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

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Defining Moments

I’ve been trying to come up with the defining moments of my life without much success. So, as I often do, I decided to just start writing and see where it leads me. Defining moments are those split second decisions we make that end up defining who we become in life. One of the most common examples used of a defining moment is when someone pulls the trigger of a gun resulting in another person losing their life and the shooter thus brands him or herself a murderer. I suppose it’s a good thing that my own defining moments aren’t such glaring and obvious moments. Most people’s defining moments aren’t huge like that. We all make decisions every day that become little defining moments that, added together, define our lives. Neil Armstrong, for example, had a lot of little defining moments that led up to the mother of all defining moments: being the first man to walk on the moon. If he had made any number of those little decisions differently someone else's name would probably have been etched in the annuals of mankind’s greatest accomplishments.

The plot of one of my all-time favorite films---In Pursuit of Honor---is based on a defining moment or in the words of the lead character, “It’s a long story about a quick decision.” In the movie Don Johnson plays a member of the U.S. cavalry who decides to defy orders to destroy hundreds of army horses and instead he drives them to Canada with the U.S. Army in pursuit all the way from Texas to our northern border. I don’t know what it is about the movie that speaks so strongly to me but the fact that it was based on a little known event in history has something to do with it. I’m fascinated that someone threw away what was best for his own future to go AWOL and pursue what he considered to be the more honorable thing to do. What’s not to love about a man like that?

One defining moment in my life, which led to a whole series of defining moments, took place after Don’s stroke when I decided to take on his recovery process instead of following the advice of the medical community and leave him in a nursing home for the rest of his life. To steal a line from another one of my favorite movies, “that decision changed life as I knew it.” Another one of my defining moment happened the summer after high school when I backed out of going to an art school in another state where I’d been accepted, opting instead to go to a city college closer to home. If we had do-overs in life I’ve often thought I’d like to do that one decision differently. But if I had, I might not have met my soul mate, Don. I say “might” because during the time frame I would have been at that out-of-state art school Don had spent several vacations in the same town I would have been in. I tend to believe we still would have found each other just like we did eleven years after our first, brief meeting as high school students.

Now I’m at a point in life where I have a lot of decisions to make and several will become defining moments for the rest of my life. Widowhood does that to a person…it forces us into facing a basket load of decisions. Some big and important decisions like when, where and if I should move, some not so big. But right now I have to decide what to have for dinner. ©

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Dear Dead Don

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get used to your lack of presence in the house? How hard it is to want to share something with you only to realize I have to tell it to thin air? Darn you, Don! Why did you have to die? I wasn’t finished loving you just yet. And who am I going to yell at for leaving the top off the toothpaste or for not picking up the dog's toys at bedtime? But I’m being strong. You’d be proud of that. I’m taking care of business, getting all your “death stuff” done in fine, chronological order. All the right places and people have been notified that you’re now a dearly departed. All the hospital bills have been paid. And I am now the official head of the household with all the utilities newly in my name. Little Miss Efficiency, that’s me. Little Miss Lonely who talks to the walls and over feeds the dog and who now needs to leave bread crumbs to find her car in parking lots since I no longer park in handicapped.

I’m getting a brand new car tomorrow. Did you know that? Yup, a dealership special: trade in one dead husband and his wheelchair friendly vehicle and walk out with a shiny little Chevy Malibu. Do you know how that feels? Of course, you don’t! Guys never know why women get mad. At least half the time YOU couldn’t figure it out when I had a bee in my bonnet. Hint: New car days should be happy events. They shouldn’t be days that would make any grief counselor think the little old widow is making great progress. Yes, sir, a job well done. Boy, my arm is getting tired from patting myself on the back! 

Damn it, Don! I have money coming in from the insurance company. Money coming in from the sale of your riffle collection. Money coming in from income tax returns. Money coming in from selling your Vette and the power wheelchair. Money, money everywhere and there’s not single thing I can buy without feeling guilty. Tomorrow I’m going to say, “Guilt be damned! I’m buying a damn bike for the damn nature trails even if I have a damned good cry every time I ride the damn thing!” But today I’m not finished being mad at you for dying!

Your pissed off wife.

P.S. I know you know how much I detest the “P” word. So the fact that I’ve turned it into an adjective to sign off this letter ought to tell you not to come haunting my house tonight! If you weren’t already dead, I’d probably kill you for putting me through all this!


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Selling off the Past

This month was the beginning of a very long road I must travel---selling off the past. First Don’s ’78 Vette went up for sale, then this week his gun collection. I didn’t plan on this collection going so soon after his passing but a police officer friend of ours told me about an annual gun auction in March so I got my act together and got them consigned to the sale. I was happy for the way it turned out. Don would have been pleased with the prices his commemorative riffles brought. He’d always said they were the worst investment he ever made because you couldn’t shoot them, couldn’t display them and couldn’t throw the boxes away. Now they are someone else’s “bad” investment. But it seemed strangely fitting that the riffle Don came to dislike for political reasons---his John Wayne commemorative---was one of the highest bid guns at the entire auction. He would have loved taking so much money from a presumed Republican NRA member.

This week I also sold our 2012 Traverse with the wheelchair lift. It only had 12,000 miles but it brought too many memories with it where ever I’d go and with the money I got from the sale of the guns plus the Traverse, I’m buying a new Malibu next week. No more car payments! What’s not to be like about this change in my life? Still, it’s bitter sweet. To move forward, I have to leave bits and pieces of Don’s and my past behind. It’s all part of that circle of grief pain the experts say you have to move through while trying not to stall or stop at any point.

Next on the list to go up for sale is Don’s electric wheelchair. It’s not even nine months old but I’m told it’s going to be a hard sell and that first year of depreciation is at 50%. Why? Because most people get their wheelchairs through their insurance companies or Medicare so the pool of buyers just isn’t there. We bought the chair out of pocket last summer because Don didn’t qualify for a new chair until later this summer and I didn’t want him to have to wait that long for an electric wheelchair he could take down the nature trails close by. With his manual chair we never got too far away from the parking lot before we’d both run out of energy. Oh, well, I can only hope who ever buys the wheelchair will be as happy with the freedom it gives him or her as Don was. The look on his face the first time he drove that chair around the parking lot at the Amigo dealership is something I dearly wish I had captured in a photo.

I was lousy at photo documenting the highlights of our lives. Don was a little better than me before his stroke but not as militant about it as a friend of ours who spends every wedding, party and holiday behind the lens of a camera. I always thought it was better to actually take part in events rather than to document them from the sidelines. Maybe I was wrong. Maybe we should have taken more pictures. But I did inherit a sizable collection of photos of all the cars, trucks and heavy equipment Don owned over his life time and had driven when he was in the reserves. If I thought the humor of making a memorial wall of those photos wasn’t so obscure, I’d do one like other widows do with photographs of their spouses, candle shelf below and all. That’s the kind of joke Don would have gotten right off, but without his laughter at an “altar of lost vehicles” everyone else would just think I’m getting weird in my old age. Selling off the past is not going to be that “dashing and bold adventure” my fortune cookie tonight promised is in my future but it sure is taking me to the dark humor side of life. ©

Friday, March 23, 2012

Expert Advice---or Not

I woke up this morning before the rooster crowed---assuming I had a rooster which I don’t---and I started reading articles on grief. The first thing I learned in one titled Emotional Jet Lag is that grief is like "having your brain filled up with three quarts of molasses” and grieving people shouldn’t use power tools. Damn, I’ll have to put off buying that new circular saw I’ve been lusting after since Don’s death.

Then I read an article titled I’m Fine and Other Lies. That one covered a survey that was conducted where it was found that no one likes being lied to and that everyone lies about their feelings. Widowed people, it concluded, are the worst liars of all. Can you see me raising my hand? Yup, I’m guilty of the “I’m fine” lie and if my brain wasn’t filled up with so much molasses I might be able to explain why the article ruled that telling the “I’m fine” lie is such a bad thing.

Moving on to a piece titled Emotional CPR, the article writer talked about how we wouldn’t tell a person having a heart attack that we’ll be back to help after we go to the bookstore and read up on how to do CPR. “Oh, great,” I thought, as I read along, “all these articles I’m reading on grief should have been read months ago, before Don’s passing.” And all my friends and family---well, the whole damn world!---should have read all these articles in advance of anyone dying in our circle of human contacts so we’d all know how to deal with molasses damaged brains.

Next I read an article titled You Can’t out Run Your Heart. It talked about some old prize fighter who coined the iconic phrase, ‘you can run, but you can’t hide.’ The whole point of the article was that the only way out of the circle of grief pain is to keep moving through it. Frankly, that author could have saved himself a lot of time if he would have just regurgitated that famous quote of Winston Churchill’s---If you’re going through hell, keep going---because that was the bottom line of the entire, too-wordy piece.

Since it took me several weeks before I had my first cry after Don’s death---and now I can’t seem to get through a day without a few tears---I was next drawn to read an article titled If I start Crying will I be Able to Stop? It talked about how we are programmed as children not to show our emotions with commonly used parenting phrases like: “Go to your room if you’re going to cry” and “knock off the crying or I’ll give you something to cry about.” I actually DO remember my mom saying both those things to me! So once again we get to blame the mothers of the world for all the ills of the world, even for the misguided way we grieve as adults.

And last but not the least was an article that talked about how cleaver the author was in creating “some helpful language” that he has since used thousands of times to help grieving people. This helpful language was and I quote: “A relationship should leave a legacy of love, not a monument to misery.” I don’t know, maybe it’s that three quarts of molasses in my brain that is getting in the way of me seeing the value of that platitude. Check back with me in a year when my emotional jet lag has lifted and I can better process that sentence. All I know, now, is I’m glad I didn’t pay that grief counselor a lot of money to see him beaming with pride when he spat those words out of his silly little mouth. After all, timing is everything and I’m obviously not ready for his brand of expert advice. ©

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Presence of Absence

"The Presence Of The Absence Is Everywhere."
 Edna St.Vincent Millay

 Did anyone in my age bracket escape studying the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay? I didn’t and she came to touch my life again, all these decades later. Apparently the above quote by this celebrated poet is commonly used in grief circles to describe a feeling that most widows and widowers have but can’t put a label on…that is until we hear this phrase, then we have an aha! moment. The presence of absence really is a palatable thing, something that you can almost hold in your hand. It’s that real and yet so elusive. Poets do have a way of simplifying even the most complicated of all human emotion, don’t they, and they often write in a kind of shorthand that cuts to the gut like the poem below written by modern-day Irish poet and composer, Do`nall Dempsey:

Change of Address

You didn't die
you just changed shape
became invisible
to the naked eye
became this grief
it's sharpness
more real
than your presence was
before you were separate to me
entire to yourself
now you
are a part of me
you are inside my self
I call you by your new name
although I still call you

When I think of poetry---which I haven’t written or studied much since my twenties---I can’t help remembering having a fondness for Robert Browning….

I walked a mile with Pleasure.
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!

It is amazing how much we learn about ourselves during grief---our strengths, our weaknesses, our fears, and our ability to reach down inside to learn the lessons that the silence of separated souls has to teach. But right now, this day, I sincerely hope that poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell was right when he wrote: “Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how…” because one thing I know for certain is that the presence of absence is everywhere for however long grief lingers. ©

Sunday, March 18, 2012

My Late Husband

This morning I ran across this question on a widows’ support site: When do you start referring to your spouse as your ‘late husband’ or ‘late wife’? It was being asked by someone who’d lost their spouse six months ago. It’s a serious question that evokes a lot of soul searching regarding when you’re ready to let go of the past and let someone else come into your life and other things I’m not far enough into this journey, yet, to understand. But when I first read the question I started laughing because people have been calling Don ‘late’ his entire adult life. He was notoriously late for everything but work and even then he’d clock in at the very last second.

One time we got invited to a family reunion and my mom didn’t want us to show up late so when she passed the invitation on to me she set the time back an hour, telling me it started at 1:00 instead of 2:00. I knew it was important to my mom for us to be on time for this event so when I told Don what time it started I told him 12:00 thinking we’d then get there by 1:00. Don in turn said something like, “This time we’re not showing up late and embarrass your mother again!” so he wrote down 11:00 in his day planner. Months later when the reunion day rolled around all these ‘time swaps’ were forgotten, but wouldn’t you know it’s the one time out of a hundred when Don was determined to be on time and we showed up for the reunion at 11:00. Of course, no one else was at the park three hours early. No tables were lined up for an event of that size. So we called my mother thinking we had the wrong park and that’s when it came out all three of us had backed the start time up by an hour. We had a good laugh at Don’s expense but that wasn’t the end of the story. We had three hours to kill before the reunion began so Don wanted to run a few errands. I should have known he couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone to swap long-winded stories with and if you haven’t guess by now, we ended up getting to the reunion almost an hour late.

Today is two months to the day since Don passed away and, no, I’m not even close to calling Don my ‘late husband’. People who’ve been at this mourning business awhile tell me I’m trying to rush it along and grief can’t be rushed. Like so many other things in life, it has to run its course, set its own time table. I still have moments when I can’t believe he’s gone---surely he’s just in another room. I fight unexpected tears daily. Yesterday they came when I opened up an envelope that contained my very first union associate member card. Last November Don wanted me to apply for membership as associate because the union will protect my spousal rights with the company. As I left the mailbox, that card in my hand, I was crying so hard I could barely find my way up the driveway. I was seeing more than just a piece of paper. Today the fact that the card was so late strikes me funny. It should have come in December or January, but for once being late turned out to be a good thing because I got another lovely show of love and concern from my always late husband. If the card had come on time, before Don's death, it wouldn't have felt so much like a warm fuzzy hug. ©

Friday, March 16, 2012

Sweet Words

“If ever there is a tomorrow when we're not together... there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we're apart...
I'll always be with you.”

Christopher Robin to Winnie-the-Pooh

Being that I’m on a half-hearted campaign to indoctrinate myself back into normal society after so many years of identifying myself as a caregiver/wife, I signed up to go out to lunch with a bunch of strangers from the local senior citizen hall. How hard could it be? If I get stuck for conversation, I told myself, I can pretend an inordinate interest in the way the carrots in my salad are cut like little eight sided stars, assuming the destination restaurant is still doing them the same way they did back in the dark ages when I was there last. If not, I’m screwed. Or I could talk about the weather that is setting records for high temperatures in March---anything but Don. I must remember that my life and all conversations no long revolves around answering questions like, “How is Don doing?” No one ever asks caregivers how they’re doing, but that’s old news and I have a new life to explore.

What I didn’t count on is being seated next to the director of the program and having the very first question out of her mouth being, “How are you doing? It’s good to see you’re getting out.”

“I have my good days and my bad days,” I answered back, trying not to pucker up and cry all over the fancy-do menu.

As it turned out, with the exception of the director, all twelve of the other women at the table were widows, like me, and they had a lively conservation about all the events and travel they’d been doing since their last meet-up a month ago. Could this be me a year from now? I’m not sure but I am sure I’ve got to up date my wardrobe if I’m going to start hang out with these ladies. Quite a few of them were teachers or office workers in their pre-retirement days and not a one of them was wearing pants with stretchable waistbands and easy-care tops---the typical “caregiver uniform” And colors! Between caring for Don and the dog I’ve gotten away from wearing anything lighter than black pants with jewel colored knit tops and these ladies looked like fashion plates----well, fashion plates from the year 1998, but colorful fashion plates if not a bit out of style. It’s a look that old ladies can get away with wearing with pizzazz. “By God, I paid good money for this outfit and I’m going to wear it out if it takes me thirty years!” Shoulders back, head high, walk in like you own the place and no one will care if the label you’re wearing went out of business the during the Clinton administration. Remind me tomorrow to check the back of my closet for old ‘date night’ clothes.

Near the end of the luncheon a vivacious lady across the table said to me, “Well, does anything of this stuff sound interesting to you? If I can do anything to help you get started, just give me a call.” They were sweet words from a sweet lady designed to show me a path for moving forward. Now all I have to do is remember what Christopher Robin said to Winnie-the-Pooh: I am braver than I believe, stronger than I feel and smarter than I think….I can do this. Maybe not this month or the one after but in time I can do this. ©

Thursday, March 15, 2012

A Ride Up and Down Memory Lane

When my brother was four-five years old, my mom took us downtown and during the course of our shopping trip the three of us got on a crowded elevator. My brother was never a shy or coy kid and when he had a question to ask he’d belted it out and that day, in between floors, he was curious. “Momma,” he said, honestly dismayed and pointing to another person on the elevator, “Why doesn’t that lady wash her face?” My mom was mortified but the black lady laughed. It was the 1940s and this anecdote speaks volumes about the times and the fact that a kid from the suburbs could be almost old enough for kindergarten before seeing his very first non-white person.

My second memorable elevator ride was in the Empire State Building---memorable because it was the setting for a full-blown panic attack. Not my first, but the worst one of my entire life. It was in the 1950s, a time when I was in love with art deco architecture and I had been looking forward to this trip to the public observatory at the top. Unfortunately, once I got up there I found out that I had no more love of heights than I did for being locked inside a “windowless box” grinding and groaning its way to the top of that beautiful building.

Twenty-some years later, when Don and I was in Chicago about to get on the elevator at the Sears Tower, I could feel another major panic attack coming on so I made an excuse and refused to get in. My ancestor, Elisha Otis, founder of the Otis Elevator Company, was probably rolling over in his grave over my behavior. But Don had a different reaction because as it turned out that elevator, which he got on to but I didn’t, got stuck between floors and it took a half hour to free him and the other passengers. He got off it in awe of me, thinking that I was clairvoyant and saw that event coming. I never corrected that impression. We were newly in love and I wasn’t about to start punching gems out of my princess crown.

It was shortly after Don’s stroke in 2000 when we had the next memorial ride on an elevator. Don was being transferred from one facility to another and the ambulance-cab driver in charge of transferring Don didn’t get his wheelchair far enough into an elevator and the door shut on his toes. The elevator car moved down several feet while Don’s foot was going upward before the driver realized what she’d done and pushed the emergency stop button. Then it took awhile for us to get Don’s toes uncaught from the rubber door seals because the door wouldn’t open in between floors.

My last memorable elevator experience happened at a Christian college where Don was taking speech classes. He’d spent the morning trying to teach himself how to swear; specifically to say “Jesus Christ!” to someone who’d cut me off in traffic only it kept coming out as “Jesus Crust.” He knew it sounded wrong but he couldn’t figure out how to say it correctly. Don also rolled the words ‘Jesus Cuss’ around on his tongue a few times and finally went back to ‘Jesus Crust’ all the while giving me ‘The Look’ that said, “Help me out here, woman!”

“Don’t look at me, Buddy-Boy,” I told him. “I’m not helping you learn how to swear.”

Finally, the conversation was all but forgotten until we were on the college campus. As I stood there waiting for the slowest elevator on the face of the planet, I remarked to Don, “Boy, is this elevator slow.”

“Jesse Crust!” he swore back in front of a hall full of students and a few professors.

Who’s going to make me laugh now? Who’s going to look at me like I still have a few rubies left in my princess crown? Who’s going to be my best friend, my favorite companion, my sounding board? Everything I see, everything I do takes me on a ride up and down Memory Lane. No one told me that grief takes you back before you can move forward. Or maybe it’s just me…….©

Sunday, March 11, 2012

P.S. I Love You

One of my all time favorite chick flicks is a film with Gerald Bulter and Hilary Swank playing the lead characters Holly and Gerry, a young couple separated by death. Gerry knew ahead of time that he was dying of a brain tumor so he wrote a series of ten letters to be delivered over time to help ease Holly through her grief and with starting a new life. Gerry ends each letter with the words that are also the title of the movie: “P.S. I love you.” It’s a touching, funny, romantic and sexy movie and it doesn’t hurt that Bulter is so easy on the eyes. His character is Irish and what woman with an ounce of hormones could resist falling in love with Bulter’s Irish accent? At least I can’t. I may be old but I’m not dead.

I’ve seen the movie five or six times, including once since Don’s death. Seeing it so soon after his passing got me to thinking about the kinds of messages and instructions Don would have left me if he could reach beyond the grave to influence my grief and moving forward. I’m pretty sure that spur-of-the-moment, first time ever pedicure I got shortly after seeing the movie was a result of an imagined message from the other side. I could almost hear Don saying, “You took care of me for so long now it’s time to pamper yourself.” Well, Don if you’re waiting to whisper another suggestion in my ear I hope you’ll tell me to do something about all those caregiver ‘uniforms’ I have hanging in the closet.

One of the things that Gerry told Holly in a letter was to find herself again. During their married life she’d jumped from job to job, never happy doing any of them. The letter contained tickets and vacation plans back to where they first met in Ireland. His intent, he said, was not for her to feel closer to him again but to rediscover who she was inside. She’d been an art student before falling in love and pushing her dreams so deep down inside they were all but forgotten. Having been there, done that with my own art student background that part of the movie speaks to me. Who am I really? Am I who I’ve became by default or is there a part of me who still wants what I wanted years ago? In the movie, Holly did find her way to the future by looking back. Can I do the same? Can any of us?

Years ago Don and I spent the summer looking at houses for sale and one of the houses we looked at had belonged to an artist who had taken to painting every square inch of his walls with small mythical images like you’d see in fairy tale books and with poetry. (Think the writings of William Blake with things like: “Those who restrain their desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained.”) Don and I loved that house but the walls were so strange, so colorful and they drew you into a world where all you wanted to do is read by the hour. We knew we could never live there or paint over what must have taken the artist years to create. Heck, only a person who was half-crazy could move in there and if they weren’t they’d be half crazy when they moved back out. Every creature known to man and then some was on those walls. We researched the guy, thinking if he was famous enough we could cut the walls up and sell his art work. In the end, we decided buying that house would open up a chapter in our lives that wouldn’t get us to where we were trying to go. But we never forgot that house and every so often I’d tell Don that I hoped I live long enough to start doodling art and poetry all over the walls, without a care for what others thought.

If my life were to follow the plot of the Bulter and Swank movie mentioned above this is the point where my family and friends would barge in the door with a surprise birthday party and my first P.S.-I-love-you letter from Don. They’d be horrified to see me still in my nightgown at two in the afternoon, the place a mess around me and the house plants begging for water. But since my birthday is a few weeks off I think I’ll go down the basement and see can find some old art supplies. I’d just be looking. The walls are safe...at least until I hear Don whispering in my ear: “If you want to be bat-shit crazy, be my guest. P.S. I'd still love you if you were." ©

Friday, March 9, 2012

Weepy Widow

Two days in a row. Just call me the Weepy Widow. If I were younger I’d use PMS as an excuse for the tears that are flowing like a Champagne fountain on New Year’s Eve. I did better in the first two weeks after Don’s passing than I’m now as I approach the two months mark. What’s wrong with me?

“I’ll tell you!” that damn voice in my head is whispering. “You’re running out of things on your Must-Do list---nothing left to focus on, nothing left to make you feel in control. The fog is lifting and you can see the future better. You---”

Oh, shut the you-know-what up! I answer back---oh, God, I’m arguing with myself again! And I’m beginning to think there is something physical wrong with me because half the time when I’m crying I can’t speak, can’t get any words out to explain my actions. The irony of that, given Don’s language disorders these past 11+ years, has not been lost. But did I learn anything from him? No. I end up waving my arms and turning my back until I get my voice back again. If it had been Don he would have grabbed the hand of person in front of him and made that person study his eyes, his expression until they could read him like a book.

Today at the grocery store I finally had the courage to tell my husband’s favorite cashier that Don had passed away. It’s a big store and I’ve been avoiding her by going on her day off or in and out a different door than I used to do when Don was with me. She said: “I’ve been wondering why I haven’t been seeing him lately,” and that’s when I lost it. She’s a college kid who is studying to be an occupational therapist so she’d taken a special interest in Don and his various disabilities. While I shopped, Don liked to park his wheelchair at the end of her lane where she’d talk to him in between customers. 

One thing I learned over the years since Don’s stroke is there are a lot more compassionate human beings in the world than apathetic or callus people. That fact was brought home today as I was leaving the store and the greeter took one look at me and said: “Are you still having a hard time?” My first thought was, “Well, duh, do you see anyone else leaving the check out lanes looking like an escapee from an onion dicing production line?” (Think Lucille Ball in the chocolate factory with the candy coming down the line faster than she could put them in the boxes. Dice, dice, dice!---me stuffing onions in my bra because I couldn’t keep up, my eyes red and weepy as I go faster and faster.) Ya, I was having a hard time.

But thankfully I didn’t say what I was thinking and brand myself to be crappy old lady on top of being a weepy widow. True to form, the greeter took the time to talk with me and make sure I was safe to drive. She was another person at the store who got a kick out of seeing Don roll in the door. We couldn’t go anywhere just two anonymous people blending in with the crowd. But that will change and I will have to get to know myself all over again, one pea instead of two in the pod. Oh well, as Robert Frost once said: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned in life: it goes on.” And so will mine. ©

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Boys and Their Toys

I’m struggling with my emotions today. 

“Well, big deal,” I hear my inner voice saying in my head. “You’re not the only one. So you’re selling Don’s classic car. At least you have a car to sell. Think of all the widows out there who are struggling with major financial issues.”

Been there, done that after Don’s stroke, I answer back. I paid my dues in the Financial Difficulties Club. Today is different. It’s not about money or downsizing. It’s about seeing the Vette loaded up on top of the transport truck and feeling like a piece of Don’s heart was going down the street.

“You are such a sentimental cry baby!” 

I’m trying not to be.

“Try harder.”

Yadda, Yadda, Yadda! Quit talking to me! Life is hard enough without voices in my head second guessing everything I do. 

“This is the perfect time of the year to get that car gone over by a mechanic so it can be advertised to all those guys who are looking for a cure for their middle age crisis or their winter cabin fever.”

I know. All they need is a silver anniversary Vette to cruise the open highway, t-tops off, as they smell the sweetness of spring in the air.

“Oh, brother! I hope you’ll let someone else write up the advertisement. Guys don’t want to hear about smelling freshly mowed grass, pine trees and cow poop in farmers’ fields when they’re shop for a sports car. Hey, you should throw in a few of those old Snap-On calendars with the hot girls checking out one of those ’78 Vettes. Let your potential buyers visualize the kinds of women who are attracted to that car.”

You’re being ridiculous. Those hot girl models would climb all over a tricycle for the kind of money they get paid. Guys know that.

“No they don’t. Remember the calendar Don had hanging in the garage?”

How could I forget it? He had a lot of fun with that calendar…or I should say with the photograph he took of that calendar. He had his coworkers believing that was me in that bikini. He even had me sign the photo with something sappy to make it look more creditable. I wonder what ever happened to that picture.

“One of the guys at work probably stole it out of his tool box.”

I still have that calendar though.

“Yup, and you still have your memories. It’s time for the next generation to build some memories with that Vette.”

I know. Can you go away now? You’re giving me a headache! ©

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Tremendous Silence of Loss

Last week I got my first ever professional pedicure. It felt good to be pampered with the hot towels, a mud mask, nail shaping and callus removal. Even the silliness of having my toenails painted was fun although you’d have to look real hard to see the fleshed colored enamel. The only down side to getting them done was the sticker shock. I can’t believe I just paid $45 plus tip to do something I’ve been doing for myself all of my life. What does toe nail pampering have to do with widowhood? Mostly it has to do with being a widow who used to be her spouse’s caregiver. That’s not an easy transition to make. At first it felt like I was on vacation and soon things like piles of laundry would be calling me back, but that didn’t happen. I’m down to two loads a week with just me in the house. Don was messy. The subtleties of living without him come at me every day, in every way, big and small.

I got an invitation in the mail to attend a meeting for recently widowed people and in the brochure were the words: We understand the tremendous silence of loss. For days I’ve been repeated that phrase in my head---the tremendous silence of loss---trying to figure out exactly what it means. Silence, taken in the literal sense, is one of those not so subtle ways my life has changed since Don’s passing. He generated a lot of noise plus I’ve put myself into a noise block-out zone, not turning on the TV first thing in the morning, going most of the day with only the dog’s barking to break into the silence. It wasn’t a conscious decision to do so and I’ve often wondered if I haven’t been doing a 21st century version of an 18th century mourning ritual that required blocking light from coming in the windows, stopping the clock, wearing black and remaining inside to read the Bible.

The tremendous silence of loss could also mean that people quit talking to you. Or so I’m told. I’m not far enough into the process to experience what others report regarding friends and family who get uncomfortable when you mention your deceased spouse. So widows and widowers quit talking about the one thing they still want to talk about. I have my blogs. Heck, if no one in my real-time world wants to hear “Don stories” then I’ll write about him and send my memories out into the universe where someone in year 2512 might find them and say, “She was one crazy widow.” Don was part of my life for 42 years. My memories of all the major and minor events of my last 42 years involved Don. If I can’t mention them or him without making others uncomfortable, then the tremendous silence of loss will be like a knife carving up my heart.

As my friend Scarlet would say, “I’ll worry about that tomorrow.” Today I’m lucky that society is still indulging me, still listening when I speak his name. But in the back of my mind I’ve got my family and friends under my widow’s microscope looking for signs that it’s time for the tremendous silence of loss to worm its way into our relationships. At that point I might not go quietly into the night. I might do like my husband did when he lost his ability to speak all but a handful of nouns after his stroke. He sang non-sense songs at the top of his lungs, making sure the house was still filled with the rich sound of his voice...until a few days before he died.

The tremendous silence of loss is speaking volumes in my head. ©

Monday, March 5, 2012

Grief is Grief

This isn’t the first time I’ve tried to write my grief away. Back in 1983, just after my mom died, I started a family history book that took me two years to complete. It started out with me just wanting to hold on to her stories that would have gotten lost if not recorded and it grew from there.

Her death was a traumatic event. She’d been going to the doctor every week for a dozen weeks complaining of pain. Near the end my brother started going with her to get some answers about what was going on and the doctor told him Mom was just getting old and looking for attention. Mistakes one through ten. Unbeknown to anyone she had a small hole in a kidney and blood was slowly seeping out and filling up her body cavity. Mistake eleven came the day she died and the ambulance got lost trying to find my parents’ house. (They lived on a lake in a rural area.) Mistake twelve through fifteen happened on the way to the hospital when the ambulance caught on fire and they had to wait for another. She died of septic shock and a doctor told me later that dying that way is very painful. Her death was a series of human errors and oversights and it was filled with the kind of shoulda, coulda anguish that only comes with hindsight.

Mom only lived ten minutes after she got to the hospital and I remember an ER doctor saying that they could have saved her if they’d had a little more time, and then a nurse replied,” Someone should do something about that ambulance company!” She was looking right at me when she said it. But I was in shock and the true weight of what she said didn’t sink in until much later when someone started a class action suit lawsuit against the company that built the ambulances like Mom rode on that fateful day. There had been ambulances catching on fire all over rural America.

One of the worse weeks of my life was when the deadline for joining that class action suit was coming up and I had to decide if I wanted to get our family involved in it or not. Don was right there with me, talking it out and helping me come to the conclusion that I couldn’t do that to my dad. He’d just started dating a lovely woman, moving on and it would have been cruel at his age to put him through reliving the details surrounding Mom’s death that a legal deposition would have required. No, it was up to someone else to “do something about that ambulance company.”

When I go to an online support site for widows sometimes it makes me feel lonelier. It’s common to see statements from women in my age bracket like: “This is the worse thing to ever happen to me” or “I don’t know how I can go on.” What bothers me more is when the people there complain about others who try to console them with words like, “I just lost my father/mother so I know just how you feel.” Sometimes I want to scream: “Grief is grief!” But I can’t do that. People have to work through their mourning in their own way and if they need to believe their grief is deeper than other people’s grief who am I to challenge that opinion? In the words of novelist Paulo Coelho: “We can never judge the lives of others, because each person knows only their own pain and renunciation. It’s one thing to feel that you are on the right path, but it’s another to think that yours is the only path.”

But I know. I know to the depths of my soul that most humans are resilient. We can be happy and whole again after horrible, life altering events. I have the ghosts of past grief to thank for teaching me that. Even now, with Don’s death so recent, and my mother’s so long ago, I can still hear the words he kept repeating in my ear during Mom’s funeral: “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay!” And when I’d finished writing my family history book, it was okay. I had purged the grief induced melancholy from my life by introducing the relatives from the past to my relatives in the future. Writing truly is my saving grace. © 

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Walk Forward, Don't Run Away

In March of 2008 I wrote a blog entry titled ‘Immortality’ and it started out like this: “We all face our own mortality at one at point or another although some of us are good at pretending it doesn’t exist. Usually I’m able to ignore thoughts of dying or of losing someone I love, but sometimes the concept slaps me in the face and it can’t be ignored. Last week was one of those slap-downs….” Then the blog went on to talk about a heart catheterization Don went through.

I ended the essay with this: “For the next few days I worried about the ‘what ifs’ ahead of us, borrowing trouble from the future and generally forgetting the caregivers’ Cardinal Rule about living in the moment and appreciating what is here right now. The bottom line, I finally had to tell myself, is that after all the testing and all the worrying nothing has changed. Don is still in my life and he still finds life worth living. We don’t have to say good-bye just yet and I don’t have to make my way alone in the world. So I made a conscious choice to go back to the land where ignoring our mortalities makes sense in a crazy kind of logic that demands no explanation from those of us who have been there, done that.”

January 18th, 2012 I got the final slap-down, didn’t I, the mean-spirited punch from Father Fate. Don is gone and I’m trying my best to practice mindfulness but living in the moment is so much harder sometimes than others. In a book of daily meditations I’m currently reading---Wrinkles Don’t Hurt---it has a Jack Kornfield quote that is good advice for anyone dealing with grief: “Don’t run away. It’s that simple.” The meditation goes on to talk about how by letting our emotions come we can release them. If we block our pain, then we block our ability to find joy again. Sometimes I wonder if that’s not what I’ve been doing by keeping so busy ---blocking the pain because I don’t want to walk deeper into the valley of grief.

Dialogue with the Dog

Levi: “Is that all you’re going to do today is sit at the computer? Can’t you see my ball sitting there on the floor?”

Me: “Go get your ball, Levi.”

Levi: “That’s not going to cut it, old woman. Give me your full attention or I’m going to eat the schefflera plant. Again!”

Me: "Leviiiiiiii! Knock off the barking and go get your ball!”

Levi: “Not until you give me your full attention. All that New Age stuff about mindfulness you like to read about---well, you know you can’t do two things at one time if you want to practice it. Play with me! Now!”

Me: “What’s the matter, little boy? Do you miss your ball throwing partner? Do you miss Don?”

Levi: “Now we’re getting some where. Of course I miss Daddy! What a silly question.”

Me: “Want to go for a walk, Levi? Shall we clear our minds and go find out if any of your four-legged friends left you some pee-mail?”

Levi: “You’re just full of silly questions today, aren’t you!” ©

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Get Your Kicks on Route 66

If you ever plan to motor west,
travel my way, take the highway that's the best.
Get your kicks on Route 66.
It winds from Chicago to LA,
more than two thousand miles all the way.
Get your kicks on Route 66....

In the mid 1940’s I was still a toddler when Nat King Cole first sang the song above. It was written by Bobby Troupe, a former piano player in the Tommy Dorsey Band, and one of my earliest memories of my mom is of her dancing in the kitchen as this song was playing on the record player. She loved her music. She would hand-copy the lyrics off from records, playing them over and over again until she got all the words down on paper. I still have her black notebook filled with lyrics. When my brother and I were old enough to do dishes, that notebook was propped up in the window sill for us to sing from as we worked. Later in life, Mom told me she had us singing because if we were singing we weren’t fighting.

Lots of people in my age bracket have romanticized Route 66 in one way or another. As kids some of us saw the movie inspired by John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath novel about the Dust Bowl immigration and we got our first introduction to the Mother Road. Some of us might have taken vacations along Route 66 back when it was in its heyday of motor courts, camp grounds, cottages, restaurants, souvenir shops and tourist traps. Even as late as the ‘60s, a TV show tried to immortalize the Route 66 highway.

Don and I got caught up in Route 66 history via way of map and gas station memorabilia collecting. Route 66 and the evolution of the gas station go hand-in-hand; you can’t be a serious collector without having acquired a couple of books devoted to the architecture along Route 66. One year in the late '70s or early '80s---before the historical societies along the Mother Road started working to preserve what they could---Don and I tried to follow as much of the old Route 66 highway as humanly possible. Even though parts of it were gone or deserted, it was still a memorable trip. We’d always gotten a kick out of interacting with people along the back roads of heartland America. We’d planned on taking the Corvette back to Route 66 to one of the Vette rallies the historical societies sponsor. That was a pre-stroke dream that in our “wheelchair era” never came to pass. Big sigh here.

Up until a few years ago we had a Route 66 shower curtain in the bathroom. I made it myself and I still have that curtain. It’s a back drop to some of Don’s collectibles now and it’s going to be hard to see it go to make room for the next chapter in my life. I’m too sentimental for my own good. But I’ll probably keep our Route 66 books. You can never have too many books.

It’s funny how our pasts and presents connect. I’d sung hundreds of songs as a kid. I’d taken a dozen vacations with my folks and even more with Don. I’d see thousands of TV shows including those in the sixties when Martin Milner and George Meharis rode the Mother Road. Yet with all those choices out in the world---all those paths to walk---I still find the re-occurring themes in my life to be the best. And when you get a chance to share some of those re-occurring themes with your soul mate you know you've had a little piece of heaven right here on earth. ©

Now you go through Saint Louis
Joplin, Missouri,
and Oklahoma City is mighty pretty.
You see Amarillo,
Gallup, New Mexico,
Flagstaff, Arizona.
Don't forget Winona,
Kingman, Barstow, San Bernardino.

Won't you get hip to this timely tip;
when you make that California trip
Get your kicks on Route 66.