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, December 28, 2019

The Great Paper Shredding Project

You’d think I’d know better. You’d think I could look at two oak filing cabinets that measures 22 x 38 inches and 20 x 25 inches and know what an impossibly time consuming and grueling job it would be to downsize the contents of both cabinets to fit inside the smaller cabinet. I allotted two days for the project. It took four. But one file folder of records didn’t get shredded because it never fails to grab me where it counts. It contains all my school records from kindergarten through college. I’m saving them just in case some day I have to prove I was once smarter than a fifth grader. But for four days I had quite the process going as I sorted the papers suitable for recycling from the ones that had to be shredded from the ones where a quick swipe with an ink roller would do. I got the shredder so over heated a few times that it shut itself off. A pretty cool safety feature, but it's annoying to have a machine tell you to take a time out when you're on a roll. I ended up with three boxes of papers to take to recycling and five bags of shredded papers to go in the trash.

I’m good at keeping up with yearly shredding of household bills, bank records and other stuff we keep until tax time but one of the problems of having a lot of space in filing cabinets is we tend to keep stuff longer than we should. I found folders full of stuff from groups and organizations that no longer have a place in my life---the quilting club, YMCA, Red Hat Society, Wheelchair Hunters Club, etc. and the adoption and medical records for a dog who died twelve years ago. I also had deeds for houses we sold decades ago and their paid off mortgages records. A hefty sized folder held papers from a lawsuit and three others contained records from businesses we owned back in the last century. But the biggest surprise of all is that I had was a stack of income tax records a foot high from every year going back to my husband’s and my very first jobs! Some of those papers were nearly 50 years old and they literally fell apart in my hands as I fed them into the shredder. You can’t help looking at stuff when you’re deciding what to shred or recycle and I found it fascinating that in my first year of working in the ‘60s I made approximately the same as I get in one month now in pension, Social Security and investment income.

But the gut-punching stuff I found in other files was hard to shred---emotionally, I wasn’t on the fence about the need to shred them like I was with my school records---a two inch stack of detailed medical records covering the three months after my husband’s massive stroke. I had to obtain them and scan copies to Medicare because unbeknownst to us the company we got my husband’s wheelchair from was being investigated for Medicare fraud, selling unnecessary equipment. Not true in our case but we were randomly picked to provide full medical records to prove the need for a stupid, manual wheelchair with a deluxe seat cushion. I had an equally tall stack of speech therapy records, kept because I had planned to write a book about the topic. But the hardest records of all to look through were letters from doctors to spring my husband's power of attorney papers and a ten page workbook from when I filed for Don’s Social Security Disability. As I stopped to read some of those pages it broke my heart---all that Don went through, all he lost. All we both lost to the stroke.

I also found a packet from the funeral home with left over death certificates---they over sold me on the number needed. At the time someone dies you need death certificates for all bank and investments accounts, life insurance, place of employment, social security and even the cell phone company wouldn’t let me cancel our contract without a death certificate to prove I wasn’t a vengeful x-wife, I’m guess. I'm keeping the extra copies because who knows if when I go to sell the house I might need a couple to prove I'm the sole owner of this place. I sent a copy to the county after Don died---twice---to get his name off the deed but I still get tax bills in both our names and even though the county clerk assured me that's normal until I sell, I don’t believe it. I’ve often said that downsizing is like living your life in reserve and the Great Paper Shredding Project is a perfect example of how that works. 

At one point during The Project I searched the house for a set of keys to two fire proof boxes I kept inside one of the file cabinets for the really important papers. I had the keys out to unlock the boxes then promptly lost them. I even pawed through my recycle boxes and I would have blamed Levi for taking them just to mess with my head if he had opposable thumbs which is a good reason why older people shouldn’t live with anyone. They’d get blamed for all our brain-farts. I finally gave up on ever finding the keys and when I got around to emptying the shredder into a plastic bag I saw the them! They had gotten knocked off my dining room table and landed on a chair that was tucked up under the table the way neat little housekeepers always stage their chairs.

I know there is someone out there in cyberspace smugly reading this and patting themselves on the back for scanning all their papers and storing everything in a cloud but call me old fashioned, I will never be one of them. Just one trip to media recycling is a good lesson on how technology changes. Floppy disks were once thought to be the end-all solution to having filing cabinets full of documents but try finding a computer where you can use a floppy today. And who knows if stored stuff in a cloud will always be free, safe from hackers and retrievable not to mention what happens when you need something but your computer is acting up? But I do know one thing---it feels good to have accomplished the Great Paper Shredding Project. ©

Now Empty and ready to sell with the roll top desk below.
The back of this desk and the cabinet below are just as pretty on the backside as the front.

All my life's papers, documents and records are now in this file cabinet and will move with me.

Wednesday, December 25, 2019

My Christmas with Andy Weir and the Martian

A book review might seem like a weird topic for a Christmas post but I promise it will tie in with the spirit of the day by the time you get to the end of this essay.

Back in 2011 Andy Weir wrote a debut novel titled The Martian that ended up becoming a major movie starring Matt Damon as a dorky botanist/astronaut that gets accidentally left behind on a mission in the year 2035. Here’s the official movie synopsis: “When astronauts blast off from the planet Mars, they leave behind Mark Watney, presumed dead after a fierce storm. With only a meager amount of supplies, the stranded visitor must utilize his wits and spirit to find a way to survive on the hostile planet. Meanwhile, back on Earth, members of NASA and a team of international scientists work tirelessly to bring him home, while his crew mates hatch their own plan for a daring rescue mission.”

I don’t usually read science fiction but the book has stuck with me because not only does it have a fresh plot---well, not really, it’s a classic man-against-nature plot only on steroids---but it’s a nail biter that has an interesting back story of how Andy broke into the publishing world. He’d written other books before this one but couldn’t get a publisher interested so he tried another approach with The Martian. He self-published the story one chapter at a time on Amazon for ninety-nine cents each and sold 35,000 copies in three months which drew the attention of the publishing world. Mr. Weir ended up selling the rights to Crown for $100,000 and both the hardcover and the paperback editions made the New York Times Best Seller List. 

You’ve really got to admire people who believe in themselves and their writing (or whatever their chosen goal) to stick to it and be rewarded for their effort. The amount of research this guy did for this book is super impressive and the character he created was like a quirky metaphor for human endurance and the idea that you never give up even when you’re up against overwhelming challenges. Despite the fact that all the space science stuff that was way over my head, I truly enjoyed both the book and the movie and it’s become a wintertime ritual for me to reread the book. I’ve never reviewed it in my blog before now but three years ago I did briefly mention it when I wrote: “I kept thinking if an astronaut can spend over a year all by himself on Mars, with all the problems that came up, I could stand one more day of not having any human contact in a string of solitary days when I was snowed in and marathon reading. Aside from that the book had many funny moments and it blew my mind on how really, really smart astronauts and the people at NASA are.”

I should have named this blog post The Quote Laden Post because I’m going to end it by quoting the last paragraph of the book, spoken by the main character when he got back home to earth, after getting help from every space program around the globe---the whole world pulling together for one do-good cause. Somehow the quote seems fitting to use it as my Christmas greeting this year. In our world so full of division and discourse the author's message is hopeful and upbeat and I believe his conclusion is absolutely true. Andy wrote these words for his main character to say:

 “The cost for my survival must have been hundreds of millions of dollars. All to save one dorky botanist. Why bother? Well, okay. I know the answer to that. Part of it might be what I represent: progress, science, and the interplanetary future we've dreamed of for centuries. But really, they did it because every human being has a basic instinct to help each other out. It might not seem that way sometimes, but it's true. If a hiker gets lost in the mountains, people will coordinate a search. If a train crashes, people will line up to give blood. If an earthquake levels a city, people all over the world will send emergency supplies. This is so fundamentally human that it's found in every culture without exception. Yes, there are assholes who just don't care, but they're massively outnumbered by the people who do. And because of that, I had billions of people on my side. Pretty cool, eh?"

Merry Christmas, everyone! ©

“Yes, of course duct tape works in a near-vacuum. Duct tape works anywhere.
Duct tape is magic and should be worshiped.”
― Andy Weir, The Martian

Saturday, December 21, 2019

At Peace with a Quiet Christmas Alone

Typing the projected date for publishing this blog post I realized how close Christmas is. I went to a party earlier this week but I’ve got nowhere to go to celebrate on the 25th so the holiday is essentially over for me...unless I want to go to my family’s annual Christmas Eve party which involves a long drive out to the boondocks and back again---one way in the dark in what may or may not be snowy, foggy or icy weather. Last year I was able to stay overnight at one of my niece’s houses so I could make both trips in the daylight, but she’s spending the holiday out of state this year. She offered to let me and Levi use her house while they’re away. But she lives in an isolated log cabin in the woods and the first thing that popped in my head was Jack Nicholson axing his way through the door, calling out, “Here’s Johnny.” To quote one of my favorite book titles, At Least in the City Someone Would Hear me Scream. In reality, my niece’s postcard pretty house is more like the ones people go over the river and through the woods to visit grandmother's house on Thanksgivings but like they say, “You can take the girl out of the city but you can’t take the city out of the girl.” I can't image staying there alone.

My last, above mentioned holiday party was with my Gathering Girls pals and the weather was perfect for us seven senior ladies to get out and about. We have such a great time laughing and poking fun at ourselves and even after four and a half hours it was hard to break the party up and go home. Except for one annoying thing that happened, it was just what I needed. “What happened?” you ask. A little back story first: Ranging in age from 76 to 89 we really don’t need more stuff to clutter our houses, closets and jewelry boxes so we set a rule to only give gifts that are consumable. The party e-mail reminder even defined a consumable gift as “anything that get used up over time” but the same woman two years in a row now gave something ceramic and definitely not consumable. 

I don’t know why her passive aggressiveness to the consumable rule bothered me so much, but it did. I’m guessing because the Christmas bric-a-brac she gave would have star-crossed with my downsizing marathon and gone directly in my box to donate to Goodwill if I’d been the one to get it. “You broke the rule," I said and she replied that she didn’t know what a consumable gift is which I didn’t believe for a second but I reminded myself that no one appointed me the Rules Monitor. I was dangerously close to acting like a pouty toddler when in fact I needed to put my big girl pants on and accept this foible in my friend. Life is too short to be so rules ridge---Yup, I repeated that inside my head a few times before moving on. Can I at least get a gold star here for my honesty, for painting myself with the well-deserved petty brush?

I do have a possible plan left for the holiday. In the last decade of my husband’s life we’d often go up to his home town---a quaint destination tourist town seven miles away---on the afternoon of Christmas Eve. If the sidewalks were cleared enough for his wheelchair we’d spend the afternoon doing some last minute window shopping and going into the few stores that are wheelchair friendly. Don's memories of the town go way back and he appreciated the opportunity savor memories like of his dad bringing their team of horses into town the week of Christmas to give the city kids a ride in their sleigh. We’d end our Christmas Eve afternoon tradition by buying hot dogs at the same window on the square where he bought them in his teens and we'd take them to the top of the damn to eat them. I've been back to town on the 24th of December just a couple of times since Don died but I think this year I'll go again. The Christmas mark downs will be in the stores so it will test my will power to see if I can come home with only consumable gifts for myself and the dog. ©