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. Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Jean

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A World without my Husband

The bathroom looks different since Don passed away. I did my widowhood redecorating in there. The urge to redecorate seems to come with the widowhood title. “Here are the death certificates for your husband. Now go do some shopping therapy.” Usually it’s the shared bedroom widows want to change, to get rid of the reminders of illness or death the room still holds or the memories of happier times that are so painful each night. I thought about redoing that room myself. Lord knows our bedroom could use some help but it seemed like a waste of money considering I want to move in a year. So, instead, I took down a poster in the bathroom I never really liked then bought a new shower curtain and a large throw rug for the floor. I could never have throw rugs in the house with Don’s wheelchair. There, I got my required widowhood shopping therapy done. What’s next? 

Tax time and I’ve been purging the filing cabinet. I’ve never been good at doing that chore which became obvious when I discovered how many years worth of stuff had accumulated. The stack of statements from Medicare, Blue Cross, doctors, therapists and hospitals was painful to go through. Poor Don, he’d been through so much since his stroke! A thousand shred it/keep decisions later I was emotionally spent and ashamed of my self for feeling so worn out from shredding all day when Don never complained about anything the medical community put him through. “Bring it on!” he would have said if he could have talked. “If it doesn’t make me better, at least it will get me out of the house. Some where to go, ink pens to steal out of pockets and off desks.” Every where he went for the past eleven plus years, he’d flash his baby blues, play his I’m-a-guy-in-wheelchair-who-can’t-talk sympathy card and usually people would let Don keep their ink pens. I’m thinking of bundling them up by the dozen and giving them out like door prizes to anyone who comes to visit. I should run out in the year 2025.

The widowhood crazy train is slowing down. I have my own Blue Cross card now---I’m no longer a dependent off Don’s account. Social Security and the pension administration finally got all their “I’s” dotted and their “T’s” crossed. The life insurance check is supposedly in the mail and I’m finally able to access my prescriptions again. Who knew my blood pressure pills would get locked up in the red tape of widowhood! I didn’t. Shortly after Don’s passing---but not soon enough---I started a log of all the death related phone calls I had to make. I’m at forty-five entries in the log at one month, ten days into widowhood. And I’m not done yet. 

Another widow was telling about a phone call she got after her husband died where a guy claimed her husband had pledged a hundred dollars to some obscure charity and he wanted the check. She knew it was a scam but that got me to thinking about what I would do if I got a call like that. I’d decided I’d get great pleasure out of saying: “Why, yes, I remember Don telling me about that and his exact words were: ‘If that guy calls back tell him to go fuck himself.’” Life without my husband has me living most of my life inside my head. ©

Saturday, February 25, 2012

The True Meaning of our Dreams

Almost every night since Don passed away I’ve been dreaming about him. And in all my dreams he’s like he was before the stroke, walking and talking. Not so surprising considering even my day time memories of him seem to be focusing more on our pre-stroke life together rather than the post-stroke years. In last night’s dream we were at a high school for a fund raiser and I lost Don in the crowd but I found him again by following his deep, rich voice. I’ve always loved his voice. After his stroke I couldn’t bear to part with his telephone with the built-in answering machine because it contained his outgoing message and I couldn’t erase it. I just couldn’t do it so I bought a new phone.
At one time or another most of us have wondered what, if anything, our dreams mean. Volumes have been written to help us analyze things like the setting, symbolism and actions in our dreams. The school setting, for example, in my latest dream is supposed to represent the dreamer’s feelings of being tested. (Well no shit, Sherlock! Losing a spouse is quite a test of our mettle, and being at a fund raiser isn’t too hard to figure out either, considering Don’s gun collection is now in the hands of an auctioneer and I’m getting ready to sell his beloved sports car.) Anyway, school settings are a common setting in my dreams and have been for as far back as I can remember. I’ve also had many dreams after Don’s stroke where I lost him in random settings but my last dream is the very first dream ever where I’ve found him again. Maybe that’s not such a curious thing considering reincarnation and his ‘ghost games’ round here have been on my daytime mind a lot lately.
I read an article a year or so back about the brain and how it stores information. The theory is that during sleep is when we shift all the events of the day to a permanent storage place in our brains to retrieve later as a memory. Only the information being stored doesn’t necessarily get stored all in one place. The brain, in theory, works much like a computer breaking up and putting data where ever it can find space on our “hard drives.” The article suggested that our dreams are really just the brain whizzing by old memories, broken up by other memories, and looking for a place to drop off our most recent data for filing. Imagine taking a magazine apart and gluing the pages back together in random, mixed up order. Imagine, then, flipping through that glued-back-together magazine and trying to make sense of what you saw. That’s what dreaming supposedly is like and if true, we can throw out all those books on dream analysis.
That scientific theory makes senses. It really does. But how does that theory account for the reoccurring dreams and the dream symbolism that more often that not actually seems to fit what is going on in our daytime lives? Nope, I’m kicking that article's theory to the curb and instead I choose to believe my most recent dream does have meaning. And it means some day, some how I will find Don again in the great unknown. Many of us say we have soul mates but we forget that true soul mates have been finding each other since the bottom of time and will continue to do so until the planets collide. I hold on to that thought knowing my soul mate is never far away, even in death. ©

Friday, February 24, 2012

Selling the Silver Anniversary Corvette

A few years ago I wrote a blog telling the story of Don’s love affair with his 1978 silver anniversary Corvette. (See the link below) He truly loved that car and it was no easy feat to hold on to it after his stroke, but doing so was one of the best gifts I could have given him. Or maybe I was just a coward because while selling the Vette when Don’s prognosis was do dire and our future so uncertain would have been easier for me it would have broken Don’s spirit. That’s the last thing I was willing to deal with and that’s where the cowardly act may have come in.

I’m getting ready to sell it now. I don’t have mixed feelings about that decision but I’m sure there are a few people who think I’m moving too fast considering Don’s passing was just over a month ago. I’ve read many stories written by other widows of how they can’t let go of their husband’s vehicles even though holding on to them is putting their financial futures in great jeopardy, still making payments they can no longer afford. For me, that doesn’t even enter into the picture. The car isn’t costing me anything to continue storing in the garage and I’m not planning to move from here until a year from this coming summer. The way I view it, I did for Don what I could do for him while he was here to enjoy it. Selling the Corvette so soon doesn’t make a statement about the depth of my love (or lack there of as some have implied) for my husband. I’m just a realist and getting the car ready for a spring sale makes the most sense.

The Corvette was fun to drive when we felt like playing and I drove it back and forth to college the year when I was finishing up my degree. (Don thought that was appropriate since it took me 25 years to go back to school and the car was the 25th anniversary model.) Even after Don could no longer drive the car it never lost its place in his heart. He was proud to own it. I will always treasure the memories the Vette helped us build but now it’s time to let go and move on. ©

Link to my other blog entry about Don and his Vette can be found here.


Thursday, February 23, 2012

It's Not Always about Us

There’s a lot of discussion in widowhood circles about the “insensitive” things people say to recently widowed people. I put the word insensitive in quotations marks because I’m not 100% buying into this whole line of thinking. To me, it seems more likely we in the widowhood phase of life are so hyper-sensitive, and have our emotions so close to the surface, that there’s nothing others could say that won’t feel like they’re picking the scab off our wound and making it bleed again.

Sure, people shouldn’t tell us that we’ll find someone else. No one wants to hear that the love of our lives could be replaced or as one woman so aptly put it, “My husband was not a goldfish!” The you’ll-find-someone-else kind of statements are actually saying more about the person doing the talking than it was meant to comfort the widow in front of them. What they are really saying is they perceive themselves as being so weak they can’t imagine facing widowhood. They believe if they were in our shoes they’d have their thumbs stuck in their mouths until someone comes along to solve all their problems. In other words, they still believe in the fairy tale about the white knight who rides in to saves the fair maiden in distress. Well screw that idea and the people who believe it! If we’re modern women we’d let them hear us roar out the message that our pain is too deep right now to look to the future. We don’t need a white knight in the foreseeable future or to acknowledge the fact that most widows actually do remarry in time. What we need is to finish mourning the “white knight” we lost.

Then there’s the statement that so many people say to recent widows: “You’re so strong!” There again, when you analyze the source of these kinds of statements aren’t they really talking about themselves and how lost they think they’d be in a similar situation? Well, duh! That's how we feel when we don't have our public faces plastered in place. But as misguided as these kinds of statements are they’re not meant to comfort. The person saying them is measuring their perceived shortcomings against our perceived strengths and scaring the holy crap out of themselves. The fact is most of us eventually will find our way out of the darkest days of our lives because failure isn’t an option and our instinct to survive is stronger than we think in times of deep sorrow. The you’re-so-strong kinds of statements could also be read as actually meaning, “I’m so glad you’re holding yourself together in public because I don’t have a clue what to do to help.” Clue to the clueless: when you don’t know what to say, offer a hug.

The bottom line is that people are human and as so we don’t always say or do the right things at the right times. When someone says something insensitive we can’t let it worm its way deep inside our hearts to fester and grow like a cancer. Speak up! Tell someone when something said isn’t helping. People don’t mean to hurt or upset us. Few people are educated in giving grief support and that includes giving ourselves the grief support we need to find from within. ©

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Proposals

I don't plan to live in the past now that my husband is gone, but I do want to preserve and share some of my best memories from time to time on this blog. For me, it helps to write. It keeps me focused on the important parts of our shared history---and the important parts are NOT the last few days of his death or my pain of having to move on by myself. Don's gone and I can't change that but I can try to live the life he'd want me live while not forgetting our past. So with that in mind, here's a few memories that I treasure......

The Proposals

The first time---or maybe it was the second time---that Don asked me to marry him we were on a playground riding pink elephants mounted on giant springs and not doing a very good job of it since they were designed for children and we were in our late twenties at the time. It was four o’clock in the morning. The moon was full making the trees surrounding the park look like an enchanted forest. But there might have been a little alcohol involved earlier in the evening so it could have been just our imaginations working overtime. It’s enough to say it was a memorable setting to get a marriage proposal.

The last time Don asked me to marry him was in the year after his stroke. We were living in an accessible apartment while I was getting his house ready to sell and I was also in the process of getting an auction organized at a large pole barn that he had rented for years. My house was sitting empty, waiting its turn on the sales block. I’d been fretting about the high cost of my health insurance and we were having major cash flow problems. Don’s language disorders---aphasia and apraxia---at that point in time had his speech limited to a few nouns that often took as long as four hours for him to get out. But he was determined and would keep trying over and over again until others around him understood what he wanted to say. By the time he finally got the word “marry” out, the conversation about the insurance had vanished from my mind, but not his.

“You’re merry?" I asked and with all the stuff going on during that time frame I was stunned that he could feel that way. "You’re happy?” It was a question that, of course, upset him because I misunderstood what he'd worked so hard to get out.

Besides the fact that it took me a while to recognize that single word proposal as a proposal, another thing that was different from the time he proposed while we rode pink elephants in the park was his reasons for asking. This last time, Don was asking because getting married would get me covered by his health insurance and pension plan. I don’t know why he proposed that first time, but my answer was: “Why we hardly know each other!” We’d only been dating a matter of months---and not exclusively at that---and I thought anyone with a lick of sense wouldn’t ask that soon. Strike one against Don.

In the decades in between his first and last proposals when ever people pressed for a reason why we didn’t get married, Don often repeated that line---“Why we hardly know each other!” It was a standing joke and only the two of us knew its true origin. But there was a deeper meaning as well. Over the years Don and I flirted with the idea that reincarnation of souls is real and we figured we had been soul mates since time began. It just took me a while to recognize that when we first met. And that brings us to the true meaning of the words that will be carved on our tombstone… "Happy trails to you, until we meet again." Our time together here was just a drop of water in the flowing river of life and we’ll have until the end of time for our souls to keep on finding each other. ©

Edit to add: I added a link to an article that was published as part of Valentine's Day contest a few years back. The contest was to write about how you met your spouse. Look for that tab/link at the top that will take you to the article.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Ghost in the House

A little background here first before I tell you what my ghost has been doing: I have three wedding bands and I rarely wear any of them unless I’m going somewhere and then Don usually had to remind me to put a ring on my finger. I found that gesture so sweet and sentimental on his part, but that’s another story for another day. I hate wearing jewelry and always have. One ring, a diamond incrusted band of white gold, I got on my wedding day and that is reserved for dress up events. Then I have a tungsten ring which is considered to be the most wear-resistant material on the planet and that’s the one that I wear most often. Then I have a cheap band that, at times, fits better than the other two. That band is the one that’s been hanging on the bulletin board for nearly ten years.

In all those years that ring has hung on the bulletin board it’s never, ever fallen off the pin----until after Don passed away. The first time it happened was the day the minister came to the house to plan Don’s service. After he left, I opened up my computer cabinet and that ring was sitting right in front of the monitor. I picked it up, started laughing and I said out loud: “It’s true! They DO send messages from the other side!” I’d actually forgotten the band was on the bulletin board and it took me an hour to figure out where it had come from. None the less, I took its sudden appearance as a sign that Don approved of the service I had just planned. The spirit was happy, I thought, and he’ll fly away.

Wrong. The second time the silver band appeared where I hadn’t left it I found it on the floor a short distance from the computer cabinet. This time I thoroughly examined the pin that I hung the ring on. It seems secure enough. I wiggled the door the bulletin board is attached to, moved it back and forth trying to make the ring fall off the pin. It didn’t. How in the heck had the band fallen not once but twice? Ironically---or not---I found the ring on the floor just after a friend had been here to inventory Don’s gun collection for a large annual gun show and auction. If I truly believed in spirits---and I’m heading in that direction---I’d think Don is none too pleased with my decision to get his collection into the Cadillac of local gun auctions. Why else would his spirit throw the ring on the floor at that particular time? “Sorry, buddy boy, we don’t count ghost votes in this house. Don't try to make me feel guilty!”

The third time the ring came up missing from its home of ten years I found it on top of my checkbook. I don’t even want to guess what that’s supposed to mean, assuming Don’s spirit really is sending me messages from the other side. This time I briefly considered Crazy Gluing the band to the bulletin board, but for now I think I’ll let my little house guest keep playing with my head. Or maybe I’m just afraid that if I Crazy Glue the ring to the board someday I’ll find that whole big board with the ring attached tossed around the room and then I really will believe in ghosts. ©

Thursday, February 16, 2012

My Widow Letter to my Spouse

There’s an exercise that apparently is quite commonly assigned by grief counselors as part of individual and group therapy sessions. It involves writing a letter to your deceased spouse to say all the things you’re holding inside. You’re suppose to get all your emotions out on paper, all the “woulda’s, shoulda’s and coulda’s” and then you’re suppose to tear the letter into little pieces and throw it away. No more guilt, no more regrets. Wow, life is so simple when you follow the class curriculum, isn’t it. So here goes my widow letter:

Dear Dead Don,

I hate to break it to you but you weren’t perfect like so many other husbands tend to be after they die. I’m not going to use this letter to build you a shrine of flowery words and tell you how I can’t possibly go on without you. I am going to tell you that if I have any regrets it’s the fact that I have to write this damn letter in the first place, that I can’t just look at you across the table and say the words none of us say when we still have the chance. Why the hell don’t the curriculums for living well classes assign this letter writing project when we can still share those letters with our loved ones ahead of death?

I’m also going to tell you that you sure kept life interesting. Between the two of us, we came up with all sorts of lame brain ideas. We talked half of them to death and acted on the other half. And it was fun. It was interesting. It was a life well lived. I'll miss going down road after road with you, me and the dog singing our theme song, that old Harry Woods number that’s been around since 1925:

Oh, we ain't got a barrel of money,
Maybe we're ragged and funny
But we'll travel along
Singing a song Side by side.

I will miss so many things about you. Your smile, your laugh, the twinkle in your baby-blue eyes when something amused you like it did the day you wore the Red Hat Society gear, and I will miss your determination (which at times could be labeled stubbornness depending on the goal you were trying to achieve and whether or not I agreed with that goal). Like I said you weren’t perfect. But I will say you were perfect for imperfect me. You understood me like no other person on earth ever did or ever will and I will miss that most of all.

Don't know what's comin' tomorrow
 Maybe it's trouble and sorrow
But we'll travel the road
Sharing our load Side by side.

Gosh, we’d been through a lot of tough times in our forty-two years. Those early years when you fought and won against the demons inside, then there was your mother’s long good-bye which took a toll, and letting go of the farm. Then it was my turn and you were there to share the grief and heartache of my mom’s passing due to a secession of human errors. That was so hard for me to make peace with. Next came the five years of me share-caring for my Dad closely followed by your stroke. We supported each other every step of the way through all the bad times in our lives, big and small. And somehow I know that you are still supporting me now, still telling me, “It’s going to be all right.”

Through all kinds of weather
What if the sky should fall?
Just as long as we're together,
It doesn't matter at all.

But I promise you this, Don. I won’t dwell on the bad times we had together when there are so many good times to out weigh the bad. When I think of the good times vacations top the list. You were always at your best when you were on the road, leaving all your cares behind as you wheeled-and-dealed your way down the back roads of America. Remember the time we were in Utah, on our way home, and you stopped at so many garage sales we only made it eleven miles from morning to night? Remember the time you went into a gas station and didn’t come back out for four hours? And people wondered why I had a mini library in the motor home. Remember all the times at midnight you’d want to go to Lake Michigan to sleep on the beach? I’m taking some of your ashes back to the beach this summer.

Oh, and remember how you always had to remind me to put my wedding band on when we’d leave the house? Well, I haven’t taken it off since your service. I still hate wearing jewelry but the annoyance of wearing that band now is a reminder of how much our marriage meant to you. It’s funny how something could be both annoying and comforting at the same time. You could be both annoying and comforting at the same time, too, and that irony has not gone unnoticed. I told you when I began this letter I wasn’t going to enshrine you with flowery words. When it came to annoying things you did, telling long-winded stories I’d heard a thousand times sometimes fell in that department. And how I wish I could hear one of them one last time.

When they've all had their quarrels and parted
We'll be the same as we started
Just a-traveling along
Singing a song Side by side.

I’m so glad we got to say our ‘I loves you’ in your last days at the hospital. I will never, ever forget you, Don. That seems like a hollow promise considering how old I am and how little time I have left to remember. And that’s assuming I won’t get Alzheimer’s. Sorry, I just had to end this letter with a joke.

Love, Jean

Another letter to Don written a few months later than this one can be found here.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Not Like Other Widows

I’ve known for a long time that a spouse of someone who’s had a stroke mourns the loss of many aspects of their relationship in months/years that follows. But it’s never been as crystal clear to me as it’s been since I started hanging around a support website for widowed people. In most ways I don’t fit in there. Sure, I just lost my spouse recently but that fact alone apparently isn’t enough to earn me full membership in the Crying All Day Club and its sister club: The Little Lost Lambs. I don’t cry all day and I have a two year transition plan for my future. Ya, little things will turn on the water works like finding a pin-on compass with Don’s favorite out west “toys” or telling a dear relative about fixing the wheelchair damage on the woodwork for the very last time. But all day cries? Been there done that just after the Don’s stroke. It didn’t help then and it won’t help now.

I don’t mean to sound cranky when I compare myself to other widows. I know I’m at an advantage---if you can call what Don and I went through in the first few years after his stroke an advantage. But in this situation it is an advantage in the sense that I’d already mourned the loss of things like in depth conversations, the feel of Don’s full body hugs, and having someone to share household responsibilities with. I went through the emotional roller coast of having to downsize my husband’s work and hobby lives. I also went through the financial cash-flow issues of having to sell houses and cars to make way for a new chapter of life. All these common “widow woes” I’ve faced and I came out the other side stronger.

By comparisons, most of other widows I’ve met make me feel like Mary Poppins and when they find out I’m a woman who still measures her widowhood in days, not months like most of them, they are shocked. It makes me nervous. Am I in denial? No, I don’t think so. But then again do people in denial actually know they are? When I go to their chat room, listen to them lament this or that it’s like hearing an echo from the past. The spousal caregiver’s mourning period really was like having training wheels on the bicycle for this final loss. Why do I keep going? That’s a question I’ve asked myself several times. And a comment I heard last night might be a reason. A woman said she thought I should give classes in how to move forward and another woman replied, “I think that’s what she’s doing now.” Perhaps I hang around because the community has become my new set of training wheels to help me transfer from being a full time caregiver to not being needed anymore. ©

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Widowhood Train

If you’re reading this blog you’ve probably been in the circle of people who’ve been standing at the station waving ‘goodbye’ as I board the train to Crazyville. That’s the place where the insurance companies, Social Security, the pension administration, loan departments, and credit card people all conspire to send recently widowed women. “All aboard, ladies! Leave your marbles with the agent as you board the train and have a nice day!”

Today I got two letters in the mail from Social Security. One says, “We checked our records due to the death of your husband. We found that the benefit amount we are paying you now is the only one you can receive.” The benefit they named was the amount I’ve been getting right along since I retired. The other letter says, “You are entitled to monthly widow’s benefits beginning January 2012. This is in addition to the benefit you receive on your own earnings record.”

What the heck am I suppose to do with those conflicting bits of information? Pick the one I like and throw out the other? Pin them both to the wall, tie on a blindfold and throw a dart in their direction? "Yes, madame, the first letter you hit with the dart determines the quality of the rest of your life.”

Obviously, both letters can’t be correct so which one am I to believe? There’s no date in the headings of these letters and no time stamp on the envelopes. No clues except for the damn ticket to Crazyville that magically appeared on the table as I tried to figure out what to do next. If this happens to other widowed people no wonder the wait times on the phone to Social Security are so long. It’s a good thing I have the weekend to practice my sweet, little old lady routine before I call S.S. because women on the train to Crazyville can be, well, CRAZY! If I called now the person on the other end of the line would get an ear full of freshly gathered dog do-do. ©

Friday, February 10, 2012

Heart Shaped Boxes of Candy

My first Valentine’s Day without Don in 42 years is coming. Can you hear it marching towards me? Did you see all the red heart shaped candy boxes on display in the stores or hear any radio advertisements to send your sweetheart flowers? I did, and I know from reading the writings of other widows online that this holiday is one of the most dreaded dates on the calendar, not just that first year after a spouse passes away but for many years to come.

Today I came upon one of those candy displays and at first I was going to avoid walking by it. But from deep within I heard my inner voice saying: “Embrace the holiday. Embrace the memories that go with it.” So I walked right up to the display and purposely let my eyes linger over each square foot of confection. The first thing I spotted was a heart shaped box with Snoopy on the front and he was holding his yellow bird, Woodstock. It was like a sign from Don! I never understood his love of Peanuts characters but in our early years together I’d gotten more than a few gifts featuring Snoopy and his feathery friend. That is until I said, “Enough all ready! Snoopy is your thing, not mine.” In all the years we’d known each other he’d always had a Walt Schulz comic strip character some where in the house---on a watch, on coffee cup, on an article of clothing, etc. Snoopy even made it to Don’s funeral compliments of a patch sewn on my husband’s t-shirt quilt that was displayed in the corner.

As I stood there in the store, I was getting the hang of embracing the memories and not nursing the pain of spending a Valentine’s Day without my husband. I moved down the candy display cataloging all the memories seeing those hearts brought back, smiling at each one until I came to some Reese’s peanut butter cups wrapped in red, a company’s attempt to cash in where they don’t really belong. Those peanut butter cups were Don’s all-time favorite candy and seeing them today was like getting second sign of approval, this one from my inner voice. And that sign was saying I did good embracing rather than avoiding the Valentine’s Day display.

I ended up going back to the box with Snoopy and Woodstock and it’s now sitting on the kitchen counter. I’m going to eat one of the five chocolates inside every day for the next five days leading up to V-Day. And instead of crying or hiding or feeling bad, I’m going to hug myself with 42 memories of the 42 Valentine’s Days I was lucky enough to share with my soul mate. ©

This isn’t the first time I’ve blogged about Valentine’s Day. In the blog I kept as Don's caregiver after his stroke I did an entry about him getting out some very special words on V-Day. The other entry I wrote about a time pre-stroke when he gave me the biggest turkey of a Valentine's Day gift a woman could get. Find both entries here: http://fromtheplanetaphasia.blogspot.com/search/label/Valentine%27s%20Day

Thursday, February 9, 2012

Married or Single

Yesterday for the first time I had to pick between checking a box for "single" or "married" on a form. I sat there staring at it for the longest time. I couldn't decide what I am! No choice for "widow" was given---isn't that kind of in between being married and single? I still feel married and committed even though I'm alone in the world now. I still feel half of a whole. One pea in a pod made for two. But there were no gray areas on that form. I had to choose. I planned every detail of my husband's funeral with the determination of a five star general, I wrote the eulogy and picked out the headstone all with no hesitations and with the conviction that I knew exactly what the right thing to do was. But it took me twenty minutes of hand wringing to decide how to fill out a damn form!

I remember one time before were we married when some anonymous person taking information for a form asked Don if he was married. “On the weekends,” he said while dramatically hugging me closer. He didn’t embarrass me often but he did that time. Everything I do now brings up a silly or sweet memory like this. I’m sure that's just my inner self’s way of reminding me to find the balance. The balance between grieving a loss and savoring a shared history. My inner voice can be such an annoying twit when she's right.

“Don’t take little hiccups like picking a box to check on a form so seriously!” that nag of an inner voice repeats in my head as if I didn't hear her the first time.

And to that, I yell back: “Go away!” You’re going to get me committed for inappropriately talking to myself!” ©

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

The I-Don't-Give-Rat's-Ass Insurance Company

Today on my agenda was dealing with the company that insured my husband’s hearing aids. A few weeks before he passed away we had paid for the coming year’s insurance that was to cover any possible damage that might occur throughout 2012---a $300.00 premium. By my way of thinking they should be writing a prorated refund check for the remaining unused eleven months minus a processing fee for canceling the policy.

“It doesn’t work that way,” the perky voice on the phone told me. “We don’t do refunds.” She might as well have said, “I don’t give a rat’s ass how many months are left on the policy. We’ve got your money and we’re not giving it back!”

So I replied, “You mean to tell me that those eleven months left on the policy have no monetary value?”

“Why, yes they do,” Ms. Perky Voice says, “if your husband had lived he could have gotten his aids repaired unlimited times over this coming year. But since he won’t be using them, we don’t do refunds.”

Around and round we went until I finally had to accept the message: they don’t do refunds even if you stand on your head and beg Ms. Perky Voice’s supervisor. God, if I had known that I wouldn’t have notified them of Don’s passing. I would have damaged both aids, then send them back to the factory to be rebuilt at the expense of the I-Don’t-Give-a-Rat’s-Ass Insurance Company. They don’t send you the terms of the contract up front like other insurance companies do, all nicely spelled out in black and white. They don’t do anything but take your money and gamble that you’re not careless enough to wear your hearing aids in the shower. But if you do, of course they’ll tell you afterward, that you can only do that once a year and get covered. Dogs that chew a hearing aid until it looks like a wad of bubble gum with wires sticking out? “No problem as long as it only happens once a year.” Been there, done that and bought the t-shirt. It's only unlimited if you come up with a different method of damage each and every time.

I’ve always hated dealing with the I-Don’t-Give-a-Rat’s-Ass Insurance Company and it’s bittersweet that I’ve just had my very last conversation with Ms. Perky Voice. But not one to let a day go by without at least learning something new, I googled the term “don’t give a rat’s ass” and I learned the term most likely originated at a point in history when there was a bounty on rats because they spread diseases and plagues. To collect the bounty you only had to present the head thus that made the bottom half of the rat worthless. Wouldn’t it be nice if in this modern age we could put a bounty on worthless insurance companies that promise the moon but when it comes to compassionate customer service they deliver moldy cheese? ©

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ashes to Ashes

I just ordered one of those heart shaped ash urn lockets where I can put some of Don’s cremated remains and a photo. The sterling silver back will be engraved with his initials, year of his birth and death, and the words “soul mate.” I’d been looking at the Jewelry Keepsakes catalog online for a week now, trying to talk myself into waiting until things aren’t so fresh and sentimental thoughts didn’t over rule common sense. My cash flow will be better a few months and the interment of Don’s ashes won't take place at the grave site until spring so what’s the hurry, I told myself. But did I listen to my inner voice? Heck no! I can be as stubborn and she can.

When my mom passed away I held back a small amount of her ashes and I kept them in a miniature Tupperware bowl attached to a key chain, but somehow it got lost when I moved after Don’s stroke. I keep hoping against hope they’ll turn up and visions of that pitiful, lost little blue bowl were the final arguments that got me off my duff to order the locket. No one throws a piece of good jewelry in a what-not drawer like it’s a party favor given out at Tupperware parties. It would get treated with the respect it deserved. My inner voice says, “Forgive yourself already for losing Mom’s ashes! Shit happens.”

Ya, as hard as it is to admit, sometimes my inner voice is smarter than I am. But she won’t shut the heck up! I won the argument about the locket. Now she’s campaigning to hold back a whole baggie’s worth of Don’s ashes to take to Lake Michigan next summer. Don wanted the grave internment but my inner voice wants us both to also become part of the landscape---the water lapping on the shore, the wind that come off the lake and bounces around the sand dunes. My mom’s ashes were mixed with thousands of wildflower seeds and spread along a mile-long country path she loved to walk and I’ve never regretted that. It gives me peace to see the flowers that still bloom there, twenty years later.

But what comforts one person upsets another. My brother was so distraught over my mother’s directive that he couldn’t take part in spreading the ashes and ten years later when my dad died, he wanted a grave marker for the two of them. He actually dug up some dirt from where we’d spread Mom’s ashes and moved that dirt over to the grave site where my dad’s ashes were buried. He still goes there to tend the grave. Me? I’ve only been there twice in twelve years. But when I see blue cornflowers and yellow daisies growing wild, I think: “That could be part of Mom” and that makes me happy. My inner voice wants the same with Don. She wants us to be able to go to Don’s and my favorite place and be warmed by the thought that Don is now part of some of God’s best work. ©

NOTE added April14th, 2012. I found the little blue bowl containing my mom's ashes! I was looking for something else altogether and I found it in a box of keepsakes from my childhood that I got out to show my brother. When I pulled the little bowl out, he said he hadn't seen me that happy in along time. Back when I moved I must have put it in the box for safe keeping. It was safe alright...and lost for nearly twelve years!

NOTE added April 2024: In the last few years my oldest niece took me over to my mom and dad's headstone and I took the little Tupperware bowl of mom's ashes with me to scratched them into the ground.

Monday, February 6, 2012

Wild Goose Chases

Today I called the number listed on our loan coupon book for payments on the Traverse. “No, problem,” the guy on the line said, “just take a copy of the death certificate to a local branch and they’ll take care of getting your husband’s name off the loan.”

Ya, right. Simple as making a mud pie. A twenty-five mile trip to the only branch in the area later I find out that the only way to get Don’s name off the loan is to refinance the car. Why didn’t the call-in center at the loan department tell me that? It could have saved me a morning on the road. I don't want to refinance. I want to pay off the Traverse and downsize to a little sub-compact hatchback as soon as the insurance money comes. And I hope that happens so fast the neighbors will gossip about how quickly the little old widow lady is spending "her husband's" money. I can’t help it. For the past 11+ years I’ve been driving, loading and parking wheelchair friendly vehicles and I can’t bear to look at the current model any longer.

Along the way, I made a wrong turn which made my fruitless field trip even longer than it should have been. Hint to other widows: Don’t listen to the ‘prime country’ radio station while driving. Tears are like cell phones---they impede your driving skills. At one point I had to pull over while Tim McCraw sang:

"I've never been this close to anyone or anything
I can hear your thoughts I can see your dreams
I don't know how you what you do
I'm so in love with you, it just keeps getting better"

Those words brought back a sweet memory of a slow dance Don and I shared early on in our relationship. Dream like, the rest of the people on the floor seemed to disappear and it was just the two us acknowledging with our eyes and touch that we’d found our soul mate. Say what you want above country music but their lyrics really know how to reach down inside a person and retrieve your memories. This one was like watching a video on the romance channel. I kid you not.

"Every time our eyes meet
This feeling inside me
Is almost more than I can take
Baby when you touch me
I can feel how much you love me
And it just blows me away..."

God, I can’t wait until this roller coaster of emotions, paper work phase of widowhood is over! I want to be left with my memories and skip all the frustrating stuff like being sent on wild goose chases that accomplish nothing. But then again, if not for today’s wild goose chase how long would it have been before this sweet, sweet memory was revisited? Thank you, Mr. McCraw! ©

Saturday, February 4, 2012

The Dog's Grief and Me

It’s nearly noon and I’m still sitting in my bathrobe. The dog is playing with his newly decapitated duck because I’ve been too busy counting the squares in the kitchen flooring to pay any attention. The duck surely must be in agony with his white stuffing hanging from the smiling schnauzer’s mouth. "Too bad," I tell Mr. Bad Luck Duck. "I've got my own problems to worry about."

People keep asking me how Levi is handling Don’s death. Considering the fact that he’s now rolling on his back and rubbing himself down with duck guts I’d say he’s doing better than he should be just nineteen days after his singing partner died. God, the house is quiet! How could Levi not miss the howling contests they had each morning after Don transferred into his wheelchair---or me yelling at the two of them to knock it off? How could he not miss sitting at Don’s feet during breakfast, at the ready to round up stray Cheerios that might roll down his way? How could he not miss giving Don doggie kisses each night? Or the fact that every time we’d get ready to go some where Don would campaign to let the dog ride along?

Damn dog is entirely too happy today. If I had the power to make him sit in the corner until some genuine tears rolled down his bearded face, I would. The only changes I see in Levi’s behavior since Don’s passing is he started sleeping on the foot of Don’s side of the bed---something he never did before. At first he’d stay just until I turned the light off. Then it went to a couple of hours before he’d move some time during the night. Last night was the first night Levi spent the whole night, and not just at the foot end of the bed. It brought a smile to my face, waking up with the dog stretched out like he owns the place. Seeing that side of the bed empty was such a jarring and sad way to start the day.

Pets have their own way of comforting their humans and Levi has decided where he is needed most. Nighttime bed duty for one thing, but right now it appears he thinks I need to move away from the computer and rescue the duck. Mr. Bad Luck Duck has been separated from his squeaker and with it, Levi is squeaking out the message: “Hey, human, life goes on! Come play with me.” ©

Purging the Closet Part Two

I’ve met some wonder people in the last few days at Widowed Village. It’s a support website for widows and widowers that rivals any of the stroke support sites I used to hang around in the early years after Don’s stroke. They have a busy chat room, a message board, blogs and they sponsor widow camps you can go to on both coasts. One is even being planned to Big Bear. And they have subgroups to join. I joined one for widows who’d been caregivers, another one for people born in the 1940s, and one for widowed in 2012. They have it all, especially in terms of friendly people willing to be a sounding board when you need it.

From reading there, I get the idea that purging the closet of Don’s clothing was quite an unusual accomplishment this close to his passing. That may be, but two things helped me in that endeavor. One: I have the quilt of his favorite old t-shirts that was made for him several years ago and I had the pleasure of seeing him cover up with it nearly every day since. If I didn’t have that quilt I don’t think the closet purging would have happened quite so soon. I’d take breaks from working in the closet, look at that quilt and say to the dog, “That’s Don. Not this other stuff.” Don helped pick out the logo shirts and patches in that quilt and I kidded him about wearing all of his favorite shirts all at one time. So let that be a lesson to anyone who's been putting off having a t-shirt quilt made. “Getter’ done!” to quote Larry the Cable Guy. You’ll never be sorry.

The second thing that helped me purge the closet is that I’m a coward. Yes, I am. I like getting the hardest thing done first so I don’t have to face the dread building up and up of doing something hard in the future. Why start at the bottom of a hill and push up when you can start at the top of the hill and push down? That’s my life philosophy. Or so I tell myself. But that’s just me and I know that we all have to follow the beat of our own heart and pick the time that feels right for each of us---be it in two days or two years. Grief cuts its own path across the field of life.©

Don's quilt (below) was made here.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Waiting for the Pension Administration

After playing a dozen mindless games of solitaire I decided to blog my frustrations. It’s day four of a four day window I was given when I called the pension administration where my husband used to work. A window when I’m suppose to hear back from a case manager IF I am entitled to any spousal benefits. If I don’t get any benefits, they’ll send a letter within ten days. “IF?” If I'm not entitled to any spousal benefits? Where did that notion come from? It seemed to me the lady on the phone took great glee at saying the word 'if' rolling it over her tongue nice and slow and louder than the rest of the words in her sentence. Hearing that little word---if---was like getting sucker punched.

“I get it,” I thought. Some people take up hiking or biking for a hobby. This woman, for fun, likes torturing recently widowed women into worrying about whether or not their health insurance will get cut off or they aren’t named on the life insurance. And if Ms. Nasty Ass had her way, widows sure as hell aren’t going to get any portion of their husband’s pension. Out of luck! Sorry. Someone checked the wrong box.

Having dealt with a long and involved, life-and-death incident with an ambulance company where someone checked the wrong box, I'm on pins and needles now. The quality of the rest of my life hinges on the phone ringing in the next four hours. “Ring, damn it!" Why won’t the phone ring? I can’t go out to the mailbox. I can’t pick up poop in the dog pen. I can’t make any of the other necessary calls on my ‘widowhood list.’ All I can do is sit here nursing a case of the nerves while building up resentment towards a tiny word like ‘if’.

The irony in all this is my husband was in speech therapy for six years after his stroke and he never could get his aphasic brain to kick that word out of his head and down to his tongue. ©

Edit to Add: I can't believe it! 8:30 PM and the call finally came. I really didn't expect it anymore today, since it was so late after normal office hours. And I couldn't have been more pleased with my new case manager. She said she knew I'd be anxious and took a chance in calling so late because she didn't want me stressing all weekend. She's going to walk me through the whole process once I send in the death certificate. I absolutely feel like I've been on a roller coaster of emotion today but, thankfully, I didn't end up with vomit on my shoes. Thank you, Mrs. Case Manager!

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Sweet, Little Old Widow Lady

On the agenda for today was ordering the stone for my husband’s grave. Or I should say our grave stone since eventually both our cremated remains will reside in the same place. That was a surreal experience, walking into the monument company and seeing all those beautiful tombstones in their display room. For several years my husband had wanted to order a stone and I’d been the one dragging my feet. There’s something special he wanted to make sure got etched in marble for all of eternity but I was a little creeped out by the idea of seeing my own name on a grave. But “Some day” finally got here, and the job couldn’t be put off any longer. What my husband wanted and will get is a line from a Roy Rogers and Dale Evans song: “Happy trails to you --- until we meet again.” Yup, he was a bit sentimental about some things.

After the salesman wrote that line down and assured me there would be no problem using the copyrighted lyrics, he asked for my husband’s birth and death dates. I told him. Then he says, “And what dates should be use for you?”

From out of no where I snapped back: “If we knew that, I don’t think I’d be sitting here talking to you.”

People in the ‘death and dying’ business are so serious and somber and ever so worried about offending someone whose emotions are close to the surface. The look on his face was priceless until he noticed that I was smiling and then he cracked one, too.

“Let me rephrase that,” he said, “when were you born?”

Talk about being serious, somber and afraid of offending a client, the woman at the funeral home had put the wrong picture on the remembrance card and when I pointed that out she looked so stricken that I glanced down at her feet, half expecting to see pee running down her leg and filling up her shoe. I don’t remember ever having that kind of power over another person and it was fascinating. I suppose it had something to do with me raising my voice just a tiny tad when I told her that she, herself, had confirmed that I had e-mailed two photos---one for the obituary and one for the card. Fortunately, in time of the service, she came through with a corrected version of the card and as a reward I didn’t even yell at her when the video they taped of the service crashed half way through. After all, I had to start somewhere practicing to be a sweet, little old widow lady. ©

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Purging the Closet, Big Strong Me

Several people have told me that getting rid of clothing was the hardest thing they had to do after their spouse’s passing. One woman, a few years out from her husband’s death, still has his underwear in their dresser’s top drawer and a relative said he still can’t bear to give his wife’s wedding dress away and he’s far enough out to have started dating again. Big strong me---famous last words---I decided that I’d tackle this job first so I won’t become an old lady who ten years from now is still hoarding a closet full of her died husband’s logo t-shirts and a drawer full of his holey---not Holy---socks.

Seven trash bags full of clothing later, tears dried on my cheeks and with an achy jaw from clinching too hard, I emerged from the closet knowing that someone should start a damn closet purging service for recently widowed people. Some solemn faced soul who knows enough not to read the family laundry with comments like: I see your husband liked to go to car shows. That’s where I got in trouble---reliving every purchase like in Don’s case the American Pickers logo t-shirt he insisted he couldn’t live with out. Well, damn it! He got the shirt and then he didn’t have the courtesy of living long enough to wear it out. How fair is that? Had I known that would happen I would have stamped my foot in my best impression of Scarlet O’Hara in Gone with the Wind and pitched a royal fit until he backed down from wanting to buy something that is now so painful to donate to Goodwill.

The closet exploration is only about 80% completed. I didn’t make it to the summit, didn’t get to plant my very first widowhood flag. Nope, no gold star can be stamped on my membership card to the club. Will I finish that last 20%? Or years from now will I still have squirreled away in the closet a stash of jersey knit shirts advertising fun places to visit? “Oh, well,” as my friend Scarlet would say, "I'll think about it tomorrow, after all tomorrow is another day." ©