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, May 31, 2023

Creative Writing Groups and Poetry


Six months or so ago I started a creative Writing Group here at the continuum care complex. We’re a small group with a core of four but we are faithful in our endeavors. Two of the members say the group has helped inspire them to start writing and keep writing---something they had planned to do in retirement but hadn’t gotten around to doing it until I started the group. One of them is a woman who has been working on writing several short-but-connected stories and claims it’s the first time she’s tried to write anything. She’s good! So good I have a hard time believing she’s as green as she says she is. On the other hand she was a librarian her entire career and as Stephen King says the best way to learn to write is to be ferocious reader. The guy who credits the group for keeping him writing does poems and brings a half a dozen to group each time we meet, usually written a few days before our get-togethers. I wish I could write that fast.

Another women in group is a pastor here on campus and she’s been writing for years, even had a column in the daily newspaper back in the '60's and '70s. She’s a true asset to our group, especially when it comes to critiquing the rest of us with her positive observations. Sometimes she shares beautifully written stories about her life that’s been full of dark twists and joyous turns like you wouldn’t believe. Other times it’s a sermon she might be working on that she shares. I’m a duck without water when it comes to helping with her questions on the latter topics. She knows I’m an agnostic which I told her in a one-on-one long before I started the group. I’ve written about her before labeling her with the name Ms Angel. And she is one. I fan-girl her because she’s wicket smart, has great recall and empathy and is non-judgemental. If she didn't wear an obnoxious perfume I'd probably pursue a one-on-one friendship with her. She's suggested coffee so I know she feels the same pull but sitting next to her for an hour of group is almost more than I can take of that perfume. It gives me a headache and you can smell her coming from eight feet away.

I’m the forth one the group---Chatty Cathy dropped out a long time ago and the guy who said he’d come back if she dropped out got voted off the island, so to speak. We had two others sample the group but they didn’t come back. We’re planning a poetry slam in the fall, open to all the residents to read their favorite poems. We’ll, however, be reading original stuff at our fireplace gathering place in hopes that will get some more people interested in joining us. It will take me from now to then to write something that might have universal appeal and to practice reading it out loud. Talk about breaking out of my rut and comfort zone, this will do it in spades.

A month of so after I was hospitalized I wrote a ‘dark’ poem and recently shared I it with my Creative Writing Group. When I finished, no one said a word for the longest time. Finally someone says, “I don’t know what to say” and another person was quick to agree. The third comment was, “It’s very different than anything else you’ve written.” I was embarrassed. What I usually share are humorous little poems and occasionally a slightly revised blog post. When I do the latter I call them slice-of-life essays because no one here knows I keep a blog, nor will they ever if I can help it. Half the time I wish I hadn’t started the group because it’s harder than I thought it would be to keep that secret. But the rest of the time I’m vain enough to enjoy the status I get from being known as "the person who has that writing group" even though I tell people, “It’s not my group, we share equally.” And we do. I’m proud of the way we interact with one another.

I was in a creative writing group back about ten years ago. We had eight members and I know if I had read my ‘dark’ poem (The Call) to that group they would have spent fifteen minutes dissecting it, tearing it a part piece by piece until I disclosed who was right in figuring out the caller and helping me decide if I need a third stanza or to drop the last line of the poem. (I still can’t decide.) I honestly expected it to be an easy poem to discuss/figure out/pick apart and I would have loved that but I was sorely disappointed by the reactions it got. So I made sure after that third comment that we moved quickly on to the next reader. Lesson learned: stick with humor in that group. With that introduction, I’m giving you guys a taste of my poetry. The first is titled Forensic Digest---a stupid title, I know, but long-time readers know naming creative things is not my strong suit. The second one is The Call, the poem that left my group speech-less. ©

Forensic Digest by Jean R
It’s a billboard screaming
an old person lives here ---
nail clippers, a forgotten mug,
a big button remote
with a crossword puzzle
next to a magnifying glass,
a shoe horn, eye drops and
and a potato chip
that lost its bag a week ago.
Cluttered chair-side tables
talk and tell stories
to our La-Z-Boys
who don’t care if they’re
partners in this classic
display of old people gear.
© The Misadventures of Widowhood


The Call by Jean R
He bays like a hound in the night
begging me to hear and come
along leading me to
where I know I must go.
In bed I listen to the notes on the wind
hoping the ghosts in the shadows
will lead the messenger astray.
But he’s playing his song calling to me
and it’s time to pay and go on my way.
A thousand memories keep me awake,
a hastily written memoir of fate
while the ghosts in the corners
listen and mark their slates
for the caller to add up their weight.
Is there enough to pay the way
through to the end of the line
or will I be left out in the cold,
a blind kitten alone in the dark?

© The Misadventures of Widowhood


Until next Wednesday...

Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Farms and Climbing out of Ruts

Last week I wrote about being in a rut. This week I’m out of the rut, having found and done a few things in a concentrated effort to break through that fog of indifference that was swirling around in my head. And it took a combination of four things to get out of my funk, four things that taken alone might sound ho-hum, but what can I say, it was time to quit pretending to care about what my fellow residents are saying and doing and check back in. Those four things dug me out of the funky rut are: 

One: I went to a lecture about hydroponic, container based farming and it brought me joy knowing there are people working on ways to feed the world. So much is written about the poor state of the farming industry and food insecurities that it's hard not to worry when even the military say its a threat to world peace. In addition to climate change being responsible, the honey bees are in trouble and they are necessary for the production of nearly 80 grains, fruits and vegetables crops not to mention the flowers we love.

What I learned at the lecture is there are companies turning old universal shipping containers into hydroponic farms that only need five gallons a water a day to grow crops vertical without dirt or sun light---six walls per container. They contain built-in technology to give the plants exactly the right amount of artificial light and water, the right temperature and all completely free of pesticides and herbicides. Each container can supply 6,000 pounds of produce per container per year and you can move these farms any where you need them so the produce grown inside stays fresher longer for the consumer because we’re not shipping picked crops long distances.

The next day a college professor was bringing a delegation of people from South Africa to see the owner's container farms---she has four sitting in a parking lot in the heart of out city---and they are also touring those of a huge food service that you might recognize in your deli section of the grocery store---Gordon Foods. They have 20 new-built container farms at their corporate headquarters that were made by a different company than the one that is retrofitting old de-commissioned shipping containers into the indoor farms. I don’t know about you but it uplifts my spirits to learn about people who take a depressingly huge problem like world food insecurity and turns it into an opportunity of hope. Brighter minds will figure out how to save the world. 

The wall of plants like you see in the photo above move like the book shelves in many libraries and each has its own watering system. They are working in purple light because the plants only need the red and blue rays so the lighting costs are cheaper than the full spectrum lighting we’re used to seeing. 

Two: I’ve been watching a lady from Texas Beeworks on Facebook Reels and Shorts who moves bees from places they aren’t wanted to places where they can thrive and are needed. She uses her bare hands to sift through the bees until she finds the queen, knowing once she’s moved the queen to a new hive the others will follow. She wears no protective gear while hundreds of bees cover her hands and thousands more are within arm’s length. Makes me want to use an EpiPen just watching my monitor. But she also makes me happy just like it made me happy when I read on Facebook about towns in Europe that planted all the areas between the sidewalks and the streets with flowers to help the bees. Those brighter minds at work again.

As a side note here: I also read Mad Honey by Jodi Picoult and Jennifer Finney Boylan since my last blog post. Wow, is all can say other than it deserves its own post and I’ll bet it’s on the top of the Banned Books list in Florida. I learned a lot more about the bees from the book as well as about a topic I dare not name because none of the reviews named it. Doing so would be like telling the who-done-it in a murder mystery. The surprise element is part of what makes the book such a great read and knowing it might keep some from reading the book and missing a compelling learning opportunity.  

Three in my effort to break out of my rut was I picked a book I’ve read once and listened to twice before, sat in my chair all afternoon and listened to it yet again. Obviously West with the Giraffes by Lynda Rutledge is a book I love. I especially like listening to it because it’s written and read as if an old man is looking back on his life and it was based on an actual event that took place in depression-era America. The story was a coming-of-age adventure about transporting two giraffes from New York to San Diego in the 1930s. It’s as much about the Dust Bowl as it is about the giraffes and this time when I listened to it I was reminded that our country faced food shortages and farming issues that seem insurmountable in the past and we recovered. 

It wasn’t just several years of droughts that caused the Dust Bowl but also contributing to it was that farmers abandon soil conservation practices. Crop prices were so low they planted land they shouldn’t have, causing the top soil to blow away. And the lessons learned from that have helped lessen the damage done by future droughts. The agricultural department was able to help farmers plant tree rows between fields and how to use proper crop rotation to get and keep the soil ‘healthy’ again and more importantly keep it from blowing away. They had their brighter minds back then too to save us from the brink of starvation.

Four: I have Google following me around like a stalker. Yes, I know could change that in settings. It's a holdover from before I moved and I welcomed Google tracking my where-bouts since I lived alone and it could be months before anyone would notice me missing. That was the long way around leading up to how I know I only drove an average of 15 miles a month since last fall. I get a monthly report of all the places I drive. (Can you believe how easy they make it for a jealous spouse to track a wife or husband?) Anyway, I took one look at that and thought, “No wonder I’m in a rut! I don’t go anywhere.” So I decided to take my niece-in-law and nephew up on their invitation to their garage sale out in the country. I got lost going there within ten minutes of me leaving my apartment---a construction detour issue, not a old woman issue. Then after I left my nephew’s and on the spur of the moment (which I rarely do anything) I went another fifteen minutes south to my niece’s house. 

As much as I like the campus where I live it was nice getting out and about and letting the mini day trip help pull me out of the rut. Our worlds get smaller the older we get. If you don’t believe me, take a look at anyone living in a nursing home where they depend on others for their everything. But I’ve let my world get smaller sooner than it needs to be and I need to work at changing that.

Until next Wednesday….

Wednesday, May 17, 2023

Groundhog Day, Trump and Loss

When you’ve been blogging as long as I have you give up all rights to private thoughts. At least it feels that way to me. When I sit down to write I’m often reminded of something Stephen King wrote in one of his non-fiction books: “I’m one of those people who doesn’t really know what he thinks until he writes it down.” That’s me, too. If I had to use just one word to define the process of writing I’d say 'cathartic'. I spill my emotions all over the computer screen, then rearrange them, adding here or there until an emerging topic appears. Blah, blah, blah. I'm pretty sure I've started off a post or two with similar words.

My life sometimes feels like I’m living in a loop like Bill Murray in the movie, Groundhog Day where he wakes up every day with the same monotonous experiences occurring day after day with zero change. For example, I had an appointment with the audiologist recently and she was running 45 minutes late and I was asked if I wanted to reschedule. What's the point for a retiree to reschedule besides making the rest of their day easier? I was already there and wasn’t leaving. She blamed it on the receptionists for double booking her, they blamed it on a patient who had “an emergency” and I’m thinking who has an audiology emergency? So what if her aids got damaged in a bizarre incident involving a grandson and a toilet, get in line! We've all have bizarre incidents with hearing aids like the time our dog used one for chewing gum. The frustration of dealing with the medical community was the groundhog day-like experience, not the actual details of what occurred, if that makes any sense.

Later that same day I made the mistake of watching CNN’s Town Hall with Donald Trump. He doubled down on every false claim he’s ever made like he wrote the script for the Groundhogs Day movie. The election was stolen and the Ukrainian war would be over within 24 hours of him taking office. He bragged about stacking the Supreme Court with the judges who overturned Roe vs Wade then he pledged to pardon most of the people with January sixth insurrection convictions. He called the Capital policeman a murderer who shot the woman who was crawling through the broken door leading to the senate chambers as the Secret Service were leading the vice-president out another door. (What did he want? The angry mob on her heels to get the VP and fulfill their chant of hanging him?). Oh, and Biden ruined the country. The audience of loyal fans applauded repeatedly like they were on an old Oprah episode where she was shouting, “And you get a new car and you get a new car and you get a new car!”

At first I was angry at CNN for giving him the national platform but then I wondered if there isn’t value in reminding people that he hasn’t changed any, that if he wins the primary the whole country will be living like we’re on the movie set of Groundhogs Day. We’ve barely recovered from his first attack on The Rule of Law, morality, civility and ethics in high places, our democracy can't survive a second Trump term. At least by having CNN host his opening bid for the primary---instead of FOX---he got a moderator who tried to call him out on a few of his lies and he in turned called her a "nasty person" for doing it. Supposedly, Trump wants to run a more conventional campaign this time thus the Town Hall on a less controversial network, but all he managed to do is prove you can paint out the stripes on a zebra but it’s still a zebra and he made the new CEO of CNN look like an idiot for allowing Trump to pick the audience.

Change of Topic---or is it? I was going to moan and groan about how boring my life has become but then I’d have to admit that I am solely responsible for what I do each day. Sure, I have appointments to keep like getting my hair cut or going to the audiologist but it’s still my choice not to look like a shaggy, old dog or to keep asking people, “What did you say?” I could stop doing what is expected and start getting drunk and disorderly. But, no, I’ve been behaving myself pretending to be a demure, elderly woman while still being young at heart enough to want to purposely fart in elevators and act like it was the person standing in front of me who did it. And just so you know, I’ve never done that. It was a (bad) figure of speech for wanting to break out of character and do something crazy. 

Another change of topics and aren’t you glad about that. When my writing disintegrates down to telling fart jokes I know it’s time hit the back button or march on forward like it never happened. I’m picking the latter in this case and sharing the fact that my favorite maintenance man died suddenly. We don’t know the details yet but considering he was in his late 40s it was quite a shock. He was such a good guy. He went out of his way to show my brother compassion, stopping by his room whenever he was in his building. He had aspirations of painting, like me, and we always had such great conversations about art when he’d have occasion to work in my apartment.

Here is where I would have liked to have written something philosophic about life and death but our Life Enrichment Director beat me too it in an email so I’m just going to end this blog by quoting her: “Life is full of juxtapositions. Blue sky abuts gray, moments of gladness turn to bewilderment, and in a season of new life, eternal rest occurs. This dichotomy can be difficult to fathom, and certainly this week was no exception to the sometimes unknown and unexplainable circumstances of life. Our hearts mourn for the loss of Mark, and yet, when remembering him, one can’t help but to smile because he exuded joy, warmth, and humor. Sorrow and solace mingle in our memories. ’What is grief if not love persevering?’ I find comfort in that quote, even if it is from a show based on a comic book.”

Until next Wednesday… ©

Wednesday, May 10, 2023

Facebook Shorts and Homeless People

Last week I got hooked on Facebook's Reels and Short Videos. If you’ve never viewed them they are like Ticktock where people from all over the world upload minute-long videos of just about anything you could name and they are shown in random order. If you click ‘like’ on any one of them an algorithm shows you more Shorts with the same hash-tags. And if you really like one of the videos you can ‘follow’ the person who put it on and Facebook will show you every new posting they upload. In no time at all I got caught up in them and before I knew it was two hours later and all I’d done all morning was drink coffee and take my blood pressure pills. 

Some might say it was a waste of time but where else can you see young guys tap dancing or learn how to carve a small block of wood into a cage with a ball inside or how to properly tie the strings on your sweat pants? The algorithm also shows me people in third world countries building things with next to nothing for tools and you’ll have to admit having that kind of knowledge tucked away in my brain could come in handy should the apocalypse ever come. I also get my share of sweetness and laughter in the form of kittens and puppies.

The second day I watched The Shorts, they turned me sniveling puddle of emotions that came after seeing twenty or so videos of several groups of young people living in different cities who go around giving out food, supplies and cash to homeless people. A deeper dive into what was going on brought me the story of how these twenty-something kids raise the money through an online app in exchange for uploading videos of them giving the money away. When one of the young guys approaches someone homeless he asks them if they need anything. Usually the homeless ask for food and then the young guy would say, “We’ll get you that but is there anything else you need?” The street people often mention gloves, blankets, shoes, socks or food for their dog or cat. One guy asked for a night in a hotel so he could get clean and another guy, who was trying to fix his rickety old bike, got a brand new bike and bag of food when all he asked for was a hamburger. A sweet old man said all he needed was someone to talk to and another wanted to borrow a phone to call his son.

It wasn’t just the meager and depressing way these people were living that got to me but rather how these videos humanized the homeless in a compassionate and respectful way. Many of them were holding back tears at the kindness shown them and as dirty and as ragged as these people looked one of young guys would always ask at the end, “Can I give you one more thing? Can I give you a hug or handshake? Your choice?” If I had a son doing what these young people are doing I’d be proud.

I did have a husband who was comfortable interacting with street people in a way I never was. We’d often come across them dumpster diving when we’d be out snowplowing parking lots in the middle of the night. They had their routes and we had ours. If it was a particularly cold night Don would offer to let them in his truck to warm up for awhile and I’m ashamed to admit I didn’t like his doing that. Where I saw danger, Don saw the human being beneath the hard luck. He wasn’t a religious guy by any stretch of the imagination but Don did believe in the proverb, “But for the grace of God it could be you or me.” 

I did have a favorite street person, however. Don and I took a trip to Texas in '90s, traveling around the state in a John Steinbeck kind of vacation, hitting all the back roads and small towns and that's where we met an elderly woman named Miriam. We were walking our dog late at night and she was picking through people’s trash along the street and obviously hadn’t had a bath in a long time, a fact that made her an instant best friend to our dog and she was crazy about him as well as being just plain crazy. We got a lot of mileage out of retelling the highlights of that trip including Miriam liking us enough to share her Rule for Living: “Never, ever buy food,” she said with great fanfare. “People throw out enough to feed an army!” That ‘never, ever buy food’ would get repeated for years to come as Don and I would be walking into a grocery store.

When I was viewing The Shorts of the homeless I couldn’t help wondering how many of those people are mental ill and couldn’t hold down a job if ten jumped into their laps. Mental illness among the homeless didn’t scare Don the way it did me but he wasn’t above using the homeless to scare a couple of cocking teenage boys we had working for us one summer. They didn’t see the need stay in school and get an education. So one day Don took the boys downtown, parked the truck in full view of the line of homeless guys outside a mission and he left the boys there while he went inside to drop off a donation check. Don had a gift for gab and he didn’t come back out right away, giving the boys plenty of time to get nervous. They'd never been in that seedy part of town before and what followed on the way back to the suburbs was a not-so-subtle lecture on the important of getting an education. 

Living into my eighties has both a strangeness to it and a familiarity to it. No matter what new things comes along they seem to relate back to something from my past like watching those The Shorts brought back memories of me tap dancing, of my dad building things and Miriam's Rule for Living. 

But there is also uncharted territory in my eighties, of wanting to connect with others but being afraid to get to know them on a deeper level because in continuum care complexes like I live in no one moves for the same reasons we’ve lost neighbors or friends in the past. People here leave when their health deteriorates and they step down to a more intense level of care or they die. One of my favorite residents here moved to a Hospice room in another building recently and a parade of people have been going down to visit him, walking back and forth in front of my window with his future widow. At dinner last night my table mate said, “I wish I’d gotten to know him better” and I thought---but didn’t say out loud---I wish hadn’t gotten to know him. It makes the loss that much harder.

Uncharted territory or not, one thing I do know for sure is that no matter what happens to my mental or physical health or my bank account living in a continuum care complex makes the odds of me ever living on the streets next to zero and I am grateful for that. ©