Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

Welcome to my World---Woman, widow, senior citizen seeking to live out my days with a sense of whimsy as I search for inner peace and friendships. Jeez, that sounds like a profile on a dating app and I have zero interest in them, having lost my soul mate of 42 years. Life was good until it wasn't when my husband had a massive stroke and I spent the next 12 1/2 years as his caregiver. This blog has documented the pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties and finally, moving past it all. And now I’m ready for a new start, in a new location---a continuum care campus in West Michigan, U.S.A. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Jean

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Church on Widow Lane

I’ve wondered at times if widowhood is easier for women who are regular churchgoers. After all, they have their church families---communities of people who supposedly care about the sick, elderly and lonely people in their congregations. But when ever I start thinking along those lines I remember a widow writing in her blog about her minister who, just days after her husband’s funeral, wanted to bring a committee over to her house to clear it out of every thing that her husband owned. The minister told her she couldn’t “get over her loss” until she did. She was so distraught over the thought of a half dozen people coming to her house to pick it over that she was thinking of changing churches if he didn’t stop badgering her. Call me cynical but my first thought was that the committee sounded like a wake of vultures picking over a dead carcass. Wow, I need a new flying rod. Look at this beauty!

I’ve never been a churchgoer unless you count the Sunday school classes my brother and I attended for a few years until we decided that exploring the near-by Indian mound was a better way to spend our Sunday mornings. My folks were not churchgoers either but they thought their kids should learn the basics and it didn’t matter to them which of the four churches within walking distance that my brother and I attended. Throw in a few summertime Bible School day camps and some religions-of-the-world type classes in college and you have the sum total of my religious upbringing. I keep waiting for a lightening bolt to strike me, to deliver a message from beyond that I’m missing something important by not going to church. So far it hasn’t come.

Friends of ours---a couple---got struck by that lightening bolt and they joined a mega-church then they totally immersed themselves in the culture of the church. Classes, committees, Christian tattoos on their bodies, daily devotions on their Facebook page and prayer cards at their place of business. To this day, they positively glow whenever they talk about their transformation. I was happy for them. They obviously needed something in their lives to anchor them but I must admit it was weird seeing this couple---one of whom had a potty mouth before finding religion---try to fine my husband fifty cents for saying the word “shit” after his stroke. Cripe, he only had a 25 word vocabulary at the time and they were trying to talk scripture with him. What did they think he was going to say? Hallelujah, amen and here’s a twenty for the collection plate? One time a faith healer was due to speak at their church and they wanted me to bring Don out to the event to have his paralysis prayed away. “Worth a try,” they said. Ya, sure, I thought but didn’t say, if I believed that I’d be down at the bank arranging for a loan to buy some ocean front property in North Dakota.

Shortly after Don passed away I was alone with him in his intensive care room when the Chaplin showed up. She asked if she could do anything to help Don “find his way home” and I said, “No, we’re not religious.” Then she asked if I minded if she said a prayer for his soul “before she walked me out to my car.” Queue the stage hands, it’s time to close the final curtain and turn another newly minted widow out of the room. I guess someone has to do it, why not a hospital Chaplin? I let her say her prayer and then I kissed Don and whispered the words that are etched in our grave marker: “Happy trails to you until we meet again.” That made the Chaplin positively beam and say something about that being a prayer in my own way. She might as well have said, “No heathens in this room! The widow believes in an after-life.” She was too young to have ever heard Roy Rogers and Dale Evans sing those words at the end of their radio and TV shows in the ‘40s and ‘50s. But she was on the right track. I do believe our souls have always been and will always be connected in the Great Beyond.

When you google the phrase ‘finding religion late in life’ it comes up with 42,500,000 hits. It’s clear I’m not the only one who wonders if that lightening bolt is going to strike. At the very first website I clicked on was the following quote by New York Times op-ed columnist, Charles Bows:

“While science, logic and reason are on the side of the nonreligious, the cold, hard facts are just so cold and hard. Yes, the evidence for evolution is irrefutable. Yes, there is a plethora of Biblical contradictions. Yes, there is mounting evidence from neuroscientists that suggests that God may be a product of the mind. Yes, yes, yes. But when is the choir going to sing? And when is the picnic? And is my child going to get a part in the holiday play?”

Bingo. Haven’t I known all along that the appeal of church is the sense of community, of family and the traditions they provide? As appealing as that is in my widowhood, to join one of the churches in the area I would have to give up my world view of religion and spirituality and the idea that there are many paths to God. Not going to happen, boys and girls! So I’ll go on being a church of one on Widow Lane. ©

Saturday, July 27, 2013

The Whispering Universe

“There is no such thing as objectivity. We are all just interpreting signals from the universe and trying to make sense of them. Dim, shaky, weak, static-y little signals that only hint at the complexity of a universe we cannot begin to understand.”
Dr. Temperance ‘Bones’ Brennan

For the past three or four days a grasshopper has been walking around on my window screen, right where I can seen him while I play on the computer. Today I figured out why. He’s dinning on my parsley plant and he doesn’t even have to leave the screen to do it. He just leans forward and grabs a snack when ever he’s not crawling away from a tiny spider that is following him around like love sick puppy dog. Maybe I'm wrong about the love sick part. Maybe the spider thinks he’s David and the grasshopper is Goliath and he wants to do battle to re-claim his rightful place as King of the Widow Screen. Or maybe he thinks the grasshopper is a carnival ride but the grasshopper won’t stop long enough for the spider to hitch a ride. Thank goodness the spider isn’t black or I’d be imagining her to be an evil widow looking for a new victim to kill. What ever is going on I wish they’d both find something else to do because I’ve spent entirely too much time trying to figure out why they’ve invaded my tiny patch of the universe.

Did you know that grasshoppers in Chinese culture are fertility symbols and are often kept as family pets? When I read that I said to my grasshopper, “Your timing sucks. You should have shown up before I went through menopause.” Maybe if I’d been a ‘parsley farmer’ back then I’d have a couple of kids, now, who’d feel obligated to help their dear old mother figure out what to do with the rest of her life. Nope, I refuse to believe my grasshopper is of Asian descent and instead I’m declaring him to be an ancient Greek symbol of immortality. “Live long and prosper,” I can almost hear my grasshopper sing. (Or was that Mr. Spock I hear? Oh, I'm so confused!) But I know one thing for sure, if “he” lays eggs in my parsley pot I’m going to barf. By not killing the Orthoptera I could be single-handily starting a locust invasion that ends up destroying crops and starving everyone in the western hemisphere.

The whispering universe: Yesterday at the farmer’s market one of the flower stall vendors reminded me of the exact moment when I knew I was truly, deeply in love with Don. It was close to Valentine’s Day ten months after we met. Michigan was in an unusual weather pattern and the day was very spring-like, the sun was shining bright and snow was melting fast. I had a flower stall at the mall and I was so busy I could barely keep up with sales. Don, who normally would have been busy with his snowplow business, was at loose ends with no snow to plow or trucks to repair, so he came down to the mall to check out my new set up. When he saw how busy I was he pitched right in helping customers pick out flowers, taking money and making the wait for service fun for all of us. He was a natural born, people-person. The young guy working at a flower stall yesterday had the same gift of gab and twinkle in his eyes that Don had that day so long ago. And that sparkle said both guys were having the time of their lives and if I’m not mistaken they were both unabashedly aware that they looked hot---as in desirable---selling flowers for the women at their sides. Yes I remember love, Grasshopper. It knocked on my door one day and I let it in.

One of the things I like about reading other people’s blogs is we get a peek at the inner workings of their thought processes, to compare them to our own and discover that most of us are very much a like. We each experience happy and sad memories that we visit when ever something in the universe queues them up. We are each trying to figure out how we relate to the world around us, to the changes that occur---the grasshoppers that invade our lives and demand that we pay attention to them, the loves we've lost. We each have dreams and hopes and regrets. And what I regret most right now is that I don’t have enough aluminum foil in the house to make myself a set of antennas like my grasshopper has. If I did, I might get better reception on the “dim, shaky, weak, static-y little signals” coming in from the universe. I'd truly like to know how my life fits together in the grander scheme of things. Isn’t that what most of us want, to feel we are a part of something bigger than ourselves? ©

“There are no extra pieces in the universe.
Everyone is here because he or she has a place to fill,
And every piece must fit itself into the big jigsaw puzzle.”
Deepak Chopra

Thursday, July 25, 2013

The Widow's Birthday Card

My computer has been crashing when I open up too much stuff at the same time. It’s been this way a month or more and the computer guy that checked it out says I need a new one, that he can’t fix what’s wrong with my old baby. Then two days ago I thought it was finally time to plan its funeral in the land of obsolete equipment. It was turning itself off within a few minutes of turning it on. Long story short, after two days of hand ringing I figured out the surge protector was cutting in and out and that was turning the computer off.  A new surge protector later and my old baby gets a reprieve. I hate the idea of shopping for a new computer! I don’t want to leave the land of XP for Windows 8 but it’s got to happen one of these days. When am I going to get too old to navigate the learning curves that come with updating computers?

When my computer was down these past two days I was going through withdrawals from spend my mornings online. So I started sorting out a couple of boxes in the garage and I ran across a birthday card I’d given Don on his 50th birthday. I didn’t know he’d saved it. Inside of the card I had written the following:

Dear Don,

From the beginning of life to the end, we use our birthdays as benchmarks to our accomplishments. By five years old we’ve learned to walk, talk and go to the bathroom by ourselves and those who love us celebrate these things and all we have to look forward to in life.

Our thirteenth birthdays mark yet another milestone, an era when our potential and promise are formed and when we’re ready to embark on a voyage into adolescents.

Like everyone else, we took the passing of our sixteenth and twenty-first birthdays for granted, like they were our God given right.  Now, we smile at the memories of those carefree days and sometimes we wonder why youth is wasted on the young.

Then came our thirtieth and fortieth birthdays and with each we questioned where we’d been in life and where we’d hope to be.  The joy, the celebrations of our birthdays diminished over those years as we forgot how to examine the accomplishments we’d made---learning to stand on our own, career building, the friendships we’d been able to keep through the years, and the mental strength we’d honed.

Like all the others, our fiftieth birthday marks another bank of accomplishments. We’ve just come through a tough decade in our lives. An era of losses---our parents, our once perfect health and our youthful looks, dreams that can never be. All these losses have the power to make us stronger and more appreciative of everything we still have. It’s a time for reevaluation, for setting different goals. But most of all, fifth birthdays are a benchmark to celebrate life and the fact that we’ve still got 30 or 40 years left before we forget how to walk, talk and go to the bathroom by ourselves.

With all my love, Jean

It’s funny how a widow keeps finding things and people who pull her back to forgotten memories and events. I hadn’t seen that card for over twenty years. I also found it on a day when I had met a guy when I was out walking the dog who knew Don from Don’s trips around the neighborhood in his electric wheelchair. He knew who I was from seeing me pass by with Don in our Traverse but I wasn’t aware of him. He said he thought Don left behind a great legacy, a legacy of showing others how to accept living with a disability with grace and making the most of what he had. The neighbor also told me a funny story of how one time he was having a birthday party and Don cruised right into the outdoor event like he’d been an invited guest and before they knew it, Don was entertaining everyone with his aphasia driven antics. That was Don, the guy whose stroke taught him how to be a mime. Running into this guy was like getting a new surge protector for my computer. He made Don come alive to me again. And that reminded me of how much I still miss him! ©

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

My Weekly Report, Five Days Early

I almost learned the hard way the cars are not like kittens. You can’t wean them! At the gas station today I put $37.72 worth of fuel in my little Malibu and she said, “Thank you but don’t ever try to starve me to death again!” In my defense, she should be blaming the farmer’s market. Since I’ve been going there on Saturdays I don’t need to go to the grocery store every Monday and it’s on those trips when I’d buy gas at the station connected to their parking lot. No groceries, no gas. What can I say? I’m old and set in my ways.

I had a great day today starting out with the weather being as perfect as a summer day in Michigan gets---warm but not humid and sunny with a bright blue sky. Mid morning I took the dog for a walk down the nature trail before dropping him off at his fancy-schmancy groomers. Then I made stops at Starbucks, the pet store, the post office, and the city hall to pay my summer taxes before going to my own haircut appointment. After that I stopped at Lowe’s, the gas station, the dollar store, K-Kmart and Starbucks again before picking the dog back up. I call days like this my Hundred Dollar Days because running this chain of errands always costs that much and even more this time because, sadly, cars really aren’t like kittens. Bummer! In between stops I had the radio turned up full volume and the sun roof open and the sweet smell of summer was on the wind. Like I said, it was a great day and if I’m not mistaken, to top it off an old dude at Lowe’s was flirting with me. It’s been so long I’m not sure.

I also did something today that I haven’t done in twenty years. I ran. Imagine that! It wasn’t a conscious choice but we can blame the William Tell Overture---the Lone Ranger theme song---for it happening. I had downloaded it to my iPod and instead of walking with that fast-paced music before I knew it I was trotting along…all 9.57 minutes of it. Old ladies shouldn’t be doing that! I'd be a damn fool if I ever do it again. I’d chance falling and breaking another bone. But I couldn’t help it; I love that Hans Zimmer 'Finale' version. Listening to it makes me feel young again, like it was just yesterday that I spent Saturday afternoons watching double feature western movies and spent afternoons in between playing cowboys and Indians with my summertime friends at the cottage. I need to work on putting together a “safer” playlist for walking on the trails. Maybe a little Michael Buble` who’s music often makes me glide like one of Frank Sinatra’s showgirls. 

“When marimbas start to play
Hold me close, make me sway
Like a lazy ocean hugs the shore
Hold me close, sway me more.”

Have you seen the panda twins born at the Atlanta Zoo last week? They are newborns in the photo above. Considering how cute they get when they are older, it’s shocking how homely they look as babies. They won’t start getting their characteristic black and white fur until they are around 25 days old. I wish human started out ugly and got cuter as we age instead of in reverse. I’m not a vain person but I bugs me that when the dog gets his fancy-schmancy haircut, he looks like an expensive Steiff teddy bear that everyone wants to hug and sleep with but when I get a haircut I look like---well, like I just got a haircut, ho-hum.  

Why you're jealous of the dog!

“I guess so. Maybe," I tell the anonymous voice in my head. “He's do damn cute! Now go away before people start questioning my mental health.”  ©

Friday, July 19, 2013

The Widow and The Lone Ranger

“I’m living a strange half life.” That’s a line from a movie I saw recently and it was said by a divorced guy about his single-hood. He had a beautiful home, a job he liked and friends but his life lacked spice much like the salt-less broths served in hospitals. That movie line spoke to me and about me. At times I feel like a sailboat with no wind to push me along. If you’re on a sailboat with no wind sometimes it feels good to drift and have an excuse to relax but other times it’s frustrating if you have somewhere to go but you can’t get there. As a widow, I feel like I have somewhere to go but I don’t know where that is and the drifting isn’t helping me discover my destination fast enough. I’m old! I want to be content again.

This week marks my 18th month as a widow and one more month to go before I’m at the end of the Second Mourning Period (if I was living in Victorian times, that is). In this century we don’t formally recognize the Second Mourning Period, but I strongly believe that custom never should have gone the way of afternoon teas, butterfly collecting and petty coats. Be that as it may, this seems like a good time for me to write a progress report on myself. So here it goes….

My emotions are no longer raw like they were in the first six month of widowhood and even less so than at the year marker. It’s rare, now, that a crying jag will hit me out of the blue. I can even listen to the Prime Country radio station without every other song churning up unbearable memories which most widows know is a big hurdle to cross. Still, I have a few moments on occasion when I choke up like last week when I was cleaning in my closet. I had run across the half dozen shirts of Don’s that I’d saved when I packed up the bulk of his clothes to take to the Salvation Army. But I’m a strong little widow, don’t you know, so last week I bucked it up and added a couple of those shirts to my ‘donate’ pile---but not without regret and sadness that I’ll never see Don wearing them again. If you noted a hint of sarcasm in the way I’ve just characterized myself you’re not mistaken. I am no stronger or weaker than other widows. We are all just in varying places on the grief timeline. All and all, I’m doing well. Don’s ghost no longer seems present in the house which is both sad and probably a healthy sign at the same time.

How am I doing on meeting people, trying to build a circle of friends, which is my biggest challenge in widowhood? Not so good. It’s still hard not to have a sounding board and someone who cares how my day is going. "Volunteer!" so many people told me to do which prompted me to turn in an application to work at a small town museum opening up soon. Unfortunately the time I spent in an arm sling is the time when they moved out of their old, cramped museum and into the new building so I couldn’t help with the move. This week I went to their first organizational meeting regarding a fund raiser auction planned for the fall. Only five people showed up. I had hoped for a group big enough so I’d have a better chance of meshing with one or two others. They tell me more people will show up to help as we get closer to the auction. Oh, well, at least I’m trying.

I’m also still going to the going to events at the senior hall including the monthly Movie and Lunch Club. Today we saw The Lone Ranger. In IMDb’s mini blurb on the movie they wrote, “Native American warrior Tonto recounts the untold tales that transformed John Reid, a man of the law, into a legend of justice” and they labeled it an action adventure western. What they failed to say is the movie is a genuinely funny film. Johnny Depp as Tonto and Armie Hammer as the Lone Ranger were perfect casting and even Silver, the white horse, brought some great laughs from the audience and my group of ten. In the last fifteen minutes of the film, when they finally started playing the William Tell Overture, the Lone Ranger’s theme song from the radio, movies and TV shows of my youth, we were all sitting on the edge of our seats and laughing at the fast-paced action. We left the theater upbeat and in a happy mood. At lunch one of the ladies said she thought you had to be our age to catch a lot of the humor but few of the other ladies agreed with her. But one thing we all did agree on is that this version of The Lone Ranger is well worth seeing, especially if you grew up in the 30’s, 40’s or 50’s when the serialized stories of the Lone Ranger and Tonto were so popular. “Hi-Yo, Silver! Away!” ©

Sunday, July 14, 2013

Rolling Along

At the beginning of the week, the dog and I spent a day at my niece’s cottage. I hadn’t even been there five minutes when the Levi spotting the resident cat and took off chasing her down the basement stairs. My niece keeps the cat’s water and food dish at the top of the steps and as the cat scurried past them she sent the food dish flying in the air. Levi followed suit and sent the water dish flying down to the basement. After I got the broken china, water and Frisky kibble cleaned up, I no more than sat down on the screened-in porch when a black lab three times Levi’s size came up to the screen to welcome Levi to the neighborhood. Levi pitched a holy fit and. I bet it will be a long time before he gets invited back. Too bad. He’d never seen a lake before---or a cat up close and personal---but he took to dock walking like an old pro and would have gone swimming with a little encouragement. All and all he had a great time and so did I.

In the middle of the week I went to the dermatologist to get a five year mole patrol check-up. I’ve already had one cancerous growth removed so when I got the letter suggesting a full body check, I said to myself, what the heck, why not. But later when I visualized stripping naked in their exam room I decided I was going to resist taking off my underwear unless the doctor was willing to strip, too. The last time I was there (for chronic hives) my goose bumps got goose bumps in their meat-locker-cold room. Maybe if the doctor had to sit naked in that exam room they’d turn down the air conditioner. I was actually disappointed when his nurse told me I could keep my underpants on because I was ready to fight and she didn’t even give me a chance to put up my dukes. Boohoo!  The doctor could have played connect-the-dot with on the moles on my back but he says they’re all benign. No biopsies for me.

At the end of the week, I took a ride out in the country to another lake, this time to a cottage that my husband’s nieces rent each summer to have family reunions. They are all such good cooks that I gain five pounds just thinking about being exposed to their culinary achievements. But my reputation for bringing weird stuff is one I’ve never lived down. After the first few years of being part of the family they started assigning me things I could literally pick up at a Stop-and-Go Store. My theory, back then, was that large family get-togethers were the perfect time to experiment. If a dish failed, it was no big deal because there were tons of other dishes and no one would notice. But they did notice and it was three strikes and you’re out of the kitchen for Jean. So here’s a tip to anyone who wants to earn a place on the bring-easy-stuff-list, just cook up a batch of something pink that shouldn’t be. You’ll have to take some kidding and a few pats on the head with their, “that’s okay dears” but the following year you’ll be bringing chips. In my defense, what young person just learning to cook would know that potatoes and beets breed in the darkness of the refrigerator and everything turns pink. Oops.

Even though I had a few interesting things to do this past week time seemed to drag its butt like a dog curing an itch across the carpet. Woo is me. The fourth of July caused me to lose the rhythm of my upward projection in the class of Widowhood 201. But I was comforted by the fact that other widows blogged about the same, being-at-loose-ends feelings that came with the long weekend. The past is past and next week I have two gorgeous, hunky tree climbers coming to remove one giant dead pine and two chock cherry trees that have split their crotches and are in danger of invading my house some dark, stormy night. Everyone tells me these guys are like monkeys in the trees as they cut tree sections and use pulleys to drop the sections to the ground. I hope it’s hot so they won’t be wearing shirts. If you’re in the neighborhood, stop by. I’ve stocked up on pop and I’m thinking of video taping another Coke commercial. Hot guys and women watching them from the window---it might have been done before but not here on Widowhood Lane. ©

Monday, July 8, 2013

Living in the Fast Lane---I Need a Rolling Eyes Icon Here!

I love going to my favorite grocery store. It’s a place that covers many acres and has everything from international foods and barbeque grills to oil for your car and underpants for your incontinent cat. If you can’t find something interesting there, you haven’t tried hard enough. It is open 24/7/365 days a year and Don and I used to spend a lot of time wandering the aisles in the wee hours after midnight. In the still of the night when I can’t sleep, sometimes I wish I could go there but I no longer feel safe out and about in the middle of the night without Don at my side, so on sleepless nights I stay in bed and find a movie to watch. I can count on my fingers the number of science fiction monster films I’ve seen in my lifetime so it surprised me when the 1998 version of Godzilla caught my attention a few nights go. I found myself laughing at the quirky dialogue until 3:30 in the morning. And I loved the French Foreign Intelligence Agent who chewed gum and talked like Elvis when he wanted to sound like an American.

Birds: Don’t all old people talk about birds? The ones who come to my feeders are greedy little buggers. I want to put up one of those dispensers like they have at the grocery store that spits out numbered tickets so people can get served at the meat counter in an orderly, first-come-first-serve manner. Number 42, you're next Mr. Cardinal! I love my red-bellied and hairy woodpeckers. I love my finches, cardinals, orioles, and nut hatches. I love my three morning doves, the juncos, grosbeaks and even those noisy jaybirds. But the cowbirds and blackbirds? If I thought I could scare them off without putting out the neighbor’s eye in the process, I’d get out my Davy Crockett sling shot and practice teaching the cowbirds and blackbirds that the welcome mat is not out there for them.

I used to smile indulgently at old people who talked about their birds. Now, I want to hop in Dr. Brown’s time-traveling DeLorean and go back a few decades and beg for forgiveness of all those bird feeding people I may have besmirched beneath my breath. The birds have needs and I have a need to be needed. Okay, I get it now, but what next? Will I find myself standing in front of a display of hemorrhoid medication at the grocery store with my crystal ball in hand wondering if I should stock up, or not? Ever see the TV commercial where they say, “Even though she doesn’t need them, Cheryl Burke is dancing in Depends Silhouette Briefs…..blah, blah, blah?” If I actually do bring some hemorrhoid cream up to the checkout stand I can visualize a voice-over coming on the loud speaker saying, “Even though she doesn’t need it, Jean is buying hemorrhoid cream to apply to the wrinkles underneath her eyes. Oh, wait! She does need it! She’s been watching bad movies until 3:30 in the morning again!” Widowhood sucks sometimes. It robs you of sleep when you least expect it.

Over the weekend I went to a different grocery store than the one I described up above. It’s close to my house and sometimes I pop in there on my way home from going somewhere else. They have a price matching policy and the woman in line in front of me had brought in a receipt and an advertisement from last week and she wanted a 72 cent refund. Oops, someone had messed up on price matching crap. It took an enormous amount of time and two people but she cheerfully got her 72 cents. At first I wanted to give her 72 cent so she could quickly be on her way  but then I remembered I was going home to an empty house so what difference did it make if she stole five minutes of my life I can’t get back. I was alive. I was well and not so broke that 72 cents mattered in the grand scheme of my life like it apparently did to the other women in line. If there had been a fancy-ass chocolate truffle display near-by I would have bought us both one to celebrate my new-found patience---another benefit of being a lonely widow---and in my favorite store I could have done just that. ©

Saturday, July 6, 2013

The Trial…or Trail if I’m Having a Dyslexia Day

I must be a glutton for punishment or one very bored widow with nothing to do---nothing to do that I really want to do, I should clarify. There’s always a closet to clean, a plant to move and when is the last time I washed my windows? The punishment I’ve been putting myself through this week? Okay, confusion time. I’ve been watching the live feed from the George Zimmerman trial while at the same time reading and posting on a discussion forum about the trial. As of today there are nearly 40,000 posts in that discussion thread and I’ve probably read half of them plus contributed about fifty of my own “well thought-out and brilliant" comments. Don’t we all think our opinions are brilliant while nearly everyone else has one that borderlines on what-the-heck-are-you-talking-about?

Seriously, after taking part in this activity for most of the week I can honesty say I’m glad I’ve never had to serve on a jury. It’s amazing how so many people can see and read the exact same testimony and come up with entirely different impressions. Every 10-20 pages on the discussion thread someone posts the question, “Are we watching the same trial?” It's like people only hear what fits with their preconceived theories and prejudices on what happened. Do they listen with half their brains tied behind their backs? Do they lack the objectivity or sense of fairness to sift through the bull and apply logic? I don’t know the answers but what I do know is there will be no winners in this trial no matter how it turns out. Too many lives have been changed because of what happened that fateful night of the shooting.

I usually resist the temptation to blog about political or controversial current events which is characteristic of how I am in my daily, off line life. I generally keep my opinions to myself having been raised to believe you don’t talk about religion, politics or money in public. Heck, I’ve been so faithful to that rule for living in a polite (and somewhat old fashioned) society that not so long ago I shocked someone I’d known for over 40 years by saying that I am not a Christian. You’d have thought I’d grown a pair of knockers on the top of my head, the way she looked at me. She kept saying, “You’re kidding, right?” “No, I’m not kidding,” I replied, a little braver with each repetition. But she loves me, so eventually she got around to believing that I’ve entered a state of early Alzheimer’s and I just couldn’t remember that I’ve been a good and moral little soldier all these years. That is easier for her to accept than the idea I've found a different path to living a virtuous life than going through Jesus.

Oh, my God, it just dawned on me that I can use impending senility as an excuse for me coming out of the ‘religious views’ and ‘political activist’ closets! Yup, I could stand up at a senior hall event, at the next baby shower---even in my back yard while running around stark naked---and scream, “I’m a liberal democrat who flirts back and forth between with the New Age Spiritualism and Humanism!” and people would say, “Don’t mind her. That’s crazy old Jean. Her mind is going, don’t you know.” Why doesn’t it ever occur to anyone that older people just get sick of carrying around our membership cards to the Don’t Make Waves Club? No, we get accused of changing, of getting saltier or more judgmental in our golden years when half the time we're just getting ripe enough to show our true selves to more than just our spouses. But not to worry, I don’t plan on ripping up my DMWC membership card until I’m 92 and that’s a long way off. In the meantime, you can find me posting anonymously “over there” in the Wild West of internet “hot shots” who all think our poop doesn’t stink. Oh, and just so you’ll breathe easier tonight, I don’t plan on running around in my back yard without my skivvies any time soon either. Well, not until I can finagle a total body makeover at Tuscany’s Terme di Saturnia Spa Resort. ©

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Happy Fricking Forth of July

The Forth of July used to be my all-time favorite holiday. The family parties featuring star-spangled table clothes topped with food of all description, the parades where half the town’s children marched down Main Street while the other half sprawled along the tree lined way are all just pleasant memories now of my younger days. Days when Don and I always had some place special to go. Even before I met Don the forth was party time at my folk’s summer cottage. My good memories of the forth are endless including it marks the day I got my very first kiss from a boy…and at a fireworks display no less. Sweet!

Time marches on and the only thing certain in life is that nothing stays the same. People move, people died, people get divorced, people marry and join different family units to spend their holidays with. The family parties I loved for so many years petered out in recent years as the ones who always organized them left this earth and no one took their places. Such is the natural order of things. So here I sit with my package of kosher beef hotdogs and that’s my big Forth of July party-for-one plans. That and I plan to make croutons today with cranberry walnut bread with mango infused olive oil and all-spice. Whoop-de-do, happy fricking Forth of July! 

If it sounds like I’m feeling sorry for myself, I’m not. I’m gearing up to take a walk down Memory Lane to the happiest, best and biggest Forth of July in my life---1976, the Bicentennial. Don and I were only six years into our relationship at that time and still very much acting like kids even though we were in our 30s. I remember 1976 as a summer filled of bluegrass festivals for us and the Ford administration for the nation. It was the year the movie, Rocky, first came out along with One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, the latter movie being one of our all-time favorites. Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody was top on the singles chart and Barbara Walters became the first woman to co-anchor the network news. And it was the year when over 50 vessels from 20 nations filled the Hudson River to help our nation celebrate its birthday. Do you remember the laser beam via satellite that cut a star spangled ribbon to start our nation’s two-day party? That was a HUGE technological thing back in the day. Then there were the landing pads built for UFOs that never showed up for the party. For every dignified and classy event going on that forth of July, there was an equal number of quirky stuff like guys sporting red, white and blue dyed beards.

Don and I got 150% into the bicentennial spirit and we went crazy that summer buying ’76 souvenirs. We were convinced someday we’d get rich with our collection of everything from commemorative coins and jewelry to MacDonald’s containers and dry cleaner bags that contained birthday wishes to our nation. I even had a long, flowing hippy style dress made out of material that commemorated the year. I loved wearing that dress! I still have it and a wooden box put out by a beer company in 1976 that is filled with all our bicentennial stuff. If I live another 13 years, to when it all turns 50 years old, it might have some valve. But I doubt it. We weren’t the only ones making the souvenir manufactures rich that year. But it was fun and crazy and it makes me smile when I remember all the stuff we did that July…like traveling many miles just so we could sign a copy of the Declaration of Independence that now resides in a time capsule. It was also the summer when several 100 year time capsules were opened in near-by small towns and we attended those as well. I loved 1976! Some day I should finish that Bicentennial quilt I have third quarters done.

I wish we could stay young and care-free forever. I wish people didn’t have to die or move away. But since those wishes can never come true I’m glad I have great memories to keep me company when everyone but my dog is out of town.  ©

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Four Widows and a Block of Cheese

This past weekend I went out of town to a 50th anniversary party for one of my cousin’s. It was a happy event for a wonderful, giving and kind couple who has contributed nothing but goodness to the world. I was in her bridal party and it’s a telling statement regarding the disproportion of women to men in my age bracket that when we lined up for the reenactment photos all four of us bridesmaids were still alive but only one of the groomsman was still kicking around. But what I found fascinating was, quite by accident, I ended up sitting next to a stranger who’d been widowed within a few weeks of me and for most of our adult lives we lived within three blocks of each other. What are the odds of this chance meeting three hours out of town? I only knew three people at this event---the celebrating couple and the bride’s brother---but I didn’t feel out of place or lonely. Like magnets coming together two widows found each other and the common threads running through our lives.

Then the next day I went to a baby shower and was talking to yet another widow---this one is under 35 with young three children. Her husband died from an overdose of prescription drugs just a few months after my husband died. She looked much happier than when I saw her at Easter and her future looks bright. She’d moved closer to her core family, got a new job and a new boyfriend that she says is a serious relationship, and her kids are settling nicely into a new routine. I hope she takes it slow with the new guy but then again, why wait if you’re lucky enough to get a second chance at love? The past is past and we can’t have it back. Speaking of luck, both the young widow and I won good luck bamboo plants playing baby bingo. How cool is that?

Have you ever heard of the book, Who Moved My Cheese? I picked up a copy at the senior center for a quarter but I’d read about it on the internet back when I was looking for grief support related stuff. The book is used by a lot of corporations that are trying to motivate their employees not to resist change. It’s a short parable featuring two humans (Hem and Haw) and two mice (Sniff and Scurry) who all lived in a cheese station connected to a maze. When their cheese came up missing the mice quickly scurried off through the maze to look for more while the humans grew hungry and depressed mourning the loss of their cheese. They were afraid to go back out into the maze---they’d been in the cheese station happy and content for a long time---so they kept waiting for someone to bring their cheese back. They even grew angry at the unfairness of having what they valued taken away. Yadda, yadda, yadda---you get the picture and I think most of us widows can see how this parable could be applied to the grieving process. The block of cheese in the story is, of course, a metaphor for what we want to have in our lives.

Sniff in the parable represents the kind of attitude that some of us have regarding unwanted changes our lives, those who see the changes coming before they get here and are prepared when it happens. Scurry represents the kind of person who didn’t see change coming but springs quickly into action when it comes along. Haw represents the kind of person who takes a long time to read the hand writing on the wall, is slow and scared to move foreword but eventually does adjust to change. Hem, represents the kind of person who stays rooted in denial and is left behind in misery. The lesson of the parable is that we humans over complicate things. Life is constantly changing. We need to change with it.

Which of the four characters in the parable do you most closely identify with? In widowhood I am a Sniff. In the back of my mind I always knew my disabled husband could die before me so I was more prepared than the young widow at the shower who lost her husband unexpectedly. She would be more like Sniff. She has  worked hard to pick up the pieces and is moving forward at a rapid pace. The widow at the anniversary party was a Haw---afraid and paralyzed in her grief early on but has since found a way to plot forward. All three of us are hopeful that at some point we’ll be able to savor the adventure of finding and tasting new cheese. And the forth widow, the one most like Hem? I didn’t see her over the weekend because she’s been sitting at home all alone, out of sight and waiting for her old cheese to magically reappear. ©

“When you move beyond your fear, you feel free.”
“The quicker you let go of your old cheese, the sooner you find new cheese.”
“It is safer to search in the maze than to remain in a cheeseless situation.”

Spencer Johnson, M.D. author of Who Moved my Cheese?