. I really thought he was THE ONE and I can’t help thinking about him when ever I hear the song, Unanswered Prayers.

Speaking of parties here, birthday parties are fast becoming my favorite thing to do around. The guy they hired for our latest monthly party is well known at the local bars and summer outdoor parks where he makes his living singing Jimmy Buffet and the playlist of my life from the ‘50s to the ‘70s. He even throws in a little Willy Nelson who was my husband’s favorite country western singer/song writer. I don’t know what they pay the people the activities director hires but it’s got to be their standard rates because we don’t get amateur hour entertainers here, even though the number of people who show up for these parties is often an embarrassingly low number under two dozen.

Another activity was added new to our holiday calendar this year. A gingerbread house building contest. They furnished the kits with all the trimmings but I made a run to the Dollar Store to buy alternative candy so mine will hopefully look different. Stupid me, at the Thanksgiving dinner table we were talking about the contest when someone said, “That won’t be any fun. The houses will all look the same.” I had to open my mouth to mention my trip to the Dollar Store. "Is that against the rules?" someone asked. "Not that I read," I replied, "but all gingerbread house contests require everything on the house to be eatable so I'm assuming that rule applies to us." I'm having fun making mine and I'll take photos when they are due for the judging. I really hope the 'only edible' rule applies to us because someone has already waved it off and is adding plastic figures. A friend from my writing group is making spun glass/sugar windows and I want him to win. He showed my photos, his house is spectacular!

We also had a holiday decorating and tree trimming party. They had one last year and I didn’t go. Even the promise of hot chocolate and gingerbread cookies couldn’t make me cancel my standing haircut appointment, but that was only half the story. I was also avoiding getting involved with the other x-floral designer here on campus who was trying to volunteer my services (along with his) to decorate all the public spaces. It was a good call. I have zero interest in reliving my past glory the way he does. Now, every holiday large or small he has taken to provided our lobby with decorations. Although at one point I felt sorry for him as he sat alone at table making dozens of bows for a Christmas tree. I stopped to talk to him but I didn't cave when asked to stay awhile and help. This year I fully intended to help decorate the lobby but as I walked through the staging area there were 12-14 people stood around discussing their own ideas. When it comes to creative decisions, I don't like making them by committee so I kept on walking. They printed one of my poems in the newsletter, so no one can say I don't contribute to the community.

The holiday season is bringing lots of musical events to the residents here but I have very little interest in going downtown to hear Christmas concerts or to churches in the area to hear their choirs sing so I can’t write about what I don’t see and here. I’m just not into that kind of music but if I was we do have new transportation that will make it safer and more dependable than what we’ve been using. We actually have our own bus now! I’ve been in the tin can they rented last summer but I wouldn’t ride in it during the slip and slide, crash, boom season. I have an unnatural fear of dying in a car accident. Had it ever since the '80s when we had a neighbor who worked as an EMT driver and she’d come home from a shift all excited to share her experiences like holding a person’s eye ball or an amputated leg in her hand. She loved the gore at bad accidents, but she described the gory details to the wrong person once and got fired. After that she worked in a hospital drawing blood. The  'vampire' nickname people have for blood draw techs fit her to a tee.

We have a wandering choir coming to campus to sing Christmas carols up and down the road. I'm sure that will remind me of a Hallmark Christmas movie. And, yes, I'm one of those who binges on Hallmark Christmas movies starting in November. At least they aren't fattening and they point out a little known secret to all the single women of the world. The secret is that all the hot guys who are ready to settle down are back in the small towns of America. So if you're out there looking for Mr. Right, go home and visit your parents or grandparents this holiday season. ©

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Surprising Revelations and Soul Searching

Funerals. Celebrations of life. Whatever you want to call it when people gather together to give our condolences to the immediate family and share stories of the deceased are something I’ve never balked from going to. I find it interesting that no matter how well you think you know a person that there are people who will stand up and talk who present a whole different side of a deceased person’s personality. And I suppose that shouldn’t surprise any of us. We grow and change throughout our lives. We are marked and influenced by our experiences and the people we meet along the way. However, in the case of my childhood friend’s celebration of life it also gave me a lot to think about. As I said in an earlier post, we spent a lot of time together from the time I was born until our late teens. Our parents were best friends since before they were married. They vacationed together, built cottages four doors way from each other and kept in close contact their entire lives. We kids, though, eventually went our separate ways but through the grapevine we always knew the basics of what was going on in each other's lives.

The core theme at Allen’s Celebration of Life service was he lived the Marine values his entire adult life after having served four years in the early 1960s. I’ve always been fascinated by how so many old men pick either their college years or their four years in the military as the highlight of their lives while women pick the years when they're children are young. Allen and I exchanged a few letters back in those days when he was stationed in Japan and if he wrote about his coming of age in the military it wasn't to me. He grew up with not much of a role model for a father and after listening to the stories told at his memorial service I’m guessing Allen’s commanding officer in the Marines filled in the gaps on how to be a man. He had the Marine Corp honor guard and three gun salute as part of the service.

His mother was the kind of mother who (cheerfully) waited on her husband and son hand and foot. A typical example: as a teen Allen would be sitting at a table not more than four feet away from the kitchen sink during our nighty Monopoly games and would yell for his mom in another part of the cottage to get him a drink of water. He was a lazy kid, never made to do chores and his father never lifted a hand to do stuff that by tradition of the era was men’s work to maintain a house and yard. Allen's sister from around 11 or 12 years old used to follow my dad around like a puppy dog and he taught her how to do household maintenance like fix leaky faucets, repair screens and sticky windows which she did to help out her mom while her father read Westerns and drank beer and Allen read comic books.

And yet at the memorial the minister told story after story about how hard Allen worked on their church projects and others told how willingly he helped people in need. He came to religion in the last seven years of his life, after a deathbed promise to his wife of less than a decade. A confirmed bachelor until his sixties his marriage surprised a few of us back then. And I don’t mind telling you that it always gives me pause for thought when I hear about late-in-life devotion to a church. Will it happen to me? I don’t see how…yet I picked a Christian based non-profit place to live out my days. Just sayin'.

When prayers are offered at places like funerals or events here on campus it bothers me when they end with “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” after years of trying I still can’t wrap my mind around how excluding other paths to God makes the world a better place. I guess I had too much exposure as a kid to being told I was going to hell if I didn’t accept Jesus as my savior. Being a bullheaded kid (my mom’s nickname for me) who grew up to be a stubborn adult I can’t see me grabbing that transformation ring as I’m dying. If I did you couldn’t trust that I wasn’t just treating it like an insurance policy in case I’ve been wrong all these years of believing being a moral person with a good value system is good enough to get membership into the realm of angels, if there is such a place. 

One would think I believe in a heaven or an afterlife if you read the words on Don’s and my headstone. It says “Happy Trails to you…until we meet again”. I chose those words in the sense that our souls would find each other in the ether that fills the upper regions of space. Our souls meeting as gases and transforming into something else. Ya, kind of an off-shoot of reincarnation. It also was something Dale and Roy Evans used to sing at the end of their TV show and Don's funeral had a Western theme.

None of us will know for sure what happens after we die but I really would like to know if others who have not been church goers and/or are non-believers think about deathbed acceptance of church doctrine. If a loved one asked you on their deathbed to stand up in front of a congregation and say you’re ready to accept Jesus as your savior the way Allen's wife did would you do it? I suppose when someone is dying it’s easy to say whatever gives them comfort but actually doing it would take a deeper kind of love than I’ve ever experienced.  ©

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Siblings and our Parents

My brother is settling into Memory Care quite well although an aid there just told me he thinks he’s in a hospital. I’m not surprised because on one of my visits he asked me if he was sick and dying because, he said, people keep coming into his room in the middle of the night to check his back or his lungs. I happened to run into the director of the dementia activities program a few days after that conversation so I asked her what might be going on at night to give him that idea and she told me with some patients they check to see if they are still dry and need to be walked to the bathroom. Mystery solved. 

I learned with my dad’s dementia that sometimes what we thought was an illusion in his head was actually real. For several weeks Dad claimed he had a chipmunk in his bed and no one believed him. That is until on a visit I sat in the living room and watched one come out from behind a piece of furniture and run the full length of his house and go directly into my Dad’s bedroom. This is another good reason to take the advice of a dementia expert I heard speak recently to never to argue with dementia patients. Once in awhile they’re right (my words and conjecture, not hers). But she did say dementia patients are losing their language skills to make what is going on with them clear to others. (I feel that happening to me when I talk and it’s downright scary.)

Dad also had what we thought was a disconnect with reality when he kept complaining that he couldn’t sleep at night because “there were people in his living room having a party.” Long story short my brother put a timer on his TV and that ended the “parties.” My brother and I spent five years problem solving at dad’s house to keep him safe and happy and to this day I’m proud of what we accomplished. Those years brought some of the best memories of bonding with dad but also some of worse fights between my brother and me. As with most kids in that stage of life---trying their best to care for an aging parent---we were under a lot of stress and after Dad passed it took a year before the tension between my brother and I dissipated.

After my mom died in 1983 I spent a few years gathering stories and memories from everyone in my family. It was my way of grieving her. Her death was tragic and painful because it was spiked with preventable missteps in the medical community. A doctor afterward told me having all your blood slowing seep out of your organs into your body cavity is one of the most painful ways to die and the fact that her doctor told my brother and me that she was just an old woman looking for attention, that there was nothing wrong with her, is another reason why when an older person asks a question like my brother did, I try to understand where it’s coming from and answer honestly. For example, I told my brother the day he asked me if he was dying that his daughters would have told me if that were true and they hadn't said anything remotely like that to me. The "pause and pivot to an alternative topic" approach is the recommended method of handling much of what dementia patients obsess about but I think/hope I'm still good enough at reading my brother to know when to use it and when to give him a red meat answer.

Back to Mom: It wasn’t just the weeks of pain Mom went through that were preventable if she’d been taken seriously but the ambulance that picked her up the day she died caught on fire on the way the hospital, something Ford Motor who built that model ambulance knew was happening on trips longer than x-number of miles. We didn’t take part in the class action suit that followed a bunch of fires like what delayed mom's trip to ER but the last day to decide whether or not to join it was one of the hardest days of my life. But I had to let go of the pain of losing her and a lawsuit would have kept it going. 

Complying the family stories finally gave me closure. And all those stories and memories I had gathered I pulled together and I printed out old school with my computer. I punched holes in the pages and bound all 125 pages of single spaced typing together plus sections of photos, hand writing samples, poetry by family and favorite recipes. I hadn’t read the book in decades but yesterday I took my copy down to my brother’s building and read him the first chapter. My plan is to read to him once a week and if my first reading is any indication it’s going to be a warm and rewarding experience for both of us. 

In the first chapter are lots of quotes of things my dad said and my brother shocked me when I’d start reading a couple of them and Jerry would finish them. "How did you know that?" I asked at one point and he said, "Dad told that story about grandpa a lot." As a read, I’d stop occasionally so we could talk about whether or not he remembered things like being in charge of crushing tin cans to put out to the curb during WWII and most often he did and he’d add a little more color to the story than what I had written on the pages. All and all reviewing our lives this way is going to be a bonding experience. I should probably run the idea past the director of the dementia activities program before I get too far into the project. But I’m pretty sure it fits in perfectly with what they are trying to accomplish in Memory Care. Fingers crossed. ©