Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

In January of 2012 my soul mate of 42 years passed away after nearly 12 years of living with severe disabilities due to a stroke. I survived the first year after Don’s death doing what most widows do---trying to make sense of my world turned upside down. The pain and heartache of loss, my dark humor, my sweetest memories and, yes, even my pity parties are well documented in this blog.

Now that I’m a "seasoned widow" the focus of my writing has changed. I’m still a widow looking through that lens but I’m also a woman searching for contentment, friends and a voice in my restless world. Some people say I have a quirky sense of humor that shows up from time to time in this blog. Others say I make some keen observations about life and growing older. I say I just write about whatever passes through my days---the good, bad and the ugly. Comments welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Blinders, Isolation and Needing Help

A friend of mine is in the hospital recuperating from back surgery. He’s dealt with pain for many years and finally he decided to bite the bullet and do something about it. His doctor told him he’d be up walking and back home the next day. At least that is what my friend heard the doctor say. Whether or not that’s what he actually said is anyone’s guess. There’s a reason why they tell you to bring someone along when you talk to a surgeon. I’m guessing my friend heard the best case scenario and let the rest go right over his head. It’s been a week now and my friend is in a rehab hospital, fighting mad and angry at the doctor for “lying to him.” When I asked him if his pain is any less than it was before the surgery he says it is, and they don’t have him on any pain medications to explain the change, but he still claims he wishes he hadn’t gone through with the whole thing. And this is coming from a guy who is usually pretty logical. He hates hospitals, having spent many, many months in one as a kid, and I’m afraid he’s letting his anger at having to stay in one now keep him from getting the most out of rehab. Why is it so easy to see what others are doing wrong but when it comes to ourselves, we have blinders on?

My friend’s situation made me wonder what parts of my own life I wear blinders in, where things aren’t really the way I think they are. There are probably others, but I’ve narrowed down the main issues in my life where that is happening to my feelings of isolation and worrying about not having back up in an emergency---both common widow and old people woes. But when I’m forced to be honest with myself I have to acknowledge that I have nieces and nephews on both sides of the family, and one very close friend, who would help me in a worst case scenario. I’m the problem. The classic, “it’s me, not them” because I’m the one who is too proud to ask for help should I need it. I’m so used to handling everything that life can throw at me that it feels like weakness or signs of aging that I might not be able to get myself out of any given situation. When my husband was alive we were each other's back up until his stroke. Even after that I didn’t feel weak or old when people helped us in the months after that catastrophic event. In my mind they were helping him, the social butterfly the favorite uncle. False impressions are hard to let go. They were helping us both---the bookends, the matched set.

As for feelings of isolation, on the rare occasions when I call a relative and suggest an outing they seem happy that I asked. And I’ll bet most people can say the same thing about their family. One of my favorite sayings when people complain that no one in their family ever calls them is, “The phone lines run in both directions.” (And, boy, that saying is getting dated fast with cellphones taking over the world.) So why do I sometimes get overwhelmed with feelings of isolation? I don’t blame other people for those feelings. I blame myself for not picking up the phone. With family, part of the issue is we know what is going on in their busy lives and we don’t want to bother them. At least that is true for me. Nieces and nephews are the filling in The Sandwich---the ones with kids and parents, and in some case even grandchildren and grandparents, all vying for their time. I never had kids or grand-kids but I sure know what it’s like to have parents that need help. Been there, done that. The Sandwich Generation have a lot on their plates.

So instead of curing my isolation with those I care the most about, I try to fill my time up with acquaintances at the senior hall and Red Hat Society ---places where you could fall off the face of the earth and no one would notice except for your name printed in the ‘send prayers’ column of the newsletters. The very first person who made me feel welcome at the senior hall's Movie and Lunch Club, shortly after Don passed away, died this winter from complications from a minor surgery. Life is short. The reminders of that are everywhere where old people gather. And maybe that explains why we all have a good time together but we don’t really make much of an effort to take it to the next level and form closer friendships? Nope, most of the people I’ve met at the senior hall and Red Hats seem content to just be widows and/or seniors looking for group fun and my new favorite word, “enrichment.”

I’ve been having trouble finding an ending for this post and before I knew it I had a chocolate pudding in my hand…not the kind that comes in little plastic tubs. No, this pudding was homemade and filled a footed, antique goblet which makes it harder to overlook the calories you just consumed. Why? Because you can’t put the goblets in the dish washer, so as you’re washing them by hand you have time to think about how the pudding became a comfort food in the first place. I love chocolate pudding and the memories that goes with eating it out of the same, sentimental dish my mom used for pudding. Most of the time those goblets sit in the cupboard waiting to be needed and that grounds me to a happier, carefree time in my life. And despite wearing blinders from time to time, I know my family will also be there if I need a different kind of comfort or help. I should get that tattooed on my arm so I don’t forget. Maybe just a discreet little, “They Care” would do the trick.  ©


  1. I agree with picking up the phone and talking! I hesitate because people are busy and often feel email is better because they can read it (or not) at their leisure. But I have discovered most people WELCOME a call ... or text ... or email. OR ... an invitation! We are ALL in this same boat. While I don't get invited over for a meal as often as I entertain others in my home, it IS a lot of work and if you don't enjoy cooking ... well, it's all work. Plus expense. I'm getting better about meeting for coffee or happy hour or eating out.

    Comfort and help. It's the hardest thing to ask. But I know I usually feel "honored" when someone asks me. I save up all my handyman stuff then ask Bob or Chico or Brent if they would have time to do my "honey do" list. And then I pay them. Not much and they usually refuse, so then I get them gift cards.

    A group here in Maui have formed mainly to BE A SUPPORT SYSTEM to each other. Mostly elder singles. They are assigned a "buddy" and call each morning ... and talk for ten minutes or so. Just so you know your body wouldn't be lying flat on the kitchen floor for three weeks before someone checked on why they hadn't seen Levi!! I'm going to organize one for the condo complex.

    We alone girls have to stick together!

    1. Wow, that Support System is a great idea. I love how pro-active you are by being willing to start one on the mainland! I will have to suggest it to the senior hall director. She is always looking for ways to add services to the center. With my smart phone I can pay $5.00 a month to get a service that calls every day but I think it's an auto call that if you don't answer it calls someone in your family.

      After writing this blog, I called a niece-in-law and we are meeting for desert on Friday. She's been bored and feeling isolated, too, with all our bad weather keeping us inside.

      I agree about texting. I have more contact with my nieces and nephew now that I text and with all the negative things said about Facebook it's still a good way to interact with the younger generations.

  2. I do guess we have our blind spots. I can see interpreting frequency of phone calls to us as an indication how much somebody wants us in their lives. Yet, I have one sibling who is visibly enthusiastic about my visits. He isn't one to pick up the phone though. So much for that social cue. I guess if we're in our right minds we head where we're welcome.

    Interesting observation you make about contemporaries, including us, refraining from bonding. Maybe we get worn out by life. It takes a lot to be someone who can lift others' spirits and be a playmate.

    Yes, it is important to bring someone along to take notes when taking a big step medically. In my case my friend heard my shoulder surgery would leave me in good shape in six weeks when the cast came off, turning a deaf ear to the 9 months to a year of rehab part. I was more realistic than he!

    1. "Head where we're welcome." I love that phrase. Smart people would always do that, wouldn't we/they?

      I do think there is something to the idea of refraining from bonding because subconsciously we don't want to face another loss. I know I'll never want to date again for that reason and because I don't want chance being a caregiver again. On the dating score, I know you feel the opposite. Bonding does take a lot of work and more power to you if you're up to the challenge.

  3. Years ago, a psychotherapist asked me how I feel when other people ask me to do help them. I explained that it makes me feel good, that I like helping people. To which she replied, "Explain to me again why you want to keep other people from having that good feeling by helping you?" It was the lightbulb moment that she intended.
    The "support buddy" calling system seems like a great idea. One of my friends checks in with her brother in another state by text message every morning. In one rural Maine town, the police department offers this service. Isolated rural elders call the 911 dispatcher to check in every morning between certain hours. If they haven't called in by the appointed time, a police car cruises by their house and checks on them. The local police chief explained that their 911 dispatcher is already on the payroll and isn't usually kept super-busy with emergency calls and that many people in their rural town live a mile or more from their nearest neighbor. -Jean

    1. Wow, that is a light bulb moment set of questions that psychotherapist asked you! I will have to remember that. It's funny how one simple idea can change long-held views.

      I had one of those light bulb moments curiosity of a professor who taught a course called Women in Transition, a class I took when I went back to college many years after I started it. I had said I felt like a failure because I never stuck with stuff. I'd get bored as soon as I got really good at whatever I did and quit. She said, "that's because you're fascinated with the process, not the end result" and the trick, she said, is to match that up with a profession that is always presenting new challenges. That light bulb moment lifted years of guilt off my shoulders and I think of the professor often. She changed my life.

      What a quaint little town you're moving to where the police have a call in system like that.

  4. I too have the sin of pride--its a genetic thing. Our family was the one that helped everyone else, but never asked for help. When my Daddy had open heart surgery in May of the 80th year of his life, he was actually embarrassed when neighbor farmers on their tractors and planters came to put in his corn crop. I always feel I have to do it all on my own.

    1. My folks never asked for help either, they were the ones who gave it to a lot of people. So by genetics or example I think we come by our pride honesty.

      My husband's farmer were farmers and had the same thing happen when his dad got sick. Farmers are the best at helping each other.

  5. We have this conversation from time to time. We still have each other, but our friends and family are dwindling, at least the ones who would kick in to help for awhile if we really needed such help. It's something to think about.

    Your friend reminds me of my brother when he had a hip replacement. He argued with his doctor that he should be allowed to go home. Finally, exasperated, the doctor said, "You cannot go home until you can walk to that door." My crazy brother got up and walked to the door. He almost passed out from the pain. Like your friend, he cannot stand hospitals or other places of confinement. I couldn't believe he visited me in the hospital last year and stayed for a couple of hours. Unbelievable! I think he was afraid I was dying. :)

    1. I just talked to my friend on the phone and he has calmed down a lot, still not willing to do everything they want him to do (OT and see the social worker) but at least now he knows he's in a good place to work on therapy.

      Your brother is classic...walking out with that much pain. I've seen that in guys before. :)