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

Saturday, October 28, 2017

Fun and Fastinating Days Mixed in with the Rest

The “Leaf Peeping” half-day trip sponsored by the senior hall finally took place and it started out at a brewery with lunch off their traditional Bavarian menu and it ended with us having homemade ice cream at a place with 300 Giant Bull Elk, reindeer, whitetail deer and Tibetan Yaks, raised to sell their breeding rights and babies. When the owner first started his “alternate animals” farm, he spent a month living with Eskimos and a month in Tibet to learn how to care for reindeer and Yaks. The color tour was all but forgotten as we rode through the 100 acre farm in a “stagecoach” while we got an interested and laugh-filled education about DNA proven blood lines, breeding, breaking up fights, birthing babies and keeping the animals fat and happy. We stopped at several places so we could hand feed adolescent Bull Elk and adult reindeer. The reindeer had soft, gentle lips as they ate. The guy said you could put your whole hand inside their mouths and they won’t bite. If you go in the spring, you can book tours timed so you can help bottle feed 40-50 babies. One of his Giant Bull Elks has won so many prizes that all his off springs are sold and pre-paid through 2020. 

This week I also had go back to the hearing center and the inside of my ear was pronounced completely cured of its infection. But getting there in the rain was not fun. It was the kind of rain where the cars in front of you seem to disappear in a foggy mist and the windshield wipers had to go at a rate of speed that makes you feel its hypnotic pull. You’ve gotta be careful about what’s playing on the radio when the wipers are going with the beat of the music: “That old Wacky Tobaccy, kick back and let it do what it do.” No, Toby Keith! I won’t “puff it in a pipe, twist it in a stem” or bake it in some brownies. I’m changing the radio station.  

Yesterday I was supposed to go to a cardio drumming class at the senior hall but it got delayed by three fire department guys who were running over their allotted time to teach a class on using an AED defibrillator. It actually looks pretty easy to use but I hope I never have to do it. There’s been a push in our area to get these machines in all public and private buildings and considering they cost well over a thousand each the project has been going well in the community. One tip I learned is if you are in a place where you have a choice in using a landline or a cell phone to call 911, using the landline because they can find you easier. If you don’t have your GPS turned on in your cell phone, their switchboard will show the address of the cell tower that picked up the call.

By the time the firemen were through our time for the cardio drumming class was cut back---so much so that a Gathering Girls friend and I played hookie and we went out for breakfast instead of working up a sweat. Even then we couldn’t linger long because I had to be back to the senior hall for the long awaited lecture about the Million Letters Campaign. It was a fascinating lecture that brought laughter and tears and more than a few “WOWs!” One of the ‘wow letters’ the speaker/curator showed us had a bullet hole through it and another was from the Revolutionary War. He also shared a little known fact that all the Native American “code talkers” used during WWII were so important to the war that each one was assigned a bodyguard to protect them and to also kill them if they were captured. 

During the Q&A period I raised my hand and I explained that I was pen pals with over fifty guys stationed in Vietnam and I still have a big box of letters plus carbon copies of the letters I sent to them. “Is there any value in donating the entire collection,” I asked, “or should I go through them and sort out some I think are interesting?” The curator, Andrew Carroll, of the Million Letters Campaign got rather excited and said they’d love to have a collection like that. “Would I include the copies of my letters too?” “Absolutely! That’s a unique collection,” he said. “Would you feel comfortable donating them?” I told him I want to read them one last time but, “Yes, I feel comfortable donating them.” And I will. So now I have a wintertime project lined up. 

He gave me his personal address afterward as well as the address to the Center for American War Letters at Chapman University in Orange, California. I’m both enthusiastic and finally at peace about my decision and about what the university is doing with this legacy project---to archive a quickly disappearing piece history that both honors our soldiers and makes the letters available for research material for writers, film makers and historians. It’s too late in my life to write the “penpals” book I envisioned coming from my box of letters---and to do it justice---but someone else might do it someday if they are archived at the center.

I brought the box up from the basement today and one of the first letters I pulled out to re-read from Vietnam, went like this: “If you were here, I would recite your last letter out loud. Your words are pressed in my memory like the purple violets my mother kept in her Bible. I read the letter so many times because the serenity of the woods you described was so real that I felt as if I was there with you. The quietness of home is one of the things I desperately miss. The sounds of being in a war zone are sounds I don’t think I’ll ever be able to erase from my mind. Incoming and outgoing mortars, men dying, and the bullets as they hit metal, dirt and human flesh are sounds unlike anything I have heard before. Last year I thought death was something only people with gray hair had to think about. Now I’m over here, and I can’t seem to think about anything else. If it weren’t for your letters, I don’t think I could make it. They are like a rope that keeps pulling me back to the world. The world where I was once a carefree boy who spent Sunday afternoons playing in my grandpa’s woods.” Reading this sent a chill up my spine knowing that, oh yes, there is a "penpals" book waiting to be written from that box. ©

Andrew Carroll’s twelve books based on War Letters

 Toby Keith and Willie Nelson, Wacky Tobaccy

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

The Spam Folder

When a moderated comment on this blog shows up on my dashboard there are three buttons I can click on: Publish, Delete and Spam. I’m always scared I’m going to delete something by mistake because those buttons are close together and you can’t undo that action. The comments that get moved over to the spam folder/page can be undone by opening up that page, selecting a comment and clicking on its ‘Not Spam’ button. A couple of times when my brain went out to lunch without me I accidentally missed the mark and clicked where I didn’t mean to click. When it happened I posted an acknowledgment, fessing up to deleting someone’s words and tried to sum up what was said. “Big Deal! You owned up to your mistake." Who said that in my head? Mom, Dad or the Good Fairy in the blue dress?
When I look through my spam folder, once in a great while I’ll find something that should have been published. It only happens to readers who post anonymously. Some bloggers don’t allow anonymous comments on their blogs because it cuts way down on the advertisements and the pure junk that comes along. (I’ve learned over time that using ‘sex’ in a title line can get me spam ads for porn, penis pumps and pills for God knows what.) But I still allow anonymous comments because I’ve cyber-met some of my favorite followers that way. I, do, however really appreciate it when people leaving anonymous comments include their first names with their words. Sorting out which anonymous comments should get published and which are fake can get tricky at times and a name helps. My rule of thumb is this: It must be apparent that someone has actually read the post they’ve left the comment on and they haven’t included an email address or a link to a place that’s selling something.

An August post I wrote titled, Love Letters and Those that Aren’t brought in an unusually high number of questionable comments---thirteen to be exact---and I still can’t figure out why. Most didn’t pass my rule of thumb test but a few still have me scratching my head. Here’s a sample: 

“What you said makes a lot of sense. But think about this. Suppose you typed a catchier title? I am not saying your content is not solid but what if you added a headline that makes people desire more? I mean “Love Letters and Those that Aren’t” is kind of boring. You might want to glance at Yahoo’s front page and watch how they create news titles to grab people to click. You might add a video or a related picture of two to get people interested about everything you’ve written. It might make your posts a little livelier.” 

I can’t tell you how long I studied that anonymous comment trying to decide if it was sincere or if Yahoo News actually sends out bots to leave comments like that to drive up their click counter. It also crossed my mind that there was hidden coding in with the words that would blow up my blog if I published the comment. There was a coding icon in it that I’d never seen before, a black square with a question mark in the center. If you have a blog and you have gotten a similar comment involving Yahoo or if you know what that black square is all about, please let me know! Curiosity might not kill me like it did the mythical cat, but I don’t like unsolved mysteries.

I do get my fair share of comments telling me how to improve my blog. My favorite was posted on the above ‘Letters’ blog entry and it said, “You have too much text and not enough pictures.” Short insults apparently are the best. If I had published that one I would have been tempted to do tit-for-tat and reply: “I’m not writing a blog for preschoolers” although a part of me says it’s a fair criticism. Another comment on the same blog entry said, “Can you tell us more about this? I want more details.” That’s it, not another word. Anyone who has read that post knows it wasn’t a how-to article on writing love letters. It was written memoir style and I’d already beat the details to death. I finally decided the commenter didn’t pass the rule of thumb rule but for what purpose would someone leave a comment like that? Another head scratcher. Ohmygod, maybe I should check my spam folder for lice. Every time I go there I’m scratching my head!

All this over sharing of my spam is to illustrate how, on rare occasions, a legitimate comment that comes from an anonymous poster gets accidentally sent off to Spam Land. It happens when I've marked one too many boxes on down the line then clicked on the ‘Spam’ button and off they went in bulk. Gone until I’m bored enough to read my spam folder in the middle of the night. Sorry, Leze, who splits her time between England and New York, I just found your comment about expensive bras and bathing suits, left on my post about getting a bra fitting. But on the good side, it gave me a topic to write about and I thank you for that and hopefully for understanding how your comment erroneously ended up in Spam Land. ©

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Common Threads and the Grief Journey

Okay, I’m feeling old today. I got up at the crack of dawn if dawn came at 7:30---how often can I tell that “joke” before I hear groans coming out of my computer speakers? Anyway, I did get up at the crack of dawn to go on a leaf peeping tour. The only problem was I got to the senior center a week before the bus was due to depart for the half-day trip. I had gotten a new day planner and I had transferred the information over wrong. Since I was shiny clean with no place to go I did something that was so totally out of character and out of my comfort zone that I felt like I should check my driver’s license to see if I’m still me. What did I do? I called a Gathering Girl friend at 11:00 to see if she was free to meet for lunch. She is a person who lives on spur-of-the-moment decisions where I’m the opposite. I plan things out. Down to the minute. I live by the oven timer and the calendar. 7:30 up, breakfast and check the internet; 8:15 shower and dress; 9:15 feed, water and walk Levi; 9:45 leave the house, and 10:00 be on the tour bus---assuming I go on the right day. 

My adopted home town is conveniently located half way between BL’s house and mine so we met at a restaurant that overlooks the river. The food was good, the service was bad. At one point the waitress even said, “I don’t know why I keep ignoring you ladies!” By the time she screwed up the check we were more than ready to take our conversation and laughter out for a walk along the river. It was a perfect autumn day---bright and warm enough to make us want to savor the time spent outside and we learned of yet another thing we have in common besides our sense of humors and politics: We both bought memorial bricks for our husbands in the Recognition Plaza by the dam. So off we went to find them. 

We also discovered we both like Oprah and aren’t afraid to admit that in public. BL gets her newsletter and she told me about a recent article titled, What to Do if you are Still Grieving. The grief counselor who wrote the article (and a book called Getting Grief Right) says he tells his clients to write “an honest account of what happened to you and the one you lost. A grief story exposes the beauty, pain, and complexity of your emotions.” He recommends grieving people tell their story in three chapters---the first of which is about how you and the person you grieve met and in the second chapter we’re to write about the aftermath and circumstances surrounding the death and funeral. The third chapter is supposed to be about our lives that unfold from the funeral moving forward and he recommends keeping a grief journal. 

As I read through the article I realized that what the author, Patrick O’Malley PhD, recommends is exactly what most widows in the blog community, like me, are instinctively doing. One sentence about writing the third chapter is worth repeating here: “Although this chapter has a beginning, it really has no ending—or it doesn't end until we do. The third chapter is dynamic. It will change over time, but it will not end.” Where have I heard that before? Lots of places including from a couple of widows with more than two decades under their belts. From personal experience I know that raw grief dissipates over time, but a tiny piece of my heart also goes back to grief from time to time in the form of wistfulness for what might have been. Apparently Mr. O’Malley’s book has writing prompts to help non-writers tell their stories. He’s been a grief counselor for 35 years so more power to him if his book can get people who aren’t used to spilling their guts out on paper to do it. I have my doubts---not about it helping but rather that non-writers with new grief will stick with the project.

Another thread in my life this week is related in a roundabout way. I had lunch with my oldest niece which is like getting triple cherries on top of an ice cream sundae if you love cherries and ice cream which I do. My niece is such an accomplished, well-rounded and truly nice person. She’s a retired teacher---Special Ed for many years before switching to teaching reading in an elementary school. In retirement she started an alumni association for a small town high school. She runs their Facebook page with 1,700 followers, sets up fund raisers with her board of directors and they raise money to give out as college scholarships. They also collect and archive old photos and her latest venture is she bought a commercial popcorn machine so the alumni group can sell popcorn at sporting events. I love stories about people, like her, who have found a passion project in retirement. Listening to my niece talk I was wishing I had one. Then after reading the above mentioned grief article I wondered if maybe this blog isn’t my passion project. It may have started out as me documenting my grief journey but now it give me a purpose, a challenge, a sense of pride and most of all it prods me to get out of the house and out of my comfort zone so I’ll have something to write about. ©