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, July 26, 2023

Visiting Memory Care and Fake Bus Stops

Visiting my brother in the Memory Care building is a crap shoot in many ways. You never know what kind of problem---real or imagined---he will be trying to solve. There are common themes in what I’ve nicknamed his Greatest Dementia Hits. One day a visitor might be pressed into service looking for his TV remote, his billfold or his glasses. On another day the mission might be to distract him from worrying that he has no access to his bank or he doesn't have enough walking around money to suit him. The most heartbreaking of all hasn’t happened as frequently lately but there are way too many times when we’d get to his room and he’d have stuff packed up to go home or he'd be obsessing about building a little cabin out behind one of his kid's house.

Wanting to go home is so common in Memory Care places that ten years ago facilities in Germany came up with the idea of putting fake bus stops in their gardens or at the end of a hallway and it works like a charm to calm the resident down. When one of them wants to go home they’re shown the bus stop and one of two things happens: The residents sitting there forget why they are waiting and will wander back on their own, or someone on staff will tell them the bus is late and would they like to have something to eat while they wait for the next one? I can see that working for my brother when he gets upset and wants to leave his facility. One of the things he talks about is catching a bus downtown to see his lawyer or to go home since, "No one will take me!"

According to another article I read there's a controversy on the world stage about the fake bus stop deception in caring for dementia and Alzheimer's patients. Apparently lying to patients is against a code of ethics in medical circles but places that have the fake bus stops report that they can use far less anxiety drugs with their residents. To me, the proof is in the pudding. If it works with out drugging people, then where is the harm? And I'd like to know if those against the deception really think this is on a par with telling patients they need expensive treatments that they know full well they don't need which I'm guessing is the spirit of the ethical law against lying to patients. 

At the dementia support groups here on campus they tell us sometimes it’s kinder and less stressful for our loved ones to just to play along with whatever false idea our loved ones have. When my brother at first would say he wanted to go home we’d tell him he is home which often upset him even more, but the support group taught me the gentle art of diversion. Now I ask him questions like, “What are you going to do with you get there?” “Which room in the house do you like best?” Eventually (but 100% of the time) this works to change the topic. Other times, depending on his mood, I'll agree that living in a place with little privacy isn't ideal but they are only doing their jobs to keep you safe and "you know you can't live on your own." I'll tell him why this place wins awards and how they pass their state inspections with flying colors and describe some of the conditions in places that don't. He'll listen as if the the truth is ringing a bell in his memory bank. They also tell us in support group that it isn't the house they miss as much as it's the sense of security the word 'home' represents. So our goal is often to make our loved ones feel heard. And who doesn't want to feel heard.

But not all visits to my brother are about his Greatest Dementia Hits. We are the two oldest people left in the family and sometimes we exchange some great memories. For example, at our last visit I was reading his schedule for the next week and saw that Ms Angel (the pastor from my Creative Writing Group) was scheduled for a room visit. 

“You see the pastor on Wednesdays?” I asked and I described what she looks like.

 “She pokes her head in the door and asks if I’d like to talk but I usually tell her no,” he replied.

“If you ever do want to talk about religion or God she’s a good one to do it with. She’s very open-minded and accepting of all views.” I went on to tell my brother I didn’t believe in the whole heaven and hell thing but I do wonder if I’ll have a conversion on my deathbed, I joked.

"You tried to get dad to make one,” he said.

“I did not!”

“Yes, you did!” he insisted. “One day I came to visit him [in Hospice] and I found you two both in a circle of people in front of a guy preaching [about getting right with God].”

A light bulb went off in my head and a twenty-three year old memory was illuminated. Then I explained to my brother that I had been visiting when that preacher came to dad’s room and wanted to know if Dad wanted to go to a church service and he answered, “Yes.” I had no other choice than to take him down the hall to the meeting. The preacher was not the comforting, accepting all-paths-to-God kind like Ms. Angel is and I hated sitting there. Fortunately, no group activity lasts longer than 45 minutes in facilities for aging people so I made it through without covering my ears and singing La-La-La. 

My favorite time to visit my brother is when they have musical events. When we were kids we sang together so often that I can still see us standing in front of our kitchen sink as clear as if I'm looking at a photograph---him washing dishes and me drying them. We also sang on car trips---long and short both. Years later Mom told me she made us sing because she knew if we were singing we couldn’t fight.

They have a good music therapy program in the Memory Care building and one of the musical events this summer here on campus featured a trio of women dressed like '50s car hops and they sang a lot Andrew Sisters and other popular songs from WWII. My brother and I sang right along with them. (It's amazing how the mind can retain lyrics learned as a kid but it can't retain how to use a phone or a TV remote from one day to the next.)

Siblings share a unique set of memories and once a sibling is gone a whole chunk of ourselves goes with them. Who else can you ask about a foggy memory in your childhood? As adults my brother and I didn't run in the same circles or even knew what made each other tick, but there is no one else left on earth who has known me my entire life, so I'm happy for the opportunity to renew that relationship and build some new memories, however limited dementia makes it.

On an OCD note, one of the hardest parts about visiting the memory care building is I often come back plotting how I’d arrange the furniture in one of those rooms if and when I get moved on down there. What pieces would I take from my apartment? What would I hang on the walls? Will my family include me in the decisions? I’ve even thought about making a list but decided I didn’t want it to become a self-fulling prophecy as if I'd automatically end up down there. With a decline in physical abilities we can stay in our independent apartments with paid caregivers help a couple of hours a day. However, if dementia becomes a threat to ours or other peoples' safety that's the trigger point that forces us into the memory care building. And let's face it, if that happens I might not even remember why I wanted a list of things to take with me. If only I could see into the future I could be better prepared. But "it's a mystery" as my brother has been saying to me for the past 50 years when ever I'd ask a question that didn't have a black or white answer.

Until next Wednesday. ©


Wednesday, July 19, 2023

Sleepless Nights, Wokeness and Brain Farts

woke up at four-thirty to pee and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Don’t you hate when that happens! Everything that I had heard or saw the day before waltzed through my head like it had all the time in the world to linger in the silence. One particular topic was growing like mushrooms in the dark and what was keeping me awake in the wee hours of the morning was spelling and punctuation, of all things. Finally I got up, made myself a cup of Land O Lake French vanilla cocoa and sat down at my computer. Coming up that afternoon was our monthly creative writing group and I had a confrontation to face. Confrontation is not quite the right word, maybe perplexing mystery would better describe the editing one of the guys in group made on the round-robin story we’ve been working on and I had typed up. Situations like that---when writing is involved---make me nervous because I never know when my dyslexia, unbeknownst to me, will or did show up.

I’ll give you an example. The text in one of the segments I wrote for our round-robin read: “All families have their secrets but B.J.’s is safe with me.” He highlighted ‘families’ and he tagged the ‘alright’ in my dialogue, “B.J.? Are you alright?” With all the problems in the world why would something so silly be the thing that drove me out of bed? After a google search I decided, yes, the ‘families’ (vs ‘familys’) was right but a case could be for using either ‘alright’ or ‘all right.' Even after checking and rechecked each highlight on the document I dreaded going to group that afternoon to debate things that trivial. We are setting world records for weather events and mass shootings, we have an x-president under indictment as the front runner going into the primaries and a proxy war between the USA and Russia still rages on in Europe rages. But my subconscious mind apparently can file those things deep enough that they don’t deprive me of sleep. Maybe that’s because no one on campus is talking about that stuff. It’s like it only exists on our television sets. At lunch lately the main topic of conversation has been the high cost of strawberries this season and why did management take the later risers breakfast off the menu. Maybe it’s because talking and worrying about the big things that we can’t resolve on our own makes us all feel hopeless so we focus on the trivial stuff? Or maybe we’re just a group of boring, self-centered old people?

I’m tired of people being confrontational over nothing, though. In book club this week we were discussing Jesus and John Wayne: How White Evangelicals Corrupted a Faith and Fractured a Nation by Kristin Kobes du Mez. Everyone with a brain can see how this book could cause some tension in a book club but I didn’t expect to get jumped on for what I thought was a neutral statement of fact. I was one of the first people to speak up and all I said was, “I read a lot of the negative reviews on Amazon. Out of 4,688 reviews 76% gave the book 5 stars and 3% gave it one and two stars.” At that point our resident racist, Trump supporter and devout Catholic jumped in with, “It’s called free speech!” You could have cut her hostility with a knife. She was obviously gunning for us liberals and for the entire hour her only contribution to the the discussion was her chiming in with: “In your opinion” or “in the author’s opinion” with a hostile accent on 'opinion.' At least she showed up. I overheard another Trumpests say she wasn’t going to go to book club anymore because “Some of those people don’t know when to keep their mouths shut.” We are a pretty ‘woke’ group and we don’t usually read fluff which makes for some interesting discussions. It’s one of the highlights of my month when the twelve us meet.


Can you believe how quickly one person---namely a certain governor from Florida---can popularize a word like ‘woke’ in such a short time? I guess it’s been around since the mid-1900s and was coined by progressive Black Americans. Trump throws the word around a little as well, but DeSantis is the king of trying to turn it into a dirty word only to be spoken in disgust and something to fight against if you’re an ultra-conservative. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary to be woke means you are “informed, educated and conscious of social injustice and racial inequality.” But governor DeSantis website defines woke as "the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them." His website also says, "We reject woke ideology.” I’m pretty sure most woke people reject him as well.


I started writing this post the morning the edited round-robin document kept me from falling back to sleep. That afternoon our creating writing group was meeting and I wasn’t looking forward to going this time. But as it turned out the document I typed up and the guy in group edited---the document that drove me out of bed----not only was it highlighted it had also been corrected under the yellow highlights. So when I looked at the document and saw ‘families’ and ‘alright’ highlighted and couldn’t figure out what was wrong with them it was because there wasn’t anything wrong. It was my dyslexia driven insecurities causing me to freak out. I’ve been used to my husband’s style of editing where he just highlighted mistakes for ME to go back and fix. It took awhile in group for me to finally understand where I was leaking IQ points but I was deeply relieved when I finally did understand the source of my brain farts. 

By the way, our round-robin story is a fun read. We each write in the voice of one of the characters and I'm the oldest sibling in a dysfunctional family. I wish I could share it here but I'd have to ask permission from the other writers and so far no one on this campus knows I blog. We're talking about doing a reading of it in our fireside lobby later this year, though, as a way to get more people involved in our writing group.


Until next Wednesday…©



Wednesday, July 12, 2023

I Slept Around!

Okay, that’s a provocative title and probably a bit deceitful. But I’m taking a page from Dawn’s blog (The Bohemian Valhalla) on that one. She puts a lot of thought into her post titles, trying to lure unsuspecting readers into her little corner of mayhem, eclectic photographs and the  best food porn in the blogosphere. True, I am going to write about places I’ve slept but not in the true sense of how that slutty phrase is usually used. Not that I didn’t go through a short but memorable phase after a bad break up where I could come up with enough material to write a post like that. But that post will not be forthcoming until a week or two before I die when I’m in a mood to confess all my sins. This time I’m going to walk down Memory Lane to all the TYPES of places I have slept.

The first place I remember sleeping away from home was at a summer camp for Campfire Girls. There were canoes and a bunkhouse involved so I’m thinking it was a camp on lake but my memory isn’t all that clear on the details. I do remember making s’mores and going home with poison ivy and the Campfire Girls’ motto of "WoHeLo" which stood for "work, health, love." I want to believe we also sang the Campfire Girls’ official song back in the day but I just don’t know if memory and wishing I did got mixed up in my brain.

The next memorable place I slept away from home was on a vacation with my parents and I was probably fourteen at the time and we slept in a tourist trap kind of place that had a circle of tepees where travelers spent the night. Not authentic tepees made out of buffalo or deer hides but I was a kid and that didn’t matter in an era when my brother and I probably saw every black and white cowboys and Indians movie ever made. (And now that’s he’s an old man and living in the Memory Care building he’s back to watching them from morning to night. Note to my future cargivers: When I’m too old to remember how to change my TV channel put mine on HGTV or anything other than the old people channels. Why anyone wants to watch black and white after color was invented boggles my mind, but those channels are popular here in independent living, too, so just call me Bogglehead.)

Next up in the I-Slept-Around lineup was back here in Michigan in a cottage on Lake Michigan complete with sandy beaches and a peer where I soon learned that drawing boats coming and going was a great way to meet boys. Like the Campfire Girls' week-in-the-woods this one was also chaperoned by my mom. By then we’d moved up to be Horizon Girls and this was in our senior year. I have many fond and silly memories from that week at the beach but the one I’ll share is of my mom leaning out an attic dormer window with a broom ready to beat off the boys who were dangerously close to using that window to sneak into the house. Crowded behind her was a gaggle of screaming and laughing teenage girls.

Fast forward to a time after meeting my husband and on vacations we started out sleeping in the back of his pickup truck with sleeping bags but we soon graduated to having a camper cab in the back of the Chevy 4x4. (Not sure 'camper cab' is the correct term, but lets go with that for now.) One of those places we slept under the stars in the bed of the pickup truck I wrote about in a post titled The Happiest Day of my Life. It was written in 2012 and it my archive of memories it still lives up to that title. No bait-and-switching with that blog title.

A few years later we invested in a Northface tent that was all trick out with the latest and greatest camping gear. I've always hated cooking for everyday needs but cooking along side the tent on our trips was fun as long as Don lit the stove. One time while camping we woke up surrounded by a herd of deer grazing in the early morning mist. They were so close we could have touched a few of them. By then our dog-at-the-time was so hard of hearing he, thankfully, slept through the enchanted event. Either that or he pretending to sleep through it so he didn’t feel obligated to protect us and where would he started? There must have been twenty of them.

Our cozy little family back in the day.

I don’t remember why or when my husband decided to give up tent camping and buy a motor home. He called it our ‘Rolling Dog House’ and that might give you a clue. The dog we had before Levi and my husband were brothers by different mothers, as they say. And Don didn’t like leaving him at home and I wouldn’t let him take the dog if it was really hot. So even on day trips along Lake Michigan or to go to the heavy equipment bone yards across the state we’d take the motor home so Cooper could ride along. It was also a time in Don’s life when he was heavy into collecting his way across the country and near the end of trips it wasn’t unusual that we’d have to rent motel rooms because he had the motor home too loaded up with things for his gas-and-oil memorabilia collection and for resale in our antique booths. (Think American Pickers. We actually knew those guys before they had that TV show and Don did the same kind of picking as they did.)


The last memorable place I slept was in the same inn as Susan B. Anthony stayed in for a month. It’s a bed-and-breakfast in my favorite little tourist town on earth, Saugatuck, and my niece and I had a wonderful weekend that included going to a play at the local theater, driving along Lake Michigan and shopping main street. At one time I did a deep dive into all things related to getting women the right to vote so sleeping in the same place as Susan B. did was an awesome treat. She was the founder of the National Women's Suffrage Association and the bed and breakfast at one time had a bunkhouse wing with 16 bedrooms that housed 100 lumberjacks who worked the vast forest lands in the mid-to-late 1800s. Being in places with historical significance has always energized me a way that is hard to explain...like I'm a spear carrier on the timeline of humanity. Historical place remind us of what past generations have fought for, what we (hopefully) can build on it and then pass it on to the next generation.

There were other memorable place I’ve slept like on a steamship that sailed the Great Lakes and on top of a grave site during a low point in my young life and on a beach in Jamaica with a happy-happy rum buzz going on in my head, but we all have similar places we could catalog when we're as old as I am. And a second post that actually lives up to the title of this one? Don’t hold your breath waiting for it. Until someone gives me an expiration date I won’t be spilling my deepest, darkest secrets. ©

Until Next Wednesday…

* Photo at top is of the Park House Inn Bed and Breakfast in Sautatuck.


Wednesday, July 5, 2023

Crafts and other Obsessions

It’s been awhile since I shared the crafts and other stuff taking up my leisure time. I’ll start with the oil painting to the left. It’s one I did in the class they have here on campus. It’s a class mostly for people who haven’t painted in the past and it only costs $10 including the stretched canvas, oil paints and all the other supplies. I should probably not be signing up for these classes because there are only six spaces open and I’m not really a beginner which the classes are geared for. But it's the only game in town, so to speak, so I go and accept the fact that the instructor doe not allow anyone to pick out their own subject matter, colors or brush strokes. She teaches in a formula style and this painting took up four afternoons (twelve hours) of my life. 

I was having dinner with The Art Professor and my neighbor, who still curators and rotates art for a foundation's purchases---we're talking paintings worth big bucks---and they were asking about the class. When the professor found we start out tracing the composition and the process that follows blab, blab, blab she said, “That’s outrageous, she’s killing creativity!” So I asked her, “How would you teach a group of seniors who’ve mostly never held a brush before? It’s not like anyone is interested in setting up a still-life and practicing drawing, composition and color theory a semester before being allowed to take a painting class. Everyone leaves with a painting they think is ‘real art’ and they are happy. It’s entertainment, not art. Like the sip-and-paint parties for wedding showers.” My neighbor could see the point I was making, the professor did not. (She taught three dimensional art, by the way, and judging by the sculpture by her apartment door she could handle a welding torch with the best of them.)

After the class ending I started and finished a paint-by-number canvas that is to the right. I first one I've done since I was a kid and I thought doing this bouquet of flowers helped me with relearning how to control the paint flowing off my brushes. And it was fun. Then I discovered that you can get photographs turned into paint-by-number kits. So I ordered two of them. The first photo below is one what I sent to the company and the second photo is the completed paint-by-number generated from my photo. From a distance it looks pretty good but up close it looks digitalized---which it is, of course and I'd love to see the machine that does it.

Slightly off topic but when I was downsizing I had 4-5 vintage paint-by-numbers that I sold on e-Bay for $40 to $60---worth the effort to put them up for sale. Apparently, the mid-century modern trend in decorating and collecting brought back an interest in those silly, crafty pieces of 'art' and I like to imagine one of those old paint-by-numbers I did in the '50s found its way onto the walls of a trendy gay couple's apartment.

The next photos show my second customized, paint-by-number project and when I’m finished with it I will (hopefully) be ready to fix the face on a portrait I was working on when my husband had his stroke. It’s an important goal for me and as my hand gets less shaky my confidence grows. By the way, I bought the kits from Amazon from a company named CBCBBEAU and they cost $17.99. Working on the paint-by-numbers, for me, is like a meditation session. You have no choice but to live in the moment. If paint-by-numbers is all I end up doing for the rest of my life I could live with that.

The second photo I sent the company.
What comes in the kit.

The color palette.

The canvas that you have to stretch yourself before you begin.

My other obsession that is eating up way mega time is I joined the “I Love Mahj” website where I’m playing Mahjong against computer bots. So far I’ve played over 700 games in three weeks and my stats say I'm winning 32% of the time. Don’t freak out over that 700 number; each game averages six to eight minutes long. Our mahjong group here on campus take two hours to play three games. The bots don’t have to think so I'm able to build my skills faster. Last week I won two of our three in-person games and the woman who taught us all and has been playing 35 years won once. I love the game more the more I play it.  

I did have occasion to leave my apartment for something other than food. Residents from all three buildings met in our park to see three women dressed like '50s carhop uniforms sing song from the '40s, '50s and '60s. (The park is really a fenced in area so the people in memory care and assisted living can be outside without wandering off.) They told stories about each song and did a great job. As per my usual M.O. at these musical events on campus one of the songs made be burst out crying. Going to Take a Sentimental Journey reminded me of my Mom. She loved to sing and that was one of her favorites. That was the extent of my holiday celebrating because on the 4th I spent the day in first Urgent Care and then they sent me to E.R. Between the two places it took me seven hours to find out I don't have a blood clot. How's that for a creative way to hide out from The Professor? You might remember I told her a lie about having plans for the 4th to get out of going on a road trip with her. I tell her the truth eventually...that I didn't feel capable of driving that far anymore but I guess Karma doesn't care. It paid me back for lying in the first place.

Until next Wednesday...