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, November 30, 2019

From Christmas Movies to my Obsessions

December is fast approaching and already I’ve overdosed on Christmas movies. It’s either Hallmark or LifeTime playing in the background as I try to knock things off my various to-do lists. I’ve seen most of Hallmarks' films so many times that I can walk through the room where the TV is on and know exactly where they’re at in the formula plots and keep on going. And for me, there’s comfort and tradition in that. I can’t work with the National Geographic's, animal channel or cable news on because I’d sit right down and watch. Ditto on listening to music. Music---at least my favorite genre of country/western---brings too many memories and emotions to the surface and I get lost in the lyrics never to be seen again until my stomach says it’s time to eat. I’ve tried listening to classical music around the house but darn those music appreciation classes I took way back when my hair was still dark brown. Ever since then I feel the need to sit in a chair with my eyes shut when I put on classical music and become one with the dynamics of the pieces. I can’t work to classical music. It’s too mood altering, but ALL music starts bugging me after an hour. I'm guessing I was a tribal drummer in a past life and an EKG taken while listening to music it would probably mimic a music score proving my theory. I'm just sayin'.

The Washington Post says Hallmark's Countdown to Christmas movies "tend to transport busy corporate types from cities to deeply quaint towns where they find love or, at the very least, the spirit of Christmas.” So true, the main characters are usually facing the holidays without a significant other---or are with the wrong one---and by the end of the two hours they’ve met and fallen in love. Doesn’t matter if they’re work-alcoholics or sourpusses who hates Christmas, they find love by the 24th of December and they’ll share their first kiss in film with two minutes to go before the credits roll. Seriously? How could anyone know they’re destine for a trip to the altar if they hadn’t---shall we say---even looked in the window of the milking barn to play off the adage, “No one is going to buy the cow if you give the milk away for free.” But times are changing. In two of the new-this-year Hallmarks they allowed couples a chase kiss 3/4 of the way through the movie and at the end of one of them the couple kissed their brains out---lustful, not sweet like they usually do. It was so unusual and I swear I heard someone telling them to get a room---Oops, I guess that was me. Another thing I noticed has changed this season is an abundance of inner-racial couples at LifeTime.

I only had one gift to buy this year. One for my Gathering Girls party and I bought that before Thanksgiving. I’d tell you what I got but one of the Gathering Girls occasionally reads my blog and the party is a couple of weeks off. We have a $15 limit and a rule that it has to be consumable. It’s not that easy to buy something that is used up over time and is still a welcome gift for someone when you don’t know who the percipient will be until it gets opened. (We use a game to hand them out.) One year the diabetic got a box of chocolate. Another year I gave an assortment of teas with a gingerbread cookie mix, but I got a call afterward asking if I had the receipt for the teas so she could take them back because she only likes a certain brand. I've never liked picking out gifts for anonymous recipients. I get it wrong more often than I get it right.

Unless I get snowed in I have three Christmas parties to look forward to this year: the one mentioned above, one at with my future neighbors at the continuum care campus and one at the senior hall. The smallest one with my gal pals will be the most fun although I’m anxious to go back to the CCC to get an update on the building timeline and to ask a few questions like: Will we be able to have landlines and/or cable TV? I already know that Wi-Fi will be free and can be access from anywhere on the campus inside and out and I'm guessing I'll have to be waving goodbye to landlines and cable. Boo hoo! I don’t like using a cell phone all the time. But I'll do whatever it takes to keep that landline number I've had since the 1970s including dance naked at midnight in a snow covered cemetery.

Another question I obsess about is will our smart card keys work to unlock doors in a power outage? Supposedly, we just wear the cards and our call buttons on a lanyard and doors just automatically open in front of us like Jesus parting the Red Sea. As a person who has to check twice each night to make sure the doors are locked, I find it unsettling that I won't be able to see a lock lever from across the room clearly facing right or left. And I like keys. I e-Bayed a box of 215 keys last summer---a life time of collecting them---and I still have another 25ish skeleton keys I may keep. A key is not a piece of plastic in my world. I'm turning into one of those old fogies who back in the day didn't want those newfangled electric lights in the house! Change is hard.

It’s easier for me to worry about details like plastic keys and phone numbers instead of worrying about the big stuff like will the real estate market go soft when I need it to be hard? (I should reword that sentence; it sounds too sexual and if I get a bunch of spam for escort services I'll know the cyber crawlers found this post.) Anyway, I can't control the big stuff but I can control the details. I spent twenty years of my work life troubleshooting details of every wedding I helped to plan so on the Big Day nothing went wrong with my end of the event, right down to carrying smelling salts to revive fainting brides. So don’t expect me to chill out any time soon. “Details” is my middle name. ©

See the difference between the Hallmark Movies at the top and these from LifeTime at the bottom?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

The Thankful Widow at Thanksgiving

It’s the day before Thanksgiving and all through the house not a creature is stirring except Levi, my four-legged spouse. I have no place to go tomorrow, no dish-to-pass to make in the kitchen. No problem. I’m a big girl and I am thankful that I have a warm house and food in the refrigerator. It might not be a turkey and all the trimmings but tomorrow I won't be down at a mission depending on the good deeds of strangers to get a warm meal and a hot cup of coffee. And after the last piece of pie is served and the coffee pot is drained dry I won't get dispersed back out on the freezing cold streets and I won't be standing in line by five o'clock to get one of the limited beds down at the shelter. I can’t imagine living that way. And I do think of them often---those homeless, lost souls. Call me a bleeding heart liberal. I won’t be offended.

I’m also thankful for decades worth of warm memories of holidays spent at my mom and dad’s cottage on a lake, then later at my brother and sister-in-law’s place in a grove of white pines. I don’t think I’m looking back through rose colored glasses when I say those holidays were filled with fun and laughter. But I can acknowledge, now, what I probably didn’t fully appreciate back then that I had it easy. I wasn’t expected to help with preparing the food. I was never known for my willingness to learn my way around the kitchen so by the time my nieces and nephew came along I was on official duty to keep the kids busy and out from under the feet of the true cooks in the family. I’m sorry, Mom and Melanie I should have helped more!
My favorite holiday memories are filled with snowmobiling, sledding and snowball fights with the kids or playing in their fort in the woods or just walking along country roads. There is no way to replicate those carefree times with my family and I’m content not to try. I have over four decades of good memories to draw on before my brother's divorce and my mom's death left no one to organize big holiday meals. I did have the family to my house in the city once, but it wasn't a great situation when they all had to travel so far and my house was too small. That was the year I tried to make cranberry relish and I put fresh berries in a blender but forgot to put the top on before turning it on. Aside from cleaning cranberries off the ceiling, when I think of my best family Thanksgivings I don’t remember the food as much as the bonding time with my nieces and nephew.

Fast forward to after my husband’s stroke when we moved even farther from my family to be closer to his and we spent the next fourteen years going to the only place that was wheelchair friendly…my sister-in-law’s house. Those were super-large family get-togethers where the accent was on the food, the more the better. The women are all great cooks and the men are big eaters. Me? An early mistake of making a pink salad of potatoes and beets earned me a reputation for being a joke in the kitchen. I didn’t care. It took the pressure off me to kitchen-compete with a family who knows all the secrets to making the best of the best. They never expected much out of my dishes to pass and I delivered on their low expectations. Then my sister-in-law passed away and that ended the big holiday meals at her house. The adult kids all took their celebrations to their own homes to build new traditions with their growing families. It’s a classic story that only the elderly are privileged enough to tell. As much as some of my peers would like to, we can’t freeze our holiday gatherings like a scene in a snow globe that never changes. The best we can do is shake up our memories from time to time and watch them flutter down like the glitter inside those snow globes. 

In a world so full of dark and scary things that seem beyond our control---gun violence in our schools, our climate crisis and the constitutional crisis our nation is facing to name a few things---it’s more important than ever for us to pause to be thankful for the big and small blessings in our lives. I am thankful that I’m relatively healthy, that I’ve been loved and loved back in my life, that I’ve lived a moral life with few regrets and that I have a plan for a new chapter in my life that will give me security as I age out of this world. And I am grateful for my annoyingly demanding dog, Levi, who still lacks the logic to understand that if it’s raining outside one door of the house that it’s raining outside the other two doors. He makes me prove it to him every time before he’ll finally go outside to answer nature’s call. I humor him because I still remember my reluctance to go outside to the outhouse when I was a kid spending my summers at the cottage. Have I mentioned I'm grateful for indoor plumbing and flush toilets? ©

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Donations, Sleepless Nights and the Travel Club

Last week I took five bags of winter coats, lined sweatshirts, leather vests and wool shirts to Goodwill. Not all six of my husband's Pendleton shirts I had in the front closet got donated but four of them did. I held back his two favorites. It's not like I'm moving tomorrow so I can pull the rest of that "Band-Aid" off later. I also sent a wool coat that was way too big and I wish I hadn’t. I’d forgotten that I actually used it last year during our power outage to wear over another coat, but at the time I was making the decision to donate stuff I was going by the rule: If it doesn’t fit, don’t keep it. Of the seventeen coats in that closet I downsized to eleven with plans to get rid of two more this time next year. They’re old work coats and I still have some outside work to do---painting trim and thinning plants---and by the time I’m through with that, I can throw those coats in the trash. I'll probably let go of even more coats at the same time but for now I'm keeping two for every season plus my go-to-funerals coat.

After I pulled everything out of the closet and put back what I was keeping, I spent the evening sewing up dog toys to donate to the humane society the next time I have another reason to be in their neighborhood. When Levi was younger I used to buy him a new stuffie practically every time I went to the store and he’d chew holes in them just as often. That was back when I was involved in hardcore caregiving my husband and money was more plentiful than time. Levi remembers the toys are in the closet, though, every time I open the door he’s looking for the clothe grocery bag I keep them in. He was full of anticipation as I sewed away then tossed them out one by one for him to inspect but I told him, “Sorry Levi, you only get to keep what will fit in your toy box. No more overflowing box for you!"

The next day I took another hundred books off my library shelves to donate to the public library. When I dropped them off I found out that in addition to selling the collectible books online, any others that don't sell at their local used books sales eventually get donated to World Mission who in turn ships them to 3rd world countries. The gift that keeps on giving. That was my third, hundred book donation to the library and each day of sorting gets harder and harder. Boxing up a hundred books at a time doesn’t sound like a lot of work, at least not enough work that should haven taken a whole day, but I googled a lot of the titles to see if they’re worth trying to sell instead of donating. So far, I've held back about a three dozen for that purpose. Another hundred (?) books will need to be purged before I’m down to what I hope to keep or sell and I'm worried no one will know I'm smarter than I look without my books to give them a clue.

That night I settled in bed around 11:15 ready to watch Saturday Night Live but I woke up to pee just as it was getting over. I never saw a single minute of it! I was restless the rest of the night and around five, I finally gave up on trying to sleep and I got up. My brain just wouldn’t turn off! It kept going over where I can put what pieces of furniture in the unit where I’ll be moving, trying to decide if I'll be keeping the right number of bookcases. I’ve got eight now and I’ll end up with three but one will be set up as a media center and another will be in the laundry room, repurposed for utility shelving. Oak shelving is too classy for a laundry room but why would I sell a good shelf for peanuts, just to take those peanuts to buy a lesser quality utility-style shelf? That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. Ohmygod, I’m turning into such a boring person! All I can think about is downsizing and I see no end to that kind of dialogue going on inside my head for many months.

I did go to a Travel Club presentation this week. It was a photo slideshow of an African Safari they took last summer. One of my friends in the group went on the trip so I already knew they had a great time and saw lots of interesting things. Another friend in the club wanted to go but they didn’t allow her to sign up for that particular trip---too remote for easy access to doctors. She’s 90 and that woman is always on the go, travels all over the place with no fears or hesitation even though she ends up in ER more times a year than Levi goes in for haircuts. Sometimes I wish I could be as gutsy as she is but she’s got a family who’d come collector her if she had a major medical issue and got left behind in a foreign country by the travel club but poor Levi, my Mighty Schnauzer, couldn’t get a passport if I had to depend on him to do that for me. I’m just sayin’ sometimes two-legged kids are better than four-legged kids.  

But in all seriousness, the seniors I know in the Travel Club---and they're all seniors---who are signing up for two-three trips a year are spending thousands-upon-thousands of dollars on travel and if I did that I'd be worried to death that I'd end up living out of a shopping cart under a bridge. One woman in the club lives in a sketchy neighborhood but she spent all of the insurance money her husband left her on travel and now she can't afford to move to a safer neighborhood and she had to get a job at 77 years old. Everything in life is a trade-off. She was fulfilling her husband's death-bed wish for her. I would have made the same death-bed promise but I would have been lying through my teeth and both my husband and I would have known it. ©