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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Antiques, Art and Soap Suds

October 15th my lease will be up in the antique mall where I’ve had a booth this past year and since they are going out of business before the end of the year, I wanted to move out before we get into the unpredictable cool, wet and windy weather of fall. I could have stayed for a 50% reduction in rent but instead I spent a crazy long Monday packing stuff and wheeling and dealing with a friend (the son I wish I had) who used his truck to help me move all my things home. I gave him a 1940s coin operated motel radio/night stand for the use of his truck and he was elated. (I hope his wife feels the same way when he brings it home.) We never had the key to the coin box so he took the piece to a locksmith to see if they can make a new one. Part of the thrill of old things like that is the mystery of not knowing if you’ll find a rare coin inside. I hope he does. Then I traded him a hot fudge dispenser from a 1950s soda fountain for a set of snow shoes to go with my Adirondack backpack basket, circa 1900. He’s been lusting after the dispenser all summer and I’ve been lusting after the snow shoes. Bartering makes us both happier than exchanging cash. Most antique dealers are like people giving away a litter of puppies; we like to know when something has found a good home.

Moving out day I also sold a lighted showcase to a guy who will use it to display his hood ornament collection which turned out to be one of those happy/sad sales. Happy that a showcase I’ve always liked will be used in a way my husband would have wholehearted love and sad because the decision to sell it signifies a formal acknowledgement that I’ll never have a booth in a mall again. Having a booth when I no longer own a truck isn’t a good mix which is just a cop-out excuse so I don’t have to admit I’m getting too old to work that hard. All totaled this was my fifth booth and it was the least prestigious mall of all of them. Before my husband’s stroke we were in one of the biggest and busiest antique malls in the state---over 200 dealers all in one beautiful, well managed building. Those days were fun. The mall would throw huge Christmas parties for their dealers and customers to co-mingle and they’d have annual outdoor swap meets in the summers with pig roasts to feed us all. The owners also had an auction service and we’d often go to them as well. We sure accumulate a lot of memories in one life time, don’t we?

Tuesday I shifted gears and went to the senior hall to: 1) To hear a lecture on our city’s free public outdoor art, and 2) to register so I can vote in the world’s largest art competition hosted here in town. Art Prize, as our 19 day art competition extravaganza is called, is giving away $560,000 in prize money this year, half as jury selections by a panel of experts and half awarded by popular, public vote. (Ten cash prizes in all.) This year there are 1,536 entries that came in from all over the world. You never know what someone will call art. The most controversial piece this year is a collection of silhouettes of armed men standing on the tops of buildings downtown…totally creeps me out but the experts put it on their short list. I took the tour bus down last year to see the top 25 that resulted from the first round of voting but this year I’m having too much knee pain to get on and off the bus twenty-five times in two hours. Boo-hoo! (An appointment with my orthopedic doctor is coming soon to check on the knee replacement he did seven years ago.)

The guy with the deep pockets who has $560,000 to give away is the son of one of the co-founders of a local business that made their money making laundry soap. You guessed it, there’s big money in selling soap via a method that was once investigated for being a pyramid scheme. The Federal Trade Commission ruled in the company's favor, though, because the company had a little known policy of buying back unsold products. In a true pyramid scheme distributors are stuck with what they can’t sell. Still, everyone who lived in this area when they were first growing their business knew someone with a basement full of unsold soap. And you couldn’t go anywhere without a friend or relative popping their trunk open to try to sell you laundry soap or to try to talk you into becoming a distributor so they could become millionaires like the recruiting seminars promised to those who worked hard at bringing others into the pyramid. The company was, however, found guilty of “making exaggerated income claims” and they were ordered to stop but they violated that order several times and paid some hefty fines. Just think, I met the co-founders of that company back when we were still all single and all they had was a pyramid scheme---I mean a pyramid dream of getting rich. Hummm…maybe I should have titled this blog entry, Lost Opportunities to Marry a Future Billionaire. ©

Here's a taste of Art Prize 2013
2014 Art Prize but the 2013 video is better done. 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Do Elderly Widows Think too Much?

A fellow blogger, Judy over at Onward and Upward, wrote a piece titled Yearning.  She longs to move her mobile home to a place on a farm that’s been in her family for six generations and where she, herself had lived for 21 years of her life. It’s a beautiful dream but it got me to thinking about daydreams and yearnings and if fulfilling these kinds of Thomas Wolf (You Can’t go Home Again) dreams would even make us happy. As I wrote in her comment section, part of longing to move back to a particular place involves moving back to the people and times that made the place so special and that part really isn't possible. The people are gone and we're no longer those young, full-of-life and hope individuals we were when we lived there.  For me, that place is the cottage of my youth, the place where all my best memories of growing up reside. Spending hours on and in the water, walks to the store several miles away for ice cream, building forts in the woods, horseback riding and Saturday night movies in an open field with families lounging on blankets---I had an idyllic childhood where it was easy to tell the bad guys from the good guys by the color of their hats.

Don’t you think most of us have a place like that in our minds, a place we can go that gives us comfort? We let our dreams and yearnings drift back in time to when our days were uncomplicated and not tainted by the realities of life. Though unfortunately in the real world there are some individuals who grew up way too fast and never had that idyllic time in life. I’ve known kids who were sexually and mentally abused who never knew unconditional parental love that so many of us growing up took for granted. One of those kids committed suicide in his twenties, several of his siblings grew up to live the life that was modeled for them. They were saplings twisted in the winds of sickness and that sickness begot more sickness.

Years ago I read something about how people survived the brutalities of prison camps and the one thing that still stands out in my mind today was the claim that people with long, happy childhoods were more resistant when it came to recovering after their imprisonment than those who didn’t. Why? Because while they were imprisoned they knew there was a better life for them somewhere, someday and they had daydreams of happier days to fall back on. They had hope whereas the people who had bad childhoods full of pain and abuse had no default place in their brains where they could get a respite from the harshness of their day-to-day existence.  Ever since then I’ve come to view day-dreaming of places and times past as sort of an adult pacifier. We go in our heads to places that give us peace.  And as I get older I wonder if maybe that’s where Alzheimer’s people go in their heads only they just forget to come back. Ya, I know that’s a simplistic way to look at a terrible disease. Alzheimer’s is about the degeneration of brain cells or neurons, but it gives me comfort to be simplistic when thinking about that boogieman place that scares the heck out of all of us as we age.

Back to Judy and her yearning, I also told her in the comment section that I think sometimes it's better that we don't get the object of yearning because then the dream can remain perfect and continue to be a place of refuge that we can go in our minds when we need the comfort it provides for us. If we truly were able to move back to our ancestral homes so late in life, for example, the reality would come with problems and changes we might not like, then we'd have no place of comfort to think back on when we need it the most. Have you guessed by now that I’m the queen of justifying anything that must be accepted as impractical or out of the question?

Aside from his classic You Can’t go Home Again title that has been quoted thousands of times since Thomas Wolfe wrote the book in 1940, he also penned these words: “This is man, who, if he can remember ten golden moments of joy and happiness out of all his years, ten moments unmarked by care, unseamed by aches or itches, has power to lift himself with his expiring breath and say: 'I have lived upon this earth and known glory!'" Ten golden moments. I’ve never made a list of my ten golden moments but that sounds like a great project. It would give me ten glorious places for my mind to wonder if I’m ever confined to one of those dreaded nursing homes. I could make up ten queue cards for my nieces to use for when they visit---no one ever called me a woman without a plan---and if I appear as if I’m in another world maybe by using the cards they can bring me back long enough for me to tell them I love them or to quote the country song Kathy Mattea made populate about an elderly couple. The woman in the song had lost her memory but late one night just before she passed away her husband came to visit and amazingly she said: "Where've you been? I’ve looked for you forever and a day. Where've you been?”  ©

Friday, September 26, 2014

Visiting the Cemetery

I was in my husband’s home town a lot this past week so I popped into the cemetery to---to do whatever it is we widows do while visiting a gravesite. I still haven’t figured out why we go. It’s not like Don is there, buried six feet under. Part of his ashes are but his ashes are all over the place: on the shores of Lake Michigan, in the winds over a ghost town he loved, along a nature trail, in our back yard, in a river that runs through town, in a locket, and in a four inch high, boxed urn tucked in a bookcase. I was a regular Johnny Appleseed when it came to spreading his ashes. I had to make myself stop coming up with places where I thought his ghost would like to roam. And I’m still surprised I didn’t find a way to ship some of his ashes out west to the mountains in Colorado, his favorite place on earth. I was on a mission that spring after he died. I told myself it was a mission to please him but I suspect I was just making sure I had places to visit Don that didn’t involve going to a gated community full of dead people. But you've got to admit, Don is now part of the Classic Elements: Earth, Air, Water and Fire and there is something poetic and eternal about that.

The cemetery is a pretty one full of trees and hills and they don’t restrict the height of the stones like so many places do. Don picked out the plot himself, based on the fact that his life-long friend and his wife bought the lots next door. Party time when we all join him there, I guess. That thought tickled Don’s sense of humor. This week, I did not expect to see the stone with our names on it so overgrown! Vegetation covered up half the surface since I’d been there earlier this year. It made me sad, mad and embarrassed that I hadn’t check on it sooner. I didn’t have any tools with me but I pulled out what I could, unearthing a nest of angry ants in the process. I tried but couldn’t ignore the ‘yuck factor’ the ants brought to the experience. Ants will take over the world….or so I’ve heard and now I have proof.

I stopped by my sister-in-laws house while I was out and about and we got on the topic of burial verse cremation. She wants to be buried and I said, “I don’t care what they do so long as they make sure I’m really dead first.” But I am getting cremated and my box of ashes will reside down with Don’s and the ants. Yuck, yuck, yuck! Have I mentioned YUCK! I don’t like ants. She doesn’t want her kids to spend a penny more on her funeral than she spent on her husband’s funeral and I said, “Considering how long ago he died and how much longer you can live you’re going to get buried in a cardboard box! Prices go up.” She laughed as I knew she would. My sister-in-law has been a presence in my life longer than my husband was at this point in time. How strange the math gets after someone dies. I’m now older than my husband was. He’s like one of those butterflies that got trapped in amber for all eternity. My memories of him are fossilized and grow yellow with age, perfectly preserved with no chance of growing in numbers. Maybe that’s why we widows go to cemeteries? We need to polish the amber from time to time, to see where we’ve been to know where we’re going. We give an accounting at the gravestone, ticking off on our fingers our widowhood accomplished. Hey, Don are you listening? Am I doing okay? Are you doing okay? What do you think about the classes I took? As I said these things in my head, I felt like Little Orphan Annie searching for her lost past and future all rolled into one. If only that were possible for widows like it is for orphans searching for their birth parents.

The trees at the cemetery are entering their show-off mode. Some people love the fall color palette---the yellows, browns, oranges and golds---but it’s my least favorite. It signals change and effects my moods in a negative way, says the woman who wouldn’t eat orange foods until I was over forty. Years ago I took a class on Color Psychology where I learned it wasn’t just in my head, there are physiological reactions to colors which explains why they don’t use orange in the psycho wards. Interior designers know this. People who create commercials know this but what does all this color talk have to do with a widow going to a cemetery? Not much. I just got sidetracked thinking about how much easier it is to visit in the spring when the promise of renewal is palatable in the air we breathe, when the crabgrass hasn’t claimed the stones and the ants are still hibernating underground. Out of sight, out of mind.

I didn’t cry while I was at the cemetery but I chocked up as I drove through the gates to go home. I could feel the tears behind my eyes begging to spill out. But I told them, “NO!” I am woman! I am strong and I will forge a new life for myself even if I die trying. ©

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Robert Frost and the Prima Donna

I volunteered to work at a fund raiser auction, and two half days this week I helped put together gift baskets full of donated goods which will be auctioned off. (An additional volunteer day will come on Friday to help move items from storage to the silent auction and live auction sites.) This was my second year helping on the basket project but I don’t think there will be a third. I discovered I have a low tolerance for making creative decisions by committee. My fellow volunteers were lovely people but I spent twenty years of my work life designing bouquets and backdrops for weddings, holidays and elegant parties. I have a degree in art and a great sense of scale, balance and color and it drove me crazy that every basket and cellophane bag size and every tissue paper filler and ribbon color decision we made had to be a collaboration. Lest you think I was being an artsy fartsy prima donna, I wasn’t. I wore my go-along-to-get-along persona. I oohed and awed in all the right places, knowing I could have done the work in half the time if left to my own devices or if we’d done the baskets assembly line style like we did last year. More than a few times I had to listen to my mother’s voice in my head saying, “If that’s the worst thing you’ve got to complain about, you’ve got it pretty good.” She was a smart lady.

Ohmygod! Now that I think about it maybe I really was an artsy fartsy prima donna if I had to give myself that Mother Lecture! Ooookay, I'll have to think on that some more but if I was being an in-the-closet artsy fartsy prima donna at least on the outside I was the Queen of Go-Along-to-Get-Along Land where I’ve resided most of my life. No wonder I don’t have many friends. I’m so fake and phony I’m surprised I don’t get arrested for impersonating a human being. Robot Lady says what ever you want to hear if her tactful little hints don't work the first time out.

Changing Topics: When a shirt-tail friend found out I’m taking a class on metaphors, she remarked, “I think it’s great that you’re taking up writing at this late date in your life.” I didn’t know how to response to that so I lamely replied, “Me, too.” I felt like an old dog being petted and praised for learning a ‘new trick’ that I’d actually known how to do all along. Though the ‘Fun with Metaphors’ Olli class is writing related, it’s so much more. This week’s class was a series of quality conversations and my classmates have a rich collection of life experiences to share. Sometimes I feel like a chimney sweep when they get to talking about their world travels. Ya, l’ve been to those tiered rice fields in the Orient---in my head. I’ve seen the Heidelberg Castle in Germany---in an International Geographic Magazine. Africa? Isn’t that the place where the elephants have their own mud spas?  Our class time went by too quickly as we talked about common metaphors like “it takes a village” “America is a melting pot” “life is a box of chocolates" and “life is a journey.” Tons of interesting topics came to the surface as the professor asked questions like, “Is there truth in the metaphor for you? Why or why not.” We ever talked politics which pleased me right down to my toenails that need a manicure soon or my shoes will no longer fit.

We also spent time in class discussing Robert Frost’s The Road Not Taken and the professor made a comment about how different our observations were from when she teaches that poem to high school students. She laughed when she told about a student who read the poem in her high school graduation speech. I remember studying The Road Not Taken way back in my teens and now as an adult I don’t see how anyone that young could truly understand what Frost was saying. It’s not a credo for nonconformists as so often the poem is presented. It’s far more ambiguous than that. Who knew…except for the bunch of adults who just took part in a metaphors class? ©

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I —
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.