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, August 31, 2022

Stayin’ Alive and Fatalism

 

I like where I’m living but sometimes it feels like I’m living in a high stakes game of Russian Roulette. At any given time over the summer we’ve had one or two people in quarantine because of Covid and we aren’t told who it is. Those who took a class or a meal with one of the quarantined people are told through contract tracing thus the gossip mill quickly figures out who is sick. I’ve always been a bit of a germaphobic before the pandemic and now I get the heebie geebies over elevator buttons and people who seem to forget that quarantine means you don’t go calling on your quarantined neighbor with a plate of muffins. “Oh, I didn’t go inside,” one lady told me at dinner, “I just handed the plate off to her at the door.” Hello! Two hands on the same plate, and one is likely stained with Covid droplets because few people wash their hands before opening doors. If I baked muffins and wanted to do something nice for a quarantined neighbor I’d leave them on the hall side of the door then call on the phone and tell the person what I delivered. Is there no common sense in the world? 

One woman has had Covid three times since moving here. She’s been vaccinated but still had to be hauled away in an ambulance each time she’s gotten it. Two days after her last quarantine ended she showed up at Mahjong and played next to me, passing tiles back and forth and making me wishing I could hang a ‘Typhoid Mary’ sign around her neck. The thought crossed my mind that we should make her play with a long-handled reacher like people use to get stuff off from high shelves. Nothing to fear, I told myself, she has to test negative several times before they let her out of quarantine. 

The topic of going up to northern Michigan’s Traverse City area came up while we played---Typhoid Mary and her husband go often---and I made the remark that I’d like to get up there one more time before I die. A day later we’re sharing an elevator and she says to me, “The next time we go North would you like to ride along?” I replied, “That’s a very generous offer,” but in my head I’m thinking about how paranoid I’ve become. Not only her Covid history flashed a warning sign in my head but also the fact that she and her husband are in the early nineties and I have no idea if their car looks dented and abused the way old people’s cars get just before their kids take their driver’s licenses and keys away. Of course, I’ll come up with some excuse not to go should they come up with a more precise invitation that doesn’t involve admitting that I'd turned into a strange little scary cat. They're also very religious and the topic of God is likely to come up on a long car ride and I'd probably pop off with something like 'God' spelled backward is 'Dog' then go into a monologue about the dogs I've had over the years. Can you tell the dog costume parade last week made me long for another puppy to train?

The first record of anyone playing Russian Roulette is found in an 1840’s short story called, The Fatalist by a Russian poet and writer. Long story short the main character uses a gun with one bullet in an attempt to prove there is no predestination. The first click of the trigger with the gun held to his head produces no bullet but the second click, while the gun is aimed at a window, filled the room with smoke and an ear spitting sound. And he wins twenty pieces of gold with this high stakes game.

But how does someone just spin the cylinder with only one bullet in the chamber on a metaphorical gun of things that can go wrong? Do they use the glass-is-have-full approach and reason that you’ve got a five chances in six of a good outcome? Do you tell yourself you’ve lived a long life and how you die in the end doesn’t really matter? Do you tell yourself that all of life is a gamble and so far you’ve won more often that you’ve lost? I guess the fatalist would say that it doesn't matter how you play it, because what will happen will happen. 

According to Wikipedia ‘fatalism is a view that “human beings are powerless to do anything other than what they actually do. Included in this is the belief that humans have no power to influence the future or indeed the outcome of their own actions.” I see a lot of fatalistic thinking here among my fellow residents and that is no surprise given the fact that so many denominations of Christianity do not believe in free will and that their God has foreknowing of everything that happens to everyone. “If I’m going to get Covid, I’m going to get it,” is often spoken out loud here and I want to shout, Maybe so but you won’t catch me licking the elevator buttons or hugging someone in quarantine. We don’t have to put ourselves in harms way because you think God has a plan for you. Maybe God planned for us all to be smart enough to plot our own futures instead of letting Him do all the heavy lifting. Granted I get carried away in a paranoid kind of way with my belief that I DO have some control over my life but, hey none of us is perfect. 

Remember me mentioning I signed up to see a live minor league baseball game? It took place yesterday. We had great seats and they had very high netting to catch fly balls but seven still ended up out in the crowd, one coming within 15 feet of me. At the only other live game I've been to my husband got hit in the head by a ball that neither one of us saw coming. You'd better believe this time I tracked those balls as if stayin' alive depended on it. One of my biggest regrets in life is that I didn't insist we take Don to the ER to get him checked out because in hindsight I think he had a concussion. ©

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Little Fish and Dogs in Tutus

I visited my future today.The park attached to the memory care building here at the continuum care complex was having a costume parade for dogs, and we residents from independent living were invited. The park is actually created by two C -shaped buildings with a view of the lake at one end and a view of our tree lined road on the opposite end. It’s a peaceful place with tables and chairs and a covered patio at the very center that is used to serve drinks and snacks, and if you don’t see the high iron fence keeping residents in you’d think it was a lovely place to while away an afternoon. It was my second trip to an event at my future step-down residence on campus, should my memory get to the point where I need 24/7 supervision so I don’t go wandering off in the night wearing just a pair of snow boots and my watermelon colored lipstick. 

On my first trip to my future I joked that I was afraid to go for fear they’d let me in the coded gate and not let me back out. On this second trip it actually happened that I had to hunt down the gatekeeper so I could return to the path by the lake that took me back to my own independent living building. But in between coming and going I had a good time people watching. There was one old guy in particular who looked like a Tim Conway character from the old Carol Burnett  Show. White hair standing out in all directions like Albert Einstein, a shawl-collared sweater with only the top button buttoned and his old man belly and belt on full display as he shuffled along. Then there was a woman who at first glanced looked like she was carrying a new born baby but it turned out to be one of those expensive, custom-made dolls. And I’d hated to be the aid who had to take it from her arms to help the woman get dressed or undressed. But the most delightful, laugh-out-loud thing I was saw was an 80 pound dog dressed in a large pair of purple wings and wearing a tutu and she was squatting to pee with her back to everyone. I’m sure she thought if she couldn’t see us, we couldn’t see her. It would have been a prize winning photo if I’d had a camera with me. The tutu fanned out in a perfect, pink tulle circle.

Aside from the twenty some residents sitting in the park I saw something else. Something somehow sweet and comforting. The staff who was attending the residents were respectful and kind and cheerful but not patronizing the way I’ve seen in some nursing homes I’ve visited in my past. Another visitor was there with a dog and both her mother and a father lived in Memory Care and one of the staff thanked her for always supporting their Life Enrichment events. She had found some luggage tags that you could paint on and she offered to make name tags out of them for other residents with walkers because, those buggers all look that same. She had a ten-ish year old boy with her and what a wonderful mother she was---modeling kindness the way she did. And what a wonderful daughter, caring enough to want to make the staff’s lives easier by making walker name tags for everyone. 

As I sat there taking it all in I thought about a comment one of the guys from my part of the campus said when we went down to the park to try to dunk the CEO and other staff members into a dunking tank. He said, “If I ever get moved down here, just shoot me” and this time I thought about how if you were judging by looks alone, he’d fit right in. He might have more sparkle in his eyes and he might be a fuss-budget about changing his shirt if he gets a stain on it---stains are the mark of an old person who is loosing it, according to him---but really he’s fooling himself if he thinks he’d be out of place. The line between them and us seemed very thin to me. Granted, there were probably others inside the buildings who couldn’t come outside, who couldn’t enjoy a cup of lemon-aide and some Pepperidge Farm Goldfish crackers. But we’re all only a TIA away from our brains saying we’ve had enough of taking care of business. Rather than be put off by one of these co-mingle events I’m at peace knowing I’ll be in a safe and pretty place to stay when I can no longer find my way back from the bathroom when I get up in the middle of the night. 

Walking home it dawned on me why the two times I’ve visited my future they served those fish-shaped crackers out of the biggest bags I’ve never seen in the stores.They practically melt in your mouth and are safe for little kids who can’t possibility chock on them…and neither could senior citizens with swallowing issues. 

But there's so much to do before I have to worry about memory care including I'm excited about the creative writing group I'm spearheading on campus. Our first meeting is coming up soon. The mission statement is written, the agenda is set and my first assignment is ready to go. ©

Not a good photo but is shows the fence around the park from the road

 
The coded gate with the park beyond the fence, also take from the road

Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Circle Theater and Strawberry Shortcake


One of the ladies living here in on the continuum care campus had a birthday and her kids bought her four tickets to the local circle theater so she could taken three friends with her. I was shocked that I was invited. Sure, we took a painting class together and we occasionally sit at the same table for dinner or lunch and our chit-chat is pleasant and warm. However, if she saw what I wrote about back when she had a hissy fit over something a painting teacher said that caused her to throw her canvas in the trash, I would be ostracized from her circle of friends. And don’t think that doesn’t bother me. I’ve read and reread that post and its followups a dozen times making sure I represented what happened accurately in case it’s ever discovered. She’s really a nice person and I like her but she gets her feelings hurt extremely easy to the point you have to weigh all your words around her. I used to think it’s was because she’d lived a china doll life on the Monopoly Board equivalent of Broadwalk while I grew up on Baltic Avenue. But getting to know her better during the circle theater event I found out that’s isn’t true. Her elegance, sense of decorum and tenderness come from some place else. She lived in an upper middle class neighborhood and worked as an executive secretary for some of the most important business owners in town but didn't come from wealth.

After the play we went back to her place for dessert and she told us about how she had been on the same Resident Council that I was invited to join and rejected the idea of setting up and run their newsletter. At their second meeting the guy in charge was going around the room telling the ten people present what he thought they’d each be good at contributing and he didn’t say anything to or about her. So afterward, she sent him an email resigning from the group and told him why for which he apologized later on and asked her to reconsider. She told us all the experience she’s had in the workplace which really could have translated into useful skills in the Resident Council, but she was truly hurt and on the verve of tears retelling the story. Honestly, I don’t know what to make of this. If it had happened to me I would have chalked it up to the guy being in his mid eighties and it being an honest oversight but she obliviously processes things differently than me. Aren’t human beings interesting in all of facets and foibles? I don’t think I’ll ever tire of trying to figure out what makes us all tick.

Back to the theater: If my memory isn’t playing tricks on me I think I’ve only been to a circle theater one other time in my life and that was only 4-5 years ago. It was a funny production at the Michigan lake shore and full of obscenities that wouldn’t go over well with my current collection of neighbors. I’m really surprised that I’ve been able to keep my tongue from throwing out a few curse words here and there. As a former caregiver to a husband who spent time working in a factory I had perfected the use of the ‘F’ word in well placed situations. And although I’ve moved away on from reading all the military romances I was struck on last winter where every pages was filled with swearing I still can’t bring myself to be offended by an occasional obscenity. I actually quit reading them because I was afraid some of those four letter words would roll off my tongue too easily here  and I’d die of embarrassment. I don’t think I’ve heard a single ‘damn’ or ‘hell’ since I moved it let alone a hardcore curse word.   

This time I saw a production of  On Golden Pond and the story comes from a 1981 movie The official synopsis for the film reads: Cantankerous retiree Norman Thayer (Henry Fonda) and his conciliatory wife, Ethel (Katharine Hepburn), spend summers at their New England vacation home on the shores of idyllic Golden Pond. This year, their adult daughter, Chelsea (Jane Fonda), visits with her new fiancée and his teenage son, Billy (Doug McKeon) on their way to Europe. After leaving Billy behind to bond with Norman, Chelsea returns, attempting to repair the long-strained relationship with her aging father before it's too late.” I remember not liking the movie much but I just found out that the film is a top favorite of my youngest niece, giving me something else to examine closer when I can't sleep. In this production the accent was on humorous one-liners and the bond the boy and the old man were able to form. 

All and all, it was a great way to spend the afternoon. We had wonderful seats, didn’t have to walk too far and the strawberry shortcake our host served was just like everyone’s mom used to make. There is a sick kind of joke going around here since strawberry season started and they added it to our menu. Only instead of the traditional biscuit drenched in berries and whipped cream that we elderly people are used to the chef makes little bullet shaped cakes and drizzled them with what looks liked pink toothpaste. He started topping it off with one slice of strawberries and when people started complaining about the lack of strawberries the one slice went up to two. The sick joke is that after our meals we all make the poor waitresses tell us what’s for dessert and then we ask her how many strawberries are on top. We had some new, cute little college girl waitresses who have dutifully gone back to the kitchen to ask our question of the chef. The waitresses have caught on to the routine now but we still ask and then we pass on ordering the strawberry shortcake without strawberries and laugh about it. ©

Saturday, August 20, 2022

We Won’t Die of Boredom - Baseball and the Sistine Chapel

 

I’ve known for a long time that if anyone is bored here at the continuum care complex it’s their own fault. They throw out a bunch activities and we pick and choose whatever suits us. These things are always on our weekly calendars: Pilates, spiritual care, mahjong, strength training, cardio boxing, cardio drumming, the walking club, two socials/happy hours, Faith Fellowship, Morning Coffee Hour, movie night, a Grief Support Group, Euchre, Cribbage, mexican train dominoes, line dancing, tai chi, Caregivers Support Group, and Coffee with the Chaplin's plus Bridge which meets twice a week and sometimes more often. Cutthroat bridge is a serious endeavor around here. Out of all that above stuff I’ve narrowed down my participation to mahjong, the social hours and tai chi. Then there is lunch and dinner to fit into our schedules if we plan to eat on campus.

Monthly offerings is a different boxes of goodies and I lap them all up: a birthday party with live music, a lecture (usually given by a college professor or a book author), a residents dialogue with the CEO, a book club and an off campus outing. And starting in September the new creative writing club. Not every month but often enough there’s a crafting for charity day, a religious book club and opening season viewing parties for football, basketball and baseball. New on our calendar right now are two motor coach day-long trips. Michiganders will know what Turkeyville is and how popular going to Amish country in Indiana is. I’ve been there done these trips with my old Red Hat Society group, so I don't think I'll sign up.

I did signed up for one of the off campus baseball games. This will be only my second time seeing a live base game and the first time my husband’s nephew was playing and Don got hit in the head with a baseball. The home team we will be supporting is in the Midwest Minor League, a High-A affiliate of the Detroit Tigers---whatever that means. If you were reading my blog last summer you know I decided to teach myself about baseball and I’ve done that. I’ve watched all the Tiger games this season and now I understand how and why my dad could be catnapping but if we touched the dials on the TV set he’d wake up and tell us not to mess with his game. There is something about the drone of the game that has the power to put me asleep but the minute the fans get loud I wake up for the replays. Best game ever for those of us who want to multi-task. The Tigers aren’t doing so good this season but I’m in Tiger country and one of you wise blogger friends told me to pick a team that’s popular where I live to follow so I’d find more people to talk baseball with. And that advice has worked out well.

This week our Life Enrichment Director took a bus load of us downtown to see the Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel exhibit---doesn’t she have a fun job? The exhibit was awesome, worth the $15 price of admission to anyone, like me, who hasn’t seen the real thing. It’s advertised as “a life-sized up close, never-before seen perspective of the genius masterpieces." A few people who'd been to Rome and saw the Sistine Chapel were on our bus and said this was just as powerful because we could get right up close enough to count eye lashes and to read the placard descriptions of each panel without being shoulder to shoulder with strangers from around the world.

In art history class we spent a lot of time studying the life of Michelangelo and his sculptures, paintings and inventions so I wasn't a total doofus about what we'd be seeing. It goes without saying that he understood the human body (from all those middle of the night corpses he carved up) and its said that he was so driven with his work that he'd often go weeks without changing his clothes. He was quite the opposite in terms of charm and social graces as his two biggest rivals, Leonardo deVinci and Raphael were known for, but he genius was so obvious, even back in his own time, that it didn't keep Michelangelo from getting commissions.

What surprised me about the exhibit? How many, many penises were in full view considering that after Michelangelo's death an artist was hired to cover up them up. Nothing in this display or its videos mentioned the hot controversy over all of Michelangelo's full frontal nudes on the Sistine Chapel ceiling or the artist who people called the 'breeches maker' for covering up genitals with fig-leafs and loincloths. Daniele da Volterra worked less than a year covering up penises before the chapel was needed to elect a new Pope and the scaffolding was never put back up again. Apparently the new Pope wasn't quite as offended by Michelangelo's full frontal nudes as puritanical popes Paul IV and Pius IV were. They're the ones who oversaw the most infamous commission in art history.

We have the best Life Enrichment Director on the face of the earth and if I was giving tips out to people looking for a continuum care complex or senior living village I’d say to ask to see a few months worth of the activities planned. This summer, in addition to the above she’s brought horses in from a therapy riding stable and dogs in from the Paws for a Cause organization and she sat in a dunking cage and let residents throw balls at a target to try to get her dropped into the water while we drank ‘mocktails.’ And tomorrow, I’ll be on another off campus adventure---to see a circle theater production of On Golden Pond. ©

video of exhibit