Welcome to the Misadventures of Widowhood blog!

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

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Comfort Foods and Bitchy Wives

I hate to admit this but the more I purge stuff in the garage, the more I eat. Comfort foods have been my down fall since---well, it’s all my mother’s fault and don’t we all know it---which means its back to diet rehab I go. For me, that means tracking every single thing that goes in my mouth. I do my tracking at Everyday Health but there are other websites that care about your calorie intake and will “yell” at you when you go over that they say you need. When my eating gets out of control, it’s the only thing that is successful in pulling me back. I track for a few days without making any changes just to prove what I already know---that I truly am out of control---before I start cutting back to the 1,000 calories they say I need. Breakfast: Protein shake 230 calories, ½ cup of blueberries 43, cream in my coffee 35. Yup, it’s not even noon and already I’m 35 calories into Bad Girl Land.

Purging stress aside, sorting Don’s stuff in the garage can be entertaining at times. He was Mr. Disorganized and he loved tiny items (think things under the size of a pack of cigarettes) and when he’d come home from a flea market or antique mall, he’d throw his little treasures in plastic shoe boxes with no rhyme or reason for what he threw in together. When a box was full, he’d get another one started. Last night in front of the TV I sorted a box and I found a rolled-up bumper sticker that read: “Honk if You Slept With Clinton.” That made me laugh right out loud. But the most fascinating thing I found was a gold, telescoping mechanical pencil the size of a sewing thimble when it was closed and six inches long when it was open. I spent some time speculating it was designed for a spy to use to write down the launch codes to a missile in France that was aimed at Russia. I tested a few other scenarios because every object in Don’s ‘treasure boxes’ has a story to tell but this one is being very closed-lipped about its past adventures. I tried to research telescoping pencils but all I got was jealous because I found one with a built-in ruler on the side. Still, mine should go for between $45 and $110 on e-Bay, if past sales are any indication. 

I got a much needed haircut on Monday. I can’t believe that since last winter I went from worrying I’d be bald in a year to having too much hair by the end of July---thank you thyroid meds for putting an end to my nasty hair loss trend. My hairdresser actually did some thinning of my hair and that hasn’t happened in a long time. If I had jet black hair, the asymmetrical pixie cut she gave me would look totally Gothic, bangs cut short on one side and going long by the time they get to the opposite side ear. Some ironing required. I love to iron my hair; it’s a newly acquired skill. I’ve got naturally curly hair so I’m fascinated that with a little “spray starch” and heat I can be Gothic straight and spiky. At least in the front where I can reach.

Tuesday the senior hall had its annual ice cream social compliments of a local dairy that donates their products. I don’t even want to talk about what Everyday Health thought about that indiscretion in Bad Girl Land. Ice cream is a big-time comfort food in my Book of Sins and it’s one of the reasons I’m at Everyday Health again. Yes, I confess I recently discovered Breyers Tiramisu Gelato. Good-bye, Gelato! We had a lovely love affair while it lasted. That will be ten Hail Mary’s and a salad.  

Anyway, at the ice cream social the same three piece band played as last year. Think Grizzly Adams on the keyboard, Don Knotts on the drums and an emaciated Bob Hope on the guitar. The lead singer told that same old people jokes as last year and I’m pretty sure they played all the same songs as well. It didn’t matter. Their Duke Ellington, Frank Sinatra, Michael Buble`, Elvis, and Johnny Cash were well done and the southern gospel they mixed in were all well-received sing-alongs.

At one point, though, before the band started I accidentally earned the scorn of a bitch-wife. These events seat 110 people at tables of twenty-four and near-by me was a couple. When a server came around to offer a second scoop of ice cream the man in the couple wanted one. One problem. He and his wife had already stacked their dishes and spoons in with a pile of others on the table. So, he had the server put the ice cream in a water glass. That left him without a spoon until his wife grabbed one from the pile of dirty spoons and she said, “Here, use this one.” “Who’s was it?” he asked. “I don’t know,” she answered, “Just use it!” The look on his face made me speak up, “Do you want a clean spoon? I’ll get one out of the kitchen for you.” (I was sitting at the end of the table, easier for me to get out than either one of them so it seemed logical for me to ask. What did I know?) His wife gave me the dirtiest look as if I was making a hussy’s play for her man. But he really did want a clean one, so off I went. After that, she gave me the coldest shoulder and I checked her off my list of potential friends. With my luck, I fear she’ll be my seatmate on the bus trip coming later this week and that will make me order all comfort foods at lunch. ©

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Hoarder Widows

Time is flying by so fast. It’s almost August and there are so many things I haven’t done, yet, this summer. I haven’t even taken the dog to the dog park or walked him on the nature trail. What kind of a dog mother does that make me? Neglectful might apply, although in my defense there's been some serious swarms of bees attacking dogs at the park and I'm allergic to bees. I did buy him one of those interactive brain stimulating treat dispensers but I took it back. Levi couldn't figure it out. He’s smart enough to remember which window to sit by, at what time of the day to see the rabbits go about their daily routine but flipping a series of switches with his nose to get a treat was like rocket science to him.

This summer I also haven’t gotten my windows washed or sat on the deck drawing. Most of my unscheduled time is spent either debating on my favorite political forum, watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory or getting things sorted to haul off to the Salvation Army or the auction house. I’m doing some serious purging in the garage but it’s mentally hard. Yesterday I went through a box labeled, “Sort Later.” It’s been waiting for ‘later’ for 14 years and it turned out to be paperwork that came out of Don’s desk before we moved. I was tempted to just dump it all sight unseen but I’m glad I didn’t. Some of those papers had social security numbers on them of people who worked for him, not something you want blowing around the landfill. I also found a folder of things I had given to Don---greeting cards, letters and a Mickey Mouse poster with these words written in pencil on the back: “To Don, Fifty years from now this poster will be worth a lot more than I paid for it and since I’ve been listening to Bruce Williams, I’m turning on to investing. So, I’ve decided to buy this instead of a regular Valentine’s Day card. I expect to still be in your life 50 years from now to help reap the profits. Love, Jean” Those words were written 35 years ago and they are a perfect example of why this kind of ‘widow’s work’ is hard on your emotions.

I got a call from the-son-I-wish-I-had last night who wanted to use me as a sounding board. He’d given his business card to an 85 year old lady along with an estimate to tear down her garage that was in bad repair. When he left this stranger with the estimate he said, “Call if I can help.” A few months went by and she called him yesterday. She needed help and could he come right over. It seemed she was having a health issue and wanted a ride to the hospital! Turned out she lived in a hoarder’s style house with pathways everywhere. (Her water was shut off six years ago and she’s been carrying water to flush her toilet, etc.) She didn’t have any family or friends and she didn’t want him to call an ambulance. Long story short, he took her to the hospital and now she wants him to help her get her legal, medical and housing affairs in order. She claims to have money in the bank and seemed, to him, to be talking rational as opposed to having dementia. I know one thing for sure, she’s rational enough to pick out a good, honest and caring stranger to ask to help her. Can you imagine having that problem/moral dilemma dropped in your lap? Can you imagine what a dishonest scammer could do to an elderly woman like that? When my friend left the woman at the hospital he asked her if he could give her a hug. She beamed and said, “Yes, I haven’t had one since my husband died eight years ago.” 

After that conversation I went back out to the garage to work on my purging but with a pit in my stomach. I do not have a hoarder’s house. I could get two cars in my garage, you could put a couple of bowling lanes in my basement and the inside of my house is clutter-free. But that conversation brought it home how important it is to keep on downsizing before I move to a smaller place. I have another childless friend who is dangerously on the edge of ending up like that woman described above. Since his mother died 4-5 years ago and he moved her stuff into his house “to sort” he’s had a hoarder’s house and his health is failing fast.

Being too attached to material things can become a mental sickness that can also turn into a source of physical illness the longer ‘the stuff’ sits in the way of house cleaning and maintenance. I’m not that attached to material things by any stretch of the imagination, though I do struggle to get rid of things with sentimental value like that poster I found. Widows know what that’s like. Things like that are triggers for the memories we fear will be gone if we give up "the stuff." For others who fear more loss in the future, things become like security blankets—value to sell or use if needed---and for still others, hoarding is a way to fill the empty places in their hearts. It’s scary knowing how easy it would be for any one of us to go off the edge and become a hoarder after someone we love dies. I have firsthand knowledge of three post-widowhood, dangerous hoarding situations and I'm so glad I'm not included in that group. Levi can roll his newly exchanged treat dispenser across the floor to his heart and belly's content. ©

Levi watching the action at the bird feeders. I gave that 1940s motel radio on the left to the-son-I-wish-I-had.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Same Time, Next Year

Three of my husband’s oldest and dearest friends were in town this week and we all met at the Sculpture Park. They were killing two birds with one stone---seeing me and the new Japanese garden at the same time. I didn’t mind. It was a sunny day at a beautiful setting that is ranked in the top 100 most-visited art museums in the world and three of us are arty-farty types. Before we explored the new Japanese addition, we took a half hour, narrated tram ride around the 158 acres that took us past many of the 200 permanent pieces in the park. I’ve been on the tram many times but it was only my third time going to the 8 ½ acre Japanese addition. 

Once inside the gates to the Japanese Gardens, we found a private ‘alcove’ near the Zen garden that overlooks the lake and the zig-zag bridge and we sat on polished marble bounders talking about the good times we’ve had over the years. And there have been many. Parties, vacations, raft races and just a hanging out over pizza. Don and these three had been friends since junior high and even though two of them haven’t lived here for thirty years they’ve all stayed close. I feel honored that after Don died they still include me on their ‘must see’ list when they come up from Georgia. And it’s always fun to be with people who knew my husband before his stroke. Knowing Don is like shorthand for knowing me. Unfortunately, there aren’t many people left in their families to bring them back to town, so I couldn’t help feeling like this might be the last time I’ll see them. Ohmygod, taking in our physical conditions---one guy in a wheelchair, the other woman badly needing a hip replacement, her husband fighting cancer and me with my snow white hair and old-lady sweater in the summer---one of us might not be alive same time, next year. 

Seeing these people every summer for so many years it can’t help but remind me of the 1951 movie with Alan Alda and Ellen Burstyn, titled Same Time, Next Year. They played a couple who for over twenty-five years would met once a year for a romantic tryst and along the way they managed to develop an emotional depth they hadn’t expected. Not sure if it would work that way in real life for lovers, what with the guilt thing and suspicious spouses getting in the way, but I know for a fact that for life-long friends emotional depth can be maintained long-distance. 

Paul McCartney once wrote: 

Must we wait another year
For the celebration, dear?
If we do, we’ll hold it here,
Same time next year.

I'll be here, the same as ever,
Maybe wearing something else.
Ah, but nothing changes,
Ah but nothing changes.

Wrong, Paul! Everything changes from year to year, especially once you get past seventy. Sometimes it’s even hard to recognize people who’ve been in your life for decades. But I know what he meant. The warm feelings don’t change. The love and respect doesn’t change. But the melancholy of saying goodbye hits you harder when you get older, knowing that a wonderful afternoon like I had this week could be our last one together. At least until one of us dies. We all have cemetery plots right next door. It tickled my husband’s sense of humor to think about being neighbors in death.

After spending three hours at the park the four us went to a restaurant/bar in my adopted hometown. The others have been going there since their teens and a trip to Michigan always includes a pilgrimage to eat their “famous” hot dogs that aren’t that good in my book. But you don’t mess with an iconic place so deeply engrained in someone’s mind. Like I told them when they asked about the other hot dog place in town and I said, “Their dogs are better but you guys don’t come here for the food. It’s the memory triggers of this place that makes it special.”

And with that, this widow can report the ending of another day filled with laughter, a sincere appreciation of beautiful people, relationships, things and places plus a few melancholy thoughts wondering if we’ll still be all together this time, next year.  ©