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

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Repetitive Patterns

The week went by quickly with nothing memorable happening unless you count the day a Spanx knock off body shaper camisole tried to squeeze the air out of my lungs and give me a heart attack. I vow I’ll never try one of those torture devices on again! As I was trying to get it off it got stuck in a roll under my armpits and that’s when I discovered the garment is ten times stronger than I am. I was in a dressing room in the kind of store that doesn’t have salesladies to call and there were no other customers in that area I could have enlisted to help---not that either one of those options wouldn’t have embarrassed the heck out of me, but I was getting desperate. I even considered getting the pair of scissors out of my purse and cutting my way to freedom but the idea of explaining to the cashier how the garment got cut to pieces kept me from doing it. Then I thought about pleading to the security personal monitoring the overhead camera to stop laughing at me long enough to send help. (They can deny those cameras exist all they want but I don’t believe it. Do you?) Trapped like that was the longest ten minutes of my life. Eventually I did free myself and I came away resigned to living the rest of my life without a body shaper to tame my marshmallow abs and with a new understanding of why animals chew off their own legs when they’re caught in a trap.

The senior citizen hall was offering classes on Zentangle this week. The brochure said: “Zentangle is a relaxing and fun way to make beautiful images using repetitive patterns with just a pen and paper.” Now that I’ve tried it I call it addictive doodling. I can’t stop tangling! They say it’s a cheap hobby but don't fall for that promise. Already I’ve ordered two books on the subject and have been to an art supply store to buy specialized ink pens. No one-size-fits-all pens for me. Zentangling has come in handy. though. At the monthly union meeting I attended yesterday they had speakers from our healthcare trust, our insurance carriers and Medicare and I tangled my way through an hour’s worth of their boring speeches.

A very thick letter came in the mail addressed to Don this week. It was from Social Security and on the envelope in big black letters it said, “If your name is not in the address box don’t open this letter. Return to sender.” The funeral director notified their office of Don's death as required by law, they already have a copy of his death certificate and S.S. hasn’t been depositing checks to his account since January. Why on earth is the government sending out letters to people they should know don’t reside any where on earth---and why this long after the event of Don’s passing away? But I follow the rules of life and sent the curious envelope back unopened even though I can’t quit thinking about what could possibly have been inside. I should have Zentangled the crap out of the back of the envelope first and given them something to think about back at the Social Security office. Who did that and what the heck is it?

The week was filled with other reminders that Don is getting purged from the world of the living. Getting a magazine subscription renewal notice in the mail, for example, had an emotional price tag attached. It was also time to re-order checks from the bank and it hit me I needed to have Don’s name removed from the address header. You can think your grieving period is over but things like these let you know that grief is not like a Spanx knock off that entraps you temporarily and then you never have to see the dang thing again. Grief is more like a tangle of lines weaving in and out of our routine forming a pattern that is as old as time itself. And would we want it any other way? We live. We love. We suffer loss then we find acceptance walking the same path that others have walked time and time again. There is comfort in the pattern, even in its unpredictability---and in the knowledge that we had a love worth grieving. Even when the sadness of grief sneaks up on us when we least expect it. ©

Friday, June 22, 2012

Research Department: Widowhood Lane

Do you know what a Mold-o-Rama machine is? If you’re old enough you may have seen one at the 1964/65 New York World’s Fair or in the next year or two when these machines made the rounds to Sinclair Gas Stations across the country. For 25 cents a kid could watch the machine make a Sinclair Dinosaur in the color of their choice and if you were one of those kids you’ll also remember the burnt crayon smell that came with a freshly minted Tyrannosaurus or Stegosaurus or other waxy-plastic figures from Dinoland.

This is the kind of research I’m engulfed with as I work on e-Baying Don’s collectibles. Want to know about a pair of half inch long spark plugs in tiny little boxes that still have their 1945 sales receipt? I can tell you all about them. But I can’t tell you how on earth they survived this long or why the guy who bought them was so excited. I think they’re like an Olympic flame that gets passed on every few years to someone else to nurture and protect.

E-Baying is a lot of work! Not to mention that it sometimes feels like I’m living my life like a VCR movie played in the rewind mode. Each thing I pick up reminds me of the day it was gleaned from the belly of a flea market, garage sale, antique store or swap meet. Then I put it up for sale and it’s gone like it was never here in the first place. Don was quite the ‘hunter’ and he so enjoyed his stuff. He, of course, knew the history of his finds---studied and researched and told stories that come back to me sometimes as sketchy dreams in the night and at other times as light-bulb moments. I just hope it doesn’t take me as long to dispose of Don’s stuff as it took him to accumulate it all. Not to worry. I could always call 1-800-Got-Junk.  Just kidding! If I did that Don’s ghost would never let me hear the end of it.  As it is, I like to think he’s looking over my shoulder and pleased with the research department I’ve set up here on Widowhood Lane. ©

Thursday, June 14, 2012

The Misadventures of Levi

Unless you’re a dog owner you probably won’t understand how embarrassing it was to have Levi bring me his ball and ever so politely drop it at my feet while I was sitting on the toilet. Embarrassing because: 1) who really wants their privacy invaded at a time like that---even by your dog; 2) how neglected does your dog have to feel when the only time he can find you sitting still long enough to throw a ball is when you’re in the bathroom; and 3) granted his life is more boring than mine but, really, who does he think he is bossing me around like that? As I sat there I imagined drawing a cartoon of the situation and wondering what kinds of things I could write in the word balloon above Levi’s head. Maybe something like: “You humans claim to be good at multi-tasking. Prove it,” or “if you didn’t want me in here then you should have closed the door,” or “you’re always watching me poop. What’s the big deal if I watch you?”

That afternoon guilt drove me to arrange a play date for Levi with his cousin Ted and when we all got to the dog park there was a giant Doberman pinscher running in the large dog pen. Ted’s mom and I put our two babies in the small dog area but all the three dogs did was chase each other up and down the common fence. So we decide to put them together and see what developed. It was no small leap of faith to pair these dogs up. The Doberman weighed 178 pounds to Levi’s 27 and Ted’s 20. But as I looked the Doberman over for battle scarred from fighting, and to see if he had blood dripping from his chin from easting a kitten for lunch, his owner assured us that when his sleek, black giant was wearing his shock collar he wouldn’t dare misbehave. And he didn’t. He seemed to take great delight at getting Ted to chase him around, the giant staying just out of his reach while he looked back with a silly grin on his canine face. Levi, for the most part, ignored the other two dogs while he went off to the weedy end of the park to find some poison ivy he could bring home on his fur. Last summer he went weed walking and it cost me over a $150 in doctor bills. I don’t just get poison ivy, I’m allergic to it.

Today I was packing an e-Bay box for Fedex and Levi started in with his mind reading parlor tricks, parking himself in front of the door to the garage and barking excitedly. The message couldn’t have been clearer. It was if one of those cartoonist’s word balloons appeared over his head saying, “Fedex is right next door to the pet store and I want to go shopping!” So off we went to a place where Levi can touch noses with the rabbits and cats in cages, pick out his own treats after a great deal of deliberation, and get the best darn cooing pets and hugs in the city from the cashiers. Chow Hound is Levi’s Planet Hollywood.

After Planet Hollywood I took Levi down to the ‘Plaza of Recognition’ to find the memorial brick placed there recently in Don’s memory. It was the first time I’d seen it and I know Don would have been pleased with its location. I sat there for the longest time listening to the water going over the near-by dam, smelling the flowers all around me, and feeling the sun warm on my skin. With a smile in my heart I replayed in my mind all the times I’d brought Don and his wheelchair to that river side park---the outdoor concerts, the art shows and near-by farmer’s market or to just watch the fly fisherman standing in the water on the down side of the dam. I did good, taking care of him, gave him a good quality of life despite his disabilities.

In a few days it will be exactly five months since Don’s passing, one month short of the supposed half way point in the mourning process. Life goes on. I am going on one foot in front of the other, one dog walk after another and one e-Bay sale after another. Levi still tells me he wants a puppy to “replace Don”---his words, not mine---and I keep telling him he has to wait until our year of mourning is up to see if he still feels the same way then. In the meantime I think I’ll start closing the bathroom door in the mornings.  ©

Friday, June 8, 2012

The Dark Side of My Grief

For some reason the dog decided to sleep in the living room last night instead of on Don’s side of the bed. I’d gotten so used to him being there whenever I glanced over that his absence took me to a very dark and lonely place, a place where I couldn’t stop thinking about all the changes that I’ve been through since Don death. I missed Don terribly and not even taking an Ambien could sweep those thoughts away and replace them with the sleep I craved.

I wandered the house by the glow of the night lights in every room, I attempted to let the computer distract me with a boring game of chess, and I even thought about physically forcing the dog to leave the comfortable little cocoon he’d made for himself in my chair and lock him in the bedroom with me. That latter thought made me feel even lonelier. When your dog---the one without opposable thumbs to open up the bags the treats he craves morning, noon and night are in---has to be forced to spend time with you, that’s pretty sad. Darn dog! Why did he have to pick last night to demonstrate a streak of independence?

Yesterday I got another letter from a volunteer at a local widow’s support group. She was inviting me to call if I want to talk to someone “who has ‘been there’ and knows how it feels.” The first four letters---one a month---got thrown away. I was doing okay, getting my ducks in order, handling things just fine, thank you very much. But for some reason this fifth letter got set aside to reread. I AM doing fine but the loneliness is starting to sink in, feel more permanent, and I know I have to do something to change that. My brother had been to a few meetings with this group but he had a typical guy reaction and said “he couldn’t take all that crying.” Then he joined an exercise class instead. I guess the main reason I haven’t checked out this widow group is because I’m kind of afraid I’ll end up being the one with the shoulder that others cry on. Been there, done that in caregiver circles and I’m tired of being the strong one who has to weigh every word because someone is looking to me for guidance.

It’s funny I could write that last sentence because this past week I discovered that a website I used to hang around a lot before Don’s death to debate politics has added two new forums: one for ‘Caregivers’ and one for ‘Grief and Mourning.’ Since these forums are not connected with traditional support groups, and people who have no experience with either state of being can chime in, I’ve been shocked at the hostility and lack of empathy going on. It’s like watching a train wreck about to happen to read through the topics. So as quickly as I made this discovery I’ve checked these forums off my list of places where I want to spend time. Caregiving and grief are both too fresh in my mind for me to stand by while bullies pick on people traveling down those roads. So, for my own well being I must stay away. I need to seek out peace, not turmoil.

According to the calendar it has been almost five months since Don passed away. Don: if you can hear me, let me tell you that not a day goes by that I don’t feel your love still wrapped around me. Not a day goes by that I don’t thank you for everything we shared. You and I both know that I will survive and thrive again in time---even if I have to resort to locking our derelict of a dog in the bedroom with me each night until the loneliness of your absence goes away. ©

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Picking out my Future

"It is strange that the years teach us patience; that the shorter our time, 
the greater our capacity for waiting.
Elizabeth Taylor
This past week I’ve been touring condos on the annual Parade of Homes. I can’t say that I like the new trends in home décor but it doesn’t matter, I don’t plan to buy brand new next spring when I’m ready to move. Ideally, I’ll buy something 5-6 years old where I won’t feel guilty about replacing carpeting and wall colors to something more in my desired color palette. Did I mention that I hate dark brown floors and brown marble countertops? Call me crazy. Call me old fashioned. I still like the ‘light and airy’ look. I dream of beach cottage décor and pastels.

On one hand it seems strange to be planning a new life in a new location that will entail leaving behind many of the things in our present home that represent a blending of tastes and years of joint decisions. On the other hand, the artist in me is looking forward to building a new ‘nest’ and hopefully a new life that sheds the loneliness that Don’s passing understandably dumped in my lap.

I just discovered I have mole growing deep inside my belly button. Don’t ask me how. It’s a long story. Since I’ve already had a couple of cancerous moles removed I suppose I should get this one checked out before my ‘innie’ becomes an ‘outie.' It would be embarrassing to have my obituary read: Cause of death---belly button gone wild. Since Don’s death I’ve become somewhat paranoid about my own death coming sooner rather than later. If I died in this house, for example, no one would notice until the mail carrier couldn’t stuff one more thing in the box and then she’d probably think I was on vacation and rudely forgot to notify the post office. I don’t want to be that old person you read about in the newspaper whose dog ate the corpse because there wasn’t anything else eatable left in the house. I don’t want to be the person who slides off the highway into a river and isn’t discovered until their license plate is too rusty to read. A condo in a Baby Boomer community, I’m thinking, will resolve all those worries because there is bound to be a least one nosy neighbor near-by who will memorize my comings and goings and start asking questions when I don’t show up. Who knew having a nosy neighbor could serve a useful purpose.

One of the condos I looked at had a to-die for patio that was totally private. Along the tall white fencing was an area where I could plant stuff, have a bird bath and other things to entertain the dog. He loves to decapitate pansies and pick the potted strawberries on my deck and chase the birds away that are dying of thirst. I want a condo patio like that but alas I must wait until my period of mourning is up. That’s the rule: don’t make any big changes until you’re a year out from your spouse’s passing. I know that’s good advice and after a lifetime of following the rules of life I’m not going to go start ignoring them now. So while I wait and plan and dream I will continue meditating while contemplating my navel. Oh, crap! That reminds me I have to call the dermatologist tomorrow. ©

 "...If we learn to think of it as anticipation, as learning, as growing, 
if we think of the time we spend waiting for the big things of life as
an opportunity instead of a passing of time, what wonderful horizons open out!
 Ann Neagle

P.S. The photo above is of a print I just bought to inspire the color palette for my next house.