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

Friday, May 25, 2012

First Memorial Day

As a widow, don’t ever think you’re past the point of finding things to cry about regarding the passing of your spouse. I thought I was but today I got a call that brought unexpected tears. Just after Don died I had ordered a memorial brick for a ‘Plaza of Recognition’ in Don’s hometown using money that came in condolence cards. It’s the kind of thing that is sold as fund raisers and this one helps a sweet little park next to a dam. I had forgotten all about it until the call came to let me know the brick had been set in place just in time for Memorial Day. We have bricks like this in other locations around the state. There is something about the permanency of having your name carved in a brick that appealed to Don and I couldn’t help crying at the thought of how pleased Don would be with this last one. Now I have a mission in the coming weeks: find it! It's a big area with lots of bricks to check out. I’d better bring a lunch.

I went to the cemetery today and was surprised to see they still haven’t finished the detail work around the tombstone. The black, etched letters in the granite are filled with dirt and they haven’t reseeded where the ground was dug up. Every time it rains dirt is going to wash over the stone because they need to cut the sod and dirt back on one side. I was not happy. This close to Memorial Day I expected better. The next time I go to town I’m bringing my own tools to cut the sod and water to clean the stone. Not that I’m all that sentimental over a tombstone but Don would have cared about the unkempt state it was in. So that makes me care. He was big on Memorial Day traditions. Every year until his stroke we’d go to graves spread out in four cemeteries, in three counties.

Truthfully, I don’t know if I really get the whole concept of tending graves---why it seems to mean more to some people than to others. I don’t feel closer to Don when I’m at the cemetery like many recent widows report. He’s all around me when I’m at home among the things that have memories attached to their procurement. My brother is a grave tending like Don was. My dad always paid his respects at his father’s grave and spent untold amount of time trying to find the cemetery where his mother was laid to rest. (She died in a different state when he was a little boy.) I have a long history of tagging along with the grave tenders in the family. But it’s not something I’d instinctively want to do if not for the tradition.

However, when I’m ninety-five and can no longer drive I can see myself asking my nieces to drive me up the cemetery to tend Don’s grave, then have lunch at the near-by old mill turned restaurant and afterward wander down to the garden park to find Don’s brick. Let it be known, though, that the sneaky old woman I’ll become will be doing it to spend time with the living---not the dead---in a very pretty and peaceful place. Don did good picking out his final resting place. And maybe that’s what draws people into the yearly homage of grave tending. When you’re sitting in a sunny cemetery with the sound of a distance wind chime or the birds chirping to keep you company, you are reminded that life goes on and your memories never die. As long as you can remember you still have the love that came with the relationship you honor on Memorial Day. ©

P.S. In case you're wondering what that little red thing is on Don's stone, it's Snoopy. In the 42 years that I'd known Don he always had a Snoopy in his life. When he'd wear his Snoopy t-shirt or watch or he picked his Snoopy coffee cup out of the cupboard you knew he was in a very playful and happy mood that day.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Weekly Widowhood Report

It’s been a busy week here on Widowhood Lane. I’ve had appointments every single day and one of those appointments involved a day trip to the other side of the state. I’m not big on shopping but three of my niece-in-laws wanted to go to one of those huge factory outlet malls and they were kind enough to invite me along. I managed to find something I’d been lusting after for several years, but even if I hadn’t been introduced to the concept of power shopping the trip would have been worth it. We laughed all the way over and back.

Now that I'm old and single again I'm finding that you end up right back where you start out as a teenager. I’ve blogged before about the 'movie and lunch' club I joined at the senior hall. But with this month's outing it dawned on me that it was a lot like group dating. Anywhere from 15 to 30 people meet for lunch and a movie and the only difference between now and back when I was young is now we had emails flying back and forth ahead of time, trying to figure who can give so-and-so a ride because they can't drive.

I wish I had something wise, witty or wonderful to write about. I don’t. On the other hand, I don’t have anything demented, depressing or desperate to report either. Life in my post-Don era is going on, one step after another with fewer and fewer false starts in between the steps. And when I do have an occasional, wispy wish for the past I remind myself of this quote attributed to playwright Carolyn Myers: “Everything will be okay in the end. If it’s not okay, then it’s not the end.” ©

Friday, May 11, 2012

My Widowhood Business Cards

“A widow is a fascinating being with the flavor of maturity, the spice of experience, the piquancy of novelty, the tang of practiced coquetry, and the halo of one man's approval.” 

Helen Rowland

Oh, my God, that is so NOT me! Helen Rowland was a humorist as well as a journalist so maybe she meant those words tongue-in-cheek. But I do like the phrases “flavor of maturity” and “the spice of experience” and I’m thinking of using them on my new business cards. Yes, I use calling cards aka business cards---hokey but true. I’ve never liked repeating my contact information to people in pubic and cards give me some measure of privacy. Call me paranoid but the practice started a long time ago when I was young and vulnerable and I see no reason to change as I slide into being old and vulnerable. I thought about using the pompous byline of “Widow Extraordinaire” on my new cards but then someone might ask me what is so extraordinary about me and I have to admit not a darn thing. “Caregiver Extraordinaire”---I could have stated that on my old cards without exaggerating but then I had nearly twelve years to perfect the role. Now, I’m a newbie at the widow walk and I’m just doing the best I can.

I was so excited yesterday. I finally sold Don’s power wheelchair after advertising it for nearly two months. Hallelujah! No more depressing thoughts every time I’d walk past it, but the most exciting part of the whole transaction is who bought it. The guy was also a stroke survivor with a great outlook on life---just like Don had---and before retiring he was a historian with our local museum. Several of the books he wrote are sitting in my library but Don would have scolded me for  passing up the opportunity to get them autographed. Don would have loved that. Missed opportunity or not, I couldn’t be happier that something Don loved as much as his new power chair ended up with someone he respected so much. The stars aligned just right and I got lucky on that feel-good deal.
When the historian left, I wanted to share the news with someone and wouldn’t you know it, the first person that crossed my mind who’d understand the sources of my happiness was Don. Crazy isn’t it. Nearly four months out and I’m still having those moments---little flashes really---where I forget he’s gone. It’s normal, I'm told by other widows, but “normal” still leaves you feeling a little sad. So who does a recent widow call when the one person you really want to talk to is gone? I’m still trying to figure that out. Most of the time I can say that I’m alone but I’m not lonely. When I want to share something but don’t know anyone to share it with is not one of those times. So I decided I’m just going to have to work harder on expanding Levi’s vocabulary. He understands “no, you can’t have another treat”, “let’s go for a walk” and a dozen other phrases but he doesn’t get, “let me tell you what just happened!” Or maybe he does understand my inane attempts at explaining my current moods and he’s just thinking what humorist Dave Barry says all dogs think at times like that: I may lick myself in public, but I’d never say anything as stupid as that. And that leads me to an idea for a byline for my new business cards. Maybe they could read: 'In Training for the Craziest Widow of 2012 Contest!  ©

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Eulogy

Eleven years, eight months after Don's stroke he passed away after a brief hospitalization for pneumonia with respiratory failure. It was a tribute to the kind of man he was both before and after that stroke that his service was packed with many people to help give him one, final goodbye. It was a very upbeat service with many bursts of laughter as several friends and family members stepped up front to share memories of Don. My contribution was the eulogy that I wrote and is posted below. Don loved the Old West so I tried to put a western twist to his service. With that in mind the reverend used the Lone Ranger Creed in place of reading scriptures and used stories I had told him to illustrate how Don tried to live up to the creed. At the end we played the Randy Travis version of 'Happy Trails to You.'

****** ******* *****

The Eulogy

The purpose of a eulogy is to share a person’s life in one single speech. How do you do that for a man like Don ******* who in many ways lived an unconventional life? We could say that he was born April **** 19** and that he grew up on a farm just outside of **********. We could share dry facts that many of you already know like he had three brothers, graduated from ****** High, and was in the Army Reserves. We could tell you that Don worked nights as a die maker at General Motors and he had his own parking lot maintenance business. Or we could talk about the fact that when ever anyone tried to get him to explain why he didn’t get married after dating and working with Jean for several decades he’d say, “Why, we hardly know each other!”

There are three themes that ran throughout Don’s adult life: collecting, snowplowing, and hunting. You didn’t have to know him well to know that these were his main passions. Before his stroke, eleven and a half years ago, he could tell endless stories about being an American Picker long before there was a TV show by that name. Also in his storyteller’s trove were tales of plowing the Big Blizzard of 1978. And when the topic of hunting came up, Don often told the story about the time his friend shot his brand new truck and then put a Band-Aid over the hole to cover it up. In all the years Don owned that truck he never got the bullet hole repaired because he delighted in telling people about how he got that hole in the hood. He loved to tell long-winded stories. So much so that friends used to tease him, saying they had all his stories numbered and memorized and all he really had to do was shout out a number and it would save everyone a lot of time.

That all ended the day Don had a massive stroke that not only took his mobility away but it also took his speech. Even then he still found ways to be a storyteller. One way was to put Jean in a position where she had no choice but to explain what was on Don’s mind. Like the day he parked his wheelchair right in front of the door to a store selling cigarettes and he wouldn’t let anyone in or out. In a militant way only an x-smoker on a mission could do, he held up three fingers while repeating the word “three!” over and over again. This forced Jean to tell Don’s story to the gathering crowd about how he used to smoke three to six packs of cigarettes a day and he blamed the habit for earning him heart by-pass and a stroke. 

There are other labels besides stroke survivor, storyteller, collector, hunter and snowplower we could apply to Don that helps define who he was as a man: brother, uncle, neighbor, co-worker, friend, boss, and landlord to name a few. He was also loyal to his friends, honest to a fault, and he was especially kind to old ladies which might explain why he finally married Jean when she was nearly old enough to collect Social Security. 

Don was also courageous for the way he faced the challenges brought on by the stroke. His special shorthand story for all he’d gone through was to hold up two fingers and say the word “two!” This was Jean’s queue to explain that two neurologists had told the family he’d be a vegetable for the rest of his life. Most people, upon hearing this, would respond the same way: “You sure fooled them!” And it was true. To friends and family who spent time with Don after the stroke, it was clear that despite his disabilities he was still the same, intelligent and caring person he’d always been.

Over the years Don and Jean had talked about the kinds of funerals they wanted, usually after going to one they didn’t like. He even worked in this very funeral home when he was in high school. And through the experience he came to appreciate the value of a good send off. One thing Don wanted at his service is a western twist. So with that in mind we’re going to end this eulogy by reading the Lone Ranger’s Creed. The Lone Ranger, many of you will remember, was the original good guy of the Old West dating back to the days when kids listened to his serialized stories on the radio. Don was a good guy, too, who not only had a copy of this creed in his collection of western memorabilia but he also tried to live up to it his whole life.

The Creed 

"I believe that to have a friend,
a man must be one.

That all men are created equal
and that everyone has within himself
the power to make this a better world.

That God put the firewood there
but that every man
must gather and light it himself.

[I believe….]
In being prepared
physically, mentally, and morally
to fight when necessary
for that which is right.

That a man should make the most
of what equipment he has.

That “This government,
of the people, by the people
and for the people”
shall live always.

That men should live by
the rule of what is best
for the greatest number.

That sooner or later...
we must settle with the world
and make payment for what we have taken.

That all things change but truth,
and that truth alone, lives on forever.
[I believe…]
In my Creator, my country, my fellow man."


Goodbye to Don, my own special Ke-mo-sah-bee.

Why can't I join the Red Hat Society?

Saturday, May 5, 2012

One More Step Forward

On my widow walk agenda this past week was going to a lawyer to change my will and get my financial life in order. The decisions involved were easy when Don was alive---everything went to him and vise-verse if I had gone first. Now it’s just me and the dog and what does he need besides a lifetime supply of kibble and maybe a new squeaky duck from time to time? Decisions, decisions…it’s not so easy when you don’t have kids.

So I was sitting in the lawyer’s office and she asked if I have caller-ID, which I do, and then she proceeds to tell me to never answer the phone if I don’t recognize the number. "There are too many people in the world," she said, "who want to pull on your heart strings to get you to donate money or to scam you." I couldn’t help wondering if all old people get that little lecture or was there something about me that screamed POTENTIAL VICTIM! God, she made me feel old, to be perceived as a sweet little old widow lady with feathers between her ears. If I followed her caller ID advice---which I don’t plan to do---then I’d probably turn into a paranoid and suspicious old woman who’d eventually get committed for being anti-social. No, no, I can’t let a plumber in to fix the toilet. He might want to scam me! I’ll just poop in a coffee can. Thank you very much, Ms. Lawyer Lady, but I have a very healthy scam and con detector. And I don’t even finch when the humane society commercials come on TV with their sappy music designed to pull on your heart strings. I didn’t even bite when I got an e-mail from someone wanting to send me a (fake) money order for $2,000 for the electric wheelchair I have up for sale for $1,500. Who falls for scams like that?

I went to the antique mall yesterday where I rented showcase space 10 days ago and the owner greeted me with: “Your booth is the most popular one in the mall!” That was nice to hear and I couldn’t believe how much stuff I’d sold in that length of time. I completely emptied the stock box I’d brought with me, which I didn’t expect to happen. My first batch of listings on eBay is also doing well. If these two ventures keep this up, by the end of the summer tourist season I will achieve the goal I set for myself.  But it’s bittersweet, seeing the things that Don treasured disappearing from the garage. He was so proud to show off his stuff. One time he had fallen out of his wheelchair and we had to call the EMT guys. As they checked him out for injuries, Don said, “Garage?” which in aphasia speak meant, “Can you take a tour of my garage?” I laughed and told the guys that he was just fine. No one escaped his garage tours.

Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu once said: “Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don't resist them - that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”  That’s what I’m doing---letting things flow naturally forward---and as long as I don’t lose track of my long-term goals I’ll be okay. But every so often a dream of Don will wake me up and I'll lie there in the dark wishing it didn’t have to be this way. One step forward is one step farther away from the love of my life. ©

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Caregiver Transformation

Back in 2008 one of my articles got published in a website’s humor section. They’ve since been bought out by Yahoo Contributors and somewhere along the line my article got moved to the beauty section. I can just imagine what people think who start reading it, believing what I wrote was meant to be serious make-up advice for older women. Beauty treatments that involve cloths pins? No Way!

Little did I know back then that I’d be in hot pursuit of real make up advice now that I’m no longer a caregiver and have the time to treat my face, nails and hair like the serious fixer-uppers that they are. But aren’t I worth it now that I have the time I used to spend helping with therapies, filling pills bottles and being a taxi service to an endless list of specialists and services? “Hell, yes!” the left side of my brains says while the other side laughs and claims it’s a lost cause.

My second venture into the world of spoiling myself consisted of an express pedicure and manicure. (The first was a deluxe pedicure and foot spa treatment.) The manicure didn’t even make it home before it was a mess and I had to remove all the polish. I won’t be doing that again, but I did manage to give myself a French manicure for the first time since the 1960s and I’ve gotten two complements on my nails from complete strangers, so I’m thinking this old lady did good on nail pampering.

My third venture into the realm of self improvement involved getting low lights put in hair. It’s been two weeks and I’m still not sure about doing it again. No one has mentioned it so I’m thinking it either looks too terribly fake to bring up or it’s so completely natural looking that no one can tell I did anything. Either way, I keep scaring myself when I walk past mirrors. Who is that person?

“Who is that person?” Exterior changes not withstanding, I suppose that’s the question all widows are trying to sort through. Who are we without our other half? The titles of wife, caregiver and best friend (to Don) no longer apply. What is my title now? Don’t we all need titles to define how we spend our time and energy? Seeker of Truth and Beauty---that has a nice ring but how would that look on my calling card? Pompous, that’s how. That’s something that belongs on the Dali Lama XIV’s business card. He has the credentials to back up a byline like that, not me. But he probably has something selfless like: “God loves Tibet” or something low key like: “Bringing balance into a hectic world.”

I wish I could find the balance in my world. Instead, I have a kind of restless anticipation not unlike getting ready for a blind date set up by someone you don’t entirely trust. I am falling into a routine, though, and that routine is getting busier and busier but that’s not balance. Not the kind of balance that leaves you falling into bed each night as happy as a cat in an Amish milking barn. If a social opportunity comes along, I go whether I really want to or not. I take Levi to the dog park and talk to another human almost every day. I feed my woodpeckers and finches and try to discourage the chipmunks from sitting two feet from the window where the dog takes up sentry duty. And I'm reading again. I am doing well for only being 110 days out from Don’s passing. Still, I want more out of life than routine and busy work. The real me that got lost in my caregiver years is out there for me to discover in my daily travels. I just have to keep moving forward until I find her.

The Dala Lama once said: “When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways--either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.”  I’m challenged and I am working on my transformation……….  ©
(Find my humor article on make up tips is here.)