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, March 27, 2024

The Easter Basket and the Melting Pot

BEFORE WE GET TO THE POST BELOW I want to thank everyone in the blog community who posted comments regarding my brother's passing and who contacted me by other means. Your condolences, prayers and shared experiences means a lot to me. I apologize for not replying individually as I normally do with blog comments. (There's been a lot going on.) This community is so supportive and let's admit it, we often know each other better than the people we see off line on a daily basis. I know I share far more here than anywhere else. This past week I've felt the warmth and well wishes you've all sent my way and it's appreciated more than I can express. Jean

Why do all my best ideas for what I want to write about come when I’m doing something without a pen and paper or keyboard near by? This morning in the shower I heard a noise from my upstairs neighbor that triggered a memory about my mom which in turn brought a flood gate’s worth of connected thoughts flowing like the proverbial river. So I used my finger to write on the steam-covered shower door the words, “Labelle Street, old country and genealogy” knowing the words wouldn’t last. I did, however, think they’d last long enough for me to use my squeegee on the glass to wipe them away. Words written on steamy bathroom mirrors in scary movies seems to have a life span longer than it took for them to disappear into unreadable streaks in my bathroom. With the luck of someone who plans ahead for times when I want jot myself a note I had a pad of Post-It Notes and a pen on a small desk near enough into my bedroom that I barely had to step out of the bathroom to grab them. What were those words again? Apartment house, family history and what else? 

On the floor next to the desk where I fetched the pen and paper is basket that was my Easter basket for my entire childhood. I stubbed my toe on it fetching the Post-it Notes. Ouch! My parents practiced recycling before the word was even coined. Year after year that basket was brought out of its hiding place by the notorious Easter Bunny. He filled it with a cellophane covered chocolate bunny and assorted candy and on Easter morning I’d remove the rabbit, bite off his ear and take my basket around the yard or house (depending on the weather) to gather dyed, hard boiled eggs. Then one year no basket was brought down from its hiding place in the attic. There were no eggs to find. No chocolate bunny to eat. Instead, on Easter morning I found a small box made out of cherry wood waiting for me on the kitchen table. Inside was a note that read something like this, “You will be ten in a couple of days and you’re getting too old to still believe in the Easter Bunny. This is his last gift to you.” Also in the box was a necklace nested in a bed of jelly beans. I still have the box but the necklace is gone now. I'm pretty sure my mom heard my brother and me arguing about the Easter Bunnies existence a few days earlier and he was responsible for the dreadful note and the disappointment that followed.

The basket, now, holds a life-sized sleeping cat. Its an aqua, pink and gold gilded porcelain cat adopted from an auction house over a half century ago. Back then I was newly in love with the man I’d later marry. I thought he was crazy to keep bidding that cat up to a whopping twenty bucks just because I admired it when I walked by it before the auction started, but a quick google search of its value today had my eyes bugging out and the word, “Wow! escaping my lips. The cat has never had a name but she’s rests on a pink blanket that kept me warm in my baby’s crib eighty-some years ago.

I’ve walked past the cat-in-the-basket ever since I placed her in it after the auction. Sometimes I ignore it and others times it makes me smile but one thing remains the same: I’m too sentimental for my own good. I worry about what will happen to “my treasures” when I have to move to assisted living or I die. I wonder sometimes if I’m not related to Egyptian Royalty who also felt strongly about taking their treasures with them and they found a way to do it. At least they thought they’d accomplished that goal. Not having a thousand slaves to build me a pyramid I’ll have to be satisfied with the idea that my nieces will arrange to get my stuff into an auction where people who bid on it will treasure what they win. I have a niece who collects white ceramic cats and I briefly thought about giving it to her but like me with my collectibles, it's the thrill of the hunt that she likes about finding her cats plus mine is too old to get along with hers. Look at me personifying hunks of china.

My Easter basket and the porcelain cat have nothing to do with the words I wrote on my shower door. Hearing a loud noise from my upstairs neighbor reminded me that my mom and dad once owned a house that they converted into a two family. It was just after WWII when housing was in short supply for returning soldiers and their new brides and that gave my mom the idea to do some renovations and rent out their upstairs. My mom then saved the rent money for a down payment on a house in the suburbs that would get them out of a declining neighborhood. For their entire married life my mom had my dad building and remodeling one project after another. He always credited her for how far they’d come…both living in poverty as kids, both losing their mothers in grade school, neither one getting much of an education but in their twilight years they were able to enjoy living on a lake in a cottage they converted to a year-around home plus they had lake property up north where they camped. 

Our parent gave my brother and me the conic childhoods that were romanticized on TV shows like Leave it to Beaver and Father Knows Best with their wise fathers and hard working moms and the carefree fun of being a teenager during the ‘50s that were portrayed in the Happy Days sitcom. We weren't exactly spoiled---we did chores and a lot of them---but we were rich in after school activities and opportunities. I've always thought my mom was creating the kind of childhood she wished she'd had or she was she living vicariously though us.

As for the words written in steam. My parents once rented their upstairs apartment (on LaBelle Street) to a deaf couple and they said were the noisiest people who ever lived above them because they couldn’t hear themselves making loud noises. My upstairs neighbor (who had all her brand new carpeting removed) is hard of hearing and I’m about ready to shoot her. I swear she's giving bowling lessons up there.

How does genealogy enter into all this---one of the words written on my shower door? My upstairs neighbor is of German descent and speaks with an accent not often heard in my part of the world. It hit me in the shower that younger people don’t care about family history like many people in my generation do because they are homogenized into society in a way like we never were. People all over my campus are working on genealogy (me and Miss Upstairs included) thinking we are going to connect to the youngest members in our families someday when they are old enough to read what we so carefully created. Giving us a false sense of immortality, a way to be remembered after we're gone.

Many of us born before or because of WWII grew up hearing stories of the Old Country, we knew our families came from some place else. Young people, if they think about their family lines at all, don't care about the Great Melting Pot of immigration or the Salad Bowl of immigration that followed and that lack of homage to our history seems to be leading us to isolationism in our politics. Our American Mosaic which has always been our strength is being judged as a bad thing, a scary thing. But that's a topic for another day, another blog post. In the meantime I'll just say I'm thoroughly disgusted with the MAGA Republicans for tanking the latest, fairest and toughest bipartisan border deal to come along in decades just because it will help Trump's campaign not to implement real solutions to real problems so he can keep on campaigning on the crisis at the border.

Until Next Wednesday! 


Wednesday, March 20, 2024

My Brother

My brother passed away last weekend after a few stressful weeks following a fall he took. When they were ready to discharge him from the hospital, his doctor recommended Hospice only to have Hospice turn the him down after they did their evaluation. Apparently, with no underlying health issues like cancer or heart failure with a six months or less prognosis their bar is set high for dementia patients who could go on for years. At that point in time he was moved from the hospital to Skilled Nursing at our sister campus and was working on getting stronger so he could return to the Memory Care building next door to me. He seemed to be making progress when he started running a high fever and a temperature they couldn't bring down. So back to the hospital he went and he died in his sleep soon after. He didn’t even last a week after Hospice looked over his medical records.

It's been a long goodbye for my brother and his wonderful kids and they couldn't have done a better job of keeping him safe and well cared for these past few years---nearly a half decade if my memory serves me right. At first they supported him in his own home, eventually bringing in more and more paid caregivers as his dementia worsen. Anyone who has been there, done that knows that home care comes with its own set of issues and stresses and his kids were burning out. A little over a year ago they placed him in the complex where I live.

Those of us who has ever had to place an aging parent in assisted living knows the mixed feelings you go through. It's a special kind of hopelessness that settles in as you watch their world get smaller and smaller and pieces of your parent's personality peel away, but then the euphoria comes when your loved one is having a good day which in turn gives you a good day. It's like you're on a yo-yo string, up and down, up and down with each visit. But all that is past tense now and the hardest memories of recent years will fall by the way side and be replaced by memories of better times. For some it takes longer than for others but making peace with the past is something my brother’s family has had a lot of practice doing. It’s a work in progress for anyone, isn’t it, a journey we make alone with a little help from our friends.

When someone dies the first place we tend to go is to the selfish side, counting the ways our own lives are effected. For me, I’m now the oldest person in our immediate family and possibly the oldest of all my cousins. I’ve lost track of my oldest cousin from the other side of the state. She was a year or two older than my brother. I hated it when she came for extended visits which happened every summer for a week when we were kids. She came with a steamer trunk like people took with them on ocean-liners like the Titanic. She’d lay on my bunk bed reading movie star and Glamour magazines, and she changed the color of her fingernail polish daily and wouldn't leave the room without refreshing her lipstick that matched her nails. Our cottage was on the primitive side back in those days. We took baths in the lake and had an outhouse and I’m guessing that she didn’t like being there anymore than I liked having her. My mom was always after my brother and me to include her in the endless activities we lake front kids could find to do in the country. 

One time my brother came up with a plan to make my cousin an honorary chief in our band of Indians. We placed seven newspapers down in a circle on the sand to sit on. When Jerry brought her down to the circle the rest of us were already in our places and when she took the one place left she sunk down into the water-filled hole we’d dug and covered up with the newspaper. She---I grudgingly acknowledge now---was embarrassed and wanted to go home. We didn’t have phones back in those days and her parents had dropped her and her brother off on their way to a vacation without them. She had no choice but to stay but the rest of the week she stayed in the bedroom. My mom even served her meals in there. If it had been me or Jerry refusing to come out Mom would have let us starve to death.

But my cousin must have forgiven my brother for orchestrating the prank because when Jerry hosted a family reunion at his house in the early ‘80s My cousin and her then husband flew their little two-seater airplane over to join all the other cousins. She was still flamboyant with her long cigarette holder and flirting shamelessly with anyone with a pair of balls in their pants, still my nemesis and I still hated every red hair on her head. Ya, I’m that stubborn person who rarely changes my first impressions of the people I meet. I’m not proud of that, but I am honest about my shortcomings. She, however, flew over to visit Jerry a couple of times that same summer so she was the better person who could forgive and forget. My brother had a quick wit that got him out of trouble as often as it got into trouble as a kid, and as an adult he was fun to be around when he was in party mode.

Most of my memories of my brother (like the one above) are tied to our growing up years. Memories of summers filled with playing at the cottage, building forts, swimming, exploring in the woods and walking the country side. Of going to small towns on the weekends for carnivals or movies. Back in the city, during the school year, my memories of my brother are centered around ice skating, roller skating, sledding and going to after school music lessons together. Then in our teen years I turned into the kid sister who was crushing on my brother’s friends much to his annoyance, and of working together on our chores until we got to an age where we fought like cats and dogs and my mom separated us. 

Still, one of my favorite memories of my brother is of the two of us singing while doing dishes. In recent years when he was moved into the Memory Care building next door we got to sing together again at three or four music events last summer. Funny how those old words were still “up there” for the taking but remembering what my brother had for breakfast was a task he couldn’t do. 

My brother left this earth on the receiving end of love and compassion and his passing was peaceful. For that, I'm grateful.  

Until Next Wednesday. ©

He never lost his fondness for black cats.

Part of our summer Indian tribe.


Jerry's high school graduation. 


In between Jerry and the steps behind him used to be all sand 
and it's where the infamous initiation of my cousin into our Indian tribe took place. 

Wednesday, March 13, 2024

The March Madness and a Midwife Post


I’m not a fan of basketball but I am a fan of google and I’ve been researching why and what March Madness is all about. I love saying ‘March Madness’ and wish the term applied to something I care about. I do like the way the way those words rolls off my tongue but getting excited about when the National Collegiate Athletic Association basketball tournaments are held rates on a par with my upcoming endoscope and colonoscopy. March Madness, however, is the talk of my campus but no one here knows that in two weeks my personal plumbing is getting cleaned out from mouth to rectum. 

It’s interesting that the term was coined in 1939 and has stuck around ever since. Never under estimate the power of the written word. One little tiny title of an article for an in-house publication give birth to March Madness in its present form. I also think it’s pretty cool that Caitlin Clark made history on the basketball court during Women’s History Month by breaking a long-standing points record of 3,667 set by Pete Maravich to become the “all-time leading scorer in men’s and women’s division 1 basketball history.” Like I said I don’t follow or like basketball but there are plenty of fans here who talk non-stop about all the college basketball or football games going on in the country. Gag me with a spoon! No way out of those conversations if you want to eat. There’s an unwritten rule---but often vocalized rule---that no one eats alone in our cafe or main dining room. Trust me, I’ve tried sitting in the corner with my notebook writing like I used to enjoy doing at the Guy Land Cafeteria but no one would let me get away with that. Finally, I had to quit trying.

Change of topic: Would you go to a lecture in a Continuum Care Complex that was advertised this way? “Have you ever wondered about the process of giving birth in earlier centuries? Come and find out about the key role played by midwives in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and learn about their importance both for the well-being of the mother and the baby. We will explore the training and preparation of midwives and the challenges they faced in their work.” I went, as I usually do with most of the lectures offered here. But on the surface this one seemed like a poor match for a place where no one works in health care and everyone is well past the birthing babies era of our lives. And to the best of my knowledge none of us are writing the next greatest historical romance novel featuring the spare heir to the Kingdom of York and his sister-in-law’s midwife which I now know wouldn’t have been historically accurate because midwives needed to be much older than your typical heroine in a romance novel.

The lecture fell under the heading of Women’s History and since it’s Women’s History Month I’m presuming that’s why our Enrichment Director picked it. Maybe it was her sneaky way to bring the topic of reproductive rights onto a campus full Right-to-Life supporters. Or maybe she picked the lecture because she didn’t get her request for something women’s history related in soon enough to get the first draft choices. I'm betting the lecture circuit program is like our library's Book Club in a Bag program where we have to pick our books to read well over a year in advance and then hope we live long enough to see our choices get delivered.

I did learn my perception of midwives was totally all wrong. I didn’t know, for example, that in Europe they had to have training and be licensed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. I thought a midwife was someone who took on the role by calling herself by that title. They also had to be older women without families to take up a lot of their time and they had to be trained to baptist babies who might not live long enough for a priest to get there. It was against the law for a midwife to aid in an abortion and they could also be charged with murder if something when wrong with a birth. A baby’s death in the presence of a midwife caused her to have to prove in court (or not) that the death didn’t happen from anything the midwife did or didn’t do. 

Those days were so long ago and yet our Supreme Court is putting us right back to where health care workers put their own freedom at risk to help a woman during a pregnancy. New anti-women’s health laws are being put into law ever day outlawing medically necessary abortions even in cases of ectopic pregnancies, placental eruptions, women carrying fetuses without brains or kidneys that are destine to die in the womb or shortly after birth etc., etc. and now at least one Republican run state is passing a law declaring that fertilized frozen eggs have the rights of a full, born baby! Have you seen any of the interviews of the senators making theses laws? They clearly don’t understand biology. I need to get off my soap box because the fallout from overturning Roe vs Wade makes me angry. So I’ll end my blog post here by declaring that the topics of March Madness and women’s health/midwives is one of the strangest pairings I’ve done in a long time. There, I said it first!

But then again maybe the fact that women like Caitlin Clark are proving that, when given on an equal playing field, women can do anything a man can do is the very reason why so many old men lawmakers are willing to peel back the reproductive rights of women. 

Until Next Wednesday.  ©

Wednesday, March 6, 2024

Rise and Shine Morning Thoughts and Memories

My upstairs neighbor woke me up at 7:00. For such a little thing I can’t understand how she can sound like an elephant stomping around up there. I wish I could be in two places at once. If I could I’d ask her if I could follow here around to see what she is doing to make so much noise. She did tell me she pushes furniture around with her walker---she's a cleaning fanatic, does it every day to my once a month. Others in our complex complain about the same noise issue so it’s not just me in case you're thinking I have super sensitive hearing aids. They built these buildings with great sound barriers on the side walls but nothing in between floors. 

Someone asked me if I was sorry I didn’t pick a top floor apartment because they don’t hear anything. “No,” I told her, “I wouldn’t like having to take the elevator all the time and if we ever have a fire or a tornado to run from, you’ll be wishing you had a downstairs apartment.” Another woman living on the third floor thinks I’m going to get murdered in my sleep by a stranger passing by my ground floor unit. She's such a scaredy-cat I can’t help laughing at her. I’m not being naive, I look at the crime rate map from time to time and know it's very low in this area. She’s in far more danger going to the mall to walk like she does every day. I wouldn't tell her that. She thinks she's safer there and if I ever sent her a link to the crime rate map she'd never go anywhere. A new member of our Creative Writing Group called his 3rd floor apartment a penthouse apartment and I had a hard time not laughing out loud at the pretentiousness of that.

Back to the topic at hand: I laid in bed another half hour this morning wishing I could fall back to sleep but finally my bladder made me get up. I wasn’t sure what day of the week it was but I have one of those old people clocks in my bathroom that told me it was Friday, March first and confirmed the fact that it was too damn early for a night owl to be rising and shining. My mom used to wake me up by calling out, “Rise and shine! It’s daylight in the swamps!” I tried it once or twice on my husband but he was such a sound sleeper it took over a half hour of badgering and occasionally waterboarding him to get him out of bed. Before we lived together my brother, who was an electrician, made him an alarm clock out of a factory bell---the kind they ring at break time and when the shifts change. It hung over his bed and the neighbors across the street could hear it go off. They’d often come over and bang on his bedroom window to get him to wake up and turn off his super-doper alarm clock.

Since I’m looking for blog fodder today, I googled the “Rise and shine. It’s daylight in the swamps” phrase to see where it came from. On the American Heritage Magazine website I learned the last part---it’s daylight in the swamps---dates back to the colonial times. It’s the first thing generations of lumberjacks in the logging camps heard every morning: “Daylight in the swamp---all out!”

The rise and shine part of the phrase comes from biblical times and the 1611 King James version of the Bible made it popular in Isaiah 60:1 “Arise, shine; for thy light is come, and the glory of the LORD is risen upon thee.” By the seventeenth century other Christian texts rephrased it to: “ “Christians (shall) rise and shine so the glory of God shall be upon them.” I also learned that I’m not the only person who is on the cutting edge of the Baby Boomers who has memories of being woke up with calls of, “Rise and shine. It’s daylight in the swamps.” Apparently some old time radio show used the phrase when it came on the air and our parents picked up on it. And men who spent time in the Marines way back before my time on earth also heard it in the mornings when they served. I often wonder how many phrases that are coined in our times will still be around several centuries from now. I’m guessing not many because with the swift moving social media the way it is today, nothing new lasts long enough for it to become a cherish memory like so many of the phrases we older people remember from our youth.

The month of March in a place like where I live---a non-profit, faith based continuum care complex---is on the boring side for those of use who are not religious because most of the lectures and activities are geared with an eye toward Easter. The Chosen movie series is once again on the agenda plus the Friday Stations of the Cross series is scheduled but not much else besides a St. Patrick’s day dinner, a Show Your Irish dress up day will probably pop up and I found special St. Patrick's Day Mahjong Cards online that we’re going to use one day to add a little spice to the game.

Co-teaching mahjong with someone with Lewy Body Dementia has been---challenging but worth it. She’s got 32 years of playing the game behind her plus she taught all our current players, but she forgets now and then. For example, she came over to my table during the last class to ask me what a one bam tile looks like and when I showed her one on the table she wanted to argue about it. I then showed her a picture of a one bam in a book that was labeled and she backed down but it was tense for a minute or two. 

The classes were my idea. I designed the class curriculum, wrote check-off teaching guides and the hand-outs for all three classes and had her proof-read it all. I also coordinated everything with our Life Enrichment Director. I did a thorough job so anything she might have missed teaching her half of the class they would get by reading the hand-outs and watching the online videos assigned for homework. We all know each other’s back stories and she’s open about her dementia and she’s tells others that I am her star pupil, the heir apparent leader for our group, so to speak. Still, I try not to overstep my place as Luke Skywalker to her Obi-wan Kenobi ...and it's hard. She thanks me often for doing all this to grow our group so I think I'm walking that fine line okay.

Until Next Wednesday. ©

* My beautiful, new mahjong set with an aluminum case. One of the racks is Barbie pink and is so bright that I might have to wear sunglasses. I'm still going to look for a butterscotch aka Bakelite antique set just because I'm not dead yet and antique picking is in my blood.