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. (Just remember I'm looking through my prism which may or may not be the full story.) Stick around, read a while. I'm sure we'll have things in common. Your comments are welcome and encouraged. Let's get a dialogue going! Jean

Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Headstones and Anniversaries

 

I don’t have a clue what I’m about to write.  Sometimes when I’m at my computer I know I did X, Y and Z this past week so I’ll be writing about X, Y or Z or a combination of said activities. And for a while the activities around here had been coming at me so fast and furious that I had as many as four posts in my scheduler at one time. Now, I have none. The activities offered hasn’t changed. We still get 4-5 things a day I could be doing, but I don’t. I still haven’t, for example, made it to the morning Coffee and Conversation group or played cards in the evenings after dinner. For a minute or two I thought about going to one of the pastor’s 15 Minute Morning Meditations but I quickly burned that idea out of my brain. If I’m ever going to have a Come-to-Jesus moment I want it to be ten seconds before I die and I want to have it in front of my nieces so it will shock the youngest and amuse the oldest. 

I really like the pastor who leads the meditations. She lives here but we ‘run in different circles' as the kids used to say. I was a fan of her religion columns in the Sunday newspaper years ago and we have at least one thing in common besides an interest in oil painting; neither one of us changed our names when we got married. She was already an established a writer and college professor when she got married. (I was older too.) She wanted to be an ordained pastor since she was a kid but like so many other women in past generations she was told a female couldn't do that. The dream never left her and after retiring from her day job she went back to school and fulfilled her dream. 

Like me, I’ll bet the pastor didn’t correct people who’d call her by her husband’s last name. And maybe I should have. To this day I still have a niece on both sides of my family who sends mail to me using the last name I never legally took. One time I was in the hospital and my youngest niece couldn’t find me because of the name thing. She seems to have a blind spot about married couples having the same name. I’m assuming that’s the issue, we’ve never had that conversation but I did make a notation in my estate papers to be sure my heirs don't go down the wrong rabbit hole while trying to close out my affairs. 

Do you know who gave me the most hassle over not changing my name? A saleslady at the monument company when I ordered a headstone. We have one grave for both our ashes thus we wanted both our names to appear on one stone. The lady at the monument company kept trying to talk me into not putting the last name I’ve used my entire life and instead replacing it with my husband’s last name. I couldn’t get through to the woman that the person she wanted memorialized in granite for all time never existed, that I never changed my name. But she kept saying words to the effect that, “It’s going to look like two unrelated people are in one grave!” 

Only after I came up with the idea of putting a heart in the center with “married April blab, blab, blab” did she finally agreed to take my stupid order. This was just a few days after Don died and she wanted me to go home and think about it. I ordered it so soon because my husband had wanted me to order that stone for a couple of years, since we bought the plot, but I kept dragging my feet and I felt guilty that I didn’t give him the peace of mind that having that stone in place apparently would have given him. With my husband’s severe language disorders it was a very difficult 'conversation' to have but that didn’t stop him from trying every time we’d drive by the cemetery. 

In a world where we’d get do-overs ordering that stone while Don could still see it would be one of my do-overs. Makes my eyes tear up just thinking about it. Oh, and it still creeps me out to see my own name on a stone with an open-ended date to be added later on, proof that I'm not immortal. I'm good at pretending otherwise.

We’re getting close to April so I expect having teary eyes will be happening often enough for it to be a thing. It’s always been a tough month. My mom died in April on Easter so it’s like I have two death dates to mark her traumatic passing. My husband and I both have birthdays in April and we got married in April. Way too many dates to stir up trouble in weak minded, sentimental cry babies. Okay, don’t get on me about characterizing myself as weak-minded; I know I’m not but I can be overly dramatic when I write, so that’s my excuse and warning not to take me too seriously when I ramble-write. 

In April, ever since my husband died I've taken a pilgrimage to the  Butterfly Exhibit where I swear to God---if I believed in one---that a huge blue butterfly landed on me the first year to tell me that my husband was pleased with the grave stone. He knew and liked that I planned to put “happy trails to you until we meet again” in the granite and I kept that promise. 

Moments after he died I said those words to him and there was a hospital chaplain standing near-by who lite up, delighted with what she took to mean that I believed in God and and an afterlife. Before that moment she had asked if she could say a prayer and I coldly replied, "It’s up to you, I don’t care one way or another." So she did, then stood watching me as I spoke my final words and kissed Don goodbye. Next think I knew she was walking me out of the hospital. What a job that would be…make sure the newly coined widows and widowers don’t over stay their welcome.  

I wish I could think of a way to end this post on an upbeat note but I'm coming up blank so the meme below is the best I can do.  ©


Saturday, March 26, 2022

Death Defying Acts Born out of Boredom

I thought I’d try a trick that Dawn over at Bohemian Valhalla likes to do. She plays with catchy post titles trying to draw people into reading her blog. Did it work? She’s good at it, and me? I’ve never been good at naming things---painting, poems, essays. It’s a wonder my dogs weren’t given letters in the alphabet instead of the names I would have given my babies had I had any. Sometimes it can take me longer to name a post than to write it. I generally start out with a working title but it changes as I work on the content. Death Defying Acts---spelled ‘death defining acts’---was the working title here. Can you tell I’ve run out of things to write about? I can’t wait until Easter is over and this continuum care campus gets back normal. They’re celebrating Easter here more than Christmas and not the fluffy bunnies and pastel colored eggs kind of Easter. Wafers for Lent are easy to come by here but not a a single marshmallow Peeps has made an appearance. I might preform a death defying act this afternoon and venture out to the dollar store to get some yellow Peeps. They were in short supply last year.

I finally made it over to the activities room to see the new jigsaw puzzle table and two hours later I was still there. It’s a pleasant room with widows on both sides, lots of light. They are waiting for a couple of round card tables to make their way across the ocean, but for now there are three oblong long tables set up which I hear tell is filled with some loud and serious card games going on. But in the time I was there not a soul came in or walked by. (It was after lunch and nap time for old people. I don’t do naps so I still have bragging rights to youth---age being relative around here, of course.) 

The jigsaw puzzle in progress is large and complicated and the edges were done. The pieces were all laid out but no attempt to sort them by color or subject or shape was made. That will bug the heck out of me if I make a habit of stopping by and I think I might. I got a 4” x 7” section done and sorted all the pieces with faces on them off to one area before I forced myself to leave. At home when I do puzzles I set a timer so I’m aware of how much time goes by. I suspect I’ll need to carry my timer over when I go to that room. Otherwise the night security guard/s will probably find me still there when doing their rounds at two in the morning.

Another afternoon was saved from death by boredom when I signed up to go to our Art Museum downtown, to see an exhibition of work by two black photographers of “great importance” in the field: Dawould Bey and Carrie Mae Weems. It covered work from over forty years of their careers and the pamphlet we were handed called them “today’s most important and influential photo-based artists.” They both worked entirely in black and white and his stuff, which was mostly portraits and candid stuff taken in Harlem, I liked but her work I hated. She was in every single picture she took and she called her stuff “performance art.” She sets up a still life of objects and/or people, sets a timer so can run around in front of the camera and be part of the photograph. Forty years of doing selfies would put me on the train to Crazyville and the bitch factor in me wondered if she is a recognized photographer for her endurance rather than for any artistic quality in the photos. Forty years is a long time to be shouting, "Look at me! Look at me!"

One set of 12 'kitchen table' photos told a story and viewers are supposed to guess what it is. We had one of those I’m-smarter-than-you-because-I-understand-this-stuff museum docents you get once in a while who asked questions trying to get us to see what she saw and she was Oh So impressed with the talent on display. In turn I was thinking I was Oh So not enjoying Ms. Weems’ photo-art. I didn’t just not like it, I had a physical reaction to it that felt like anger mixed with wanting to get out of Dodge as quick as possible. And the longer the docent made us sit there trying to get us to cough up answers the madder I got.

And it’s just now dawning on me that I was probably so uncomfortable because maybe I was flashing-back to when my husband was in speech therapy and they’d throw photos down in front of him and try to pull language out of him by pointing out stuff in the photos. On a good day a half hour session would yield 4-5 words. One time they showed Don a picture of a man with a gun pointing at a baby elephant and the entire yield of words that day was “BAD!” repeated over and over again while Don slammed his finger down on the photo. I was sitting behind a one-way mirror and I explained to the professor in the room with her students watching the session that Don was a very ethical hunter and the hunter in the photo obviously was not. The poor student therapist working with Don that day didn’t have a chance of getting a good grade that session. Instead of the student therapist trying to pull words out of him he turned the tables on her and had her doing the word search work. A common error for the students (and families) to make.

I was Don's aphasia interpreter for 12 1/2 years and for six year of that time I helped him with homework using photos of random scenes. It wasn't art. It wasn't performance. At the museum Weems' photos became tools that the gloating docent used to give me a look at my past and my future, should I ever have a stroke and can't talk. If art is about evoking an emotional response then her kitchen table series was a huge success. But somehow I don't think 'my emotions' were what she was going for, do you?  ©

Photo from Carrie Mae Weems' kitchen table series.

Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Roswell, New Mexico - Netflix Series


Let’s talk sci-fi. I’m not a huge fan of the genre but every once in a while it catches my interest. The last time was the movie E.T. so I was long over due for a little alien invasion to take up space in the what-if part of my brain. I just finished binge-watching three seasons of Netflix’s Roswell, New Mexico and the first thing I did when I got to the end was start watching it from the beginning again. The worst part is not having anyone around who I can talk to about it. My husband wanted to believe in aliens from outer space and he was keenly interested in Area 51. He would have loved hearing me rave about the actors and how skilled they are, about all the sub-plots, special effects, weird science and Area 51 military stuff in this series.

And the nuggets of wisdom hidden in the dialogues? That’s my favorite part. Where I live, here in independent living, any time TV is mentioned it’s clear the overwhelming favorite things to watch are sports, PBS documentaries, British TV and old people shows that I left behind in the middle of the last century. What will people think if I start talking aliens? That I'm ready to be moved to memory care or the assisted living part of the campus, that's what.

Roswell, New Mexico is basically an alien/human romance with a lot of social justice issues and tons of sub-plots thrown in. It starts out when three aliens walk into a bar…just kidding. It starts out when three aliens in the form of human children are found wandering in the desert and from there the story evolves. Max, who becomes a sheriff, and his twin sister Isabel got adopted by loving parents. The third alien/genius, Michael, wasn’t so fortunate and he got kicked around the social services system. (Hint, hint. A nature versus nurture sub-plot.) He's wasting his adult life working as an auto mechanic and drinking too much. He sums up his character best in these lines of dialogue: “When you are a kid who nobody loves, kindness is a currency. Friendship doesn’t mean jack. Family just lies and hurts and leaves. I’ve only ever known love to be temporary. So, yeah, I push people away. Every time someone threatens to care about me, I test their love until they have to leave. Connection is conditional. Everybody eventually gives up on the guy who refuses to be rescued. But you were the only one that I could never run off. You never believed me when I tried to be something I wasn’t.”

The series has voice-overs and lots of dialogue that I wanted to savor enough to google. Like when Isabel says: “The idea of God always freaked me out. Like, apparently, he made people in his own image, which first of all, get over yourself. But also, does that apply to us? Does every planet have its own god? Let’s say that we’re all clones of the big guy in the sky. Well, then doesn’t it stand to reason that we’re all capable of slinging light. Well I guess by that same token, we’re all capable of tremendous wrath. We’re walking contradictions. A never-ending, mercurial rise and fall. Darkness and light. I guess the real miracle is choosing the light. Despite the ever-present darkness.” 

Alex, another main character, is in love with alien Michael and Alex’s father is a high ranking officer in the Air Force working in a top secret area of Area 51. He thought he could beat the gayness out of his son and that plot line thickens in unexpected ways. At one point Alex says about a secret prison where alien survivors from the crash of '47 have been used as lab rats: “You just watched your government blow up a building filled with elderly people. Your brain is trying to justify the slaughter so that your government can be right. We want to believe that we’re safe, that goodness prevails. That’s the coldest reality about war. Sometimes you’re just doing what you’re told, and all of a sudden, things are burning, people are screaming, and then you look around and you realize that the evil is you.”

In one scene Alex says to a random guy in a bar, “I cannot tell you how badly I want to be done with this frickin’ closet” and the guy replies, “But you’re not. And that’s okay. Really. Listen, if that voice in your head ever shuts up, give me a call. Because between you and me, making out with a hot guy in public is only made hotter when it pisses off all the bigots and homophobes.” Oh, and did I mention that factions in the series are working on a viral weapon that, if dropped in heavily populated areas, would only kill people with certain DNA sequencing? Let that sink in...genocide of whole races or sexual deviants or medical deficiencies. The ethics of DNA bio-engineering research is also a theme that peaks my interest.

Grieving over loved ones also has a big part in the plot twists and Liz says something that a few widows, I’m sure, could identify with: “There are five stages of grief. Denial is first, but we’re way past that. The second stage is anger. I haven’t hit stage three yet. In fact, I may never get there because, to be honest, rage feels a lot better than sadness. This anger has become my best friend. It’s my fuel; it’s my armor.”

And having cut my reading teeth on romance novels I’d be remiss if I didn’t end this post with a romantic quote said by Max to Liz, a  research scientist, after she says he doesn’t know the real her enough to love her: “You are overly defensive and you’re sometimes selfish, and you are always muttering in Spanish like you think it’s some secret language that no one understands. But, hello, we are in New Mexico. We all speak Spanish. You always have to convince everyone that you are the smartest one in the room like we don’t already know. You think your sister was hard to love and so you think by being perfect and being the smartest that you are easier to love, easier for your mom, easier for your dad. But you are not perfect; I see your faults and I love you. Easily.” 

All fiction asks the reader or viewer to suspend their disbelief and Roswell, New Mexico is a big ask. It won’t be for everyone but if you’re into sci-fi you might want to give it a try. It’s deep, fast-paced, addictive and is filled with interesting characters, story lines and plot twists. A fourth season is coming and I can't wait. ©

Footnote: Quotes are all from Basic Stuff. (A pop culture online magazine.)

Saturday, March 19, 2022

St. Patrick's Day and Tax Time

St. Patrick’s Day was the inspiration for another fun theme week here at the continuum care complex. It followed another theme week I didn’t write about because I’m not into “churchy things” like doing the Stations of the Cross, Ash Wednesday. Lent and a series of classes to study Bible events leading up to Easter. I didn’t even do the buffet for Mardi Gras night because while I like some Cajun music I didn’t trust the iconic food that goes with it not to kill me with hidden shell fish. I did, however, love the paczki’s served on Fat Tuesday before Lent started and the Mardi Gras beads that were free for the taking draped all over the public areas. Best paczki’s I’ve ever had in my life and we used to have some great Polish bakeries in my area.

St. Patrick’s Week started on Monday with a viewing of a PBS documentary The Ireland’s Wild Coast and it featured what they called the most beautiful coastlines in the world. It had some breathtaking photography of a chain of Man-free, wild islands with millions of nesting birds and ancient ruins that are surrounded by waters filled with breaching humbacks and other sea life. I’d love to see another video on how they filmed such amazing close-ups of hatching birds and mating animals. At one point one of the guys shouted out as two seals were mating, “This is my kind of movie” and I mumbled, “Oh gross, you’re into animal porn!"

Irish Happy Hour was my favorite happy hour so far but then I said the same about the Hawaiian Happy Hour. They served my all-time favorite alcoholic drink---Grasshoppers. Back in my dating days when someone would take me to a nice restaurant I always ordered a Grasshopper for dessert which is made with equal parts of ice cream, crème de menthe liqueur and crème de cacao liqueur served in a cocktail glass with dark chocolate power on the edge of the glass. I hear tell they mostly sell Grasshoppers as shooters today which hardly seems worth the effort to get the blender out. I was so hung up on Grasshoppers back in my day that I even made them at home. After awhile I narrowed it down to just the crème de menthe over ice cream and called it good enough. Anyway, the theme happy hours here are bringing back some great memories. Wouldn’t it be fun to be young again, especially if we knew how short-lived our carefree days would be before adult problems would take over our lives.

They also put on an Irish buffet with the best tasting, most tender corn beef I've ever had in my life. (My mom used to boil the flavor out of it and it still cut like leather.) And yesterday afternoon's entertainment was filled with live Irish music, a fiddle player who was really good and he sat in front of a large screen while drone footage of Ireland played in the background.

This week I also managed to run errands and I put more miles on my car that one day than I did in the entire month of February. That’s a fact verifiable by Google because they track me where ever I go in case I decide to take up the hobby of writing reviews of, say, the car wash I went to, the shoe store, the CPA’s office or the bottom of the river that I used to fear I’d end up in some icy winter day where I used to live. No river to fear down here and I managed to navigate the streets and traffic I’m not used to doing just fine. I’m going to take a page out of another blogger’s life (Living Richly in Retirement) and declare one day a week when I explore my new area. The jury is still out on whether I should get a GPS app. I usually just google where I’m going, then print out a map from point A to point B. I have a smart phone but it's maxed out on apps so getting a GPS presents a problem.

Tax Time: I get my income taxes done by a CPA and have for as far back as I can remember. It’s over-kill now that it’s just me and no businesses. But old habits are hard to break and the idea of doing my own taxes is not worth the worrying about making a mistake and going off to tax jail. Ya, I know, that’s not going to happen. We once knew a tax evader and it took seven years before the IRA came crashing down on him and, boy, did they come after him with literal guns blazing. Damn fool tried to hold off several law enforcement agencies in an armed attempt to hold on to a large farm with his underground bank of guns and ammo. Damn Fool could have sold off some acres to cover what he owed but instead he lost it all and earned himself prison sentence for his siege.

The inside of his house was a hoarder situation. A well organized hoard with one room dedicated to just post cards in filing cabinets so close together you could hardly walk down the aisles. At the time we saw the house I was trying to build a set of woman’s suffrage cards and had been at it for several years. I had just one card left to complete the series of 12 and the guy (one of Don’s work friends) invited us out to see the card. He had many duplicates of the exact card I needed but even offering him $200 for the 1909 Dunston Wellers postcard that, at the time, usually went for $100 wouldn’t get guy to part with one of his. 

After the siege everything he own was auctioned off for pennies on the dollar to pay his debts, losing a farm that had been in his family for four generations. He didn’t believe in paying any form of taxes; he had owed the county, state and federal governments back taxes years before they came prepared with a coordinated effort to haul him off. Oh, ya, I never get past tax time without remembering that crazy, old fool. ©

I did finally complete my set, framed them and now my suffragette postcards are hanging in my half bathroom. Their values have fallen in the past five years---thanks, Marie Kondo---but I still love the memories of hunting for them. (Sorry for the poor quality photo. The colors are bright like the ones at the top. I grabbed that picture off an auction site.)