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, July 27, 2012

Widowhood Reality Check

Today’s Tip: If you’re a senior citizen who normally wears glasses make sure you’re wearing them when you fix your breakfast. Otherwise you might end up like I did with cherry tomatoes instead of raspberries on your cereal. 

Fast forward through the day and as I write this it's three o'clock in the wee hours of the night/morning and even an Ambien didn't put me to sleep two hours ago when I took it. So I'm sitting here with my next drug of choice: Ben and Jerry's AmericCon Dream. If you're a fan of Stephen Colbert's like I am you'll understand why this flavor of ice cream started jumping into my supermarket basket a few years back.

I think my body fights falling asleep because waking up in the mornings is the hardest time of the day for me. I’m either on the edge of a dream I don’t want to let go or Don’s empty side of the bed often reminds me that I have another day ahead with no meaningful human contact. This stage of the grieving process---six months out from Don’s passing---feels like being stuck in between a rock and a hard place. The past (the rock) is over and we widows know we can’t live there, but the future (the hard place) is taking its sweet-ass time unfolding. I long for the time when living in the moment comes back in full focus, when I have all my ducks in a row to transition into the next stage of my life. In the meantime, there doesn’t seem to be an end to the widowhood paperwork that one has to do. Yesterday I went down to the township offices to pay my summer property taxes and to ask about the procedure to get Don’s name off the tax roles. I was informed I have to file a quick claim. Oh, goody. Add one more reason I have to have paperwork notarized to the other two I got last week at the lawyer’s office.

This week I RSVPed three ‘yeses’ to events at the senior center. One RSVP was for an ice cream social, another for a classic film festival. Whoopie doo, a hot time in the life of an elderly widow! Well, it’s a start. It’s human contact that comes with free ice cream and pop corn. I am looking forward to the fall color bus tour, though---the third RSVP. I haven’t been up north to the bridge in over twelve years. Going with a bus load of seniors and with only one bathroom on board should be interesting. I assume those buses have a bathroom on board, if they don’t I’m in trouble. My old kidneys are roughly on the same schedule as a little kid’s. Oh, my God will I ever quit looking for reasons to worry? I will go on the day trip, I won’t pee my pants. I will bond with a bunch of people in my age bracket. And if I don’t bond over those twelve hours on the bus I’d better come home with a basket full of good reasons that doesn’t include I didn’t try hard enough.

Did I tell you I used to have quite a reputation for being a connoisseur of ice cream? When Don and I first started dating he teased me unmercifully about my ice cream “addiction.” He said I couldn’t pass up a cone shop if my life depended on it and he took the photo posted with this blog during one of his teasing sessions. For my birthday one year he went to a local ice cream factory and got me a twenty gallon can of my favorite flavor. Those heavy, metal dairy cans were meant for commercial use only but that didn’t deter Don from talking his way into buying one.

The next year he gave me a sculpture of a girl eating an ice cream cone and I made him take it back. I was sure it would be like a bell to Pavlov’s dog, producing a conditioned reflex that would make me want ice cream every time I walked by it. I wish I had that sculpture now only because making him return it hurt his feelings---so much so that I never did that again. However, there were more than a few times when I could have made good use of a rubber stamp proclaiming “return for a refund.” Darn it! In my defense he did have some goofy ideas in the gift buying department. But that was Don---silly, outlandish quirks and all. Exhibit one:  The Valentine’s Day Gift    ©

Me - Circa 1972

Thursday, July 19, 2012

The Colorado Barstool Rancher

Growing up, Don and I both cut our teeth on spaghetti westerns which I suspect sowed the seeds that would later grow into a favorite fashion statement for Don and a frequent travel destination for both of us. There was nothing that made Don look and feel more “macho” than to be all decked out in a western cut Pendleton shirt, boot-cut Levi’s, a gray Stetson hat, and his too-fancy-for-Michigan Frye cowboy boots. Me? When I was a kid I used to tell my folks I was going to marry Gene Autry when I grew up and since I couldn’t do that, Don in his should-have-been-a-cowboy outfit was the next best thing. Every year for over twenty-five years he went out west to roam the Rocky Mountains and hunt and every couple of years I’d tag along. On the years when I went along we’d also explore the back roads, cowpoke towns and tourist traps in a six state triangle with Colorado at the center.
It was on such a trip that one night, just before hunting season opened, we found ourselves sitting on barstools in a cowboy bar, all fancy-upped in our idea of what the locals would wear for a night on the town. Don didn’t drink but he loved cowboy bars and especially if he could strike up a conversation with a stranger. That night a stranger was eager to talk to Don. He planted himself on the next barstool and introduced himself as being from Minnesota. The guy had assumed Don was a local rancher and Don, flattered by assumption, said nothing to change that perception. He even tweaked it a bit with a few well chosen fibs.

After talking scopes and antelopes and the mythical ranch we had just outside of town the Minnesotan laid $300 down on the bar and shoved it towards Don. “Listen,” he said, “my two buddies over there and me are looking for a place to hunt this week but we can’t find anything. Do you think you could help us out and let us hunt on your ranch?”

I could tell by the look on Don’s face that he knew his trip down Fantasy Lane had hit some major pot holes. He looked like a cat who’d just swallowed a canary and was about to barf it back up. You could almost see the wheels in his head turning, trying to figure out what to do. He could have said something like, “Sorry, I’m already maxed out on how many hunters my ranch can support” and that would have been the end of it but Don never cheated the piper when it was time to pay for his mistakes. Instead of brushing off the request he said, “Look, I’ve got something to tell you but I want you to promise you won’t hit me after I do. Now, you have to promise….”

The Minnesotan looked confused but he made the promise and Don promptly told him he didn’t have a ranch and that we were from Michigan. “But I can draw you a map to get to state land,” he quickly added, “where you can hunt for free. That’s a good area to hunt.”  

Who can predict how a stranger is going to react after learning that the guy he’d just talked with for the past twenty minutes could have walked away with his $300 and left behind a bogus map to a ranch that didn’t exist? All the guy could say at first was, “Oh, my God! Oh, my God!”

Don called the bartender over, ordered the stranger another drink and did what Don did best---talk himself out of the corner he’d painted him self in. Five minutes later we were all laughing and the Minnesotan said, “Now will you promise me something?”

“Sure, anything!” Don replied.

“If we see you around town this week, or on state land, will you promise you won’t tell my buddies how easily I could have been scammed out of our money?” he asked. “We had pegged you and your wife for locals---God damn it, you look like ranchers! ---and I was elected to try and broker a deal to hunt on your land. My buddies will never let me hear the end of it if they find out how easily I could have gotten scammed out of our money."

We never saw the trio of would-be hunters again but the story about the night Don was a barstool rancher was a story he repeated to very few people. He was a great story teller and this was fertile material to work with but it was out of character for him to pretend to be someone he wasn’t so he was a tad bit ashamed of himself. And when ever the ‘Barstool Rancher’ came up over the years he’d get that silly, cat-ate-and-barked-up-a-bird look on his face again. Who would have ever guessed Don’s cowboy fashion statement could have led him down the path he rode that night? He was one of a kind, that’s for sure. ©

Another blog entry that is a perfect example of why I and others loved Don can be found here:  Who Shot the Cheyenne?

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Another Letter to my Deceased Husband - Rest in Peace

Tomorrow is the six months anniversary of your passing, Don. I hope you are resting in peace. Rest in peace. People say that all the time but what exactly does that epitaph mean? You know me, I wasn’t exactly sure so I googled it. Apparently it’s meant as a prayer that the deceased person---that would be you---will find peace in the next life, free from the struggles of living in this world. Well, we’re running into a problem here, aren’t we Don, since we’re not Christians and don’t believe in the resurrection, final judgment and heaven which makes it a little hard to think of death as a jubilant rest in paradise with angels floating on the clouds. It’s an interesting visual to imagine, though---what paradise would be like. My dad believed in the traditional, Pearly Gates and gold lined streets kind of paradise but if I believed in an after-life paradise it would be different for each and every one of us, like in Robin Williams' movie, What Dreams May Come. (I need to rent that movie sometime. It’s been 14 years since I’ve seen it and every so often the storyline runs through my head and it still intrigues me.) My paradise might be like the heaven Robin's character experienced of walking around inside of a freshly done oil painting. What fun he had slipping and sliding. Your idea of paradise would probably look like one of the covers on the magazine Garage---neon signs and guy-bling every where and shiny, old cars with a group of guys sitting in the corner drinking coffee.

Rest in peace. Minutes after you passed away you had the most peaceful look on your face. I don’t think I’ll ever forget that look. It gave me comfort then and it gives me comfort now. Maybe it seemed so special because earlier that day you looked confused and scared, like a little boy who needed his mother to hold him and rock him in her arms. But you were hooked up with so many wires and tubes that I couldn’t get close enough to do more than hold your hand. I still wonder if you knew you were dying. None of us talked about the gravity of your situation in front of you and without your hearing aids in there was no way you could have overheard any of the doctors or nurses as they came in and out of your room. Maybe you could read our faces. Maybe your body was telling you it was ready to give up the fight. Or the activity in the room was giving off clues. Remember when my dad was within an hour of dying? The Hospice nurses would come in every few minutes to check his toes, and then they'd say, "It's almost time." It reminded me of opening an oven door to see if the cake inside was finished baking yet. I can't remember if anyone did that to you on the day you died. Probably not. I'd remember the surreal absurdity of that. Questions without answers.

Rest in peace. I know it isn’t the common meaning of the phrase but I prefer to believe it means that our soul or spirit can be at peace because the people we leave behind think of us with love. We sow the seeds of our future heaven or hell by the way we live our lives i.e. if we’re cursed after we die and no one has a good thing to say about us, then we’ll be  in hell. But if people loved us and we’ve left good memories behind then we’re in heaven for as long as we're remembered. In other words it’s the people we leave behind who create our heaven or hell in their minds by the imprint we left on their lives. No Pearly Gates, no gold streets to walk unless our loved ones envision us there. That's where Dad is in my imagination, where he wanted to be. None of us can know what comes after we die, of course, but I do know that by my definition, you’re in an American Picker kind of heaven, Don. You’re in that tricked out garage and you are resting in peace, laughing and telling stories with a cup of Starbucks in your hand.

P.S. I still miss you, Don. ©


Friday, July 13, 2012

I Left My Heart on Blueberry Hill

If you’re ever going to drop a full pint of blueberries on the floor it helps if you do it within hours of mopping the kitchen floor. That’s what I did today and they rolled every where within an ten foot radius. The dog heard the box hit the linoleum, came running and carefully picked one berry up at a time and carried them to the living room to eat them on the carpet. I would have closed him in another room while I gathered up the fruit but I couldn’t take a step without squashing berries underneath my Crocs. I was trapped.

While I was picking up the berries it brought back some great childhood memories. In those days we spent the summers at a cottage and this time of the year the surrogate grandfather to all the kids on our road would go out early in the mornings to pick wild blueberries on State land. He would come back with five gallon pails of berries and the women and girls on the road would gather at picnic tables in our front yard to sort and clean the berries. Later on in the day the smell of freshly baked blueberry pies or cobbler would fill the air. As the blueberry season went on some of those berries made their way in to batches jam or came back to town to put in the freezer. Maybe it’s just my memory playing tricks on me but those wild blueberries were more flavorful than the factory farm berries produced today.

When Don and I first started dating one of his favorite songs was Fats Domino’s I Left My Heart on Blueberry Hill. It was the very first song he ever sang to me. Now you might be thinking he was copying Richie Cunningham (aka Ron Howard) from the Happy Days sitcom because he would often sing, “I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill” when he’d see a pretty girl he either dated or wanted to date. But Don sang it to me four years before Happy Days made its first appearance on TV. Over the years Don accumulated a copy of Fats Domino’s version of the song in every media that came along---45 records, 8 track tapes, cassette tapes, and CDs. When I sold his classic Vette with an 8 track player in it I included his 8 track collection in the deal and, yes, ‘blue berry hill’ was on one of the tapes.

“I found my thrill on Blueberry Hill, on Blueberry Hill when I found you.” Did I mention that one of the first times Don and I made love was on a summer night and this song was playing on a portable radio? We were at the local lookout hill---a beautiful cityscape view at night, but we managed to pick up a good case of poison ivy in the process. Some of the things we foolishly do when we’re young sure can make you shake your head in amazement when you’re old, can’t they.

I often think I’d like to buy an i-Pod to download the music that has become the theme songs of my life. One of my fears of the future is about going to a nursing home and having to listen to someone else’s idea of what old people want to hear. I envision having a nurse’s aid who’ll flip the radio to the ‘50s Classics’ station every day and that would drive me crazy. I’d have songs from my youth on my i-Pod that have meaning to me, of course, like I Left my Heart on Blueberry Hill and Happy Trails to You but I’d also download stuff like Toby’s Keith’s I Want to Talk About Me and I Should Have Been a Cowboy, Michael Buble’s Sway, Grandpa Elliott’s Stand by Me, Joe Cocker's You can Leave Your Hat on, and Natasha Bedingfield’s Take me Away. The only thing stopping me from getting an i-Pod is I’m not tech savvy enough to know if they’re in danger of joining 45 records and 8 tracks on the obsolete shelf soon after I buy one. I hate when that happens! i-Pod? Or i-phone or i-Pad with music apps? I wish that decision was as easy as sorting blueberries on a lazy summer afternoon. .©

Friday, July 6, 2012

Bridge Trolls - Oil City, PA

If you can’t make history at least you can help keep it alive. That’s a sentiment that Don took to heart regarding the history of gas stations in America. He loved every discovery he made, every little bit of trivia he could glean from whatever source he could find. The heat wave we’re having now reminded me of a vacation we took that centered around a collector’s convention held in Oil City, Pennsylvania. Most people probably don’t know it but the very first commercial oil well in the U.S. was located in that region of the country, near the tiny town of Titusville. That oil derrick that Colonel Edwin Drake built in 1859 gave birth to a number of boom towns in the area, including Oil City where one year Don and I became bridge trolls, part of a transient community of other swap meet vendors at their convention. The temperature that July, with the sun beating down on the asphalt and radiating back up to the people milling around, was over 100 for a couple of days.

Let me tell you if you’ve never traveled with a motor home full of oil cans and signs you don’t know how to live. Swap meet trips were never trips where we could actually sleep in the motor home. By day we lived on the parking lots and by night we slept in motels. But Don loved it---mostly all the stories serious collectors traded of the ‘good one’ that got away or of the ‘good one’ they found in the most unlikely places. One of Don’s favorite stories was told by a guy with a private Mobil museum who found a pair of Pegasus wings that a couple of gay guys had made into a headboard for their bed. What I just wrote in one sentence this guy could stretch into a thirty minute humorous story that involved a couple of offers to sleep with the gay guys if he could just buy that headboard. The wings had been removed from a Pegasus horse that was once a coin operated children’s ride that used to tour Mobil gas stations in the company's heyday. The collector had owned the wingless horse for years---one of only five ever made---hoping against hope he’d one day be able to track down this very pair of wings. The year he brought the restored Pegasus to Iowa Gas he won 'best of show' which is an adult version of show-and-tell that most gas and oil conventions feature.

Don, of course, had his ‘American Picker’ stories to tell. Some funny, others serious like those that came from touring the Oil City area and learning about the times the river that cuts through the heart of the town caught on fire. Back in the 1800s barges brought oil down Oil Creek, into Oil City where it was transferred to steamboats or bigger barges to continue to its final destination of Pittsburgh. Lightening caused one of those fires that took 60 lives and destroyed a million dollars worth of property. Sitting along side that river the year we were bridge trolls you couldn’t help but imagine how scary it must have been to see the river on fire. Even before learning of the fires, just being in that mountainous town with only one road in and one road out was giving me a creepy feeling. Traveling sure teaches you a lot about yourself as well as about what it took to built this country.

I miss traveling with Don. In his pre-stroke days I always felt safe with him, always knew he would take care of me, protect me and could get us out of any sticky situation. Sticky situations became some of his best stories to tell and there were a few hair-raising events I’ll save for another day. After his stroke I had to become the protector, the go-to person who got us out of sticky situations. We quit traveling after that---staying within seventy-five miles from home gave me some measure of security, knowing there was family close by for back up. But Don? He would have happily gone back to Oil City every summer to park under the bridge again where he could dream of the days when storytelling came to him as naturally as breathing oxygen. It still amazes me that a man like him could live over twelve years with only a handful of words in his post-stroke vocabulary. And live with such grace and acceptance that he didn’t let his lack of language stop him from enjoying life to the fullest his physical disabilities would let him. He was an inspiration to many people and that's not a bad legacy to leave behind. ©