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

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Tattoos, Widows and Boiled Eggs

I’ve never understood the attraction of getting a tattoo and I thought by now the current tattooing craze would have died out, but it doesn’t seem to be losing its popularity. Ya, Ya, I know tattooing has been around since 3300 BC and we’ve got the mummified bodies of chieftains and slaves alike to prove it. Plus we’ve got the writings of Marco Polo as he bounced around Central Asia and China (1200s) and the tales of Captain James Cook’s trips to the South Pacific (1700s) to prove that tattooing is well entranced in many cultures around the world. And don’t even get me started on the sub-human Nazi guard who marked Jews for death during War II so their tattoos could be harvested for a scrapbook. It’s enough to say tattooing has a long and sorted history.

But tattooing, now, is more of a fashion statement than anything else and fashion is a fickle business with ebbs and tides that usually don’t span more than a decade. Time is up; go away tattoo parlors! Correction: tattoos are more than a fashion statement for many people who treat their bodies like canvases to commemorate things or make statements to the world which probably explains their current popularity and longevity. I like to think of tattoos as visual diaries for people who can’t write, but I don’t voice that opinion out loud because it has an air of snobbishness coming from someone who likes to put words on paper and who thinks perfect last sentences in epic novels are better than the inventions of whoopee pies and Silly Putty. By the way, never get those two mixed up during a middle-of-the-night eating binge.

A widowed acquaintance of mine (same age as me) got one of those commemorate tattoos recently. She took off her wedding rings and got a tattoo that encircles the place where the rings used to be. The design is meant to look like a wedding band. I just don’t get that. Why not keeping wear the real ring? Does a tattoo ring denote still feeling married in the heart but available in case some old dude in red suspenders wants to ask my friend out on a date for an early bird special? Or does it say: Ask me about my tattoo so I can tell you about my journey into widowhood? Could that tattoo mean she’s worried about going to a nursing home someday and having an aid steal her real wedding rings if she continued wearing them? I don’t know and I’m too chicken to ask.

What got me to thinking about tattoos today was making boiling eggs. I have been boiling eggs since I was thirteen and every single time that I do I have look at page 267 in my Better Homes and Garden Cook Book to see how long to boil the eggs before taking them off the stove and exchanging the hot water for cold. I can remember the 267 part but not the number 15. It’s one of those pesky little facts that my brain can never hold on to no matter how many times I try. If I was inclined to get a tattoo it would the number ‘15’ inside of an egg. Don’t tell anyone but the older I get the more practical purposes I can find for getting a tattoo---my street address in case I get lost or my dog’s name in case I start calling ‘Levi’ ‘Lassie’ and he doesn’t come. But you know what? Post-it notes filled with useful information stuck to my arm would serve the same purpose without the pain. Tattoos also change over time as skin loses its elasticity and you acquire surgical scars. With my luck an egg tattoo would get altered by a whistling doctor with a knife and it would read ‘5’ instead of ‘15’ and  then I’d be wondering why all my boiled eggs are runny.

So here’s the deal. You can get all the tattoos you want but don’t ask me if I like your latest addition unless want me to turn into Dana Carvey’s Church Lady character and say in a super-sarcastic voice, “Well, isn’t that special.” The filter in the brain that censors what I say in public just doesn’t work as well as it used to and I will never, ever like tattoos. Plus I’m a widow and widows have been known to go for the jugular if someone says, “Hi” in the wrong tone of voice. ©

Monday, January 28, 2013

Circus Acts and Widows Who Bake Bread

Every where you find widows you’ll find someone making the statement that the second year is harder than the first. They say it with the conviction of Captain Obvious declaring that water is wet. We’re suppose to accept this as a Universal Truth and I’m sure it is true for many---if not most---widows who wandered through their first year in a fog of shock and disbelief. But we’re talking about people here, not cookies all cut from the same cutter. The emotional make up of widows come in many shapes and shades like frosted lions, tigers, and bear treats on a plate for a child’s party. Many widows in the first year are like bears that hibernate to protect themselves through the harshness of winter but there are also widows, who like the lion, fight to keep their place as the king of the jungle, the new head of the family. And there are widows like the tiger in the wild that stalks prey to solve its empty belly problem, searching for answers to questions that have none.

I am a lion---a cowardly lion but a lion none the less. I am fighting to prove (if only to myself) that the second-year-is-the-worst is a myth for some of us. I guess what I’m trying to say is I don’t want to be pre-programmed into believing the second year is going to be worse than the one I just came through without examining the concept more closely. In another widow’s blog on this topic she said words to the effect that her load was lighter in her second year but her ability to cope was breaking down and that makes perfect sense to me. That armor we wear around our hearts gets heavy after awhile and we have to set it down. If we accept this idea then maybe we have to accept that grief is no longer the main issue in the second year. Maybe finding a better set of armor is---one that is lighter and less battle scarred---is what we have to work on?

I baked bread for the first time since Don past away. I used to bake bread every three days. It was my only claim to fame in the kitchen. It impressed and pleased my husband and brought back memories of growing up in a farm family where his mother cooked everything from scratch. But I always felt like a baking fraud because I was making artisan no-knead bread, the kind where you mix up a big batch and can keep it in your refrigerator for two weeks and it gets better every time you’d bake a loaf from the batch. Don and I could eat a loaf of artisan bread in three days but for the very first time a loaf of bread I baked got stale before I could use it up. Not wanting it to go to waste, I made croutons for the first time in my life. Then I had to make a pot of soup so I’d have something to eat with the croutons. All this soup, croutons and bread eating made me gain two pounds this week so now I’m kicking myself for wanting to be a lion in my kitchen again. I think the gods of good examples just wanted to give me something to illustrate how it’s not just the big things that change in a widow’s life.

I have a book on how to teach dogs circus tricks. Levi can do a few things like the ‘shell game’ where he finds a treat planted under one of three cups and he can do the ‘which hand’ trick that also depends on a dog’s sense of smell. I used to have a poodle that could jumps through loops and other entertaining stuff you’d see at a circus. But the trick that always got the most laughs and attention was when my dad would tell his dog to wag his tail after I’d show off my poodle’s many accomplishments. If wasn’t fair. I’d worked so hard at teaching tricks and everyone with a dog knows that voice tone alone can get any dog to wag its tail. If there is a lesson to learn here it’s that a dog is at its best when he’s just being a dog.

So here I am. I’ve shed my first year’s widow armor and I’m feeling like a dog dressed up like a lion and paraded around a child’s circus themed party. As a widow at the start of her second year I’m expected to act a certain way when inside I’m just an old dog trying to learn new tricks. Can I learn to bake a half a loaf of bread? Maybe. Probably. I’m king of the jungle, aren’t I? I can do things other beasts of the night don’t try and I most definitely don’t cry over making a batch of croutons. Well, almost never. When I’m wearing my lion’s costume I roar instead, “I made a batch of frigging croutons!” ©

Saturday, January 26, 2013

Cellos and Words That Hurt

Most widows hate that title and who can blame them. It’s not like other titles we acquire over our life time---daughter, sibling, co-worker, crafter, teacher, volunteer, friend, wife, mother, etc., etc. Those are all positive titles for most of us where ‘widow’ carries with it notes of sadness and pain. Did I say ‘notes’? Hell, the word ‘widow’ is more like a whole damned orchestra score…sheets and sheets of notes telling the conductor which instrument should be playing what and when. Only for widows the unseen conductor of all living things is setting a tempo that in the first year is often confusing and hard to follow. When I first started my widowhood journey that conductor would point to me and I’d sound like a cello---bittersweet, soulful and not unlike the farewell scene in Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Well, that might be a tad over dramatic but that’s how I am.

I guess what I’m trying to say in around-about way that takes a detour to China is that I’ve decided to embrace the title of widow and turn the word into a badge of honor. Not that I am honored to be one. No, that’s not what I’m trying to say. I mean as long as I still call myself a widow rather than ‘single’ I am honoring my husband for how he enriched my life, how he made my life fun, secure and all the other good things we get from being in a committed and loving relationship. Don made me feel like there wasn't anything I couldn’t do if I set my mind to it. So I’ve decided to redefine the word ‘widow’ as it applies to my life.

What got me to thinking about this was re-reading all the posts I wrote in my first year of widowhood and observing that in contains few if any negative words about my husband. He wasn’t a saint. Should I be showing that in these pages? He did stupid guy stuff like hold the blankets over my head while he farted in bed and he once yelled at me when the neighbor backed his car into mine, doing hundreds of dollars worth of damage. “You should have known better than to park directly across from a driveway!” Don shouted. When I called him out on the fact that I was legally parked he said words to the effect that he was just trying to use it as a teachable moment for the teens that were helping us paint a house. Sure, Don. You just taught them its okay to raise your voice to a woman, you yo-yo! And for a stupid, ass reason!

In the end, I decided that bringing up the negative aspects of a dearly departed serves no purpose. Remembering all the good things and glossing over the rest is the natural way most of us remember those who have gone before us. (Unless, of course, we’re talking about dysfunctional families or marriages which mine wasn’t.) For a widow, over time the painful memories of dying and funerals turns bad dream-like and the shocking depth of early grief fades away right along with the other negativity. What is left is a rich tapestry of memories that gives us joy and, yes, even peace. Funny how that works---how times marches on, how the conductor of all living things keeps queuing us to find the tempo and jump back into life. We resist his attempts. We play notes in the wrong places hoping he’ll leave us along. But he doesn’t give up until we’re finally ready to find our place in the orchestra of life again. I’m not even sure we recognize it when we get to that point. We just wake up one day and realize we’ve found a rhythm that soothes us and makes the ‘widow word’ not hurt so much. That’s where I’m at now, at the one year mark. I still feel like a cello wanting to tell the world how I feel inside, but now I actually want to leave Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon behind and learn how to play Doce de coco. ©

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Widows in Movies and Half Naked Men

I went to the luncheon at the senior hall today at 1:00. The only problem was it started at 12:00. Oops! Is this what I’ve got to look forward to in my old age---more and more oops-I-did-it-again episodes? For all the good my calendar and clock are doing me, I might as start hanging out in Margaritaville where time doesn’t count. At least I wasn’t the only one who showed up at 1:00. In the kitchen there were six nicely wrapped and labeled care packages of food for us screw ups to take home. In the meantime we got to eat ice cream and cake at the ‘tardy table’ while the entertainment did their thing.

Have you ever wondered what happens to teenaged garage bands that don’t go on to make it big but they keep on playing their entire lives? They end up with thinning, gray ponytails and playing free gigs at senior halls with their daughters acting as roadies. The band of old dudes I saw today were pretty good, though, even if they did play a few songs that threatened to bring tears to my eyes like Willie Nelson’s You’re Always on my Mine and Nat King Cole’s song about not getting around much anymore because, “It’s awfully different without you.”

One song they sang I couldn’t find on Google and it went like this: “Don’t pet the dog ‘cause he’s not been fixed and he gets pets confused with romance. Before you know it he’ll be asking your ankle to dance.” In between songs the band took turns telling juvenile jokes like, “I thought I had a bloody nose but its snot.” See what you young ones have to look forward to when you get to my age? But it was a fun distraction and at the end they even had this wishy-washy agnostic singing southern gospel songs I didn’t even know I knew.

I finally got to see Magic Mike. My sister-in-law has a steady supply of movies coming in and out of the house and knowing I’m a Matthew McConcaughey fan she passed the Magic Mike DVD she acquired on to me. After watching “that pornography” she said she’d be embarrassed if anyone saw the movie lying around. Okay. So I watched it---I’m old, not dead---then I snuck it back in her house. Don’t judge me. By now you should know I have a warped sense of humor. I only wish I could be there when one of her healthcare workers finds it and wants to borrow the movie.

The truth is I haven’t seen a movie that sweeps away the “dullness” of living since Don died. TV, movies, and internet stuff that I used to enjoy all seem so black and white, so unimportant and never fail to trigger a memory I can’t put down. I joined the senior ‘movie and lunch club’ last spring and this week we saw The Silver Lining Playbook. Wouldn’t you know it, the main female character turned out to be a widow who carries around a lot of guilt regarding the circumstances surrounding her husband’s death. The Widows Guilt Trip must be---what---chapters 4, 5 and 6 in the widow’s handbook on prolonging your suffering? Lunch after the movie was at a place that was decorated in gas station memorabilia from the golden age of automobiles. It’s what Don collected and what I’ve spent months and months selling off on eBay since he died. Life is so full of reminders of Don. Even when I’m not looking for them, even when I’m actively trying to avoid them like going to the movies, those reminders creep back into my life like invasive kudzu along a southern highway.

I got a letter in the mail yesterday from a company trying to sell me life insurance and they estimate that I’m going to live another 27+ years. That would make me nearly 100. Can you image that? I’ll be so flaky by then that I’d be sitting in the front row at the senior hall and when a band of old men sings gospel and I’ll be throwing Monopoly money expecting them to strip like Magic Mike. I suppose I’d better start practicing now to get there on time. You know what they say---you should never miss an opportunity to see half naked men. Darn it! Maybe I can sneak the movie back out of my sister-in-law's house. That was awfully short-sighted of me to return it. ©

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

My Biggest Secret

I wrote this article for contest at Yahoo Contributions Network back in 2007 but they are going out of business and the rights to the article are reverting back to me. So, I found an old post in this blog that was still set to draft and I plugged this article in its place. Even though it has been on the web over at YCN all these years I seriously doubt any of my family and friends has ever seen. Only two or three even know about my biggest secret.....

My Biggest Secret

When you spend your grade school years being labeled with words like 'stupid,' 'retard' and 'dumb' you carry those labels inside and let them warp your soul for decades to come. It doesn't matter that as an adult you finally find out what was wrong with you back in the forties would now be labeled a learning disability, that message of being less than everyone else is still up there in your noggin waiting to rear its ugly head. You're entire life is colored by hidden childhood hurts and longing to be normal. Being dyslexic is a secret I've carried around my entire life.

I jokingly say that my brain was put in half-ass backwards. The joke is that people don't know that I'm not kidding. It's the way I see myself. The half-ass-backwards remarks are a cover-up for times when I do something like turn right when I meant to turn left or I confuse green lights for red. When you've spent a lifetime covering up your "stupid stunts" you find ways to compensate. You follow the others in your group instead of being in the lead. You watch what other cars in traffic are doing at every intersection instead of trusting the traffic signals. And above all you never, ever drive when you are tired.

It's only been a year or two that I've started talking about the fact that I couldn't tell time or tie my shoes until I was well past the age that most kids learn to do those things. It wasn't until I finally graduated from college at age forty-three that I admitted that my ability to read well came long after I graduated from high school. Yes, I was that high school kid who was always leaving her fictitious pair of reading glasses at home if I was asked to read out loud. To this day I can't spell my way past the 'Dick and Jane' books of my youth without my trusty Franklin Language Master 3000 at my side. I can't sound out words. I can get the middle and the end but not the middle which comes from sight reading instead of understanding phonics. My Franklin was built in 1988 and it if ever dies, I will too. The newer electronic dictionaries just don't work as well. It understands me and it was the best gift my husband ever bought me. It cost a small fortunate at the time.

I've always wanted to be a writer. Books were a mystery and a challenge to me, a mountain that I wanted to climb. I wanted to be that little kid who could stand up proudly at the front of a classroom and read out loud without stumbling and without snickers coming from the other kids. Only I thought those other kids reading were making up the words they couldn't sound out as they stood there in front of the blackboard. That's what I did. Reading and writing a book was one and the same thing in my half-assed backward, childish brain.

I was ten years old when I started my first diary and thank goodness that I did or I might never have found out that I was, in fact, dyslexic growing up. It's filled with creative spelling and cryptic language that is---well---half-assed backwards. Back in the late eighties I showed that first diary to my niece who, at the time, was a special education teacher who worked with children with learning disabilities. One long, enlightening conversation and some testing later a whole new view of my childhood emerged. It all made sense. Finally. I don't remember exactly what she told that day but it was something like dyslexia is caused by an immature transmitter in between the two halves of our brains and sometimes that transmitter can mature/self correct as we age. By the time it does many kids with dyslexic have given up on themselves. Thus that's the reason why they are encouraged to keep up with their class by using audio text books, hoping that transmitter will eventually kick in and do its job. Dyslexia has nothing to do with IQ.

The pain of growing up labeled with negative terms started receding when I graduated from college. It no longer matters that it took me twenty-five years of off-again-on-again classes to accomplish that feat. (I got through the first three years in the 1960s but I had saved all the classes that required heavy reading for my senior year and I dropped out rather than face it.) It no longer matters that I spent nearly three decades of my life calling my mother long distance just to have her spell a word that I couldn't figure out. (If she hadn't passed away, I'd still be calling.) What does matter is that childhood experiences---good or bad---help shape who we become as adults. Through the miracle of time, I've learned to like who I've become. I still have to work harder than a lot of people at writing, though. My first drafts are filled with little mistakes that I won't catch unless I let it set a few hours because as I write, I tend to have the text memorized thus I'm not really seeing/reading what I wrote.

I covered up a secret for almost my entire life---a secret that in the forties and fifties when I grew up didn't even have a name. People really did believe that kids like me were stupid, retards and dumb. Thank goodness society now knows how to identify and help children with dyslexia. Thank goodness that I'm now able to hug that little dyslexic girl inside when her pain occasionally causes her to reach out for comfort. ©

Monday, January 21, 2013

Writing Your Grief Away

Most people who write in blogs probably know about blog2print and Blurb. They are services that turn what you’ve written online into a “professionally-printed book.” Now that I’ve gone through a full year of widowhood I plan to have those twelve months of my ‘widows work’ printed so I’ll have that hard copy for my library shelf. In preparation for that printing I’ve been re-reading the entries here, looking for any mistakes that need correcting. Sometimes I’ll read something and think, Wow! I wrote that? And other times I’ll think, Oh, my God, I wrote that? But I’ve resisted the temptation to change text that may have been too raw, too reveling or too dumb and I’m only correcting the technical stuff like spelling errors, misplaced commas and bad coding.

In one blog entry I wrote about the traumatic events surrounding my mother’s death and how I’d used writing a family history book to work through the following two years of grief that, in many ways, was much worse than the grief of losing Don. A lot of widows, I've learned since then, don’t understand how losing a parent can be worse than losing a spouse but her pain-filled death was very much preventable and included a callous doctor who for weeks thought her pain was her imagination working overtime and an ambulance that caught on fire on the way to the hospital while she all her blood left her veins and filled up her body cavity. Then we had to decide if we wanted to join a class action lawsuit against the makers of the ambulance. Anyway, I closed that blog with these words:

“I know to the depths of my soul that most humans are resilient. We can be happy and whole again after horrible, life altering events. I have the ghosts of past grief to thank for teaching me that. Even now, with Don’s death so recent, and my mother’s so long ago, I can still hear the words he kept repeating in my ear during Mom’s funeral: “It’s going to be okay, it’s going to be okay. It’s going to be okay!” And when I’d finished writing my family history book, it was okay. I had purged the grief induced melancholy from my life by introducing the relatives from the past to my relatives in the future. Writing truly is my saving grace.”

Two friendly acquaintances from Don's speech class days who were widowed a few years before me say they still cry every day. They don’t blog, of course---few of us really do when you look at the entire pool of widows out in the world compared to those of us who write about our journey. And although we're not suppose to compare our grief process with that of others I can’t help but think that the cathartic nature of blogging/writing speeds up the process of healing. Having re-read this blog over the past week I see the positive changes in my moods, in what I choose to write about and in the progress I’ve made moving forward, and while I still experience a threat of tears occasionally, I rarely cry anymore. Writing is accountability. You get all your feelings out to examine when others are too busy too listen or too inept to understand. I'll say it again. Writing is my saving grace.

I went out to lunch with a bunch of women from the senior hall recently. Of the fifteen women only two-three were still married. A few were divorced but most are widows---some younger, some older than me. They got to talking about dating as a widow. One woman said if you tell guys you’re not much of a cook "that weeds the herd down in a hurry." They don’t ask for a second date, she said, if they’re just looking for someone to take care of them. I won’t be finding out firsthand about guys looking for cooks, maids and nurses since I have no interest in dating but it was an entertaining conversation. One women who’d just been asked out for the first time since becoming a widow 5-6 years ago was given a crash course in how to google the guy. All of them found it funny to get instructions from their kids on how to be safe out in the dating world.

What on earth the above paragraph has to do with the theme of this blog---writing your grief away---I have no idea. So I guess I’d better quit here before I start rambling about Yellow Submarines and MacArthur Park which were both popular records back when I was last in the dating pool. And that would get me to thinking about Yesterday, the Beatles song, which has been making me teary-eyed since 1968. But that’s another story for another day. It’s enough to say that grief that attaches itself to music never loses that connection. When someone you love has a stroke, like Don did, you learn a lot about how music is stored, processed and decoded in your brain. (Many speech therapists try to use music to bring back speech.) But that was yesterday’s song and today I need to find a new one to sing.  Maybe this one preformed by Bette Midler….. ©

It's the heart afraid of breaking
that never learns to dance.
It's the dream afraid of waking
that never takes the chance.
It's the one who won't be taken,
who cannot seem to give,
and the soul afraid of dyin'
that never learns to live.

(From The Rose)

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Crazy Old People and Me

I’m glad Levi is a dog, not a cat. I don’t dislike cats---that’s not it---but as a widow I wouldn’t want to be perceived as a crazy cat lady widow who spends her days talking to her four-legged mouse trap. There is something more ‘sane’ about a woman who talks to a dog rather than a cat. At least that’s what my handbook on aging tells me. This occurred to me while the woman from my new house cleaning service was here and I realized that I spend entirely too much time making ‘comical’ comments to the dog. “Did you park any barf in the corner of the living room this week, Levi? No? You’re such a good boy.” Why was I doing that? The answer, I decided, is because I’d spent the last twelve years of my husband’s life saying and doing outrageous things to make him laugh. I had become the entertainer-in-chief at our house since his stroke where before then---when he could still talk---he’d been the entertainer-in-chief.

The girl the cleaning service assigned to me only cleans houses two days a week. The other three days during the week she is working on her master’s degree in human services. She wants to be an alcohol and substance abuse counselor. So I figure she can handle one elderly woman who makes bad barf jokes while she’s in earshot. But if I was a paranoid old and crazy person I’d think she was there to spy on my mental health even though she seemed more interested in dust bunny wrangling than in my conversations with the dog. I was impressed, though, by her life goals and so thankful she can speak English. I had envisioned them sending a recent immigrant and I’d have to relive my days of playing charades with Don to understand stand things like ‘where do you keep your toilet brush’ and other important stuff germane to her mission to make my house sparkle.

But the barf in the corner joke got me to thinking about that line you cross when you become a crazy old woman for real. You can say things when you’re young that you can’t say when you’re old without people looking at you like your brain cells are dying off. And there is nothing worse that a pitiful look from someone who thinks you’re so lonely you actually believe your dog is human or that you’d take in every stray that crosses your path because you think animals treat you better than people. Lord, I really am struggling not to on a shopping spree down to the humane shelter. I wonder if they have a support group app for that at Apple? (Levi, by the way, does have a corner where he does all his barfing. I’m not making that up. He’s a very consider little bugger.)

At least I haven’t crossed the crazy-on-steroids line like a guy in my state did recently. He had told the funeral home he would deliver his father to the cemetery to save money. Instead, he put the body in his freezer. Authorities recovered the decease unharmed after finding the empty casket in the back of his son’s station wagon. They were at his house to check on why the guy never showed up at the cemetery for his appointment with the sexton. It seems the son thought he could resurrect his father back to life through prayer. I don’t understand that kind of faith in the power of prayer, but then again I doubt few people can. As near as I can recollect resurrections have only happened a handful of times in the whole history of mankind. Or so they say. I don’t keep up on current events like I used to do. But I suppose if you overdosed on reading about the Egyptian god, Osiris, or Jesus or the Greek mythology of the phoenix rising from the ashes you could believe in bringing back a loved one if you wanted it bad enough. Then there’s that whole karma thing to think about which is where Don and I placed all our bets.

I wonder what a sanity hearing for a man who thinks he can pray a loved one back to life would be like compared to a hearing for an old woman who hoards cats. Care to place a wager on who would come out ahead? Volumes have been written about the universal resurrection at the end of the world and about the resurrection of individual souls before then. A Clarence Darrow type could probably get the guy off. But a lawyer representing a lady who collects four-legged critters would have no scholarly evidence to offer that could her keep off the county’s crazy widows watch list. And that, dear friends, is one more reason why I need to stay away from the humane society. ©

Friday, January 18, 2013

One Whole Year of Grief

Today marks the one year anniversary of the day Don died. Three hundred and sixty-five days of widowhood. In that year thousands of words have been written in this blog covering a speculum of emotions from raw grief and frustration to sweet memories and attempts to understand my world turned upside down. Twelve months. 8,760 hours. So many anniversaries and holidays, so many ways to mark the passing of time and the road I’ve traveled since he died. Yet there are days---long days---when it feels like time stands still, like I’m crazy-glued in place and Don will come rolling out of the bedroom singing wordless songs at the top of his lungs the way he did so many times since his stroke. Will I ever stop missing his smile, the twinkle in his eyes? Will I ever stop missing being loved?

He was an inspiration to so many people. The way he handled his lack of mobility and loss of speech after his stroke was so upbeat and lacking in self pity that he was even filmed for a video textbook that was produced for speech pathology students. Everywhere we’d go he’d make people smile at his antics. Facial expressions and gestures---he could say more with those than some people can with words and what he couldn’t say he’d point to me to fill in the blanks. He made friends easily both before and after his stroke and I was just along for the ride, his ke-mo-sah-bee coasting in the making friends department because he was so good at it. Am I too old, now, to learn to do it on my own? Do I even have enough time left on earth to master the art?

I am a reasonable person. I know that life cannot go on forever, especially a life living inside a vessel that was so damage by a 12 year old stroke. The pneumonia that finally took my husband, we were told, may have caused brain damage from lacking oxygen too long. I am a loving person. I would not have wanted him to struggle to overcome losses like that again. No one should have to do that twice in one life time. So turning off the machine that kept him breathing was a fairly easy decision. I accepted his passing in a way that not all widows are able to do and I live with the loss of his loving presence in my world. Most days I am alone but not always lonely. Some days I feel Don’s presence holding my hand, whispering a joke in my ear or telling me to move foreword. And I do that for him. I do that for me. I’m a reasonable person. But I question if I’ll ever feel whole again. Is that even possible after losing a spouse?

I used to think that if I could get through this first year I’d be whole again. I even boasted to myself that I’d do my “grief year”---like a prison sentence---then I’d pronounce myself healed and ready for the next chapter of my life. I believe in self-fulfilling prophecies and a year was all the time I felt I could afford to spend mourning what was and can never be again. But the closer I got to this first year anniversary the more I realized how unrealistic those expectations were. What I didn’t understand about this journey in the beginning is that moving though grief is not the same thing as finding a door at the end of a dark tunnel and walking through it. Check that off the list. I’m cured. No, it doesn’t work that way. It’s more like a window screen is dividing the two parts of my life---the pre and post-Don’s death---a screen that lets my strength and resolve flow from the past to form the steps in a staircase to my future. But as quickly as that strength and resolve can flow toward the future it can flow back through the screen seeking refuge in familiar territory. It won’t stay there for long. I know myself; it always comes back and stronger than it left.  But I acknowledge, now, that the second year of widowhood is not going to be sunny stroll on other side of a tunnel door that I had imagined. It’s not going to be a tar pit, either, holding me in place. It’s going to be a step by step climb as I rebuild my life and find me again. The woman who is sometimes wise, sometimes silly but always wanting to honor what Don and I had together by striving towards being as upbeat and lacking in self pity as he was. The first year I just came through? What was that all about? Most widows would answer ‘survival’ and I’d concur. ©

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

"I Will Always Love You" and Celebration Cakes

The dog’s fifth birthday is a few days after the first anniversary of Don’s death but I’m thinking about celebrating it early so I’ll have something positive to do on the 18th instead of remembering Don’s last day on earth. Don was big into celebrating doggie birthdays. When we first started dating he had neighbors with six kids between them and both couples became good friends of ours, still are to this day. Anyway, those little kids were the guests at a couple of birthday parties that Don threw for the poodle I had at the time. He’d buy ice cream cakes from Basken-Robbins, balloons and gifts for Sarah to open and he’d enlist the parents to take pictures of their wide-eyed kids and the guest of honor. The kids went home wanting to know why their dogs never got parties. It was quite the talk at their elementary school.

There have been other celebrations that went to the dogs since those days but Levi has never had a birthday party. We made sure his birthdays included a trip to the pet store, though. Then we’d go to Starbucks where the people at the drive-up window always ask if our dog would like some whipped cream in a cup. Is Big Bird yellow? It didn’t take many trips to Starbucks for Levi to figure out that a treat from their window is a cut above the dog biscuits they give out at the bank.

How do other widows mark the first anniversary of their husband’s passing? Many  women go to the cemetery, I’m sure, but its January which in my state means the cemetery is closed for the winter---same with the road leading down to the beach where part of Don’s ashes reside. The nature trail is open but I don’t walk in the winter on snow-covered trails. It’s against the old people’s oath I took about not doing things that could potentially break my bones slipping on ice. Still, it feels like I should be doing something. I can’t cry in my beer, I don’t drink it. Hey, does that mean I can’t hang out with Toby Keith? Have you ever noticed how many songs he writes about beer, bars and drinking? Does that Oklahoma boy need a recovery program? Since I got side-tracked here by Toby let me just say I wish I could write country western songs. There’s a huge niche that needs filling. I mean, where are the old people songs about aging widows with too much time on their hands, fighting osteoporosis and finding comfortable shoes being better than Godiva chocolate martinis?

Back on topic: I’ve always been an insecure hostess stemming from the fact that I could qualify to be on the reality show Worst Cook in America. But I’m very proud of how one party I threw turned out. It was on the fifth anniversary of Don’s stroke and I billed it as his “Thank God I’m Alive” party. It was such a wonderful gift to give to my social butterfly of a husband and it was a way to acknowledge all we’d been through to get to that point---the long stroke recovery in the hospital and rehab, selling two houses and two businesses, downsizing in every way possible including having two auctions, then designing and building a new house. The guest list started out at sixty but nearly a dozen more people had heard about the party and invited themselves. Everyone was so happy that day, so filled with joy and laughter. It was a real turning point in our lives---victims turned survivors. I suspect that rebuilding my life after Don’s death will be the same way. At some point in the future it will dawn on me that I’ve turned off Victim Road and I’ll once again be walking on Survivor Street with my head held high in the sun.

The whole reason I’m thinking about that ‘give thanks’ party now is to remind myself that it doesn’t matter one whit what I do or don’t do to acknowledge the first anniversary of Don’s death coming up on the 18th. I gave him my best while he was here to appreciate it. The depth of my grief and love aren't measured by how well I decorate a grave site or throw rose petals in Lake Michigan or spread wild flower seeds along the nature trail where Don’s ashes reside. Whatever I do now to mark the day is for me…and I think I’ll take the dog shopping then stop by Starbucks for coffee and a cup of cream. I may even go to the florist to buy myself a single white orchid which during bereavement expresses “I will always love you.” The x-florist in me can’t ignore those twenty years of my life and the symbolism of flowers. A single flower on my counter top will remind me that all growing things---including humans--evidently peak in their beauty then wither and die leaving behind their seeds for the cycle of life to begin anew. ©
Cupcakes for Don's Party

Saturday, January 12, 2013

The Widowhood Dating Pool

Approximately 115 people attend events at the senior hall and only about ten of them are men. I had the misfortune of sitting next to one of them at the last luncheon. He told me his whole life story and I thought to my self, who cares! Does that make me antisocial or a bad person? I don’t think so. I nodded my head, cooed and clicked my tongue at all the proper places all the time thinking, this guy needs a shrink! Who would have thought you’d still find damaged goods in the Septuagenarian set? It reminded me of my man-shopping days in the ‘60s only this time it came with envious looks from near and far in the room. I could have stood up and auctioned off my chair and made a fortune.

One of the other men who attends these events regularly comes with his wife and she never lets him get more than four feet away from her. I don’t know what he does when he has to pee. She amuses me to the end of the earth and back again. She dresses her husband up in tee-shirts that say things like: “I love my wife,” “I’m with her” and “Taken.” They’re probably special ordered from the Pussy-Whipped-and-I-Know-it Club. He looks bored most of the time and rather like he wishes he could be home working with wood in the basement. I’ve never talked to the guy. Oh, my, I value my eyes too much for that. I’ve never seen another woman talk to him, either, and so if figure there must be a back story to explain that. Or maybe those tee-shirts come with a secret widow repellant---one spray on your guy and he’s good to go for the day without you having to worry your pretty little head about poachers.

Do widows really poach in other women’s back yards or is it just an urban myth to explain why widows get cut from the guest lists of so many social events planned by their formerly two-by-two world? I can’t image putting designs on any of my friends’ mates. For one thing, I know all their flaws. For another it’s not in my DNA to lust after forbidden fruit even if it happens to be low hanging fruit---the occasional husband who make passes behind their wives’ backs. Who wants a guy like that? My dog has better morals and he’s been known to hump the throw pillow in the living room.

I have no interest in finding a man but my experience at the senior hall gives me some idea of what younger widows will go through when they are finally ready to put their toe back in pool. I hope it happens for them like it did for my older brother. He’d been widowed about two years when he found himself on a class reunion planning committee with a woman he’d known in high school. He was a football player and she was a cheerleader and both of them were dating people they ended up marrying. Now they are burning up the highways of America, traveling and having a good time. I can’t picture myself doing that. Been there, done that---the traveling part---but I’m happy for him. He had a rough few years of care giving to my sister-in-law who had full blown, early onset Alzheimer’s. After he and his lady-pal had been dating five-six months I told him, “If a year ago someone would have told me you are planning a trip to South America I would have told them they were crazy.” He replied: “I would have told them the same thing.” The moral of that story is, obviously, that anything is possible.

I don’t know if it’s because my first year of widowhood is coming to an end or if it’s because 2013 just began but I’ve gotten serious about planning a daily and monthly schedule so I don’t keep drifting my life away. Between the senior hall events, writing, keeping my antique booth stocked, and doing the mundane things one does just to keep up with the world I’ll be as busy as I want to be. And the dating pool? It’s filled with minnows with fin rot. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. ©

"Dating Pool" painting by Betty Key

Thursday, January 10, 2013

The Looming First Anniversary

The first anniversary of Don’s passing is coming up on the 18th and it’s hard to ignore. I’ve got an increased number of blog entries lately to prove that I’ve been trying to work through the emotions this benchmark brings with it. Some widows call it a sadiversary. But society doesn’t call the anniversary of Pearl Harbor or 911 sadiversaries, so that word doesn’t work for me. It might work for Hallmark, though, giving them a whole new line of greeting cards they could market and maybe that wouldn’t be such a bad thing. They could sell them in sets of twelve to cover the first year of widowhood. I doubt there’s a widow on the face of the earth who doesn’t fixate on the death date each month during the first year after her husband passes. It would be have been nice during 2013 to get a card in the mail on the 18th of every month saying things like: “It’s your sadiversary, feel free to cry all day” or “It’s your sadiversary call if you want to talk” or “It’s your sadiversary. If you decide to jump off a cliff, wear a frigging parachute. We love you!”  

One year has come and gone, now what? Societal norms suggest that we quit marking the months and start marking the passing of time in years like children do who’ve passed their second birthday. Why do they get monthly markers past their first birthday but when someone died, we just get a year of doing that? Is that fair? The more I think about the Victorian custom of the ‘second mourning period’ (see blog 1/5/13) the smarter I think they were regarding understanding the human experiences called grief and recovery.

Yesterday I made reservations for ten events taking place at the senior hall over the next three months. One of those events is a cooking class titled, “how to cook for one.” That should make my doctor happy since I’ve been cooking and eating for two without Don in the house. How many punches do I get in my Widowhood Card for signing up for all those events? How many punches does it take to fill it up so I can throw the card away and pronounce myself cured of the curse of living in the sea of sadness? I want rules. I want Victorian widowhood traditions. I want to know if it’s Saturday this must be Paris.

One of the events at the senior hall I signed up for is a mystery tour. A bus picks us up at 9:00 and brings us back at 4:00 and what happens in between is a secret. A lot of people say these trips are exciting but, for me, just the thought of not know where I’ll be all day brings anxiety. Why? As Don’s caregiver and the head of the household for twelve years I’d been in total control of our lives. I’ve been accustom to micromanaging and planning. It’s how I manage stress the best. It’s how I got through a lot of tough times. Micro planning became my security blanket. For me to turn control over to someone else for an entire day, well, that’s like reaching the thirteen mile marker in a twenty-six mile marathon. Not that I know what running a marathon is like but I envision cheering crowds and people reaching out to hand you water and a feeling of pride washing over you for making it to half way point. When I get to the end of my second mourning period in September, I want to feel that kind of pride in myself. In September I want to look back over the first nine months of this year and feel like I just gave birth to myself. See, I’m still trying to micromanage the future. ©

Sea Child -

Am I still adrift in the Sea of Sadness,
Or am I standing on the moonlit shore
Waiting for the tide to change and usher
In a foggy-fingered child of mourning?

With the sounds of earth coming alive
What if on the waves a child did ride
And grow anew with the sun as it climbs,
What should we call this bean of the sea?

Do I call her Me or do I call her You,
This girl with the watery-eyed mother
And father sad at the bottom of time
Do I take her hand or wave good-bye?

by Jean Riva 2013 ©

"Adrift" painting by Anne Packard

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Loneliness and Dogs That Talk Smack


Have you ever wondered how your spouse would have handled it if you'd been the first one to die, what his first year of widowhood would have been like? In Don’s case it’s a no brainer. The quality of his life would have changed drastically because there is no way he could have lived alone, being right side paralyzed and with severe language disorders. His next in line POA after me would have had no choice but to put him a nursing home. If there is anything good to say about him dying I can say I’m glad my husband was the first to go.

A few years ago I told him in jest that he’d miss me for about a minute and a half if I died. Don was not shy and I could visualize him becoming an unofficial greeter---no matter where he’d end up living---hanging around the front door hoping someone would stop and talk. But Don didn’t take my toss-away remark lightly. Over the next few hours he kept grabbing my arm and emphatically saying, “NO!” With his aphasia that was the most language he had at his disposal to tell me that he would miss me more than a minute and half---that and his expressive, sad eyes. I felt bad for making him think about me leaving him behind. The loneliness of living without language is hard enough for me to imagine doing but to live that way among strangers is something I can’t grasp. Cripe, I was so worried about that happening to Don that I kept a notebook full of information about his history, likes, dislikes and habits just in case I did die first. Same with the dog.

Speaking of Levi, have you ever tried to put a sweater on a dog who simply doesn’t understand the thrill of looking good while keeping Warm? Levi hates winter coats and sweaters and I guess it’s my own fault. The first one I bought for him I mistakenly got the wrong style. I soon discovered it wasn’t made to accommodate little boy parts and when he peed the material absorbed all the liquid and held it close to his body. In my defense, I didn’t even know they made gender specific dog coats and I’ve been buying dog coats and sweaters my entire adult life. So when I bought the next one I took him to the pet store to try some on to…ah, check out the fit of his undercarriage. That’s when I got my first clue that Levi is not a fashionista. Coats are for sissy, Mom! Don’t make we wear that thing. Yesterday I had him outside with me while I was shoveling snow and every so often I’d show him his coat and talk sweetly to him about putting it on but he’d run to the opposite end of the deck. I’d rather be cold than look like a dork! Argyle, Mom! Really? Argyle? Get me something PSY might wear and we’ll talk. So this is my lonely life. I talk to the dog and I hear him talking back in my head.

Recently I read a blog entry by another widow who said she "isn’t cut out for widowhood." She didn’t like living alone, and was very lonely. That part of her husband dying, she said, was a bigger challenge than dealing with the grief she felt when he passed away. Oh, goody. Why did I have to read that? Then she went on to say she wanted to get re-married as soon as possible. May the gods of snide remarks forgive me for saying this but did she frigging overdose on fairly tales in her youth? What does she think, that you can just call 1 (800) GET-AGUY and a new husband will arrive on her doorstep? She is only four months out from her husband’s death. Four months! As a feminist, I find that astonishing.

But in the interest of full disclosure, at four months out from Don’s death Levi started asking for a puppy "to take Dad's place" and I’d tell him if he still wants one after a year has past we’d talk about it. In doggie time, though, four months out is probably a respectable period of mourning. Either way, the other woman’s blog got me to thinking about the difference between grief and loneliness. I decided that a lot of us widows don’t separate the two emotions in our minds as surgically precise as she did. Maybe if we did, it would be easier to move forward. I’m not suggesting that the 1(800) GET-AGUY number should come in the packets many widows get in the mail from support groups. Hell, no. But for me, I need to explore the idea that grief is about losing Don and loneliness is about finding me. Who am I without Don? Am I still a whole human being without a man in my life? Did the feminist in me sell out and start believing in the fairytale White Knight that saves the damsel in distress? And since I can give an emphatic ‘NO!’ to that question then the next question becomes: where do I look to find to the strength that will help me thrive again on my own?

“Levi, I’m not going to find what I’m looking for at the animal shelter.”
You said we’d talk about it after a year.
“The year’s not up until the 18th.”
Do you know how long that is in doggie time?
Jeez, Mom! ©

Monday, January 7, 2013

What Will the Future Be?

In twelve, short winter days it will be a full year since Don passed away. The year went by quickly and I am grateful I am past the panicked stage of grief and the crazy I-have-to-do-everything-all-at-once feelings that chased me around for so many months. And tonight as I think about what it means to face this first anniversary I am reminded of a passage I read in a book a long time ago, Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: “Whatever our struggles and triumphs, however we may suffer them, all too soon they bleed into a wash, just like watery ink on paper.”

There are other quotes from the book I saved in a notebook and they are speaking to me as well like this one: “We lead our lives like water flowing down a hill, going more or less in one direction until we splash into something that forces us to find a new course.” Grief and its aftermath is that kind of a force that makes us find a new direction in our lives, an uncharted course that eventually picks its way back down the hill with the volume of our tears added to its flow.

Do you save quotes and lines from songs, books and movies to savor later? I’m getting so bad that I’m constantly wishing for a red light when I’m driving so I can write down the title of a song to google later. Since Don died I almost feel like he’s speaking to me through lines spoken or sung by other people. Like tonight I was watching Mel Gibson’s movie Signs and I fell back in love with these lines: “…what you have to ask yourself is what kind of a person are you? Are you the kind that sees signs, sees miracles? Or do you believe that people just get lucky? Or, look at the question this way: Is it possible there are no coincidences?” Lines like that can keep my mind occupied for days. Until Don died I never believed in signs from the other side, but a few things have happened that I can’t help but question if it’s sign or a coincidence. The spookiest coincidence/sign that happened this year was on a day I was driving home from spreading Don’s ashes at the beach and I was wondering if I had done the right thing, picking where to leave him. As I was mulling over that painful thought I turned a corner and a saw a huge rainbow just as Tim McGraw came on the radio singing the song, Please Remember Me. I had to pull over, in awe.

I’m hiring a house cleaning service next week. Whoopie doo. I’ve traded in my husband for enough money to pay someone to save me from the fate of living knee-deep in dust bunnies and “doggie nose art” on the lower windows panes. I justify it as giving myself 720 more days to live the “high life” of a widowed, senior citizen. How? In the last few years it’s been taking me three days a month to clean what I used to be able to do in three hours. Three days a month times the twenty years I plan on living…that frees up over two years to spend quality time with my self instead of Mr. Clean. That’s enough time to take several around-the-world cruises. Damn it, I’d rather have Don back than to go Bora Bora, Sydney, Hong Kong, Dubai, Athens and Rome. And I really do like doggie nose art. I’d put food coloring on Levi’s nose to improve his work if I thought he wouldn’t lick it off. But life goes on and there are Bucket Lists to rewrite and watery ink to flush from paper. A widow can fight the changes that come with the title but you can’t stop them from coming. Eventually your life stills continue its flow down the hill of time. ©

“I'm not sure this will make sense to you
but I felt as though I'd turned around to look in a different direction
so that I no longer faced backward toward the past
but forward toward the future.
And now the question confronting me was this:
What would the future be?”
Memoirs of a Geisha

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Traditions and the Second Mourning Period

Okay, it’s a new year, a new day. The dog’s been fed, the dishes are washed. The house is clean and my day planner is blank and screaming at me to write something down. What should I do, where should I go? I know! I’ve had a burning desire to buy crystal and porcelain beads to take to a woman who makes necklaces for widows. Necklaces that incorporate your husband’s wedding band. How cool is that?

It’s amazing the number of ways we widows find to memorialize our spouses. Quilts are made of favorite shirts and teddy bears for the grandchildren, too. Christmas ornaments with photos are created along with video slide shows to play on computers. Songs and poems are written by a talented few. And let’s not forget the memorial bricks and trees that are bought for city parks, and the marble grave markers placed in cemeteries. Then there are the donations made in our spouse’s memory. Some widows even have synthetic diamonds made from cremated remains. I have an ash urn locket to wear and a glass jar containing stones, a feather, shells and sand picked up on the day we spread part of my husband’s ashes at the beach. What am I forgetting? I’m sure there are many more ways that widows---Oh, gosh, how could I forget blogging? We tell our husbands' stories mixed in with our tears.

In the 21st century we don’t make rings and pins out our deceased husband’s hair the way they did in Victorian times and we don’t wear tintype photo pins like they did in Civil War times. We don’t wear amulets bags with a token inside to touch and send prayers off to the gods like some American Indians tribes once did. But what we do today to keep a loved one close at heart serves the very same purpose. Mourning traditions that give you something to touch have survived through the centuries for a reason. We humans need to feel connected to our pasts.

At one time in history, widows wore brooches of black cameos set in gold during their ‘second mourning period’ which was defined as the next nine months after their first full year of widowhood. It was during this period when Victorian widows could add minor ornamentation to their black dresses---a ruffle, a bit of lace, a touch of gray---and they could start wearing fancy mourning jewelry. And at the beginning of the10th month through the end of their second year of widowhood plus one month Victoria women would phase color into their wardrobes. Strict rules that I kind of wish society still followed. What can I say, I'm old fashioned.

If I was living during those times, I’d formally be starting my second mourning period on the 18th of this month and as strange as it might sound to those who haven’t gone through losing a spouse, it seems nature and appropriate to call it that. There is a discernible shift in emotions after getting through all the ‘firsts’ that take place in the first year of wearing the widow label but you’re far from be healed inside. Sadly, our modern world no longer acknowledges this second mourning period. Get over it and move on with your life! widows are told. Well, duh! What do you think we’re trying to do? In widows’ circles, though, this second year that no longer has a formal name is still recognized instinctively by most women as a time to start rebuilding our lives. It's a nine month void in between heart-wrenching grief and finding a way to add color back into our lives. At least I hope it works that way for me. And I can't keep wondering why the Victorians picked nine months for the second mourning period and not eight, ten or twelve. All I can come up with in my musing is that it somehow ties into how long it takes to grow a life in the womb. Victorians were big on symbolism.

Shortly after my mother died in 1983 Don bought me an antique, second mourning period cameo and I’ve worn or carried it to every funeral I’ve been to since. Now that Don has passed, too, I have a dilemma in the jewelry department. If I wear all of my memorial jewelry to the next funeral I go to I’ll look like a Boy Scout with a chest full of badges. I’ll have my black cameo, my silver urn ash locket, a beaded necklace with Don’s wedding ring incorporated and my widow’s Word of the Year courage necklace. Oh, my! Take a memo, world: No one I know better die soon because this jewelry dilemma of what to wear to the funeral is not a choice I am ready to face yet.

All kidding aside, mourning jewelry has been around since the mid 1600s. So don’t let anyone make you feel that it’s weird or obsessive if you’re drawn to this kind sentimental remembrance. It might make others feel slight uncomfortable when their “crazy” old aunt, friend, mother or sister is flashing one of these widowhood traditional pieces. But one day they may sadly understand there is comfort in traditions that connect us to our recent past and to that of our ancestors. Having an object so close at hand to touch like a worry stone calms the mind, gives us strength and reminds us that a love remembered is a love we still have. ©

Friday, January 4, 2013

Bravery and Joy

The above quote was written by English author Neil Gaiman and here's another of his quotes below that speaks to me and, hopefully, to other widows reading this blog:
“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something. So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life. Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it. Make your mistakes, next year and forever." 

Written by Neil Gaiman

Thursday, January 3, 2013

To Do Lists, Coroners and Purging Stuff

I created a new way of dealing with the daily job list. I start out with a sheet of paper labeled ‘To Do List’---no other words---and as I complete tasks through out the day I write them down on that paper then I strike a line through the words I just wrote. It makes me feel good to write things like pick up dog poop, shovel snow or feed the birds knowing I can immediately cross it off with a force that says, “You’re a good girl who deserves a gold star!” Brushed my teeth? Ya, why not---write it down. I don’t want to die during the middle of the day, have the coroner find my blank job list and think I was lazy on my last day on earth. That reminds me. I should check to see if I have any naughty underwear left over from the ‘60s in the back of my closet that should get purged before I die. Who am I kidding? I’m still too busy purging my deceased husband’s stuff from the house to worry about my own silly belongings.

Yesterday I shoveled snow for the first time this winter. I’ve always liked shoveling snow in the past. I still do but since last January, when Don passed away, I’ve gotten more careful about wearing a coat and boots when I’m outside. I’d been in the habit of shoveling a path for the dog in the mornings while wearing just my nightgown, robe and slippers. After Don died every time I’d do that I’d scare myself by remembering that old people living alone die of exposure when there is no one in the house to call 911 if you fall and don’t come back inside. I find myself basing too many decisions, now, on what the coroner would think and on trying to avoid making the 6:00 news for the way I eventually pass over to the other side.

My good friend since grade school says she refuses to think like an old person. Since becoming a widow I’ve done enough of that for two people so she’s off the hook. I have another good friend who put ‘skydiving’ on her ‘To Do List’ for 2013. But they both still have their husbands. Living alone is different. For one thing I still have too much widow-work to do, reallocating the space in the house that my dearly departed and his stuff took up, before I can plan the next chapter in my life. I guarantee, though, I will never, ever have a desire to go skydiving, climb a mountain or any of the other activities that have become a fad in the geriatric set to prove---what?---that you’re still young at heart, adventurous? Adventurous in my world means going to the grocery store on Tuesday instead of Monday. Well, I’m not that bad but you get the idea. When I do pick my rite-of-passage-back-to-spirited-living it’s more likely to include a recumbent bike, art classes and getting dressed before noon. See, I do have a plan.

As a widow living alone, along with purging your husband’s stuff from the house you also can’t help thinking about all the hidden ‘treasures’ in the back of your own dresser drawers and who will find them when you die. Will they recognize the importance of those Mardi Gras beads you’ve kept for 20 years? Going through your spouse’s things you know the back story on every single trinket you find which, of course, is what makes the job of sorting through his life’s accumulation of stuff so difficult….yet strangely comforting at the same time. He's not here to dry tears or laugh at jokes but his stuff still around me reminds me that Don was once real, not just a figment of my imagination. Not just a dream that comes in the night. He was more than just a line on the coroner’s ‘To Do List’. Sign death certificate. Check. He was more than two dates on a cemetery stone with no explanation for the dash in between. His stuff proves it. So I feel compelled to do right by it all as I purge, making room for my own future.

I’m near the first year anniversary of Don’s passing and I’m doing better than many other widows in the purging department. All but a few shirts and some hunting clothes I forgot to sell in the fall are gone from the closet. The wheelchair friendly vehicle, the medical equipment and assorted wheelchairs are gone. His garage full of gas station collectibles and the classic car are gone. But Don loved his smaller collections and I still have more purging to do. ‘Sort’ and ‘purge’ are words that I hope will appear crossed-off on my ‘To Do List’ often through out 2013. And by 2014 I want to write finish the last of the purging then immediately draw a dark line through those words and proclaim myself to be the very best good girl in the whole Kingdom of Widowhood! TWO gold stars for you. ©

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

The Crank Old Man and the One Who Was Not

People who work in mental health or at nursing homes may already be aware of the poem below. I found it on Facebook a few days ago but when I cross-checked its authenticity on the web I discovered that it goes by at least five different titles and as many people have been credited for writing it. All of the versions come with an introduction that the handwritten poem was found in with the meager possessions of an old man (or an old women---there’s a version written in a female voice) who died recently. That part of the poem’s history is quite understandable because when ever a poem appears in print---which this has many times---someone ends up copying it for their own use but they fail to properly credit its source. (As a would-be writer I hate when that happens!) Then when the person with a hand-copied poem dies in Florida, Australia, Scotland or wherever---someone discovering the poem assumes their elderly patient or parent actually created the poem and they submit it to be printed in a magazine. Again. This has been going on with this poem for decades, apparently, and I have no doubt it will continue taking the same path for many more. And just to prove that point, here I am doing the same, copying the poem for my own use and for my heirs to find.

Why Can't I Join the Red Hat Society?

Growing old, one of the biggest fears I have is one we probably all share…that of being anonymous in a nursing home with no voice to tell the people around us who we are, who we used to be. To be just another patient in a sea of patients to be washed, fed and turn over in our beds is a scary thought. This is what makes this poem speak so loudly to me and no doubt to countless other people in the sunset years of their lives. It especially speaks to me as I get closer to the first anniversary of Don’s passing. It reminds me of how grateful I am that Don didn’t have to suffer the indignities of living and dying in a nursing home. He was also grateful that after his stroke he was able to come home after four months of struggling in the hospital and rehab to get the limited measure of recovery he got. In the twelve years he lived post-stroke he never lost sight of what a hard-earned gift that was and he woke up every morning singing at the top of his lungs. We could all take a lesson from his heart that was so full of gratitude and love for the routines of just living an ordinary life. ©

The Cranky Old Man

What do you see nurses? . . .. . .What do you see?
What are you thinking .. . when you're looking at me?
A cranky old man, . . . . . .not very wise,
Uncertain of habit .. . . . . . . .. with faraway eyes?
Who dribbles his food .. . ... . . and makes no reply.
When you say in a loud voice . .'I do wish you'd try!'
Who seems not to notice . . .the things that you do.
And forever is losing . . . . . .. . . A sock or shoe?
Who, resisting or not . . . ... lets you do as you will,
With bathing and feeding . . . .The long day to fill?
Is that what you're thinking?. .Is that what you see?
Then open your eyes, nurse .you're not looking at me.
I'll tell you who I am . . . . .. As I sit here so still,
As I do at your bidding, .. . . . as I eat at your will.
I'm a small child of Ten . .with a father and mother,
Brothers and sisters .. . . .. . who love one another
A young boy of Sixteen . . . .. with wings on his feet
Dreaming that soon now . . .. . . a lover he'll meet.
A groom soon at Twenty . . . ..my heart gives a leap.
Remembering, the vows .. .. .that I promised to keep.
At Twenty-Five, now . . . . .I have young of my own.
Who need me to guide . . . And a secure happy home.
A man of Thirty . .. . . . . My young now grown fast,
Bound to each other . . .. With ties that should last.
At Forty, my young sons .. .have grown and are gone,
But my woman is beside me . . to see I don't mourn.
At Fifty, once more, .. ...Babies play 'round my knee,
Again, we know children . . . . My loved one and me.
Dark days are upon me . . . . My wife is now dead.
I look at the future ... . . . . I shudder with dread.
For my young are all rearing .. . . young of their own.
And I think of the years . . . And the love that I've known.
I'm now an old man . . . . . . .. and nature is cruel.
It's jest to make old age . . . . . . . look like a fool.
The body, it crumbles .. .. . grace and vigour, depart.
There is now a stone . . . where I once had a heart.
But inside this old carcass . A young man still dwells,
And now and again . . . . . my battered heart swells
I remember the joys . . . . .. . I remember the pain.
And I'm loving and living . . . . . . . life over again.
I think of the years, all too few . . .. gone too fast.
And accept the stark fact . . . that nothing can last.
So open your eyes, people .. . . . .. . . open and see.
Not a cranky old man .
Look closer . . . . see .. .. . .. .... . ME!!

Remember this poem when you next meet an older person who you might brush aside without looking at the young soul within ... . . .we will all, one day, be there, too!