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

Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Surprising Revelations and Soul Searching

Funerals. Celebrations of life. Whatever you want to call it when people gather together to give our condolences to the immediate family and share stories of the deceased are something I’ve never balked from going to. I find it interesting that no matter how well you think you know a person that there are people who will stand up and talk who present a whole different side of a deceased person’s personality. And I suppose that shouldn’t surprise any of us. We grow and change throughout our lives. We are marked and influenced by our experiences and the people we meet along the way. However, in the case of my childhood friend’s celebration of life it also gave me a lot to think about. As I said in an earlier post, we spent a lot of time together from the time I was born until our late teens. Our parents were best friends since before they were married. They vacationed together, built cottages four doors way from each other and kept in close contact their entire lives. We kids, though, eventually went our separate ways but through the grapevine we always knew the basics of what was going on in each other's lives.

The core theme at Allen’s Celebration of Life service was he lived the Marine values his entire adult life after having served four years in the early 1960s. I’ve always been fascinated by how so many old men pick either their college years or their four years in the military as the highlight of their lives while women pick the years when they're children are young. Allen and I exchanged a few letters back in those days when he was stationed in Japan and if he wrote about his coming of age in the military it wasn't to me. He grew up with not much of a role model for a father and after listening to the stories told at his memorial service I’m guessing Allen’s commanding officer in the Marines filled in the gaps on how to be a man. He had the Marine Corp honor guard and three gun salute as part of the service.

His mother was the kind of mother who (cheerfully) waited on her husband and son hand and foot. A typical example: as a teen Allen would be sitting at a table not more than four feet away from the kitchen sink during our nighty Monopoly games and would yell for his mom in another part of the cottage to get him a drink of water. He was a lazy kid, never made to do chores and his father never lifted a hand to do stuff that by tradition of the era was men’s work to maintain a house and yard. Allen's sister from around 11 or 12 years old used to follow my dad around like a puppy dog and he taught her how to do household maintenance like fix leaky faucets, repair screens and sticky windows which she did to help out her mom while her father read Westerns and drank beer and Allen read comic books.

And yet at the memorial the minister told story after story about how hard Allen worked on their church projects and others told how willingly he helped people in need. He came to religion in the last seven years of his life, after a deathbed promise to his wife of less than a decade. A confirmed bachelor until his sixties his marriage surprised a few of us back then. And I don’t mind telling you that it always gives me pause for thought when I hear about late-in-life devotion to a church. Will it happen to me? I don’t see how…yet I picked a Christian based non-profit place to live out my days. Just sayin'.

When prayers are offered at places like funerals or events here on campus it bothers me when they end with “In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.” after years of trying I still can’t wrap my mind around how excluding other paths to God makes the world a better place. I guess I had too much exposure as a kid to being told I was going to hell if I didn’t accept Jesus as my savior. Being a bullheaded kid (my mom’s nickname for me) who grew up to be a stubborn adult I can’t see me grabbing that transformation ring as I’m dying. If I did you couldn’t trust that I wasn’t just treating it like an insurance policy in case I’ve been wrong all these years of believing being a moral person with a good value system is good enough to get membership into the realm of angels, if there is such a place. 

One would think I believe in a heaven or an afterlife if you read the words on Don’s and my headstone. It says “Happy Trails to you…until we meet again”. I chose those words in the sense that our souls would find each other in the ether that fills the upper regions of space. Our souls meeting as gases and transforming into something else. Ya, kind of an off-shoot of reincarnation. It also was something Dale and Roy Evans used to sing at the end of their TV show and Don's funeral had a Western theme.

None of us will know for sure what happens after we die but I really would like to know if others who have not been church goers and/or are non-believers think about deathbed acceptance of church doctrine. If a loved one asked you on their deathbed to stand up in front of a congregation and say you’re ready to accept Jesus as your savior the way Allen's wife did would you do it? I suppose when someone is dying it’s easy to say whatever gives them comfort but actually doing it would take a deeper kind of love than I’ve ever experienced.  ©

Saturday, November 26, 2022

The Siblings and our Parents

My brother is settling into Memory Care quite well although an aid there just told me he thinks he’s in a hospital. I’m not surprised because on one of my visits he asked me if he was sick and dying because, he said, people keep coming into his room in the middle of the night to check his back or his lungs. I happened to run into the director of the dementia activities program a few days after that conversation so I asked her what might be going on at night to give him that idea and she told me with some patients they check to see if they are still dry and need to be walked to the bathroom. Mystery solved. 

I learned with my dad’s dementia that sometimes what we thought was an illusion in his head was actually real. For several weeks Dad claimed he had a chipmunk in his bed and no one believed him. That is until on a visit I sat in the living room and watched one come out from behind a piece of furniture and run the full length of his house and go directly into my Dad’s bedroom. This is another good reason to take the advice of a dementia expert I heard speak recently to never to argue with dementia patients. Once in awhile they’re right (my words and conjecture, not hers). But she did say dementia patients are losing their language skills to make what is going on with them clear to others. (I feel that happening to me when I talk and it’s downright scary.)

Dad also had what we thought was a disconnect with reality when he kept complaining that he couldn’t sleep at night because “there were people in his living room having a party.” Long story short my brother put a timer on his TV and that ended the “parties.” My brother and I spent five years problem solving at dad’s house to keep him safe and happy and to this day I’m proud of what we accomplished. Those years brought some of the best memories of bonding with dad but also some of worse fights between my brother and me. As with most kids in that stage of life---trying their best to care for an aging parent---we were under a lot of stress and after Dad passed it took a year before the tension between my brother and I dissipated.

After my mom died in 1983 I spent a few years gathering stories and memories from everyone in my family. It was my way of grieving her. Her death was tragic and painful because it was spiked with preventable missteps in the medical community. A doctor afterward told me having all your blood slowing seep out of your organs into your body cavity is one of the most painful ways to die and the fact that her doctor told my brother and me that she was just an old woman looking for attention, that there was nothing wrong with her, is another reason why when an older person asks a question like my brother did, I try to understand where it’s coming from and answer honestly. For example, I told my brother the day he asked me if he was dying that his daughters would have told me if that were true and they hadn't said anything remotely like that to me. The "pause and pivot to an alternative topic" approach is the recommended method of handling much of what dementia patients obsess about but I think/hope I'm still good enough at reading my brother to know when to use it and when to give him a red meat answer.

Back to Mom: It wasn’t just the weeks of pain Mom went through that were preventable if she’d been taken seriously but the ambulance that picked her up the day she died caught on fire on the way the hospital, something Ford Motor who built that model ambulance knew was happening on trips longer than x-number of miles. We didn’t take part in the class action suit that followed a bunch of fires like what delayed mom's trip to ER but the last day to decide whether or not to join it was one of the hardest days of my life. But I had to let go of the pain of losing her and a lawsuit would have kept it going. 

Complying the family stories finally gave me closure. And all those stories and memories I had gathered I pulled together and I printed out old school with my computer. I punched holes in the pages and bound all 125 pages of single spaced typing together plus sections of photos, hand writing samples, poetry by family and favorite recipes. I hadn’t read the book in decades but yesterday I took my copy down to my brother’s building and read him the first chapter. My plan is to read to him once a week and if my first reading is any indication it’s going to be a warm and rewarding experience for both of us. 

In the first chapter are lots of quotes of things my dad said and my brother shocked me when I’d start reading a couple of them and Jerry would finish them. "How did you know that?" I asked at one point and he said, "Dad told that story about grandpa a lot." As a read, I’d stop occasionally so we could talk about whether or not he remembered things like being in charge of crushing tin cans to put out to the curb during WWII and most often he did and he’d add a little more color to the story than what I had written on the pages. All and all reviewing our lives this way is going to be a bonding experience. I should probably run the idea past the director of the dementia activities program before I get too far into the project. But I’m pretty sure it fits in perfectly with what they are trying to accomplish in Memory Care. Fingers crossed. ©

Wednesday, November 23, 2022

Isn’t Skin Cancer Fun!

According to the Mayo Clinic website, “Mohs surgery is a procedure used to treat skin cancer. This surgery involves cutting away thin layers of skin. Each thin layer is looked at closely for signs of cancer. The process keeps going until there are no signs of cancer. The goal of Mohs surgery is to remove all of the skin cancer without hurting the healthy skin around it. Mohs surgery allows the surgeon to be sure that all the cancer is gone. This makes it more likely that the cancer is cured. During Mohs surgery, medicine to numb the area is usually given so that you don't feel pain. Mohs surgery is also called Mohs micrographic surgery.” What they don't tell you is at the surgical center you’ll be dispensed back into a waiting room in between skin scrapping while the cells are looked under a microscope and you end up being at the place all afternoon. In my case, I couldn’t get their WiFi to work with my Kindle so it was a long afternoon. I had downloaded the psychological thriller, The Sleepover by one of my favorite authors Keri Beevis, to read. But instead I had to read medical pamphlets and get dizzy from watching fish swimming around in a giant blue tank.

It was true that I didn’t feel much after the numbing needles went around the mole site but what the Mayo Clinic website failed to explain (but I found at another site when I got home) is that after the surgery they cauterize the surgery site “with acid or hot metal or lasers. Such a procedure is naturally quite painful.” I’m here to say that ‘quite painful’ is an understand! It seemed to go on forever and ever while the doctor who was doing it kept saying “I’m sorry! I’m so sorry!” Had she warned me ahead of time that it was coming maybe it wouldn’t have hurt so much but even while the pain was going on she didn’t explain what she was doing until I asked. I don’t mind admitting it brought tears to my eyes.

Two days later when I could finally take the dressing off my ankle I saw a perfectly round and deep wound that is slightly smaller than a dime. (Photo above.) The ankle is a place where it’s almost impossible to put in stitches.They tend to tear out, the doctor said, and that ends up making the wound area bigger. I believe her, having had that exact thing happen on one of my recent thumb surgeries. So I have to keep it covered for a month hoping it will heal on its own. If it’s not starting to heal by my one month check up, other steps will be needed---a skin graft, hyperbaric or ultrasound therapy but I’m not going to borrow that kind of trouble…even though I can’t believe that ugly hole will heal without help. And I feel an Amazon order is in my future. Remember the bacon looking band-aids I posted a few weeks back? I'm pretty sure I'll still be having to keep the hole in my leg covered when spring and short pants are back.

I consider myself lucky because my brother had a skin cancer on his face that involved nerve damage and more than one surgeries. We both spent a lot of time in the water and sun growing up and---oops---sixty years later skin cancer shows up. Who knew back then that could happen? Back then we even drenched ourselves in baby oil and baked out in the sun to deepen our tans. I did have another cancer surgery---on the end of my nose that looked like the witch’s mole in the Wizard of Oz but being a vain woman I got into the dermatologist early-on for that one and that’s how I got my ‘teddy bear seam’ down the center of my nose.

Mohs surgery/treatment is a specialty and the doctor’s gay guy nurse was all of twelve years old. She was twenty-eight but I looked up her biography online and it was impressive. When I made the appointment at the dermatology center I was asked to pick between her and another Mohs specialist---an older guy close to retirement who started the center. “They are both good,” I was told, “but she will hold your hand more.” I thought that was an odd thing to tell a potential patient and I replied, “I don’t need hand holding. I just want this thing removed as soon as possible.” While the doctor was cauterizing the surgical site without warning I wanted to scream, “Is this your idea of hand holding?” But I didn’t. I was too busy wishing she’d given me a shot of whiskey and stick to bite down on the way they do in old black and white movies when they are about to dig a bullet or arrowhead out of someone’s shoulder. They held an old hunting knife over a fire before using it to burn the wound site to stop the bleeding. When my cauterizing was over, I made a statement about the way they did that procedure in the Old West to the nurse and he'd never heard of that. What am I one hundred and two years old? Nope. I’m guessing he really is twelve years old. As much as medicine has advanced over the past hundred years you'd think they would have found a better way to cauterize a wound, wouldn't you. At least give you a second round of numbing shots first. © 

* Photo of my mole site two days after surgery.