Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!
In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.
Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean
Friday, April 27, 2012
Wednesday, April 25, 2012
Monday, April 23, 2012
Sunday, April 22, 2012
The movie we saw was good---The Lucky One. I wouldn’t have picked it if it had been my choice because the author of the book it was based on is not one of my favorites. He---Nicholas Sparks--- wrote Message in a Bottle and while others raved about both the book and the movie version, I couldn’t suspend my disbelief long enough to buy into the plot. It felt forced and sappy. The Lucky One is definitely a chick flick love story and while the plot was another attempt to explore fate and destiny, it was thin. The acting, casting, and scenery, however, made this movie well worth the price of admission. It also had a touch of humor in it compliments of a senior citizen character---Nana---and I could relate to her. She had lost a grandson recently and one of her lines really spoke to me as a recent widow. Nana said words to the effect of: “The older you get the less you begrudge the moments you didn’t get and you appreciate the ones you did get.” That’s what I try to do with the loved ones I’ve lost.
Lunch was at a fancy oriental place that dragged out the four courses and charged $5.00 per person for a pot of tea that I could have made at home for pennies. It took forever and made me so antsy. (I had left the house at ten-thirty and didn’t get back home until nearly five. The only time I’d been away from the house that many hours in a row while Don was still alive was when I was in the hospital getting knee surgery.) As I sat there, caregiver guilt was getting to me and since I no longer have a care recipient I transferred my worrying to the dog. How was Levi doing being alone for so long? He’s not used to that. Was he getting separation anxiety, knowing not all that long ago Don and I left him alone for too many hours and only one of us came back home? It was ridiculous to think this because he’s never shown any signs of separation anxiety and it didn’t escape my notice that I was showing signs of separation anxiety in between the appetizer and soup courses. I wanted to go home and apology to Levi, then go out and buy us a matching set of thunder jackets. (Do they make them for people?)
I’ll probably take part in the movie and lunch club again next month. But I don’t see this as a good way of forming friendships as I originally hoped it would be. The logistics of sitting next to a different set of women every month will keep the conversations very superficial and focused on the movies. What’s new? I’ve never been good at making friends. I had Don for a best friend and really never needed anyone else. So my friendship building skills are as rusty as a junk yard sculpture. ©
Friday, April 20, 2012
Wednesday, April 18, 2012
Monday, April 16, 2012
I woke up before the robins this morning with a dream still hanging around in the corners of my mind. I was searching in vain for Don’s phone number because I knew he’d overslept and wouldn’t be able to wake up without my help. My deceased parents were also in the dream and not at all concerned that I couldn’t find the number I was looking for. “Leave him alone,” my mom said, “He’ll be fine.”
It’s not unusual for me to wake up with a fragile dream hanging just out of my reach and sometimes I try to will myself back to sleep so I can finish the work my subconscious mind was doing in the night. But this morning I couldn’t drift back to sleep because I remembered this is the day Don’s ashes get interred at the gravesite---at least most of them. Some I’m taking to Lake Michigan this summer. I’m having trouble fighting the compulsion to divide his remains even more so I can leave some of his ashes at the farm where Don grew up and also take some ashes out during a bad snowstorm and let them go in the wind. (Don loved snowstorms and the plowing that took place after.) I’d also like to put some of his ashes in our backyard, at the house we built together. It’s a place he was immensely proud to live in and the first thing almost every morning that he lived here he’d sing, “Beautiful, beautiful!” to the walls. I can think of a dozen places I’d like to leave part of his ashes and burying them with a headstone is not one of them.
But he wanted to be interned in this cemetery, in the town where he went to school, and where he once spent the summer mowing the grass as a punishment from the local judge. (Kids today are still messing with the city sign but few are as creative as Don and his friends who managed to change some letters around and create a swear word.) Don picked out the gravesite based on the fact that his life-long friends owned the site next to ours. That tickled his sense of humor on one hand, but on the other hand there was something deeply sentimental about his choice. Don was more sentimental than a lot of people would have guessed.
At the cemetery the sexton asked me if I wanted to be at the foot or head of the gravesite because Don’s ashes would be placed at the opposite end and it struck me that these three guys---two sextons and the funeral director---would probably judge our entire marriage dynamics by the answer I gave. I went back and forth trying to figure out a logical choice and finally I decided dead is dead and what difference could it possibly make what I picked or what these strangers thought. They call it widow’s brain when you can’t make decisions and this decision made me feel like a driveling idiot. I did, however, decide quickly that I wanted a rock that the sexton unearthed while digging the hole for the box of ashes. Don and I never took a vacation that we didn’t haul a few rocks back home.
I had the dog in the car and after the ashes were in their final resting place I took Levi down the near-by nature trail and I picked a spot by the river to sit down and reflect on the finality of getting buried in the ground. It was cold and windy with the smell of rain pushing in with the dark clouds over head. No other people were in sight but the sounds of nature were all around me---the trees rubbing against one another, a pair of broad-winged hawks soaring above, the current of the river making its way south---and surprisingly Levi sat quietly watching a chipmunk balling up a dried oak leaf to carry home. If it had been a bird, he would have barked.
I don’t really believe that our dreams are anything more than our own thoughts, memories, fears, and imagination all twisted together and processed in the unmapped parts of our brain. I used to wish our dreams are windows into a parallel universe where we’d all go at night to live. I still believe that great movies like What Dreams May Come (about the hereafter) are born in a person’s nighttime dreams. But today the only thought I had about dreams is this: if there is even the slightest chance that some dreams are spiritual signs from the other side then my mother’s words when I woke up this morning are the greatest comfort I could have asked for at a time like this, that “Don will be fine” where ever he’s at in the great unknown.
Note: The photo above is the rock from Don's gravesite. It measures nearly five inches across and if anyone knows what kind it is will you leave me a note? The photo below shows some of the rocks we've brought home over the years.
Sunday, April 15, 2012
I should probably take the board apart and put the photos back in the albums where they came but for some reason I can’t seem to do it. No “probably” about it, I SHOULD do it! I need to do it. How can I sit here and be critical of widows who after one-two even three years still have their decease spouse’s underwear in their dresser drawers, their clothing still hanging in the closet, and their combs and toothbrushes still sitting in the bathroom when I have unfinished business of my own? And I do make judgments about other grieving people. I’m not proud of that, but it’s a fact. In widowhood support circles you often hear the phrase that grief takes however long it takes, but in the back of my mind I keep hearing a voice saying you can’t move forward if you’re living in a time capsule. I suppose it gives comfort to pretend someone is coming back to wear the clothing in the time capsule or to use a hairbrush again but I’m glad I took care of this immensely personal stuff early on after Don’s passing. And, yes, that poster of photos calls me a hypocrite when my back is turned.
I love Amazon.com. Within seconds I can get a book downloaded on my Kindle or within days if I want a “real” book to show up in my mailbox. Yesterday the mailman brought me If the Buddha Got Stuck: a Handbook for Change on a Spiritual Path. The back cover reads: “This wise yet lighthearted book by the author of the enormously popular If the Buddha Dated and If the Buddha Married will speak to anyone who’s ever experienced being stuck in life. With her signature clarity, wisdom, and wit and her trademark blend of psychological and spiritual insight, Charlotte Kasl presents seven simple yet profound steps on the path to change. 1) Notice where you’re stuck. 2) Show up. 3) Pay attention. 4) Live in reality. 5) Connect with others, connect with life. 6) Move from thought to action, and 7) Let go.” On that list, I’m approaching point six and it’s too bad I had to buy the whole book when I only need the last few chapters.
Some day I’ll learn to use the library again. Before Don’s stroke, I was there twice a week. Family and friends have been checking in on me this past week, knowing it would be a week of many widowhood firsts. First Easter without my husband, our birthdays and anniversary without each other, and Don’s ashes getting interred tomorrow all had people thinking about me. Last night some friends stopped by and we talked about moving forward and how I have to slow myself down because I have an overwhelming compulsion to get it all done as soon as possible “so I can move forward,” I said. Bless his heart, my friend replied: “But you ARE moving forward. Moving forward isn’t a goal you get to; it’s a process, a journey that you’re taking step by step.” And with those words in mind, I give myself permission to hold on to the poster board of photos a little longer. ©
Saturday, April 14, 2012
I put the box full of wishes by my computer for inspiration, trying to decide what kinds of wishes I’d put in the box if it hadn’t already come fully loaded with my friend’s wishes for me. It reminded me of Jim Croce’s Time in a Bottle song. I must have heard it a hundred times in the 40 years since the singer-song writer wrote it but I had to look up the lyrics to make sure I got them right. Where has the time gone? I didn’t remember or maybe I never knew the back story about Time in a Bottle, how Jim wrote it for his baby son not long before Jim died in a plane crash. That fact sure puts a different twist to the song. Life is such a fragile thing.
“If I could save time in a bottle
The first thing that Id like to do
Is to save every day
Till eternity passes away
Just to spend them with you.
If I had a box just for wishes
And dreams that had never come true
The box would be empty
Except for the memory
Of how they were answered by you.”
Off and on all day I thought about the wishes I’d add to my little box of wishes from my friend. My thoughts ranged from wishing for one more day with Don to wishing I could work through the grief process at a faster pace to wishing I knew what Jim’s son thinks about his father’s words so long ago. But finally I decided that I want the same thing Jim said he already had in his box---empty space where unfulfilled wishes and dreams used to be. What a joyful thought! And in most ways, I already do have that. Don and I had a good life together. I have great memories and few regrets. Few unfulfilled wishes as a couple. But as more wishes and dreams do evolve from this widowhood phase of life, I will tie them securely in my paper box with the red satin ribbon and keep them there until I figure out how to make them come true. ©
Friday, April 13, 2012
Serendipity was going to the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit yesterday---to start an annual pilgrimage during the week of Don’s and my birthdays and anniversary---and finding out the botanical gardens and sculpture park hold art classes and workshops. Last winter I spent a couple of hours online trying to find myself a leisure time art class in the area with no success. And yesterday they just fell in my lap at a point in my life when I will have the time (and hopefully the money) to get back to one of my first passions in life---drawing and painting. But I need to do it in baby steps; I have to know, first, that I can actually spend several hours with strangers without breaking out crying. I’ll start by becoming a member of the gardens and learn my way around the place---it’s huge, 132 acres---and maybe wait until fall to actually sign up for a workshop.
Yesterday’s pilgrimage turned out to be the life affirming experience I had hoped it would. It was a bright, sunny day and the minute I sat down to watch the butterflies in flight overhead and all around me I felt at peace. One particular 3-4 inch blue butterfly kept trying to land of people and I was envious of others wearing brightly colored, floral blouses. I don’t own one, or picture myself ever buying one, but I did wish I had purchased the floral patterned summer purse I rode around in my shopping cart recently before returning it back to the rack. It’s going to take baby steps to updating my wardrobe as well. But one way or another, I’ll have a butterfly attracting flower with me when I return to this exhibit next year. After an hour with the butterflies I took an hour tram ride around to see the outdoor sculptures. On the ride I learned that this park ranks in the top 30 Must-See Museums in the world. And it only takes me 20 minutes to get there!
It wasn’t the first time I’d been there. A few years back I took Don to see the butterflies but it was too hard to get him and his wheelchair around with my old lady lack of energy for pushing. We’d also been there four months after his stroke. It was a graduation-from-rehab field trip and his physical and occupational therapists were there to get him standing up just long enough for a photo-op underneath the park’s signature bronze piece---a 24 foot bronze horse. It was supposed to symbolize what can happen when you never give up on your dreams, because this colossal horse was 500 years in the making. I wonder how often I’ll have to see that sculpture before I can look at it without tearing up. We were all so proud of Don that day.
And since this essay is about serendipity, I’d be remiss for not pointing out that the inspiration for this huge bronze sculpture came from the drawing board of Leonardo deVinci, a commissioned piece that fell through due to war breaking out and the bronze being needed for other purposes. It was pure serendipity the day the founder of our local botanical garden and sculpture park happened to see those deVinci drawings while visiting a bronze foundry where he was checking on a little piece he had commissioned. He was intrigued by the detailed deVinci plans, and the story behind them, and he was able to help put things into motion to bring this massive sculpture to fruition. That was serendipity power at its finest! ©
Thursday, April 12, 2012
Tuesday, April 10, 2012
In a couple of days I’m starting a new tradition of marking all these April dates by making an annual pilgrimage to see the Butterflies in Bloom exhibit which is always in town this time of the year---to do something life affirming and symbolic of the cycle of all living things. What could be more life affirming than to sit among 6,000 butterflies hatching and flying free in the conservatory? They say if you sit very quiet the butterflies will land on you and you can feel the whisper of air from their wings when they take off again. I want to do something positive and uplifting like this to honor the lives that are gone instead of me mourning the hollow place their absence---especially Don’s---leaves behind. I might not achieve that goal this year, but in the years to come I will.
Grief is grief and it takes however long it takes, but for me it helps to have an exit plan like this for leaving the grieving path behind. I want to remember Don, Mom and Dad with a joyful heart, not a tear-stained face. They were all good, caring people. My dad, my sweet and wise father who is never far from my thoughts. So much of my world view came from him. My mom who taught me to be strong and independent. My loyal and loving husband who taught me that love is patient and full of laughter. By next April I will be joyful and celebrate that I had them all in my life for as long as I did. But this year, I cry for me. I cry for Don. This year I see the ugliest of all cocoons---grief---but I know it holds the promise that from it will emerge the most beautiful of all butterflies…. spiritual and physical healing. ©
Sunday, April 8, 2012
I learned one important thing about myself as I scanned through those bucket list suggestions: I’m not interested in doing extreme sports or traveling. Not surprising. I wasn’t interested in sports when I was young except for a few years of snowmobiling, skiing and sailing nor did I especially enjoy traveling by trains, planes and ships. Don and I were more the RV and tent-camping in state parks type of travelers and I wouldn’t do either one alone. About the only place I’m seriously interested in seeing now is Nantucket Island---don’t ask me why. I really don’t know. But if I had the money I’d rent a cottage there and stay until I figured out why the place calls my name.
UPDATES: Items with a red number have been checked off this list since it was written. 9/24/15. Items with green numbers, I no longer care about doing, 4/12/16. Things marked with ** at the end are things I need to revisit for one reason or another, 6/1/19.
2. Take a Tai Chi class.
6. Spoil myself with more and more spa-like treatments. Okay, so I’ve only gotten one pedicure so far but I’m scheduled for finger and toe nails both next week. And I want to do the sugar thing to get rid of old lady chin hair. Who knows what will come after that---maybe a spa retreat in Hawaii or a Tibetan Silent Retreat. If I wasn't laughing so hard while I write this, I'd realize I could actually do these outer and inner beauty make-overs someday.
26. Start painting again.
Friday, April 6, 2012
A lot of thoughts went through my head while I looked at the stone---scrambled, mixed up ideas along with bittersweet memories. But the main idea involved Duck tape. They say you can do anything with Duck tape so maybe I’ll just use some to cover up my name on the Vermont marble. It creeps me out seeing it preserved for all eternity! It’s bad enough that I have to see Don’s name etched deep and black against the unpolished background. What else could I do? He wanted a tombstone. He got it. He wanted “happy trails to you until we meet again” on the stone. He got it. See, things work out when you plan ahead. I just remembered those were the very last words I said to Don. He had passed just minutes before and he had such a sweet, angelic look of peace on his face. I’ll never forget that look. Damn it, I just made myself cry again!
A lot of the headstones near by ours have things glued on top or stuck in the ground: knickknacks of all descriptions---birdbaths, flowers, pinwheels, figurines, solar lights and wind chimes. Lots of wind chimes. We’re moving into a noisy neighborhood. I did some thinking about what Don would like on his side of the stone. Whatever I pick will probably have four wheels and goes “zoom, zoom!” in little boy talk. Or maybe a plastic Snoopy would do. He’d like that. On my side, maybe I’ll put my Fossil sundial watch. It’s always good to know what time it is when you’re in a cemetery.
On another spur of the moment decision I stopped at the near-by funeral home to arrange to do the interment of Don’s ashes on our anniversary which is coming up soon. While I was there the funeral director gave me a boxed, plastic bag with part of Don’s ashes to scatter at Lake Michigan this summer. That packet came with a document clearly spelling out the contents within “just in case you get stopped by the police.” Apparently cremated remains have been mistake for cocaine. That’s just what I’d need, to get arrested for transporting my husband around in a plastic bag! I just may leave him there in the trunk, though, until the day I go to the lake because those ashes sure kept me from speeding on the way home. Plus I haven’t had a vehicle with a trunk since the ‘70s and it seems fitting that Don gets the honor of being the very first “item” to get toted around town in my brand new trunk. It even has a glow-in-the-dark trunk release handle inside in case Don’s spirit wants to set his ashes free while I’m going down the highway. ©
Thursday, April 5, 2012
Not being able to teach the dog to dial 911 I bought myself a “friend” who I can call when I get myself in trouble. Yup, if I have car trouble, hear a strange noise in the night, fall and can’t get up, lock myself out of the house or I’m having a medical emergency I now have a 5 Star Urgent Responder to talk me through it and hook me up with the right service or person on my call list. They can even help the police track me using GPS should I get kidnapped while standing in front of the senior center. Well, it could happen! A psychopath with a fetish for gray hair and sensible shoes could come along.
Heck the whole world could track me if I cared to publish my account password. Sorry world I’m only going to give it to my nieces. Seriously though, having a panic button with me sure takes the fear out of doing things like going on the nature trails alone. And as an added bonus, by the time I’m old enough to get lost going to places I’ve been to a hundred times before, I’ll be so used to having a panic button with me that it will be easy to use this modern technology to find me. Of course, by then if I get lost---or heaven forbid, kidnapped---and I hear a voice talking to me through the urgent responder clipped to my bra I’ll probably think it’s God telling me to stop walking and wait by the nearest tree for the police to come pick me up.
When you get a certain age you can’t help wondering who will be the first to die in your circle of friends of the same age. I don’t have to wonder any longer because it was my husband, Don. It wasn’t really a shock that he’d be the first, given that he wasn’t the healthiest kitten in the litter. Still, you’re never prepared for all the changes losing a spouse and best friend brings into your life. But I’m determined not to be like a few widows seem to be---stuck in a “poor me, why me” mind set. There’s a balance to everything in life, a yin and a yank, a positive to every negative. And in death there is both regret and gratitude. Regret that our relationship couldn’t go on forever and gratitude that I had Don in my life for as long as I did. I never want to lose track of that balance, and I hope the people who know me best won’t lose track of the fact that I’m now packing a 5 Star Urgent Responder. I don’t want anyone freaking out, thinking I’ve got one too many bats in my belfry should they see me talking to my cleavage. I want them to remember there could be an actual person---a $15.00 a month “friend”---on the other end of the conversation. ©
Tuesday, April 3, 2012
Sunday, April 1, 2012
One time Don bought a cast iron pot with two spouts marked Oil City, PA patented in 1872. He didn’t know what it was and he carried a photo of the curious pot around to all the oil collector conventions and swap shows for years before getting an answer. That year we were on our way to a Romance Writers of America convention that took place in Texas. I was publishing and editing a 28 page bi-monthly readers’ book reviews newsletter back then and this was a business trip mixed with pleasure. So finding out what the two spouted pot was on this trip came totally unexpected.
Anyway, we had stopped at a tourist information center at the state boarder and there on a brochure for the Kilgore Oil Museum was a picture of our mystery pot. Off we went, 100 miles out of our way to go to the museum where we found out that the pot is called a “yellow dog.” The story goes that President Roosevelt was the one who coined the name for these pots that were used to light up oil derricks using fresh crude. He thought they looked like a dog’s yellow eyes in the night and when he said so in front of a gaggle of reporters, headlines back east proclaimed: that “Roosevelt sees yellow dogs in Texas.” In political circles “yellow dogs” has since come to mean something else as well but this is the kind of trivia that kept Don collecting and researching. Who would have guessed that Dr. Seuss and President Roosevelt could be connected in a ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’ kind of way?
Last week I had lunch with a friend in a little town not far away. As I pulled off the highway there in view was a big sign proclaiming an antique mall was ahead. Having time to kill I went inside and came out with information on renting some showcase space. Should I do it? I don’t know yet---I can’t stop thinking about it---but I do know what Dr. Seuss would say about my chances of being a successful mall vendor again: