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

Monday, December 30, 2013

They've Got an App for Everything But....

I am in love with my smart phone! Shopping for free apps and reading their reviews is my new, part time hobby. They have some neat stuff and it’s no wonder so many young people have their faces buried in their phones. If I was in the dating scene the first thing I’d want to do when checking a guy out would be to look at his apps so I could get a window into his personality and quirks. For example, my first apps included the emergency ICE app and the Tornado app from the Red Cross. I’ve always been a person who believes that being prepared for the worst is somehow insurance against the worst happening. Crazy, I know, but it does ward off panic attacks in high stress situations. My grocery store app is another list kind of thing but with the ability to clip virtual coupons and locate which aisle of the store you’re going to find that obscure thing you only buy in leap years.

When people jokingly say, “I’ll bet they have an app for that” it’s really not much of a joke because they probably DO have an app for whatever you can throw in the Google Play Store search engine. Today I was testing that theory and I typed in ‘how to be happy.’ Sure enough they have an array of ‘how to be happy’ apps to download. I didn’t do a ‘happy’ download, but I couldn’t resist the Buddha Meditation Trainer with its Zen bells and Burmese gongs. Level one of ten starts out with a three minute meditation on the phrase, “Health is the greatest gift, contentment is the greatest wealth.” That was downright spooky given the fact that I’m getting over a bad cold that had me feeling yucky and depressed, and given the fact that the whole month of December I’ve been singing a song about my discontented life. And that brings me back to this age-old question: Does the universe find ways to tell us what we need to hear when we need to hear it? Or are those messages out there all the time, like white noise running in the background, and finally we let it penetrate our conscious thoughts when we’re ready to accept its Universal Truth? The meditation reminded me that a bad cold is not cancer---I’ll get over it---and contentment is a worthy, obtainable goal that we all struggle with from time to time.

At the Play Store next I did a search for ‘old people apps’ and I was shocked to find one titled Quickie Locator. You know, “for those times when you’re sitting in an airport with nothing to do” and you want to know if there is anyone near-by with a similar desire for a quickie to break up your boredom. Apparently, you can hook-up using GPS in any given area. You don’t even have to lock eyes across a crowded bar anymore, you can use an app for that and cut to the chase. Who knew! But I think someone tagged that app wrong because I’m guessing most old people would rather find friends and lovers the old fashioned way. But I did find a great magnifier app listed under old people apps and it had me going all over the house magnify stuff. I can even do it in a dark closet which I figure will be pretty helpful in a poorly lit restaurant.

For as cheap as my new phone was---$99.00 on a Black Friday special---I still can’t figure out how they can do so much yet a pair of no frills digital hearing aids that only has to do one thing costs in the thousands. But guess what. At the apps store you can get an enhanced hearing app. They say it’s for bird watchers or students listening to lectures and for people who forgot to wear their hearing aids. Ya, sure. You just plug your headset into your phone and you can listen to conversations coming from across the room. I can see the advantages of that app for people who are hard-of-hearing but, ohmygod, it kind of makes you wonder about some of these plugged-in young people sitting around in coffee shops! Are they really just playing games or could they be high tech voyeurs? It would be kind of fun to test for eavesdroppers wouldn’t it, by saying stuff that would shock a young person into a reaction. “Hey, Mary, see that young guy sitting by the window. I’d like to be his sugar momma” then count the heads that turn to look.

But I did manage to find an area of interest where there seems to be no app for that. I put ‘widow’ into the Google Play Store search engine and all that did was make the system assume I misspelled ‘windows.’ Then I tried ‘widowhood’ and it up came a bunch of apps featuring sexy Scarlett Johansson---actress, singer and model---tagged for this app catergory because she once played the Marvel comic book character, the Black Widow. I don’t know what I expected to find---maybe a pep talk when you need to hear one. Maybe an app like the Tornado app with headings like: ‘what to do before, during and after [a bad day]’, ‘recovery’ and ‘planning ahead.’ As a widow fast approaching the second sadiversary, I know all too well those back-sliding, sad days happen. So where is the app for that? ©

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Second Christmas on Widowhood Lane

Have you ever sat next to someone who announces she’s so sick she should have stayed home in bed and you’re thinking, “Thanks a lot for bringing your germs out in public” but you actually say, “Oh, that’s too bad, dear. I hope you’ll feel better soon.” It’s at times like that, though, when I wish I could scoot my chair back with the speed of light and shout, “Get away from me!”

“Occupational hazard,” she says after describing how long she’s had the hacking cough and sore throat. She’s a daycare worker and apparently she, her co-workers and the kids have been trading germs back and forth all winter. I didn’t want to be one of her trading partners but aside from being rude, what choice did I have but to sit there imagining grimy little daycare germs flying through the air with each coughing spell?

By now you’ve probably figured out where this is going. Yes, I got sick the next week---the day before Christmas. It started with the chills and an all-over achy feeling, but I’d been outside chipping ice for two days and I thought maybe I had just gotten too much cold air down my lungs. Then my throat got sore and my voice took on a course, gravelly sound like heavy smokers get. The coughing spasms started next. If I was a kid I’d think I have whooping cough. Sometimes the spasms don’t want to stop and I think I’m going to crack a rib coughing so hard. But on the good side, I don’t have a fever and I still have enough color that I won’t get mistaken for a cast member from the Walking Dead. The house is also well stocked with tea, honey, soup and throat lozenges. The lozenges, however, are six months past their expiration date but I’m assuming that won’t kill me.

Christmas morning I got a call from my sister-in-law inviting me over for a prime rib dinner that afternoon. Had I felt like going it would have been nice to have some where to go but I had to decline. I didn’t want to be the person who says, “I should have stayed home in bed” while everyone else is pushing their chairs back trying to put distance in between themselves and my germs. So I settled in my La-Z-Boy with a bowl of mint chocolate ice cream and watched It’s a Wonderful Life with Jimmy Stewart and that was my Christmas.

I love that old black and white movie. But it did get me to thinking about managing our expectations. George---the hero Mr. Stewart played---had a life-long, unrequited dream of traveling the world and doing big things. But over the years he had to learn how to balance his regret and acceptance of never fulfilling his dreams. Still, he never appreciated that he actually did have a pretty wonderful life…until he was given the opportunity to see what the world would have been like if he’d never been born---how one person missing in the landscape could throw off the yin/yang balance. He saw how his saving one life led to saving many others. He saw how without his kind-hearted and moral business sense to counter-balance Mr. Potter’s Scrooge-like business practices the town would have grown into a cold, depressing and immoral place. He saw that his life was rich beyond measure in friendship and family, that he actually had done some pretty amazing things in his life.

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone in my age bracket or of just widows or just a few of us ‘well-seasoned people’ but I spend a lot of time trying to balance my regrets and acceptance of unfulfilled dreams and time trying to manage my expectations for the rest of my life. I don‘t want to set my sights too high or too low. For me, I know that widowhood brought on this discontent. When I was just living my life with Don I didn’t think about my long-ago unrequited dreams. I didn’t think about my own mortality. I just lived in the moment as much as I could because that worked for me while I was living in a world full of his disabilities where anything and everything could change in a heartbeat. We made the best of life, had happy times and lots of laughs. Now, I feel like I’m wasting time, kind of like George felt at the beginning of the movie when one thing after another got in the way of his making his Great Escape.  Sooner or later I have to quit worrying about the future and learn to live in the moment again. Like George, I have to learn to appreciate the rich life I've had and can still have. It may not have been the life I planned but it's been a good one.  ©

 “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” 
 John Lennon

Monday, December 23, 2013

One Lucky Widow


In my area of Michigan, they are calling this the worse ice storm in ten years. People as close as a mile away are without power. Some of my relatives counties south of here are without power. Can you image spending Christmas in an emergency shelter? If they don’t get the power restored soon, that could easily happen to a lot of people. We have 1,000 out-of-state power workers from as far away as Kansas and the District of Columbia helping us out but high winds and more snow, the weather people are saying, could take out even more power for more people on Wednesday. I’m pretty lucky considering it could be so much worse than being encapsulated in ice the way I’ve been in recent days. But I must admit the isolation that goes along with having everyone trapped inside their houses makes me feel like I’m living in an episode of Lost in Alaska---except for the fact that I have Face Book to confirm that, yes, there will be no White Knight coming to my rescue. All the White Knights riding dog sleds are iced in, too. And the entire kingdom is still without the coveted driveway salt.

The photo above is of my driveway. It took me two days but I was able to get an ice-free path down to my mailbox. Then I ran out of salt and started using oil soak-up---that’s the black stuff you see on top of the ice. Like Kitty-Litter, it gives enough traction so you can walk safer on top of the ice and I also have ice fishing cleats on the bottom of my boots. Still, it makes me nervous, given the condition of my old bones. But I resisted the temptation to shoot myself up with extra doses of Forteo for my osteoporosis before suiting up like a little kid going to a snowball fight. I paced myself. I chipped ice a half hour, went inside and knitted a half hour then I repeated those two activities over and over again from noon to dark.

The retail stores in the area are still out of salt but I got a great surprise when I opened my garage door this morning, thinking I’d do some more chipping away on my driveway ice. Overnight my driveway plower showed up and had salted! I had called him three days ago but he never returned my call so I didn’t expect him to opt me into his salting service this late in the season. It was the best Christmas present I could have gotten. I shut the garage door trusting that the salt would do its work of drilling holes down through the ice and I was feeling much better knowing if I had to leave, I could get back up my driveway when I returned.

When Don and I used to plow snow we had a salting service along with plowing and, boy, did I hate that job even though all I had to do is drive and Don was the one who had to load the 50 pound bags of salt into the spreader. We salted at a large multiplex movie theater and a shopping mall and I could never drive slow enough to suit Don. Anything over five miles an hour had him yelling, “Slow down!”  One time he fell off the tailgate of the truck and I didn’t know it until I’d made an entire pass from one end of the mall and back again where he was waiting for me in the cold. It was so icy that he couldn’t have walked if he had some place to go. I think that happened more than once but I’ll never tell.

Needless to say, I won’t be driving out to my niece’s house in the country for the family Christmas Eve party. She has a generator to keep power in the house, if needed, but my days of winter driving in bad weather conditions are over. I’m sad but okay with missing the party. I’m no longer in pity party mode because I had to miss six of the eight holiday parties/events I had lined up. Winter is winter and you have to expect the unexpected. That’s the breaks. Don’t cry over milk that is still in the carton. Yadda, yadda, yadda. There will be other social events when the weather is better and above all, I’m sitting in a nice warm house with a pretty view out my living room window. I could be fighting over sleeping space on a steam vent in a downtown alley. How on earth do street people survive this kind of weather? I am indeed one lucky widow. ©

My living room view at the back of the house.

Friday, December 20, 2013

The Widow on Icy Lane

West Michigan is encapsulated in a blanket of ice with another ice storm headed our way tomorrow. The tree branches and evergreens are beautiful covered with sparkling icicles but every flat surface is an accident waiting to happen both on foot and in a vehicle. Can you believe it, another social event in my life got canceled because of the weather! That makes three in a row. From the looks of the weather forecast I won’t be going anywhere for at least four days which means I’ll be missing my family’s out-of-town Christmas Eve party as well. Worse than missing the tree display at the sculpture park tomorrow and the party is the fact that I don’t have enough sidewalk salt on hand to melt the ice skating rink that used to be my driveway. On the good side, I have heat, electricity and enough food in the house to last a month. And I’m not sitting in an airport waiting for maintenance to de-ice an airplane.

With too much time on my hands this morning I got myself in trouble at Face Book over the Duck Dynasty controversy. There’s a lesson here for me---stick to my long-ago decision not to get drawn into talking politics, money or religion at the site! But it’s so hard, sometimes, for me to sit on my hands when people agree with things like Phil Robertson’s red neck logic. “Blacks were happier before the Civil Rights Movement,” he said in the same article where he condemned gays. Ya, sure. Living in fear of being lynched for looking at a white woman or being beaten for wanting to vote must have been a lovely way to live back in Jim Crow days. How can so many people actually know so little about American history? The popularity of TV reality shows like Honey Boo Boo, Dance Moms, Duck Dynasty, Jersey Shore and the Kardashians makes me fear for America. Or maybe I really am just “an elitist snob who had been brainwashed by the liberal media.” "Okay. Merry Christmas to you, Face Book friend of a friend," and with that said I went back to my favorite political site where anonymous posting makes it so much easier.

Have you ever clicked on the website called ‘Advanced Style’ in my list of Blogs I Follow (right hand column)? The guy who created the site is from New York City and he goes around photographing women in my peer age group who, in his eyes, are “stylish and creative older folks.” I enjoy looking at the often outlandish and always arty farty outfits some of these women put together. A few outfits I wish I had enough guts to wear while one or two I think border on clownish, especially if you tried to wear them around here in conservative West Michigan. But mainly I’m inspired by the fact that these ladies project confidence and aren’t afraid to show their own personal style. I also like the guy's mission statement of showcasing older women. My style, if you want to call it 'style', is solid colors---mostly black with purple, red, rose or teal blue and a minimum of accessories, if any. I couldn’t afford to dress in their manner with clothing that is so memorable, but since I discovered the site I find myself being inspired to accessorize more often and paying attention to details in a way I haven't down for decades. Tomorrow I’m going to overdose on the site in the morning, then pull everything out of my walk-in closet and rethink what I have, what to purge and what to keep. If I’m going to be iced in for a few days I might as well put the time to good use mining a closet that badly needs to be de-cluttered. I have things in there from 1960, for crying out loud, and more sweatpants and sweatshirts than a professional athlete.  ©

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Techno Overload, La-Z-Boys and Old People Woes

For the past 23 months the only times I’ve sat in the living room was when I had company.  Last week I decided to make the room my own and to take over Don’s La-Z-Boy. I swapped his chair and my uncomfortable chair around, giving me more light to read by and to use my laptop while watching TV. I moved a steamer trunk in to use as a side-table in my new sitting space. It wasn’t wheelchair friendly to have it in the room when Don was alive and it’s been down in the basement since we moved in. I’ve owned the trunk since my teens and it was like greeting an old friend to haul it upstairs. It’s not quite the right color for the room but I threw a quilt sampler over it and the trunk will do until I can refinish it.

That night as I settled down to watch a movie in my newly claimed room the dog was having a fit and wouldn’t stop barking. He usually just stares when he needs to go outside but I thought maybe he was having a “body function” emergency so I vacated the chair and quickly headed for the back door. Levi had other plans. The little snot jumped in the La-Z-Boy I had just vacated and curled himself up for a nap. Levi has been using the La-Z-Boy since Don passed away and I guess he thought he had ownership. Poor baby. We had a little talk and I explained the principle of change and moving on and that he would have to use the davenport from now on. It’s going to take time. Levi is a stubborn dog but I put my foot down about me being the “alpha dog” in the house and if he wants to continue enjoying heat, electric and kibble in his dish he’ll have to comply. Widow's work never seems ends, does it.

Last Friday the cable guy was here all afternoon to install a bundle the includes WiFi, on-demand/HD TV, internet and cable phone---it was one of the reasons for the living room remade, the other being the new bundle is actually going to save me $100 a month to get rid of my old land-line phone and 4G service on my laptop. But all this new tech stuff had my aging brain in overload mode.  Voice mail replaced my old answer machine. Whoopee doo.  Learning how to program this, that and the other thing plus use the apps on my first smart phone and keep them all straight wore me right out. But worst of all is the new remote for on-demand/high definition TV in the living room. It has 57 buttons, replacing a remote with just ten.

Two hours after the cable guy left I had to call customer service because I couldn’t remember how to turn the darn TV on and off---it takes a three button sequencing. The agent on the phone insisted he needed the serial number off the back of the HD box so he could send a ping and he got a little snippy with me when I told him the number wasn’t where he told me it was supposed to be. I bit my tongue to keep from asking him if he talks to his grandmother in that tone of voice. Instead, I hung up, called again to get a different agent who sent a ping without even asking for a serial number. I knew, of course, that a ping wasn’t going to solve my issue but they have their procedure to follow before listening to their customers. When I finally got it through to her that I just needed to be told which buttons to push in what order on the remote, I felt like I was taking part in an Abbot and Costello comedy routine. “Who’s on first?” “Who.” “That’s what I want to know! Who’s on first?” Gone are the days of just walking up to a TV, turning a nob and it works. The installer said all TVs in their cable service will be required to have HD boxes next summer, that everything is going to high definition broadcasting. Oh goodie.

When my dad was in the early stages of Alzheimer’s my brother and I got more calls about his TV remote than anything else. We got so frustrated by having to straighten out his TV that my brother finally put the TV on a timer and I used bits of card-stock to cover over all the buttons he didn’t need and that kept getting him into trouble.  And therein lies the source of my current depression Doctor Freud. Between getting a techno overload and missing the Red Hat party last week because I was afraid to drive in the snow, I’m feeling old and obsolete. Heck, I want to be like the woman in the cartoon up above! I want to feel like I can be tech-savvy enough to embrace whatever comes along.

Today I was supposed to go to another party, at the senior hall, but this time instead of pouting about getting snowed-in I took a look at the long-range weather forecast then I called my niece-in-law and invited her to lunch at the sculpture garden on Saturday.  They have an exhibit of Christmas trees decorated in the traditional customs of 40 counties and I’m excited about seeing it. So wish me luck that the weather forecasters got it right here in West Michigan this the weekend. I need to get out of the funk I’m in! ©

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Widow's Quilt and Tears

After Don’s stroke we had two auctions to downsize our lives---one of Don’s business equipment and collectible stuff that was housed in a large pole barn and one of household stuff, my wedding rental equipment and various stuff we couldn’t take to the one bedroom apartment we had moved into as we waited for our wheelchair accessible house to get built. At the time I had several half-done quilts that sold at auction and I think of those quilts every once in a while, wondering if they ever got finished. Their plight reminds me of my mother. In the year before she died she made a New Year’s Resolution to finish every project she ever started or dreamed of starting. She did things like refinish pieces of furniture she wanted handed down in the family. She finished all her knitting projects and she painted works of art for everyone she cared about. And then she died. It wasn't as if she had advanced warning of her impending death to make her want to finish up the loose ends of her life. She died from something totally unforeseen.

Since the auctions I managed to make another quilt, a queen-sized top that has been waiting ten plus years for me to mate it with its backing. Just before Don died, I had decided to take the quilt top to a long-arm machine quilting service---rather than me finishing up the project by hand---but it still hangs in the closet. I think I’m afraid if it gets finished then I’ll died of something unforeseen like my mom and Don did. Totally irrational thinking I know but, hey, I never claimed to be a sane and clear thinking person.

I’m sitting here feeling sorry for myself because I missed the Red Hat Society Christmas party. I wasn’t willing to drive ten miles on secondary roads, through a winter advisory that included up to six inches of blowing snow. What’s wrong with me? From the mass e-mails going back and forth this morning I was the only one who canceled out. But then again most of the other women live in my adapted home town which is seven miles closer to the party location plus they all have kids/grandchildren who could pull them out of a ditch should they get into trouble. Two days ago there was a forty car pileup near-by and the roads have only gotten worse since then. The odds were high, in my opinion, that my little Malibu would have been in a ditch and I’d miss the party anyway. At times like this I miss having a four wheel drive pickup truck with an orange flasher on top. I felt safe in that vehicle and I was spoiled to have one at my disposal for so many decades. Life changes. We grow old and loss our self-confidence. Well, at least I seem to be losing mine when it comes to winter driving, not that I was ever very brave without my pickup truck.

So what was all that happy crap I wrote about on December 9th--choosing our change? I am sitting here choosing to make myself melancholy thinking about unfinished quilts and my unfinished life and wishing the former could get finished and the latter could go on forever. If I wasn’t so old I’d think I’m having PMS. I’m up one day then down with just a little hiccup in my master plan for making a new life for myself. No party. Boohoo. I should survive the disappointment, don't you think? After missing the party today I had gone out to get my mail and saw that a neighbor had snow-blown my sidewalk. His kindness brought tears to my eyes. I wasn’t looking forward to shoveling all that snow. I don’t know the guy very well but he was the very first neighbor to introduce himself when we moved in and I could tell by the way he always treated my disabled husband that the man has a good heart. Why should this neighbor’s kindness make me weepy today of all days? I know, I’m a woman and women don’t need an excuse for turning into tear factories.

Oh, well, if I’m down today then that means I’ll be up tomorrow….or by Tuesday at the latest. The weather will be better by Tuesday and I have another party to go to that afternoon. This one, within a couple of miles of home. ©

My unfinished quilt that I call "Keeping me Sane" made while we were living in the apartment.

      If you right click on the photo you can open it up in a new window to enlarge it full screen.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

The Widow's Christmas Letter

In my family I have a bit of a reputation for writing self-deprecating Christmas letters. It started on a whim a dozen years ago after I had gotten a holiday letter from an acquaintance who had listed month after month of things like: “In January we spent several glorious weeks on the French Riviera where we ____.” (Fill in the blank and let your imagination run wild when you do. She claimed to have done just about everything a tourist could do and then some.) By the time I got to December my eyes were crossed from reading about her “fabulous” travel adventures, her “fabulous” new house and her “fabulous” fashion finds. I can’t say I was jealous---that’s not in my nature---but I did find the comparison between her life and my newly acquired caregiver life to be laugh-out-loud funny. So I sat down and dashed off a letter that went something like this: In January we were pleased to host a gathering of red cardinals at our bird feeder and in February we were SO excited that we were able to get the oil changed on the Blazer then dine across the street at Burger King.

I sent off copies of that letter to a few people in the family who I knew had a good sense of humor and thus my annual holiday letter was born. My mailing list, since then, has grown every year and I didn’t even miss last year, my first Christmas without Don. I duped that letter’s theme to be: "sharing what I’d learned about widowhood." I won’t reprint the whole thing here but the next paragraph will give you an idea its tone:

“I’ve also learned that many widows have an overwhelming need to review their entire relationship with their dearly departed and to talk endlessly about their suddenly single challenges. And since so many people around us get alarmed (or bored) when we appear to be locked in the past and/or locked in the process of grieving, we either start bottling our words up inside or we talk to ourselves or we write. I did the latter and started an online, public blog/diary titled The Misadventures of Widowhood. Okay, correction aka confession here. If total honesty is required in Christmas letters---and I think it is, Christmas being a holy holiday and all---I’ll have to admit that I also spend a great deal of time talking to myself, to the dog…and to Don’s ghost. Yes, call me a crazy old lady but I do think he’s haunting the house. How else do you explain things like a battery operated candle that sometimes turns itself on and, no, it doesn’t have a sensor eye to activate it. I’ve looked for one a half a dozen times. Maybe a vibration from a truck going by causes the battery and bulb to make contact? I don’t know but why accept logical explanations when ghost guessing is more fun?”

Back to 2013. For contrast and tracking widowhood progress, here’s a short excerpt from the letter I mailed out a few days ago with my Christmas cards, my second holiday season without Don in my life:

“Summer put me in overdrive trying to find a social life that didn’t involve coupon clipping and double checking the thread count in my bed sheets. I went on several day trips through the senior hall where no one really cares where we’re going so long as the bus has an on-board bathroom. I joined the Red Hat Society, the Sculpture Park and Gardens, the Historical Society, several senior hall groups including the Movie and Lunch Club, the Life Enrichment Lecture series and their monthly luncheon/entertainment programs, plus I joined the Crusade Against Injustice for Fruit Flies.”

Christmas letters are a little like "literary fruitcakes." They aren’t everyone’s cup of tea---to write or receive. I don’t blame any first year widow who doesn’t want to send out cards, let alone include notes or letters inside. You have to be true to yourself. If you can’t do it, don’t. But I’m a letter writer by nature and last year I felt like doing a little sneaky educating about the grieving process---at least about MY grieving process. And you know what, I think it made a difference to let my family and friends know that it was perfectly okay to mention Don around me, that I actually craved those conversations. Over this past year, no one treated the topic of Don like an elephant in the room nor did they look at me cross-eyed or with pity if I brought him up like so many other widows report happens to them. And that was a wonderful gift I accidentally gave myself via the power of a widow's Christmas letter. ©

Monday, December 9, 2013

Christmas Year Two on Widowhood Lane: Choose Your Change!

People in the blog community occasionally feed off one another for inspiration or topics to write about. That’s what happen to me recently when I read a post by the “Awkward Widow” titled Sexagenarian. She was sharing some advice from Nancy Alock Hood, a woman who got married for the first time at the ripe old age of 82 years old. Nancy is quoted as saying: “Change happens, so choose your change.” Simple but profound advice, don’t you think? She was talking about embracing change and planning what you want your future days and years to look like in retirement but it could just as easily be applied to the changes that come with widowhood, divorce, disability or the loss of a job. “Choose your change,” I think that’s going to be my new mantra for 2014. I don’t want to be a victim of life just drifting along, I want to be walking to and working towards something besides the grave. That might be tricky to figure out, though, because I never could decide what I want to be when I grow up. The world is a huge smorgasbord of possibilities even though one might say my ‘dessert line’ was closed when Don passed away.

Last year, my first holiday season without my husband, I had invitations for only two holiday related events. This year I had eight although the weather has already prevented me from going to a lighting ceremony for members only at the sculpture park and a potluck at the historical society. Two other parties I’ve already attended and of the four remaining parties I’ll be lucky if I don’t get snowed out of two because they are both out of town---the two I want to go to the most, my family’s annual Christmas Eve party at my niece’s and a Red Hat Society party.

Sunday I went to a family party on my deceased husband’s side of the family. Aside from the fact that’s its really weird calling Don “my deceased husband” which I’ve noticed myself doing in public lately, I was the second oldest person at the party. Of the thirty-seven people attending only two of us were old enough to collect Medicare. Talk about weird! It was weird looking around the room knowing that half the people there I’ve known since birth and the other half I’ve watched grow up from their teen years. But I feel at home with my husband’s family. They have always been warm and accepting of me both before and after Don died which, sadly, isn’t always the case for all widows. Invitations to in-law events dry up or a widow feels out of place.

On the way home from the party one of my great-nephew’s in-laws stopped over to complete a trade we’d worked out earlier in the week. He drilled a hole in a bookcase for me that I’ll need to pass a plug through when the cable guy comes on Thursday and I gave him a 1975 original watercolor that Don treasured. It was of a wooded scene with a deer standing at alert. This nephew had gone hunting with his dad and Don several times when he was a teen and Don always prided himself on teaching both of them about hunters safety, good hunting ethics and a love of the woods. Then after Don’s stroke the great-nephew became a guide for Don when he took part in Michigan’s first disabled deer hunt and camp. (It’s no small feat to get wheelchair bound guys out in the woods but this group of dedicated volunteers has been doing it for 7-8 years now.) The new proud owner of the watercolor just lost his grandfather a week ago and he had hunted with him for many times as well and his eyes got a little misty when I gave him the painting. It’s a good feeling to give things away that you know will have special meaning to others. Widow’s work like this never seems to end. Just when you think it has, another opportunity presents itself.

For 2013 my mantra for the year was one word---bravery---and I even bought a cowardly lion necklace to wear when I was going someplace alone and scary for the first time. It’s served me well this past year and I think my mantra for 2014 will do the same. Whenever I seem to be floundering and not sure of what I want to be when I grow up I’m going to repeat to myself: “choose your change” until I actually remember that I am controlling my own strings and I can transform my life into whatever I want. What about you? Do you think you can choose your change...or do you feel like the past is still controlling your strings? ©

The Watercolor

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Widows and Homeless People

It amazes me sometimes, the things some people assume about others they don’t know very well. Recently an acquaintance---when she found out I don’t have any children---said to me, “I’ll bet you really enjoy giving your nieces and nephew gifts. A childless friend of mine,” she went on, “sends her nieces and their families on nice trips every year. Do you do things like that?”

“Well, no,” I replied. “I’m more security conscious than that. I’m more concerned about having enough money to take care of myself until I die, since no one else is legally or morally obligated to do it. When I’m gone then they can have what’s left.”

“That’s interesting,” the woman said before we both got distracted by the speaker we’d come to hear.

Interesting? What the heck did that mean? Was I deemed a selfish aunt who, unlike her friend, doesn’t want to see the “young’un” enjoy themselves in Hawaii on my dime? Well, excuse me, but I’d rather make sure I don’t have to eat cat food or live in a cardboard box in the last few years of my life. Interesting? I can’t get that word out of my head. The mating habits of octopus are interesting. The way gravity works is interesting. But a middle class widow who doesn’t want to give away her nest egg is just using boring, old common sense.

I thought about this odd conversation today on my way home from a Red Hat Society work day where we packed dozens of plastic shoeboxes for homeless veterans---throw-away razors, socks, gloves, hats, tooth brushes and paste, tissues, Wipes, crackers and cheese, hand cream, jerky sticks, fingernail files, paper and pens, waterless hand cleaner, puzzle books, combs, etc. etc. What a scary and unpleasant thing it must be to live on the streets, especially in the dead of winter. I thank the gods of good medical insurance for the fact that I’m not living out of a shopping cart. When I was hanging around the stroke and language disorders support communities I heard plenty of horror stories from people who lost everything when their health went south.

Back to the suburbs and our nice, warm houses. Packing the shoeboxes was actually a crazy kind of fun. We collected a mountain of stuff between the 18 ladies who showed up for the work party. And I was enormously relieved to learn that people from a veteran’s affairs office will be distributing the boxes for us. I couldn’t quite picture myself all dressed up my Red Hat garb--- red coat, purple beads and broad brimmed hat that would catch in wind---crawling underneath snowy viaducts looking for homeless men, or going down to the soup kitchen at line-up time and trying to sort the homeless veterans out from the rest of men without walls and windows to call their own. And why do we discriminate in the first place? Is there a pecking order among the homeless that I don’t know about? Sadly, I suppose there is.

After our box packing work was done, a few of the ladies got to talking about the movie, Last Vegas, and how much they enjoyed it. The storyline is about four old dudes who decide to “stop acting their age and relive their glory days” according to IMDb. (Don’t you just love how IMDb can sum up an entire movie with so few words?) Anyway, the next thing I knew someone was looking up the movie schedule on their smart phone and making plans to see it on the way home. I want to see the movie badly but I was afraid of the fog that was rolling in and the distance I’d have to drive in it after the movie let out, so I passed on the opportunity to tag along. But I like how this group of ladies roll. ©

Monday, December 2, 2013

Is It Just Me?

I haven’t even gotten my new smart phone in the mail yet and already I’m having fun with it. I’m planning the apps I want to download. I’d bet the farm you don’t know I can get pothole alerts for my county or that I can get my daily panda twins fix from the Atlanta Zoo. They have apps for that. Isn't that cool! Of course, I’m getting the normal downloads as well---CNN, Flashlight, Calendar, Maps, the local weather station and the grocery store apps, Kindle, Facebook, Barcode Reader and Instagram. My great niece is expecting a  baby in the spring and she will only post pictures on Instagram where, she says, others out in cyberspace can’t grab your photos, so I will have her to thank (or curse) if I get hooked on that app. Can you believe that over my lifetime we went from waiting 10-11 days for a letter or photograph to come from across the country to being able to get a message or photo in seconds? It makes you wonder what impact all this is having on young people just coming into the world. Will it give new meaning to the words, “he’s got a short fuse?” How is anyone going to learn patience in our modern age of easy communication and over-night or drone shipping?

I wrote my Christmas letter yesterday and now I need to reconstruct my mailing list in the new computer. When my old computer crashed a couple of months ago I upgraded from the Office Home Edition 2000 to Office Business Edition 2013 so I’m not looking forward to figuring out how to build my first mailing list, then merge it with labels. In a worst case scenario I can always hand write the addresses and make the Emily Posts of the world happy at the same time. Are there people left in the world who still care about proper etiquette? I’m told a lot of schools no longer teach cursive writing. Without their handheld devices and computers the kids of the future will be just as illiterate as the masses were in the 1700s. Even my nephew-in-laws say he can’t read cursive and he’s pushing forty. Someday the ability to read (and write) cursive handwriting will become a specialty skill only seen in professors at the highest institutes of learning as cursive writing goes the way of buggy whips and candle trimmers. Man that makes me feel old when I think about how much time we spent in grade school learning how to write between the two solid lines with the broken line in between.

Today I went to a program at the senior hall billed as Holiday Spirit and Fellowship and when I pulled up I found myself parked in between to a bright yellow Volkswagen and a clear green Escape. They made me wish I was driving a red car. You know how everyone seems to have a friend who can take the most benign statements and turn them into a sexual innuendo? Well, that’s me with colors. I see a green and yellow car parked alongside one another and I see two-thirds of a traffic signal. Ah, yes, I have several unmarketable quirks like that. One of which is spending entirely too much time wondering if all old people feel too young to be hanging out with people in our own peer group. Or it is just me? Why do we all have to look so gray and dated, so fragile? Who took the bounce out of our steps, the sparkle out of our eyes and left us singing Christmas Carols as the highlight of our week?

Everyone was ever so careful picking out their sugar laden, no caffeine treats during intermission. So demure and civilized---“Here, dear, take a napkin.” Except me, I was trying to figure out if our outside packages truly matches our personalities. Where was that woman who mooned people on a bus trip and the other glam gal who dresses like she belongs in old Hollywood? Where was that woman who waltzes into the room leading her husband on an invisible leash? I wanted see a red, green and yellow traffic signal, I wanted to see a crazy character hidden underneath a 20 year old Christmas sweater.  And when I took the time to look, they were all there...hiding in plain sight, waiting for just the right time to turn their red lights to green and let the good times roll. Sometimes we get so self-absorbed worrying about fitting in that we don’t see the seeable.

Is it just me? Heck, no!  Now, what was the question? ©