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, August 31, 2012

Keeping Busy, Keeping Sane

Oh, my God, I thought I was going to pee my pants sitting at my computer this week. I was so wrapped up in debating politics on a message board that several times I didn’t want to leave the keyboard to answer Nature’s call. I used to frequent the political message boards for a couple of hours every day before Don passed away and this is the first time since then that I’ve gotten my old fighting moxie and tolerance for the trollers back. Nothing like a national convention of politicians to draw me back into an activity I used to love. In college I was on a debating team and taking part on political message boards reminds me of those days with the added benefit of keeping the wheels in my old brain moving, like exercise to prevent Alzheimer’s from setting in. If this week is any indication, part of my pre-widowhood personality is returning.       

A couple of days ago I got a call from a woman who’d lost her husband about a year before Don passed away. Her husband and mine had a lot in common. Both had strokes in the same time frame that left them right side paralyzed and with extreme language disorders. They both worked hard at therapy and had positive attitudes. The four of us attended speech therapy classes together two days a week for several years plus we did a little socializing with the entire class of eight as well. You get to know a lot about another couple when you go through something like that and it didn’t surprise me when my friend said that she still cries almost every day. Widowhood is hard.

After that phone call I couldn’t help wondering why I’m not crying every day. At a widowhood support site I go to on occasion, other women further out than I am report the tears are still coming frequently. I decided it was partly due to the fact that I’ve been keeping myself insanity busy. Busy with downsizing Don’s stuff and daydreaming about what I want my next transformation to look like. I’ve turned my sun porch into a sort of hope chest; squirreling things in the corners that will fit the new décor of the condo I hope to buy next year. The antique gas pumps in Don’s collection are up for auction right now---the last of the big things to go---and his sign collection is gone. I did keep one sign from the bus company his father started back in the 1920’s. A beach cottage décor can always use a sign or two.

My speech class friend still has her husband’s clothing hanging in the closet. Hearing that made me so glad I bit the bullet early on and cleaned the closet out of all but a half a dozen of Don’s shirts. Maybe walking by a closet full of your deceased husband’s clothing keeps you from moving forward? I don’t know, but all widows have a hard time with closet purging. I had a hard time, that’s for sure. I blogged two entries about the process but looking back, for me, it was the right thing to do at the right time. Still, it seems to me the widows who are still crying daily after two years are the ones who haven’t dealt with their husband’s clothing. But could this be the classic question of which came first---the chicken or the egg? Do they cry daily because the clothes are keeping them struck in the beginning stages of grief or is the daily crying an indication of a deep depression that is preventing them from purging the closet?

I don’t have a good ending for this blog entry so I’ll just share the fact that my beautiful dog now has green feet. I made the mistake of taking him out to run in the back yard just after the grass had been cut. It was still wet from morning dew and it stained his white paws up high enough so it looks like he’s wearing socks. I know how to get grass stains out of clothing but I don’t know how to get it out of Schnauzers which just goes to show that no matter how old you get there is always something new to google.  ©

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Please Remember Me, Don, and Johnny Appleseed

Lake Michigan Shore
It occurred to me recently that I’ve been “Johnny Appleseeding” Don’s ashes over two counties and seven places. Half were buried in April at a cemetery in a little town he loved. But this week---at seven months out from his passing---I scattered a quarter of Don’s ashes at Lake Michigan. Also this week I scattered smaller amounts in two other places: 1) under the white pine trees we planted right outside the window where I sit at my computer, and 2) along a nature trail. The nature trail runs close to the back side of the 160 acre farm where Don grew up. A month of two ago I poured some of his ashes in the river in the heart of Rockford where Don grew up. It was near the dog park where we used to take Levi. Then there are the ashes enclosed in a four inch tall ash urn kept in a velvet box, plus the tiny amount enclosed in my sterling silver ash urn locket.

In the 1800s Johnny (Chapman) Appleseed had a purpose when he went across Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Pennsylvania planting apple trees but I have no clue what my purpose was in dividing Don’s remains between so many places. Maybe I really believe that out of the ashes new life grows and I wanted be sure at least one of the places I deposited them will remain undisturbed until that new life comes forth. (It’s never been my style to put all my eggs in one basket.) Or maybe I just like the idea that Don gets a choice of places to haunt until his soul gets tired of hanging around earth. And then there is the strong possibility that I just didn’t like the idea of having to go to a cemetery to remember Don on days when we’re supposed to honor the dead.

It’s a popular myth that Johnny Appleseed randomly planted trees in his travels as a missionary but the fact is he actually planted nurseries and built fences around them. Back in his days on earth, there was a law in the Midwest that required people who claimed frontier land to plant orchards to hold on to their claims and that made the land around Johnny Appleseed’s little nurseries popular plots to homestead because bargain priced nursery stock was close at hand. When he died his sister inherited 1,200 acres of his apple saplings, and to this day several locations claim Johnny’s gravesite. I can see how my decision to strew Don’s ashes over two counties could cause confusion over Don’s final resting place so maybe someday Johnny and Don will have a where-is-he type dispute in common.

The day I spread the ashes at Lake Michigan with my oldest niece and her husband in tow it was a beautiful, sunny day. We went to Don’s favorite antique mall, had lunch where we could watch boats going by and, of course, we drove down to the beach. From there, we walked a short distance down the shoreline where we left the ashes---some in the water and some at the top of a sand dune that is near where the burnt remains of a small town is buried underneath the sand. Mother Nature took what the fire didn’t and now Mother Nature will have her way with part of Don. Don loved the folklore of that old ghost town and he had read everything ever written on the subject. I still have $3 Banknote issued in 1837 from the bank in that ghost town---Singapore, Michigan.

All of Don’s ashes have been spread now but I had a hard time stopping myself from dividing them even more. On the way home from Lake Michigan I was trying to figure out why it was so hard to bring an end to my Johnny Appleseed-like mission. Did I do the right or wrong thing leaving Don in so many places? Imagine my surprise when just after that question entered my thoughts I got a sign that I took as a seal of approval. As I turned a corner a rainbow, big and bright appeared in the sky and at the same time Tim McGraw was on the radio singing the song, Please Remember Me. ©

 "Remember me when you're out walkin'
When the snow falls high outside your door
Late at night when you're not sleepin'
And moonlight falls across your floor….

 .....please remember me.”

Top of the Sand Dune

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Last One to Go – A Tale of Friendship

Once upon of time there were four people who managed to stay close friends their entire adult lives and then some. The last one to pass over to the Great Unknown did so this week at 93 years old but what she and the others in the foursome left behind will endure for generations. Among their individual accomplishments in life, together they all modeled for their families a flawless example of what true friendship is all about.

Betty, her husband Harold and my folks met before I was born. For years they spent New Years Eve and Day together, took part in many social activities together and both couples built cottages on the same lake. In the summers our families intermingled almost daily. We kids swam together, played cowboys and Indians together, walked to the store for ice cream together, built forts together, and on rainy days we’d all sit around Betty’s huge table playing board games or poker. How did Betty put up with a gang of kids bringing sand and too much youthful energy into her house, not to mention our need for an endless supply of drinkable liquids? She put up with us with a warm smile and a heart that was always looking for ways to make us more comfortable in her presence. And no one ever went hungry at Betty’s house.

When I was young and still trying to figure life out I asked my dad why Betty and Harold and my folks were such good friends. I wanted to know what held them together because they all had such different personalities---even held different views on politics and social issues. Dad told me if we’re looking for friends who think just like we do then we’re not going to have any friends. “Friends,” he said, “are for having fun with and to respect for their uniqueness without trying to change them.” Oh, and did these four friends have fun. When they’d get together there was always laughter and lively, easy-going conversations. There were summer parties, too, where the foursome could be found singing, dancing, or just sharing a work project and making it more fun with a picnic thrown into the mix.

Betty’s service is the first I’ve been to since Don passed away and they say that first funeral post a spouse’s death is hard for a widow, often bringing flashbacks and tears for the wrong deceased. Betty’s service wasn’t like that for me. Not even for a second. It was a celebration of her life, filled with joyful tales about how upbeat, positive and giving Betty was. I could tell by the memories her family shared that Betty in her later life hadn’t changed much from the Betty I’d known in my youth.

Once upon a time there was a woman named Betty. She was a loving daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother and a dear friend to both of my parents. She knew how to love, laugh and enjoy life. She knew how to make everyone around her feel special and welcome. She knew how to work hard, knit, play cards, cook for a crowd and dozens of other things too numerous to list. But she probably never knew that she was part of a foursome who taught the world around them about the power of deep and lasting friendship.
As all stories go, Betty’s had to end and in my imagination she now lives happily ever after with her family and friends who’d passed over before her. My parents, I have no doubt, have been saving a place for her to sit at a gold-gilded pinochle table. Rest in peace, Betty, you deserve it. It was a privilege to have known you.  ©

“Friendship isn’t a big thing. It’s a million little things.”
Author Unknown

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Wills and Widows Taking off Their Wedding Rings

This past week I finished up the last details of getting all my legal affairs in order. I hated reviewing and updating the end of life medical directives and other stuff involved for when I die or get incapacitated but I guess I’d hate it more if I didn’t take care of this stuff and something happened. It’s a crap-shoot, really. You like to think your family will make decisions in compliance with what you’d want but the best you can do is to get your wishes down in writing and hope you picked the right person to hold so much power over you and your estate when the time comes. The lawyer, twice, seemed to enjoy reminding me that you can’t reach out from the grave and control what happens when you’re gone. I was good when she said that. I didn’t snap back that I thought that’s what I was paying her for---to string some fancy words together that mean I do get a say. I keep wondering when I’ll turn into one of those old people who has lost that filter in the brain that keeps us from verbalizing all our rude or inappropriate thoughts. Maybe I’m even looking forward to that day?

On the widowhood front, the biggest news I have to share is I stopped wearing my wedding band. It wasn’t a planned change. It just happened. I had taken my ring to the jewelry store for cleaning and polishing and by the time I retrieved it a couple of days had passed. That first day back in my possession, I put the band on and took it back off a dozen times and finally I put it away for safe keeping. It was a sad choice and it's one I’m not sure I’ll stick to. I don’t know. Maybe the idea to get it cleaned was all part of a plot that the subconscious part of my brain cooked up to get the conscious part of my brain to give the issue some deep thought.

In the widowhood circles I touch bases in there is no consensus on the right time to remove your wedding rings. Some women plan to wear them forever---I was in that camp---but a few have taken them off shortly after their spouses’ funerals. Still other women have taken to wearing their rings on a chain around their necks and others have had their rings redesigned into dinner rings. Some women switch their rings to their other hand and younger widows take them off when they start dating again. It’s understandable why the wedding rings dilemma is such a huge widowhood hurdle to cross. We take vows with those rings. And even though those vows include “until death do we part” the wedding band symbolizes undying love and that love doesn’t go away upon the death of a spouse. The feeling of being married doesn’t go away right away either.

It feels weird not having that wedding band connection to Don on still on my finger. I feel naked and maybe it will find its way back on my finger. I have mixed feelings that include the idea that taking it off frees my husband’s spirit, lets him know he doesn’t have to watch over me so closely anymore…or at least that is what I’m currently telling myself. I’m a survivor and it’s paired with the fact that Don had all his legal T’s crossed and I’s dotted before his disability and evidential death. He did his best to “reach beyond the grave” as my lawyer says you can’t do. And because Don tried to do just that, I have far fewer worries and complications than widows whose spouses ignored the reality that we all do die someday. 

The moral of my little story here is get a will and medical directives if you don’t already have them! Okay, I'll get off the everyone-needs-a-will bandwagon before it gets rolling at top speed. But first I’d like to say this blog entry was brought to you by a senior citizen who thinks she'll start practicing for the day when the "be nice" filter in my brain isn't working any longer. I'll start when the teenager next door chases after a ball that's rolling across my yard. I'm going to open the door and yell, "Get off my lawn!" He deserves it. He's the same boy who 10 years ago told me he didn't care how much I paid him to shovel my snow because he just wanted to help old people. ©

Monday, August 6, 2012

The Big Wedding Widow Style

This past Saturday I went to my first wedding since Don passed away. Actually it was a long weekend away from home to an upscale tourist town in the northern part of the state. My great nephew got married on a Lake Michigan beach with a reception on the tenth floor of a 139 year old hotel with a panorama view fit for postcards. From all I’d read about going alone to a big event like that for the first time after being part of a couple for so many years I was anticipating  all sorts of emotions---awkwardness, being sad or scared, feeling out of place and lonely in a crowd. But I was riding up and back with my brother and his lady friend, how bad could it get? I was staying at my brother’s cottage with a boat load of family. How bad could it get?

Packing for the trip I thought about taking my locket with some of Don’s ashes inside, thinking if I kept him close to my heart the whole time I wouldn’t feel like a lost lamb surrounded by celebrating couples. But it didn’t look good with my dress and as I debated the wear-it-anyway question it struck me that I was being a king-sized, melodramatic widow. If I had thrown the back of my hand to my forehead and dropped down on a fainting couch, it wouldn’t have surprised me. A cartoonist would have drawn me as a Victorian lady covered from head to toe in black with a tidy bun at the back of my head and me clutching a heart-shaped ash urn locket the size of a box of a Russell Stover candy. What to do. What to do. That scene in my head finally made me smile. I was being silly to worry. I put the locket back in its box. I was a big girl. I could go to a place where a good share of the guests would be related. And for the bonus round I could even have a couple of fuzzy navels and not worry about being the designated driver for the first time in twelve years.

The biggest problem I had getting ready for the trip, though, was finding a kennel for Levi. I interviewed three before finding one I trusted not to seriously damage my little guy beyond repair. The first kennel I checked out had 15 or 20 dogs all running wild together in a sun drenched field on a 97 degree day. Levi likes the air conditioned comforts of home too much for that. At the second kennel the owner had forgotten we had an appointment and in the 20 minutes I waited around I discovered I could have walked right in an open garage door at the back of the building and let all the dogs out to play in traffic or worse. The third kennel passed the worried mom test and I was confident I’d found a weekend sitter who wouldn’t be spending all her time making prank calls involving letting Prince Albert out of the can. If you don’t get that joke then you can rejoice you’re not old like me.

The weekend was a wonderful break from life as I’d come to know it in recent months. I had such a good time. I laughed until my sides ached and the only time I got teary-eyed thinking of Don was during the exchanging of vows. At the reception unbeknownst to me my niece, niece-in-law, great-niece and assorted other relatives had all plotted to get me drunk and they kept the flow of champagne punch coming my way. There wasn’t enough liquor in the punch to get a mouse drunk but eight glasses later---which was seven more than I’d normally have---I was on the dance floor trying to keep up with the kids doing the Macarena. Don once told me I looked like a refrigerator on a dolly when I roller skated---he could literally skate circles around me---and while I was dancing the thought crossed my mind that I probably didn’t look much different trying to make my old bones find the clave rhythm. Hey, Macarena!

The bottom line? It was a beautiful ceremony, well-written and perfectly timed around a rain storm just off shore. The reception was fun and the stay at my brother’s cottage gave me a chance to spend some quality time with people I don’t see as often as I’d like. Thanks to my family who surrounded me with love, I made it over the widowhood hurdle of going to my first big social event without Don at my side and I not only lived to tell about it but I had a great time. ©

Thursday, August 2, 2012

When Are You Getting Married Again, Widow Lady?

An old friend the other day asked me if I’m going to get married again. The question annoyed the heck out of me and it felt like an invasion of privacy especially since he asked it in front a third person I barely know. It took years to builds the kind of relationship Don and I had and I’m not interested in getting married again just to have another warm body in the house. But I tried not to let my annoyance show when I replied, “No.” Evidently that wasn’t a good enough answer because the next words out of his mouth were: “What’s the matter, once was enough?” I wasn’t sure how to take that second question and when I answered I felt like I was speaking the last lines in the movie, Secondhand Lions. I repeated my answer twice with an entirely different inflection the second time. In the movie the sheik’s great-grandson had asked, “These two men from your grandfather's stories, they really lived?” to which the adult Walter (played by John Lucas) answered, “They really lived.” Then a smile spread wide across on his face and he repeated, "Yeah, they really LIVED.”

“Once was enough,” is what I told my prying friend followed by, “Ya, once REALLY was enough.” I doubt my answer adequately expressed how I felt---Lucas got to rehearse his delivery and my smile was forced---but I couldn’t help thinking about it on the way home. Do people really think you can replace a 42 year long relationship so easily and be thinking about doing it when you’re only six months out from your spouse’s passing? Coming from an old friend the question hurt and it accented the fact that Don was the only person on the face of the earth who truly knew me---how I think, what my weaknesses and strengths are and how I hate being put on the spot in front of strangers.

Get married again? Not without a waterboarding, a case of amnesia or a proposal from Matthew McConaughey and Brad Pitt on the same day. Matthew or Brad? Yup, that choice might entice me to give up my plans for a new life filled with over-indulging in artsy-fartsy activities and Scottie Dogs Licorice, but no man in my age bracket could. If my friend picked up on my annoyance of his marriage questions, he probably would say I was being hyper-sensitive. Widows get accused of that all the time but, to me, asking a question like that was akin to asking an amputee if he’s going to get a new arm. I always think of good answers like that hours after it’s too late to deliver them. Now I’m prepared for the next getting-married-again question that comes my way. I will use a reply borrowed from another widow: “I don’t need to get married again; I got it right the first time.”

Having vented what I wanted to in the above paragraphs I realized this blog entry was too short. So I consulted my friend Google to find a quote to go with it. What I found along the way was directions for “how to marry a widow.” I kid you not. There really is a page at eHow with that title. Step one, it says: proceed with caution. You think? I find that amusing and wonder why that step doesn’t apply to all people getting married. Do people really throw caution to the winds when they get married the first time? No one could ever say that about Don and me. We dated forever first. Though I guess I understand the point of step one. It means proceed with caution because you’d be marrying the widow’s family as well as the widow…and let’s not forget that ghost hanging over her shoulder. ©

"Lost love is still love,” Eddie from the book The Five People You Meet in Heaven said. 
“It just takes a different form, that's all.
You can't hold their hand, you can't tousle their hair.
But when those senses weaken, another one comes to life.
Memory becomes your partner, you hold it, you dance with it.
 Life has to end, Eddie, Love doesn't."