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, February 25, 2023

Lent and Mardi Gras

I don’t know much about Lent and Ash Wednesday and the other stuff leading up to Easter. I do know it’s a big deal around here. Two priests serviced the campus ---if ‘service’ is the right word for going around painting crosses on peoples' foreheads with ashes. They’ll be here each Friday through out Lent to do the fourteen Stations of the Cross. The only custom of Lent I’ve ever taken part in is eating Packzi’s on Fat Tuesday and listening to others share what they are giving up for Lent. Apparently the fad this year is giving up something different each day which, to me, seems like a cop out. How can giving up something for one day be a hardship? If it’s supposed to be a test of self-discipline and sacrifice they are testing nothing compared to Jesus going off to the desert to fast and pray for 40 days and 40 nights before dying on the cross. 

I've also read that giving up something for Lent is a sort of house cleaning of the mind according to Rev. Joseph Yoo, by prioritizing God to the center of our thoughts which, I guess, if you give up something every day you're doing that with forty little decisions instead of just the one big one at the beginning of Lent. What keeps me from claiming to be a Christian is I don't believe in the whole Easter thing. I mean if Jesus died on the Cross and was resurrected, then he either died a second time years from then or he's been ghosting humanity all these centuries later. I know the answers Biblical scholars give to that dilemma but I'm not buying it.

Of course, the management here uses any old excuse to have theme dinners in our main dining room where they serve food buffet style and charge you twice as much as they usually do. Mardi Gras night to kick off the season of Lent was such an event but I couldn’t go because everything but the booze and the dessert had shellfish in it. Those who attended said it was a major disaster because no one could eat the overly spiced shrimp and craw-fish. It was so bad the kitchen manager cut the price from $25 down to $12 and they ended up cooking a second meal for those who attended. It seems the shellfish came from the seafood market with a packet of spices and the kitchen staff just put them all in the pot without tasting what they were cooking. They were thoroughly embarrassed. 

Never the less those who attended grabbed up and wore all the cheap plastic beads that were hanging all over the place and the next day at lunch they were asking each other why Mardi Gras is decorated in green, purple and gold. No one knew. Neither did I but I do know that there was a time and place in history when only royalty and the clergy were allowed to wear purple. It was the most expensive clothe back in the day because the antiquity purple dyes were hard to get. The Catholic church now, according to a short google search, claims purple is worn for Advent and Lent because it “reflects sorrow and suffering” but excuse me for being a Doubting Thomas about why the Popes loved their purple velvets back in the day when peasants couldn’t legally wear them.

This has been a boring week around here not only because of Lent but we’re in the middle of a major ice storm and just about anything that required people to travel anywhere within the city got canceled including church services on Ash Wednesday and here on campus a movie I was actually going to see staring Morgan Freeman, The Story of God. I’m hoping next week it will be rescheduled. A priest was leading a discussion about the film afterward and I actually met the guy when I was staying in Respite Care. He came to my room to introduce himself since I was new there. I told him I wasn’t Catholic but I was glad there was a priest in the building and where that sentiment came from I don’t know. I was no longer on the hard drugs for pain so I can’t blame it on that. He was like a friendly puppy who would have been fun to talk with if I hadn’t just been uprooted from my normal life. 

My niece gets a report on all the things my brother takes part in over in the Memory Care building and she happened to mention that she was surprised that he took part in a Catholic Church service. I laughed because I figured that friendly puppy-priest could talk a lot of non-Catholics and non-religious people into following him down to a church service. When in Rome, do as the Romans do. When you want to make old people smile send in a puppy. Jeez, is he a sign they could make a Christian out of me yet? 

Season one of this National Geographic’s God series is billed as, “Morgan Freeman presents his quest in order to find how most religions perceive life after death, what different civilizations thought about the act of creation and other big questions that mankind has continuously asked.” And if I don’t see the movie this coming month, I hope I live another year so I’ll have another opportunity next year to see it---they showed it last year which is why I think it will be a holiday tradition. 

I did learn one new thing about Lent this year, though, that the ashes they paint the crosses on believers' foreheads with are supposed to come from burning palm leaves from the previous year which is more symbolism I’m too lazy now to research and share. At the lunch table of twelve on Ash Wednesday only four of us didn’t have the cross of charcoal on our foreheads which is proof positive of what I’ve said all along. My favorite lunch table is truly a Catholic table. ©

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Money Matters

Since coming home from Respite Care I struggle with what to write about. Between falling asleep when I shouldn’t be and trying to sleep when I should be, I’m not doing a whole lot of anything else. That’s not entirely true. The physical therapist who's been coming to my apartment twice a week just ‘graduated’ me from her part of out-patient care for my broken and misaligned ribs and she’s been taking up two hours of my weeks since getting home. She always came at the same time as Tai Chi classes take place here so I haven’t been able to start them up again. She says I have her permission to use the walker as much or as little as I want as long as I remember to slow down, don’t make sudden turns or stops and starts. Eighty
years of walking a certain way and I'm going to change that?

The nurse says she’s going to discharge me next week. “Are you sure you can dress that Mohl surgery site?” she asked and the jaded side of me almost answered that I’d been doing it for almost a year before she came along but the Nice Nancy in me assured her that changing the place I do it at, so that I can sit instead bending over like a pretzel, has made it doable without her. Other than that, taking my vitals and listening to my lungs for signs of pneumonia is all she’s been doing, so I’m glad I wouldn’t be tied down by her by-weekly visits either. And I won’t miss her ordering supplies for me that I really don’t need or want----I have enough wound care products that I could dress a whole military platoon. I can’t be sure before the bills roll in but I’ll bet my deductibles on that stuff will cost more than it would for me to just order it straight off Amazon where I’ll get credit card points as well.

The Occupational Therapist, especially, spent my money like it was sand in the desert. She ordered a toilet seat riser, for example, that still sits unused in a box and can’t be returned. Same with a box of 44 adult diapers that I only used seven of. Then there was the bed wedge and sock aid that I only needed for a minute and a half. But she was the person who had the power over deciding whether or not I was safe to go back to my apartment so if she said I needed a box turtle painted pink I would have said, "I'll take two." I got a bed rail that way and I do like it…only I didn’t get the one she suggested. I canceled the order soon after she left and got another one off Amazon you barely see while the one she suggested yelled HOSPITAL RAIL needed here.

Change of topic: For the first time in my adult life I’m having trouble getting my paperwork together for my income tax appointment with my CPA. And, no, it’s not age related. At least I don’t think it is. It has to do with my newly acquiring financial adviser last summer and not having a working printer now. I told him I wanted my fiances simplified but they are anything but that now. I went from two accounts to keep track of to five and as far as I can tell they all lost money last year. With my old, self-done financial set up I wouldn’t have lost a dime….but the chance of making money wouldn’t have been there either and I can live with that a whole lot easier than the ups and downs I see now. 

I’m anxious for all the bills to roll in from the hospital, doctors and other costs related to my fall. I want them paid off and history but the Adviser has me on too tight of a budget to do that. I’m seeing him on Monday. I need at least one account that is more fluid because I like to pay my bills off in one shot and not having payments hanging over my head. Yes, it’s a First World problem and I try to remember how luck I am to have them rather than the other kind where just finding enough to eat and a place to stay warm is something REAL to worry about. At least World Central Kitchen loves my guilt trips because I just drained all but $10 of my PayPal account with another donation to their cause of feeding people in war and disaster zones around the world. Looking over the charity donations I made in 2022, I saw a pattern. I apparently wanted to feed people and animals during floods, fires, wars, earthquakes and the homeless in inner cities.

I hate worrying about money. I just HATE it! And the scary part is that I see myself in my brother who is giving himself and his kids heart burn worrying about money. So far I’m keeping my worries to myself (if I don’t count my blog readers). So far I don’t obsess to the point that it’s one the two themes I talk about with family like my brother does. When he’s not asking someone to give him a ride home from Memory Care he’s asking someone to give him ride to the bank. And I can’t keep from wondering if this worrying isn’t coming from our mom. She set the standard with her life-long worrying about money---justifiably so, given her childhood but not so much with my brother and me. We were taught by example to always have extra $20 bills stuffed in pockets or books. Always have something to give to someone who needed food for their kids. Even a secret bank account was not out of the realm of possibilities with her. Then we stick a guy in Memory Care like my brother is and expect him to forget the safety net of carrying money on him at all times? We all know how impractical that is in a place like that but still I need to keep reminding myself that his kind of worrying is nothing new. It just sprouted wings to carry the worrying to new heights. ©

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Six Degrees of Anguish

The people who live in my Independent Living building have a close connection with Michigan State University where the latest in a long line of mass murders occurred earlier this week. We even fly their flag on game days, we have viewing parties in our cafe and people walk around wearing their Spartan Green. But this week The Six Degrees of Separation Theory was on full display around here and both their flag and our American flag are flying at half mast. The joyful connections with the university have been replaced with prayer vigils and having clergy available to give grief support to those who need it.
Many residents here have grandchildren who attend MSU and one of the five kids who was shot and is still in the hospital fighting for his life is the great-nephew of a couple living on the floor above me. My next door neighbor’s granddaughter was supposed to be in the class on the campus where the shootings took place but she had skipped school that night. Her parents didn’t know she was safe for quite awhile, though, so they are processing how close they came to her going through a horrendous experience at best or dying at worst. Her grandmother said, “We’ll deal with her skipping classes later.” They didn’t know she did that sort of thing.

The first time I wrote about a mass shooting was in December of 2012 when 28 people were killed including twenty kids between the ages of six and seven at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. And here I am over a decade later. The names and ages changed, the problem of gun violence in America just keeps getting more and more frequent while (mostly) Republican lawmakers sit on their tusks offering thoughts and prayers. Although they don’t do that so much anymore since the Democrats recently called them out about their useless prayers and thoughts when they are in a position to actually do something to keep guns of mass destruction out of the hands of those who should not have them. We’ve all become numb by mass shootings just like we’ve become numb to the gridlock in Washington.

As long as Kevin McCarty can still stand behind a pathological liar like Republican Representative George Santos and a self-described Christian Nationalist and Conspiracy nutcase like Majority Taylor Green this country can no longer claim to a be a moral country. Whether you believe we lead from the bottom up or from the top down, when our lawmakers don’t seem to care about Ethics and Truth we are going to keep getting ruled by the self-centered people with the deepest pockets and right now that’s still the NRA and the Ultra-Far Right.

I’m glad Nikki Haley threw her hat in the ring but her pitting herself against seniors over 75 isn’t going to endear her to the aging Republican Base and it made her a prime target for 76 year old Trump. Who knows, maybe that’s the secret master plan in the party, let her take the first volleys from the x-President then let someone else step into the race who can be an actual, serious candidate. Does anyone really believe a woman could become the President of the United States in this day and age? If half the country doesn’t trust a woman to make her own reproductive decisions why would they trust a woman to sit in the Oval Office?

Enough politics, let’s talk about the parlor game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It was developed by three college students back in 1994 and it’s based on a discussion Kevin had on TV and the six degrees of separation theory that goes back to 1929. It speculates that any two people on earth are only ever six or less connections apart, only in the game you had to link anyone in Hollywood to the actor Kevin Bacon with lowest numbers in between. Since he was a prolific actor for decades when the game was developed it was fun for movie buffs to play and my husband, while not a movie buff, was obsessed with the theory. Here’s an example from Wikipedia: "Elvis Presley: Elvis Presley was in Change of Habit (1969) with Ed Asner Ed Asner was in JFK (1991) with Kevin Bacon. Therefore, Asner has a Bacon number of 1, and Presley (who never appeared in a film with Bacon) has a Bacon number of 2." As long as I’d known my husband he could meet a stranger and after talking awhile he could more often than not come up with a connection. It helped that my husband had a scary good memory and never forgot anything he’d ever heard, saw, read or experienced.

You don’t need a good memory to see the Six Degrees of Anguish I've seen in recent days regarding this latest school shooting. My neighbor used to be a child psychiatrist and I have no doubt she knows the full range of trauma her granddaughter is going to be dealing with in the weeks to come, just knowing she should have been in that room where her classmates died. My neighbor is the sweetest, most grounded person living here and I hate this for her and for all the other relatives who are only one degree away from those who died and those who survived. © 

Wednesday, February 15, 2023

The Discontented Siblings

At dinner tonight I was seated at a table with ten others. We’d each made a reservation for one so it was truly a random group. I like the “singles table” we’ve been harping about creating for a very long time and we have that at the lunch cafe. It’s always fun with a different mix of people every day. The management of main dining room that serves us dinner, though, just recently caved but they only offer the singles table one night a week. Otherwise the ‘big table’ is reserved for curated groups and you know what that means. If you guessed clicks form you’d be right. 

Not everyone is a fan of the big table. It’s not exactly the Jets and the Sharks from West Side Story but there is a sharp contrast between those, like me, who love the big table dining experience and those who like the “intimacy” of dining at the four topper tables. Dinner can be as boring as watching a TV set that’s not plugged in if the topic being discussed at a the small table is one I have zero interest in. With the big tables you can always find one end or the other or the middle talking about something interesting.

Back on topic: That night someone asked if I’d seen the hardwood bowl someone made in the woodshop on the lathe. I had and someone else said I’d better hurry up and get well so I could make my bowl. I’d taken a few of the required safety classes to work in the woodshop, my intentions made clear I was only interested in operating the lathe. My dad had a lathe when I was a teenager and in my distant past I had a miniature lathe for making stuff for dollhouses. I’d kill to have that lathe kit back again but when I moved after my husband’s stroke I gave it to my brother. I’m kind of afraid of the full sized lathe now after realizing the guy teaching one of the safety classes was missing two fingers.

Before my Epic Fall I had making a hardwood bowl near the top of the list of things I want to do before I die and I answered the remark above that I don’t rank making a bowl as high on my bucket list as I did before the fall. “I realize I don’t have time enough left to do all the things I want to do and I need to makes some cuts.” And that started the conversation around the table of what various people wanted to do before they die. One woman who carries an oxygen tank around said she just wants to stay healthy. Another said she was happy doing what she was doing and didn’t have a bucket list. And around the table we went with me seemly being the only discontented person. Or maybe I was the only discontented person at the table willing to admit it...otherwise I’m living in Mary Poppinsville where no one wants something they don’t already have. Either way, in Respite I’d been thinking about donating all my art supplies to a school and admitting I’ll never be the artist I was in my prime. I said that to my youngest niece when she brought me back home and who has the best oil painting I ever did hanging in her bedroom. She got upset that I would stop painting.

We’re not promised a life of total bliss, especially if we’re not making an effort to create that kind of peace and contentment in our little corners of the world that we sat we crave. So I’m in that no-wins, no loses zone where nothing ever happens. I’ll admit it, I have a low threshold for boredom. And if I’m going to be totally honest I’d say that’s a sign I’m getting better in my recovery progress from the Great Fall and broken ribs. I do have plans in my head for another Great Purge but that's more about facing my mortality than anything else, In real time I finally made a goal of putting a bra on for the first time since the fall. I’d like to take it right back off again, though. So does it still count? The visiting nurse today told me it takes one week for every day you spend in the hospital to recover which means I've got three more to go before I quit falling asleep in public and maybe quit obsessing about having too much stuff.

Shift in topic: I’ve been reading a lot about dementia lately or more specifically about how to handle someone who is fixated on going home. Some of the techniques of distract and redirect the conversation have quit working with my brother. Telling him the hard facts that this is where you live now, doesn’t work either. “You weren’t safe at home.” “You’ve got dementia, you’re brain plays tricks on you.” It breaks your heart to visit and see that he’s packed all his belongings up in a laundry basket and cardboard boxes just waiting to talk someone into helping him make a great escape.

One article I read said, “Often when a person with dementia asks to go home it refers to the sense of 'home' rather than home itself. 'Home' may represent memories of a time or place that was comfortable and secure and where they felt relaxed and happier. It could also be an indefinable place that may not physically exist.”  That was an eye opener and the techniques the article offered are ones I want to try and involves “validating and redirecting” by asking questions like  “Do you remember the street address?” “What room do you like the best?” “What’s your favorite memory there?” The article said if you insist---as we’ve been doing---that this is where you live now the person with dementia feels you aren’t listening to them, and we need to remember that it’s not the place per say they need, it’s a sense of knowing they are heard, still valued and loved that will settle them down. For well over a week, my brother has been fixated on going home and no one has been able to distract him. Not sure how switching tactics will work but I’m going to try this afternoon. ©

PHOTO NOTE: My brother is on the left in the sweater with the bucking horse. My mom made that sweater and he loved it so much when he stared to outgrow it she added length to the bottom and the sleeves so he could keep wearing it. I'm, of course, in the center front. The other boy was a neighbor.