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

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Widows Write

To succeed in life, you need three things: 
 a wishbone, a backbone and a funny bone.
Reba McEntire 

I bought a book written by a woman slightly older than me, a widow who wrote journal style about the challenges of the first few years without her spouse. Since that’s what I’m trying to do with this blog, I thought it would be interesting to compare our experiences only to find we had very few in common. For example, she had a daughter to lean on. Don and I never had any kids. She struggled with house maintenance issues. I’ve been doing those sorts of things the past twelve years since my husband’s stroke. She had a core group of lady friends to pal around with. I don’t and I am struggling to build new friendships---when you’ve been a caregiver for as long as I was friends fall by the wayside. 

But one thing she said had a solid ring of universal widowhood truth. “Like motherhood,” she wrote, “there are rules for widowhood that you are supposed to grasp instinctively.” Why is that? Why is it that the people around you think that coping with widowhood comes naturally or you can just read a few grief books and get the basics? It doesn’t work that way. You can read all the self-help books on widowhood out there and still not get a clear road map to follow. And I’m guessing that’s because each widowhood experience is as unique as each marriage on the face of the earth is unique. The type of relationship you had with your spouse, your faith, your level of coping skills, your finances and support system all feed into the equation as well as the events that lead up to the death. But the bottom line for all widows is that one day you’re part of a couple, the next day you’re alone and you have to forge a new path all by yourself.

The book’s author also describes the conservations she has with her dead husband---God, I do that, too! How do you stop doing something that had become second nature, in my case, for 42 years? And she describes going to social events where most of the people are paired off in couples. I was recently invited to an event like that where I’d be a lone stranger in a sea of people who’d glide into the place like Drake swans about to board Noah’s Ark and that morning my body said: Hey, you’ve been dreading this for two weeks. How about a little sciatica nerve pain to keep you at home? Coincidence, or are our bodies capable of manufacturing good excuses for things we really don’t want to do? Either way, does anyone know how long I’d have to wait to claim an un-given wedding present for myself? I could use a good set of knives. Darn it! Ms. Manners would probably say I still have to give it the bride and groom.

I did manage to move past one widowhood hurtle last week while my friend was visiting. We went to a restaurant I’d been avoiding. It was my husband’s favorite place and now I think I’m ready to try going to Applebee's alone. Even though people usually eat there in pairs, I can take my Kindle and pretend I’m sharing a meal with the “ghost” who is always sitting across my dinner table.

As I said, the author and I didn’t share a lot of the same experiences and I was somewhat disappointed in her book because I didn’t find the ‘wit’ promised on the cover. However, I admire that she managed to not only write a book but she also got it published. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to do that. And I’m jealous that her book has an entire chapter devoted to the fan letters she received in between the first and second printing.. I’m having trouble just getting people to sign my new guest book. Woo is me ---that’s one of my longtime favorite phrases.

The phrase quoted at the top of this blog entry is my newest favorite phrase. As I face each new widowhood challenge maybe what I need to ask myself is: What do I need most to get through this---a wishbone, a backbone or a funny bone? Like tonight, my first Halloween without Don to pass out candy. I should clutch my funny bone and come up with a costume in keeping with the few tears that might fall. ©

Saturday, October 27, 2012

On the Corner of Memory and Widowhood Lanes

While waiting at the airport for my long, lost friend to arrive it occurred to me that it took a leap of faith on her part to trust that I’d be there to pick her up. After all, I’m old and old people forget things. Old people also get lost on the way to airports and IN the airports. And we’ve been known to die unexpectedly leaving people stranded and fuming on concourses. Okay, I admit it, I’m a worry wart and worry warts can come up with a 100 troubling scenarios when we have too much time on their hands. Was I waiting in the right place? Would we even recognize the wrinkled versions of our old selves? At one point I even worried that maybe she’d turned into a serial murderer and was coming to poison my pudding, pretend to be me and empty out my bank account. Worry warts are right at home in airports where an intercom voice is constantly implanting paranoid ideas about strangers who might ask you to transport “packages” in your carry-on. And I quickly got the idea that if I accidentally left my purse on the window sill some seriously tense young man from the bomb squad would be in charge of returning it.

But all my worrying was for not. My friend arrived and she was still the same warm, gracious and vivacious person I had met in grade school. And I was there to greet her---me, the same eager-to-follow-her-laughter-anywhere girl I was so many decades ago. Growing up just around the corner from one another we were two peas in a pod and practically inseparable for nearly two decades until college where she found her self a great boyfriend, married the guy and then followed his career across the country.

This week I found out that nine months out from Don’s dying was perfect timing for me to journey to the intersection of Memory and Widowhood Lanes. As time passes, we widows all regret that we get fewer and fewer opportunities to share memories of our spouses and it’s healing when we have a willing listener like my friend was this week We ‘played’ together in the stores, toured our local tourist attraction and took a ride up north searching for the past only to confirm that Thomas Wolfe was right: you can’t go home again---buildings get torn down and others take their places. And through it all we talked non-stop about everything and anything: how our lives and families turned out, the highlights and low points of decades past, our hopes for the future, the world and politics. With a little wine, a few tears and lots of laughter we swapped stories, just two old friends with years of ‘girl talk’ to catch up on.

At one point she said she refuses to admit that she’s getting older, which I found highly amusing because sometimes I pretend I’m older than I really am. Why not? It gives me an excuse for the mistakes I make like this week when I asked someone for directions to the tramp station. “The tram station,” he replied, “is just around that bend. You might find a few tramps over there.” But I see my friend’s point of view on not allowing yourself to think like an old person, let the years hold you back from what you enjoy doing. Back in my forties I was on a kick where I’d tell my nieces to remember I was doing screw ups (like my tram/tramp mix up) all of my life and not to rush me off to a nursing home when I do it in my Medicare years. Some things you definitely don't want to rush. Nursing homes and rusting in place are two of those things. Stay active, stay tuned in. Betty White, I'm coming to audition for your TV series, Off their Rockers.

In the coming of age movie, Stand By Me, the last lines were, “I never had any friends later on like the ones I had when I was twelve. Jesus, does anyone?” To that question asked by Richard Dreyfuss’ character, I’d answer, “No, no we don’t.” When you share so many ‘firsts’ and coming of age experiences with another person, you bond in a unique way and that bond is very special, giving you the ability to pick up right where you left off decades later when you meet again in an airport. My visit with my oldest and dearest friend was worth all the worrying. Our bond came with a life-time warranty. ©

second grade, 1950

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

The Bad Girl Widow

In one of my very first blog entries I wrote: “Oh crap, widowhood is going to be fattening!” And I was right. At the doctor’s office today he pronounced me six pounds tubbier than I was six months ago at my last visit. He didn’t, of course, use the word ‘tubby’---he’s a nice guy---but my weight gain prompted a long “bad girl” discussion that ended with me having to sign a pledge to add 30 minutes of exercise to my day, journal my food intake and e-mail him an accountability report once a month. Tools for losing weight. Whoop de doo!

The report thing was my own fault. He wanted me to come back to the office in three months for a follow up but I pulled the Old People Card and said I wouldn’t do that in the winter months for anything less than a heart attack. “Spring will have to do,” I said, thinking I had out-smarted a guy who soaking wet couldn’t weigh more than a bale of hay. I didn’t count on him standing his ground and pulling the accountability pledge out of his bag of tricks to use on stubborn patients who won’t do follow up appointments if it’s snowing. He even had his nurse register me for an interactive website where I can view my medical test results, send Mr. Doctor my monthly reports, and ask his nurse questions like, “If I just broke my big toe will I need a cast?” When I send in my first tubby report I’m going to sign it, “from fatty, fatty two by four.” Damn it, it’s going to be a long winter without my comfort foods to keep me warm!

During the “bad girl” discussion I confessed that I’m an emotional eater and the doctor asked, “Is there something special going on in your life that is causing you stress?” If looks could kill, he’d be dead. I had a hard time not calling him an idiot for not remembering that---DUH!---my husband died nine months ago! But deep down inside I wondered if 10 years from now I won’t still be using the same excuse if I don’t get my bad girl eating binges under control. So I put my strong widow lady face in place and as sweet as marshmallows in cocoa I explained what I’ve been doing since Don died.

Near the end of the visit the doctor left the room to get me a flu shot injection and he came back with a nurse in tow I hadn’t seen since before Don passed away. She’d just heard the news and was upset that she didn’t know before. He was her favorite patient, she said and “I just loved Don to death.” Oh okay. It’s a common expression and at first it went right over my head but when it hit me I had to concentrate on stopping the full blown pucker up and cry that was forming in my head. Meanwhile, the nurse realized what she said about loving Don to death and like a slow motion video you could see a pucker up and cry washing over her face. The next thing you know we were both crying and Mr. Skinny Ass Doctor was standing in between us with one arm awkwardly around each of us. And for this surreal hug fest I wondered how much extra Medicare would get billed.

On the way home I had the Prime Country station playing on the radio and Dan Seals was singing One Friend:

Sometimes the world was on our side;
Sometimes it wasn't fair.
Sometimes it gave a helping hand;
Sometimes we didn't care.

'Cause when we were together,
It made the dream come true.
If I had only one friend left,
I'd want it to be you.
Someone who understands me,
And knows me inside out….

Well, isn’t that just like a country singer, I thought, playing my emotions like a violin and making me wish I could write like that. Then I pulled over to the side of the road and cried the color right out of my irises. Don was that one friend in my life who knew me inside out and now his spirit is off doing what ever spirits do in the Great Unknown and I’m stuck writing fatty two by four letters in my head. I’d call him an ass-breath for dying and leaving me alone but I’m trying to quit swearing. And Dan Seals? Well let’s just say I’m still mad at him for making me late for dinner. ©

Saturday, October 13, 2012

Changing Seasons on Widowhood Lane

Fall, with all its beauty, has never been one of my favor seasons. Growing up, fall came with an endless supply of leaves that had to be raked each day when I got home from school and when that job was done for the season then we had a dozen old fashioned wooden framed storm windows to wash and exchange for the screens hanging on the house. Those thankless chores didn’t exit from my life until I was almost old enough for Medicare. In fact, raking leaves and dealing with storm windows in the fall expanded to include several more houses as Don’s and my aging parents needed help in the fall. Heck, with his soft spot for old widows Don even got us involved with helping several elderly neighbors with their leaves which I didn’t like doing at the time. Spending so many daylight hours of October raking, burning or hauling leaves wore me right out. In life, everything comes full circle. Now I’m that elderly woman on the block and I’m grateful for the “Don” who lives next door who snow blows my sidewalk. He’s exhibit B in the changing seasons of my life.

The Canadian geese have been flying overhead this week. Bright colors are in the landscape and the days are getting shorter. The cooler temperatures of fall are here and even though I don’t have much to do to get ready for winter, the changing season is making me anxious and sad and missing Don all the more. Maybe it’s remembering autumns past---the work we did getting all his equipment ready for the winter snow removal season. Or maybe it’s the symbolism of leaving summer behind that makes it seem like Don is slipping farther away with each new sign from Mother Nature that life goes on, things change. For every thing there is a season...and Don’s season is truly gone.

And with fall comes the beginning of the holiday season---the first Halloween, the first Thanksgiving, the first Christmas and the first New Years in forty-two years that I’ll be all alone in the world. It’s a huge Waterloo that we widows have to fight our way through and we equate it with being at the wrong end of Napoleon’s bloody cannon. Cripe! Get out the violins. Grab the hankies. I’m getting overly dramatic again. Woe is me. A pity party is about to start. Broken hearts, lonely nights, and lost loves…yadda, yadda, yadda. I’d write myself a country western song if I had any musical talent. But since I don’t I’ll try my hand at writing a sappy poem instead, try summing up in 50 words or less what it's taken me three paragraphs to say up above:

The rustling leaves of seasons past
Seems to say he won’t be near
For the coming holidays so blue.
He’s riding the winds of yesterday
Caught on the breath of Lady Fall
As she makes hearts as bleak as the
Landscape she hands over to Snow.

So now you have my poem and weekly report penned here on Widowhood Lane where I’m left searching for rhymes. (Hey, anything that takes my mind off from chocolate brownies is a good thing.) And I won’t be able to stop looking until I admit out loud that it was all a waste of time; i.e. it takes more than a lonely old heart to make one into a poet. And deep down, I know it. ©

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Widowhood, Shakespeare and Homing Pigeons

Today I googled the term “the winter of our lives” thinking I might like to write a blog entry with that line as my jumping off point. But Google turned up 111,000 links to that phrase and I’m not sure the world needs another one. One of those links was to a paraphrased version of William Shakespeare’s Sonnet 97 on Wikipedia:

                   “My separation from you has seemed like winter, since you give
                   pleasure to the year. Winter has seemed to be everywhere, even
                   though in reality our separation occurred during summer and fall,
                   when the earth produces plant life like a widow giving birth after
                   the death of her husband. Yet I saw these fruits of nature as hopeless
                   orphans, since it could not be summer unless you were here; since
                   you were away, even the birds did not sing, or rather sang so
                   plaintively that they made the very leaves look pale, thinking of winter.”

After reading that, I googled away another fifteen minutes before landing on a blog entry titled Widowhood Explained. I was excited. At last someone can explain what I’ve been going through since Don passed away in January. Imagine my surprise when it turned out to be a blog about racing pigeons. Widowhood racing, I learned, is a race just for the male birds---the cocks as they are properly called in the world of birding. The people who race these birds seem to spend a lot of time talking about whether or not cocks are better racers if they’ve been allowed to rear a brood or two before setting off on an odyssey to find their way back home from hundreds of miles away. And one bird trainer recommends introducing males to the hens for a two hour conjugal visit the day before a race. Candlelight and wine? I don’t think he furnished them but afterward he does gives the cocks a warm baths to help the birds relax and stay calm while being trucked to the race’s starting point.

As I thought about pigeon racing it stuck me that widows going through the grieving process have things in common with the pigeons in a widowhood race. Both homing pigeons and we widows are sent off on a task not of our own choosing. Some of us hurry through the process as if the devil himself is chasing us and some of us don’t want to leave the starting gate. Some of us get lost along the way, a few get injured. And have you ever known a group of widows who didn’t eventually get around to discussing whether or not the older widows who’ve had time to raise families with their spouses have it easier or harder than the young widows who just barely got started living with their mates?

There are other similarities as well. We are encouraged to take care of our health during our grieving period. Widowhood racing pigeons are pampered with special grains, vitamins and electrolytes. We can find mentors and widow clubs all over the country, same with people who are new to racing pigeons. But there is one thing that homing pigeons have that we widows don’t and that’s a numbered band that can help them get back to their lofts if they get lost. When we widows get lost in our travels through the grieving process wouldn’t it be nice if some kind stranger could look at a band on our body and gently help us find our way through this winter of our lives? ©

Sonnet 97 by William Shakespeare

How like a winter hath my absence been
From thee, the pleasure of the fleeting year!
What freezings have I felt, what dark days seen!
What old December's bareness every where!
And yet this time removed was summer's time,
The teeming autumn, big with rich increase,
Bearing the wanton burden of the prime,
Like widow'd wombs after their lords' decease:
Yet this abundant issue seem'd to me
But hope of orphans and unfather'd fruit;
For summer and his pleasures wait on thee,
And, thou away, the very birds are mute;
Or, if they sing, 'tis with so dull a cheer
That leaves look pale, dreading the winter's near.