Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!
In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.
Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. 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. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Monday, January 28, 2013
Saturday, January 26, 2013
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.
Thursday, January 24, 2013
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.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
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
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
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.
Saturday, January 19, 2013
Friday, January 18, 2013
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
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.
|Cupcakes for Don's Party|
Saturday, January 12, 2013
|"Dating Pool" painting by Betty Key|
Thursday, January 10, 2013
Tuesday, January 8, 2013
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?
Monday, January 7, 2013
Saturday, January 5, 2013
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.
Friday, January 4, 2013
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
Tuesday, January 1, 2013
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!