Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

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

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

I Miss Dancing!

Between now and the end of November while I'm working on my book for National Novel Writers Month, I'm going to post a 'Wednesday Flashback' in this blog of things I've written long ago---before my husband died. These will be essays that still have relevance to my life today. So Here's my first Wednesday Flashback:

When I was seven or eight years old, I got the Gene Autry gun and holster set for Christmas and I worn them to bed more than a few times. I was in love. I even crawled up on my daddy’s lap once, sighed deeply, and told him that when I grew up I was going marry Gene Autry and his horse. My dad had the good graces not to laugh. It could be he was trying to figure out which one I was lusting after the most---the horse or the man. I still have that gun and holster and all of my Gene Autry fan club memorabilia. I never did anything half way, even my first crush.

I don’t know where I’m going with this trip down memory lane. Perhaps I’m looking at my life as if its film that I can edit and splice together into a movie titled: How to Grow up in Ten Easy Lessons, Plus One Really Hard One. Until I became a caregiver for my dad---in the five years before my husband’s stroke---I really hadn’t grown up and I was in my fifties at the time. My life was carefree and fun in my pre-caregiver days. Oh, I’d had my share of disappointments and pain. Who could get to be a half a century old without having a few monsters in their closet? But I try to learn my lessons and move on. Always wear the white hat. Mr. Autry would be proud.

Do you know what I miss? Dancing. I was never good on the dance floor. I have no grace, no natural rhythm, even though the Arthur Murray Dance Studios did their best to chance that when I was a kid. Never the less, I miss it all. Especially the tap dancing lessons I took when I so young that I still worn underpants with the days of the week embroidered on the fronts. Light bulb moment! If I were on the board of directors at Hanes, I’d expand that embroidered panties idea into a days-of-the-months set of cotton briefs for seniors. That way, when folks like me are at the store writing a check, and we can’t remember what day it is, we’d always know where to look to find out.

I also miss the square dances of my pre-teen days; my petty coats swinging and swaying with our do-si-dos and falling on the floor in a fit of the giggles. I miss the rock-and-roll record hops that came a few years later. (Those late night Time-Life R&R commercials are aimed at my generation.) I miss the rhythm and blues clubs and slinky dress dancing of my twenties. And disco. Don and I did some serious courting during disco. How could I not fall in love a guy who once told me, as I roller skated by, “You look like a refrigerator on a dolly.” Did I mention he could dance on roller skates far better than without them?

Most of all I miss the dancing that Don and I used to do in the 80s, the western stuff that came straight out of the movie, Urban Cowboy. Oh, we were never like John Travolta and Debra Winger struttin’ their stuff at Mickey Gilley’s. We just watched that fancy stuff from the side of the dance floor. But we had our county-western moments when I felt like there was nothing more fun than belly rubbing around a dance floor, thighs brushing from time to time, words passing back and forth---Gosh, I have to stop typing and go get a few ice cubes!

Don was far from a Gene Kelly or Patricia Swayze, and I was certainly never a Ginger Rogers, but I miss the magic and energy that dancing inspires. I miss the honky-tonk bars out west on vacations. Had I known the last time we danced that it would be the last time we dance, I would have taken a mental snapshot. But the sad fact is I don’t actually remember percisely when that was.

I do have a mental snapshot of the last time my dad danced before he passed away. It happened in the parking lot of a KFC. I had been chauffeuring him and his girlfriend around on a date and the tape deck was playing a song from the 40s when my dad asked Martha to dance. He had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer. We all knew he was dying. We all knew it was the last time they’d probably dance together. It was such a bitter-sweet moment, so private and personal---the way they looked at each other---that I had to look away. I’d like to think that if I had a snapshot of Don’s and my last dance, it would be like that---too intense and personal to share with others.

My dad was a special guy. Even in the last years of his life, when our relationship was often more like mother and son, than father and daughter, he could still make me laugh. One time, when he was being tested for cognitive abilities---something that was done frequently because he was in the first wave of people getting a new Alzheimer’s drug---the psychiatrist had asked him what year it was. Dad gave the wrong answer and when the doctor corrected him, Dad said, “My daughter tried to tell me that in the parking lot, but I didn’t believe her.” Caregiver humor, you’ve got to love it. Another time, in a restaurant, my brother asked my dad if he was taking the noodle on his shirt home for a midnight snack. My dad, picked the noodle off his shirt, threw it over his shoulder, and said, “Hell, no!” and kept right on eating.

What is it I read in an old clipping from Ann Landers? “Old folks talk about the past, because they have no futures. Young folks speak of the future, because they have no past.” When did I get old enough to understand the full depth of that statement? Okay, so I’m having a cry-baby moment. But I know how to fix that. Tonight, I’m sleeping with my Gene Autry gun under the pillow!©

 painting by Zille Heinrich

Friday, October 25, 2013

Getting Lost in the Presence, Going Back to the Past

My doctor on Monday ordered a vascular carotid artery duplex scan and before I even got home the scheduler had left a message on my answering machine that I had to go in for the test on Friday, today. I called back insisting that I didn’t do tests in their downtown location “so schedule me at the hospital,” which is located in the suburbs. “We could do that,” the woman said, “but your doctor wants this test done in a timely manner and you’d have to wait three weeks to get in there.” Crap, I thought, by then snow could be flying and I don’t do snow either. “Oh, don’t worry,” she said when I whined about hating downtown driving. “There’s nothing to it. We’re just off the expressway and our parking ramp has very gentle turns.”

What she didn’t say is that the expressway has an S curve in the middle of the downtown area and off the S curve I’d have to take the connection to another expressway before existing again to their location, plus there is construction going on in the area. Under the best conditions, these are the most dangerous pinch points in the whole metro area of over 1,000,000 people. And I got lost. Thankfully, I left early enough so I could get myself turned around and back up north to familiar territory where I could start all over again. This time I routed myself without using the expressways which took my past one pit bull fight in progress and two hookers selling their wares but I got to the medical building in time. The next time some anonymous scheduler tells me to go to that building I’m going to tell her or him that I’d rather die waiting for an appointment at the hospital than to die from the stress of going downtown. On the good side, the woman who did the test said if she had found anything significant they wouldn’t let me leave. That was comforting until I remembered that they told my husband that he had passed his yearly physical with flying colors then two days later he had a massive stroke.

Change of Topic: For four-five years I‘ve wanted to take part in national novel writer’s month which takes place in November. This year I decided to go for it. In case you’ve never heard of NaNoWriMo, this is what their website says: “National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to creative writing. On November 1, participants begin working towards the goal of writing a 50,000-word novel by 11:59 p.m. on November 30. Valuing enthusiasm, determination, and a deadline, NaNoWriMo is for anyone who has ever thought fleetingly about writing a novel.” It’s not all online either. Lots of cities, including mine, have meet-ups at local coffee shops and food courts over the month so you can interact in person with others working on a novel.

The website calls people like me ‘rebels’ because we intent to break the rule about only writing fiction and/or the rule about writing all your words in November. I won’t be getting a “merit badge” at the end but I don’t care. I just want the pressure of writing with a deadline. They don’t mind rebels and the website offers a whole section for us to interact with one another. I’ll be working on a memoir/humor book about living with a spouse with severe language disorders, and I’ve actually got seven years of daily note writings that needs to be rewritten and ruthlessly edited down into a cohesive book.

As a widow it might not be easy reviewing what I wrote while watching my husband cope with his post-stroke life but nothing ventured, nothing gained. I have a story to tell about a man who inspired just about everyone he met and thus my widow’s journey will be taking this detour to the past. I might get overwhelmed. I might give up in the first week. Or I might be a glutton for punishment and follow through. My November social calendar is also filling up and I’m beginning to wonder where I’ll find the time to sleep. Still,1,667 words a day is doable to make the word count quota for the ‘”write-athon.” After reading though the posts on the rebel forums I discovered I’m not the only widow doing a memoir which shouldn’t surprise anyone who reads blogs written by women. Whether we are using the book idea to put a period on the past or to keep ourselves attached to the past is a question I’ll let others decide. All I know is I will not be going to the downtown Starbucks in November for one of the local meet-ups of NaNoWriMo. ©

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Finding Contentment

Followers of this blog know I’ve been on a two month quest to find friendship out in the big, scary world of widowhood which as it turns out, isn’t so scary after all. I had already been active at the local senior citizen hall this past year so part of my master plan was to add Red Hat Society activities and volunteering at the Historical Society/museum to my social calendar. What I found in the first two aforementioned groups was a whole lot of other widows out there doing their best to keep busy and not wallow in the world of Poor-Widowed-Me, an admirable pursuit and one I fully endorse. Victimhood is not a merit patch I want to wear on my sleeve. I am woman, hear me roar.

Women have always been amazing in our ability to form groups and get involved whether the goal was philanthropic in nature, completely frivolous or hobby related. And we have the ghosts of women like Clara Barton, Dorothea Dix, Susan B. Antony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton to make us feel guilty if we haven’t spent at least a few years of our lives devoted to a do-good cause greater than ourselves. In more recent years many of the groups women join could be defined as supportive in nature. We are joiners. We are self-improvers. There are groups out there for divorcees, widows, single mothers, women who have cheating husbands, mothers with addicted family members---you name it there is a group you could join for every life event or circumstance you could name on the face of the earth. So it shouldn’t surprise anyone when a widow sets out find others on the same uncharted path. But the path isn’t really uncharted, is it. It might be the first time we, personally, are widowed but the state of widowhood has been around as long as marriage itself and there are time-tested ways to find a way to being happy---or at least contented---again.

Over the course of my Grand Experiment these past few months I’ve talked to dozens of widows. In all our conversations one reoccurring theme was hard to ignore: widows who were happily married say they still miss their spouses whether they died two or twenty years ago BUT they also say they are content with the single-hood life they’ve built since. It also struck me that I only ran into one woman who said she had a bad marriage before she became widowed. I’m guessing women who fall into this latter category of widows are not attracted to joining the same kinds of groups that I am? They could be out looking for a new, improved spouse, or maybe victim-hood is a comfortable place for them to dwell and they aren’t interested in breaking new ground. They could also be the women you’ll find joining the Purple Thong Society or throwing themselves into the becoming the best damn Church Lady in their congregation. It’s hard to play amateur analyst with someone you’ve never met. I try anyway. Someone has to make broad generalizations with no factual basis what so ever for their assumptions. Then again, things become a cliche` for a reason. Happily married or not, I must also note that some of us are not joiners by nature---I never was before---so I don't know if anything definitive can be drawn by my experiment. All I really know for sure is we can't change our lives for the better by sitting on the couch.

In the past two months five women have asked to exchange contact information and, dumb me, it didn’t occur to me with the first three that there are probably unwritten rules covering who makes the first move after exchanges like this. The ball was in my court. I should have followed through with a call since they were gutsy enough to show interest in becoming friends. These were all lovely women, our conversations were organic and there was no reason to fear rejection. Still, by the time I decided to make a call to invite one of these ladies to an art show, I had lost the number! An accident or was I subconsciously being careless because I thought I’d never follow through?  Bottom line: after two months of trying to find friends I learned two very important things: 1) There are good opportunities for developing friendships out there for those who want to make the effort, and 2) I’m inclined, now, to believe that I really don’t want to achieve that goal as much as I thought I did. I’ve made the opportunities materialize with my master plan. Good opportunities. But my need for human contact seems to be satisfied by the warm acquaintances I’ve developed over the last two months and the fact that I’ll keep seeing those acquaintances at reoccurring events in the future. If something more one-on-one develops over time it will because I’ve become the mouse instead of the cat. For two months I’ve been the cat stalking the mice. ©

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Road to Self-Discovery

At the hair salon on Monday while I was getting low lights put in my hair the girl accidentally splashed the chemical in my eye. That was fun, being led to the bathroom to get another solution and water put in my eye. Aside from worrying that I’d never see again and I was freaked out over the possibility that it would turn the white of my eye brown to match the iris. That would give me a scary effect just in time for Halloween. People would stare at me and maybe ask questions and I’d have to figure out some goofy answers since the truth is so boring. But I can see again and they tell me I still have the white in my eye. How would I know, I can’t see without my glasses on to know the difference.

Tuesday I went to the Gadget Petting Zoo at the senior hall. They sponsor these-hands-on events quite often but this is the first time I’ve gone to one. I wanted to find out how to borrow books on my Kindle and to play with the tablets and smart phones. A woman I’ve wanted to make friends since I started going to the senior hall sat next me and we struck up a conversation, and we discovered that we both love working on genealogy. When we parted she asked for my phone number so we exchanged calling cards. The funny part is when we first started talking she said, “Where do I know you from?” and I thought, Well, don’t I make a big impression on people with my fly-on-the-wall persona. To be fair to myself she’s nearly a decade older than me so maybe her not remembering me from the many times we’ve been at the same events is more about her memory loss than about me.

My second hearing test, a dentist appointment and a Red Hat Society tea were mid-week. The hearing test was with my husband’s audiologist and it came up with the same results as the first test I had last week…that I do have hearing loss in the upper ranges but that’s where the similarities in the tests ended. He (the guy who gave me the free test at a chain hearing aid place) was high pressure, she was no pressure. He wanted me to order on the spot---which I didn’t do---she told me to go home and think about it for a few days. He left two whinny messages on my answering machine wondering why I wasn’t ordering. I ordered with my husband’s audiologist and I guess I should start calling her my audiologist. Punch another hole in my Old People’s membership card. I’ve crossed another line, found another benchmark.

At the Red Hats tea we were introduced to two new members and I’m elated about that. Everyone else in the group has known each other for ages so now I’m not the only newbie learning the groups’ dynamics. One of them caught herself half way through a swear word a couple of times. That will be fun for comic relief. I’m surprised it hasn’t happened to me. I check myself in polite society but I’ve been known to throw in a colorful expletive when no one but the dog can hear me.

Friday I went to see to see Gravity with my Movie and Lunch club. All the reviews I’ve read said this Sandra Bullock and George Clooney IMAX 3D film is a nail biter and now I know exactly what they mean. Wow, was it intense! It was totally believable, had awesome cinematography and I loved every minute of it! If it doesn’t win a bunch of awards this year I’ll be shocked.

To round out the week my Red Hat chapter had a birthday party luncheon and I came home exhausted and feeling like I was back in the work force from all the running around I did this week. I’m so glad Sunday will be a day of rest.

Next week will be the end of my grand experiment, the master plan that I’ve been living these past two months in an effort to find friends and a social life in my widowhood. But I already know the results. What I learned about myself and widows starting over is this: 1) I learned that it can be done. If you apply yourself to a solid plan you can find a social life again. I can’t say I’ve found those few close friends yet that I've been seeking, but by design I’ve built a real foundation for finding them and I did it in a very short time. 2) I discovered that I don’t enjoy being as busy as I’ve been during my grand experiment. I’ve always been a bit of a loner and I’ve missed my alone time---my reading, writing and day-dreaming time. But on the other hand without social events in my life my creativity side has nothing to feed on which leads me to the third thing I’ve learned: Phase two of my master plan needs to set the goal of finding a balance that works for me. ©

Friday, October 11, 2013

Four Cows and a Docent on Widowhood Lane

I spend yesterday afternoon learning how to be a museum docent and I came home with a 106 page book on the history of my adoptive home town that I’ll have to study plus a copy of the pamphlet that we’ll hand out to visitors. The pamphlet is a self-guide to the exhibits in phase one of the museum so I won’t have to memorize a lot of facts and dates, I’ll just have to know where to find them on the pamphlet. And I’ll have to practice smiling as I try to keep kids off the horse drawn mail wagon and from crawling inside the turn of the century living room and kitchen display. It shouldn’t be too hard. There is a play area in the center of phase one with toys where kids can learn how to be lumberjacks or to sit on the floor for lectures and puppet shows.

Phase two of the museum isn’t completed yet but it will double the exhibits and includes a few neat things I’ve never seen in a museum. They will have video recording booth that old people can book for half hour taping sessions of their memories of growing up in the area and those tapes will be archived for their descendants and others to access. That would be a neat place to bring grandparents for an interview. There will also be an area where people can sit and watch media like a series 1920s films of the town---something a woman offered to donate on my shift, once they are converted over to a DVD. Two docents will always be on duty on any given four hour shift. So it’s a good opportunity for me to get to know others in the Historical Society. I worked with a Chatty Cathy this time. However, half our shift involved locating all the stuff on the pamphlet and learning where they hide supplies, keys, the phone, emergency info, locking and unlocking the place, etc. Signing up for this volunteer opportunity is going to turn out to be a good widow’s project, I think, but not so much during the winter months. They cut back on hours and I won’t want to trek through miles of snow to get there.

This week I had another interesting/funny/scary experience. My niece in-law and our two dogs went for a walk on the nature trail and as we walked along we got the sense that something big and black was keeping pace with us on the other side of the tree line. Since bear were sighted in the area last spring we were spooked so we picked up our pace, heading towards the parking lot about a quarter of a mile away. It was a good thing we did. Just as we passed an opening along the tree line four monstrous cows came charging out onto the trail. Well, they weren’t really charging but I was running so fast I actually thought at first it was a family of bear. Image that, I can still run at my age! My niece in-law claims I was shouting, “Oh, my God, oh, my God!” over and over again.

I stopped running when I came to a split rail fence and I put the fence between myself and the cows. Great protection should the cows want to come taste my face. Have you ever had a cow lick you? I have and I was worried my dog wouldn’t let that happen and he’d get trampled trying to protect me. As the cows stood on the trail taking in the scenery, a group of hard charging bikers in Spandex came along and just like cowboys on horseback they got those cows running north towards my adoptive hometown. Another couple along the trail called the police and a few minutes later an elderly man came out through the opening in the tree line looking for his missing cows. By then the cows were probably half way to town and I was upset over what the bikers did. When they first came upon the cows they could have gotten off their bikes and walked around them---the cows were just standing there minding their own business---but the bikers didn’t even slow down, frightening the cows into a full gallop. The trail is busy that time of the day and I can’t image what it would be like to see four cows running at you with 15 guys in Spandex racing close on their heels not to mention there are some places along there where you couldn’t get out of their way without falling into a deep ravine. There are also a few roads that cross the trail and someone could have gotten in a serious accident trying to avoid hitting the cows since I seriously double the cows had time to read the ‘yield to crossing traffic’ signs. I worried about that cattle drive all day! Damn bikers, I will never admire their tight tushes again!

The weekend is coming and I’m glad I don’t have anything line up except for going to the grocery store. I need a long nap! Next week is going to be another busy one here on Widowhood Lane. Monday I’m going to a ‘gadget zoo’ where a young tech will teach us old timers all about tablets, e-readers, smart phones, and GPS. I also have appointments for the dentist, getting my hair low-lighted, and for another hearing test. One day I’ll attend a Red Hat Society business meeting and another day we’re throwing our chapter a birthday party. And if I still have the energy after all they, my Movie and Lunch Club meets and I sure hope they pick Gravity. The reviews have been great.  ©

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The Widow's Nightgown

It occurred to me this week that every other night I’m wearing my nightgown inside out. I take it off in a manner my mom used to call “skinning the kitty” but somewhere along the line I quit turning the nightgown right side out before hanging it on its hook. Then at night I’ll grab the wrong side out garment, put it on and when it comes off in the morning, skin-the-kitty style again, it turns right side out. This is another old people thing or I’m I just getting lazy or are they one in the same? My nightgown is actually an old, v-neck t-shirt of my husband’s. It’s extra-long and reaches my knees and it’s getting so worn and holey I really should throw it out. Boohoo, I don’t want to do that except I feel the breath of an anonymous social worker on the back of my neck, making judgments and deeming me ready for a nursing home. Someone has to save old people from the dangers of appearing sloppy and as poor as a church mouse, she'd be thinking. Note to self: Don’t start getting the mail in your nightgown because one of the neighbors could have social services on their speed dial.

My husband wasn’t much taller than me but because he was in a wheelchair and in charge of dressing himself he could never get his pants pulled up high enough on one side thus the extra-long t-shirts did a good job of hiding his fanny. This is a common problem with people in wheelchairs and it’s always bugged me that others don’t understand they can’t help it. It’s just the way it is. Disabled people usually do the best they can to dress themselves and the rest of us need to do our best to ignore an exposed fanny from time to time. That’s hard for one particular acquaintance of mine to do. She’s so judgmental on this topic that it makes me crazy, but that’s a rant I should probably turn off and go on to other things. Sometimes I forget I’m no longer an advocate for stroke survivors. I have widow and old people issues to fry now that my husband is gone.

A few days ago I took an older cousin-in-law on a little road trip to have lunch with another cousin of ours. The cousin I picked up has gotten so frail since I saw her last at my husband’s funeral but she's still as sharp and as much fun to be around as she's always been. I hope people can say the same about me when I'm her age. Back when the three of us were young I spent a fair amount of time with each of them and at lunch we had a good time talking about our families past and present. It’s a shame we lost that closeness over the years. But the miles separate us physically and our lives all went in different directions separating us in other ways. It’s the way of the world when kids grow up and leave their core families behind.

Have you ever played the what-if game where you daydream about how you would have been different if so-and-so had remained in your life? Usually we do it regarding someone negative---an x-spouse, a nasty parent or even someone we loved who didn’t love us back. Rarely do we wonder what influences a do-gooder type would have had on our life trajectory, but I did just that after our cousin’s lunch. I suspect I would have turned out to be a better person if the influence of my younger cousin had reminded in my life all these years. Let’s just say she got all the Mother Theresa genes in the family. She’s probably the most charitable, do-good person I know---genuinely sweet and giving where I’m pickier about my do-good causes and more protective of my free time. She’s touched so many lives that when she dies they'll have to hold the service in the local high school auditorium. When I die my service could take place inside a Volkswagen. In other words, she threw rocks in the pool of life, I threw tiny pebbles.

One of the most interesting things about growing older is we get to see how the choices we made early on in life panned out over the years, we get to see how the people who came in and out of our lives have enriched us or torn us down, and we get decide if we’d take a do-over if do-overs were humanly possible. I’m putting on some rose colored glasses here but I like to think that most of us by the time we enter our “Golden Years” are happy with the way we turned out---or at least we’ve made peace with our personal histories---and we wouldn’t change much in our pasts. Our collective good, bad and the ugly experiences all had a hand in building the kind of people we’ve become. Take something ugly out of the mix and more than likely we wouldn’t have the same level of appreciation for the good stuff that came along later. Bottom line: I like myself and how I turned out but I sure admire my younger cousin. She’s so much like my dad in character and personality you’d think we were switched at birth if not for the two years that separate us. Get out the fiddles, there might be a country western song in there somewhere.

My house cleaning service comes in a few days and the girl assigned to my house is in college part-time, working towards a degree in social services. She’s a sweet, compassionate young woman but I’m starting to think I should buy myself a new nightgown so I don’t end up as Exhibit B in a term paper she has to write. When to Get Involved: Signs to Look For In Our Aging Population. One of these days she’s going to hit the chapter on protecting senior citizens from themselves and she’s going to start pushing numbers on her cell phone if I don’t shape up and get rid of my shabby, widow’s nightgown beforehand. ©

P.S. This is the 200th blog I've written since my husband passed away. I don't know what that means but I thought I'd mention it.