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, August 31, 2016

Serendipitous Inspiration

Saturday morning I couldn’t decide if I needed a shower or not before taking myself out to lunch on a dark, raining day. Dermatologists don’t recommend daily showers for old people if you’re not doing stuff to get sweaty and dirty. Our thinning skin apparently is chronically too dry which exposes us to all kinds of nasty skin ailments, the least of which is wrinkles. I don’t care about wrinkles but I’d like to avoid cracking skin and eczema, thank you very much, so I listen to my doctor. I hadn’t been doing much but sitting at the computer so I stuffed my iPod buds in my ears and made a decision to get sweaty with music and exercise so I’d have a good reason to hit the shower. 

It felt good to listen to my old 'power walking' playlist. In my world that meant it was time to strut around inside my house, arms swinging and knees pumping high. I stop at certain places where I have something to hold on to to do a few leg lifts, squats or old-people dance moves---anything to get my heart rate up and my muscles working. My 'power walking' playlist includes: Stayin’ Alive, The 5th of Beethoven, The William Tell Overture, Night Fever, Gangham Style, Hooked on Tchaikovsky and All These Things That I’ve Done. As you might guess I don’t have any ‘50s music on my iPod and I dread the day when I’m in a nursing home and the activity director thinks she’s doing a good thing by flooding the place with Elvis, Pat Boone and Bobby Darin. That’s what they do---match the music to the era in which the majority of their residents came of age. Actually, I should have ended that sentence with, “I dread the day when I’m in a nursing home.” Well, I’m not there yet and I’d better not forget it!

Exercise is supposed to be good for your mental health, too, a perk that I could use right now. I haven’t been doing much since last spring which is one of the reasons why I dug out my iPod and put it on the charger a few days before resurrecting my old power walking routine. According to HelpGuide.com exercise “promotes all kinds of changes in the brain, including neural growth, reduced inflammation, and new activity patterns that promote feelings of calm and well-being. It also releases endorphins, powerful chemicals in your brain that energize your spirits and make you feel good. Finally, exercise can also serve as a distraction, allowing you to find some quiet time to break out of the cycle of negative thoughts that feed depression.” I’ve always hated exercise but I’m willing to get out that big ugly gun to ward off the winter blues that I’ve somehow managed to acquire in August.

As I do my power walking around my house the dog thinks I’m the Pied Piper and there’s a good reason for that. I leave a trail of dog treats as I move through the house so Levi will stay behind me instead of getting in front of me the way he does when we do “doggie dancing.” (And why I don’t play more music in the house is a mystery I need to solve. It does lift my spirits.) The only song Levi gets to hear is, Stand by Me. I used to play it on my computer every night as a way of entertaining my husband and exercising the dog with obedience commands disguised as dance moves---leg weaves, circles, standing up on two legs, walking backward and forward. We’re not good at it like you'd see in dog dancing competitions---I shouldn't even call what we do dancing---but my goal was never perfection but rather to have fun and giving the dog five minutes of undivided attention. Since last winter we’d only been doing it three-four times a month and I need to give that activity back to him more often, if only because he’s got a more boring life than I do. 

Do you believe that inspirational messages come into our lives when we need them in a serendipitous manner or do you believe they’re always out there like white noise, ignored until our minds and hearts are ready to accept the lessons they teach? After I wrote the first draft of this post I was on Facebook where one of my friends had just posted a video of a Chinese guy in his eighties. I scrapped the original ending so I could write about Deshun Wang, a man who took up doing an intense workout late in life. He also walks the fashion catwalk with kids a quarter of his age---his gray hair flowing down to his shoulders and looking full of life. His easy smile and kick-ass attitude earned him the nickname of the ‘hottest grandpa’ and he became an instant internet sensation.

He says in the video, “At 80 I still have something left in me. I still have dreams to achieve. Believe me, potential can be explored. When you think it’s too late, be careful you don’t let that be your excuse for giving up.” Now, that’s an inspirational message I truly needed to hear! I've spent my entire life working towards goals and dreams but since my husband died I’ve let my age limit my dreams. I don’t have enough time left to do such and such, I’ve told myself. What’s the point of trying? Watching one video, of course, can’t change the trajectory of anyone's life but Mr. Wang gives me mega much to think about. How about you? Do you let your age edit the potentials you could explore? ©

Saturday, August 27, 2016

Ben-Hur, Movie Dilemma and Loneliness

Recently I was supposed to go to my Movie and Lunch Club but I ended up just going to the lunch before the movie. They picked Ben-Hur this month and I was hoping someone else would show up who’d wanted to see an alternate movie choice with Meryl Streep and Hugh Grant---Florence Foster Jenkins. It’s a story about a New York socialite who wanted to sing opera. Variety said, “Money, it turns out, may not buy you talent, but it can buy you a one-way illusion of it” and IMBd’s tagline was: “The inspiring true story of the world's worst singer.”

I was the only one in the group who wasn’t geeked up to see Ben-Hur which wasn’t surprising, given that all of them are active in their churches. Ben-Hur was not a biblical figure but the movie was based on an 1880 novel titled, Ben-Hur: Tales of Christ by Lew Wallace, a Union Army General. From what I read, this film version differs from the 1925 silent film and the 1959 Charlton Heston version because co-producers Mark Burnett and Roma Downey put the accent of Ben-Hur’s interaction with Jesus, faith and forgiveness rather than on revenge which supposedly the early films did. You'd never guess that from the official movie trailer. The new Ben-Hur had a hundred million dollar budget but early reviews predict it won’t match the 1959’s box office success or its eleven Academy Awards. After all these years it’s still the 14th highest-grossing movie of all time. (Did I ever mention that I once listened to the entire Bible read by Charlton Heston? I had those long playing 33 ½ RPM records for decades.)

As my Movie and Lunch Club stood in the theater lobby waiting to see if anyone else would show up---some just go to the movies and skip lunch---the others in the group tried to convince me to go see Ben-Hur with them, but for once I didn’t go along to get along. I gave a couple of lame excuses: “I’m not in the mood for all the violence” and “I liked the 1959 version too much to want to spoil it in my memory.” (Lame excuses but still, how could the new movie top the Heston version with its 2,500 horses and nine minute chariot race?) I should have known that lying is not my strong suite because my lies gave others an opportunity to try to change my mind. But as we all stood there in a circle of smiling faces I couldn’t bring myself to say, “I’m not a Christian and I don’t want to spend $11.00 on a Christian message movie.” I thought about it, I really did. But deep inside I’m still that little girl in pigtails who was told, “I can’t play with you because you don’t go to my church.” Jesus might have preached forgiveness but apparently I’m still not ready to forgive the parents of some of my classmates who taught hate in the name of Jesus. So I still hide, still feel like a second class outsider when I do.

I didn’t want to see the Meryl Streep film all by myself so when it was time for the others to go inside the theater I went home, telling them, “Have fun!” And if memory serves me right---okay, I'll admit it full out---a chocolate frosty found its way into my life on the way home. Comfort foods. Don’t we all have a love/hate relationship with them? I’d just had a slice of yummy spinach pie at the restaurant with the Movie and Lunch Club. I wasn’t hungry but I was feeling lonely, alone and misunderstood. And there was no one to blame by myself. I'm so weak when my inner child shows up.

In the four plus years since my husband died I’ve observed how acquaintances turn into friendships down at senior hall and in groups like my Movie and Lunch Club. Pairing up to go to events outside of the core group seems to be the key. I hear them talk about going here and there together. They seem to have a special radar for finding like-minded souls. Where are my like-minded souls? Where do people like me hang out in the City of Churches? Where are the childless people like me who don’t have photos of grand-kids on their phones to pass around a table? If I took a bunch of pictures of Levi my Mighty Schnauzer to pass around do you think the others would get the joke going on inside my head? 

Recently I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t shake the thought that I’m truly and thoroughly lonely. More so, I think, than in the first year after Don died when I had bigger fish to fry and I honestly don’t know what to do about it anymore. Maybe I should have seen that Meryl Streep movie to pick up some tips on building an illusion without a solid foundation for that belief. If I tell myself I’m content with my life, can I make it happen for real? ©

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Tornados and Scary-Cat Dogs

Saturday was heart-pounding scary. Early afternoon the emergency sirens started ringing and they didn’t quit for nearly two hours. We were under a tornado warning---the get-down-in-your-basement kind of warning. I can see the siren for most of the township from my front yard so you can imagine how loud it gets. The dog is used to the five minute monthly testings of the siren but the longer it went on the more freaked out Levi got and it didn't help that I was running around gathering up emergency supplies. I wish I had thought about stuffing a pair of foam ear plugs in his ears. I have some left over from when my husband’s bi-pap machine kept me awake. I keep a duffle bag in the basement of basic emergency stuff, plus the dog’s travel cage from the days when I actually traveled is down there but the emergency weather band radio, a Colman lamp and a flasher for the dog’s collar I keep upstairs for power outages. I also threw in a bag my purse, cell phone, hearing aids, shoes (I was wearing Crocs), water bottles, a computer password list, essential medications and my car keys. All the time I was gathering up stuff I had the TV on in the kitchen at full volume so I could follow the heavy rainstorm and tornado sightings as they made their way up from the southeast part of the county. I was in a direct path and it was due to hit my neighborhood at 2:45. 

At 2:30 I tried to get the dog to go down the fifteen steps to the basement but he wouldn’t do it! He’d never been down more than three steps in his entire life and he picked that time to show me his stubborn schnauzer genes. I put the leash on Levi and it’s a wonder he was still breathing or didn’t have a few broken bones after I dragged him to the basement. Once down, Levi liked it better because the siren wasn’t so loud. My little nest of supplies was in the corner of the basement but I sat on the bottom steps where I could still hear the TV and follow the tornado sightings as they tracked near-by before leaving the county. But the weather people stressed that everyone should stay in our safe places because conditions were right for other, rain-wrapped tornadoes to form within the storm still going on and you can't see those kinds of tornadoes coming at you. 

When the all clear came and the sirens stopped, Levi didn’t want to come upstairs. I pulled and pushed until I thought I’d either hang him or he’d topple me over backward. I’d get him up two steps and he’d manage to get back down one. It took forever to get him upstairs and we were both stressed out when we finally made it. He weighs 29 pounds and I can’t carry him under normal circumstances and on steps I have to hold onto the rail for dear life for me to feel safe. The next time we have to do the tornado thing, I’ve got to remember to get his seatbelt harness out of the car so I can drag him by the middle of his body rather than a leash attached to his collar. 

We were lucky in my county. No one died. There was lots of damage caused by trees getting uprooted or snapped off taking power lines down---27,000 were left without electricity, 40,000 if we include all six counties where rain, high winds and tornadoes tore through. Of the six confirmed tornadoes that struck statewide, two of them hit the metro area where I live. The closest one was only on the ground for ¾ of mile and 150 yards wide before it pull up a couple of miles short of my neighborhood---a small EF0 but still destructive. Years ago, my husband’s family farm got hit by two tornadoes ten years apart. With the last, only one wall of the house was left standing and when they cut a clothesline between a tree and what was left of the house, that wall fell in. A birthday cake sat on the kitchen table untouched by the devastation around it. 

This is the first time since my husband died that we’ve had a tornado warning so it was the first time I’ve gone to the basement in this house. We’d huddle in our hallway with quilts over our heads because I wasn’t about to leave a wheelchair bound guy all alone upstairs while I saved myself in the basement. Honestly, it unnerved me to be downstairs thinking that the rest of the house could come crashing down on top of me. And if I got trapped down there with no power causing the sump pump to stop working, I’d probably drown. Okay, the power would have to be off for a long time for that to happen but if I was writing a script for a disaster movie that’s the way it would go down. Or I’d come up from the basement to find a horse standing in the living room and no roof overhead. Remember the 1996 Helen Hunt movie, Twister, where the cow got sucked up by a tornado? That actually happened on my husband’s farm with one of their horses. They watched it go over the tree line and a few days later the local police brought it back home in a trailer. He was found a couple of miles away…dazed but otherwise unharmed.

My brush with Mother Nature was nothing compared to what’s going on with the flooding down south or the fires out west but I have a healthy respect for the power of tornadoes, so I was scared right alongside of my scary-cat dog. Next time, though, if I can’t get Levi to go downstairs when the sirens goes off I may go back to nesting in the hallway. ©

Thankfully, my neighborhood did not have any damage what so ever. But these photos were all taken in the metro area where I live. The two tornadoes that touched down were rated EF1 and EF0. The stronger one was on the other end of town.

Edited to add: I just saw a news story about 17 baby squirrels that are being cared for by a wildlife rehab place. They were all found on the ground in the tornado hit areas and are being fed dog milk formula every four hours. Most were really tiny and would not survive without their mom's.