The Dead Husband Thing

“My husband passed away.” That’s all I have to say to turn a conversation upside down. Women say, “I’m so sorry.” Men of a certain age take another look at me and say, “Really?”

To be honest, I hate to bring it up. The pity makes me squirm. I find myself gravitating toward older women who take widowhood in stride. You’re eighty-something? Of course your husband is dead. Besides, it has been almost four years now. Fred died the day before Easter in 2011. How long am I supposed to be pitiful? He wouldn’t want that.

Most women my age have living husbands. The husbands are getting gray, bald and jowly and they have various health problems. Maybe their sex life has fizzled. But they’re still alive. Then the wives look at me and think, “Whoa, what if my husband died?” I’m too much of a reminder that it could happen, that it does happen. God knows, if I were 15 years older, most of my friends would be widows.

Alzheimer’s took my husband out with a nine-year descent from beginning to end. Maybe he had it before that. He was always forgetful. By the time someone dies of dementia, you have spent years grieving already. The man you loved is mostly gone. After he dies, you miss him, but it’s a relief to have it finally over with.

Losing a husband is a two-sided loss. You not only lost this person you loved, but you lost your position in the world as a wife. Now you’re this new thing called a widow.

It’s surprising how people react. If I said I was divorced, they would just say, “Oh” and move on. I know; I was divorced for five years before I met Fred. But “widowed” draws a knee-jerk “I’m so sorry,” followed by an awkward moment when nobody knows what to say. Dear friends, It’s perfectly okay to talk about it.

Hey, I’m alive. Having a dead husband sucks, but not every minute of every day. Do I miss having Fred to talk to? Yes. Do I wish he were around when the car breaks down? Definitely. Do I feel bad when I’m the only single person in a room full of couples? So bad. Do I miss snuggling, kissing, and sex? Absolutely. Do I cry sometimes? Do I want to kick things? Do I tell God I would trade anything to have Fred back? You bet.

But then I realize that since he was always a lot older than me, he’d be 77 now and I’d have to go through his dying all over again. Been there, done that, wearing his T-shirts. And his socks and his jackets and his hats.

Here’s the thing. We go on. We eat, sleep, shop, walk the dog, go to church, and watch TV just like we always did, but now we don’t have to worry about doing it on anybody else’s schedule or catering to anybody else’s tastes.

Don’t get me wrong. We had a good marriage, one of the best. But we finished it. We loved each other to the end, we never cheated on each other, never fought about anything that mattered, and did everything we said we were going to do. Till death did us part. Amen. He went to wherever dead people go, and I have gone on to my next chapter.

Will that next chapter include another man? Maybe. I stopped wearing my wedding ring after six months mostly because I was starting to look at guys and wanting them to know I was available. Do I want to become a wife again? I don’t know. The financial fallout from getting married again could be disastrous, and do I really want to deal with another man’s family, including his kids, this late in life? Do I want to become a caregiver again if/when he gets sick? But what if I’m the one who gets sick? Who will take care of me? Sigh.

I love my freedom. I lost 20 pounds after Fred died. Not having to cook elaborate meals to please him meant I could actually stay on a diet for once. So now I feel younger and sexier. I flirt. I get horny. I enjoy dressing up and going out. I also enjoy working when I’m in the mood without the need to quit because somebody’s hungry or bored.

Would I give it all up in a heartbeat if I could have Fred back? I would. But that’s not going to happen, and I may live another 20 or 30 years, so I’m looking ahead, making plans, and thinking about projects I want to do, vacations I want to take, and movies I want to see. I have a bucket list that has nothing to do with Fred. Crass? I don’t think so. He died, but I’m still alive.

Thank you for reading this. May your Easter be filled with blessings.

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Exploring what man and nature leave behind

IMG_20150302_155117047[1]Most of us see stuff on the beach and either walk on by or put it in our pockets to take home, but that’s the end of it. Oregon author Bonnie Henderson took it a step farther, actually a lot of steps farther. In her book Strand: An Odyssey of Pacific Ocean Debris (OSU Press, 2008) she follows the stories of six items found on an Oregon beach: a glass float, a dead bird, one size 11 athletic shoe, a minke whale, the charred remains of a fishing boat, and a sea animal’s egg case. One by one, she follows the trail of these items, traveling to their origin, including trips to China, Japan and Washington, talking to the experts. In the case of the shoe, for example, she traced it back to where it was made in China, found the container ship bearing that shipment of shoes, which lost part of its cargo in a storm, and tracked the ocean currents to see how it wound up on Mile 157 of the Oregon coast.

Henderson’s stories are packed with science, but they are also about people and animals. She tells them in such a way that even the most unscientific among us can enjoy it. I was also pleased to recognize some of the coastal folks she interviewed including my neighbors Bob and Shirley Loeffel. It’s a good book, as is the next book she published, The Next Tsunami: Living on a Restless Coast.

Henderson’s book made me think about what Annie and I find on our walks. Most of our discoveries don’t have such interesting stories behind them. The most common sights are coffee containers from Dutch Brothers, Starbucks, and the other local caffeine stations, of which we have at least five between here and the north end of Newport. Plastic cup, plastic lid, plastic straw, all of which are supposed to be recyclable, just tossed into the brush. Annie tends to grab them and lick as much of the beverage as she can get while I chant, “Drop it, drop it, damn it Annie, drop it.” Thanks to the litterbugs, my dog has a taste for coffee, especially with whipped cream. She will also eat plastic if I let her.

We find beer cans, Coors Light mostly, which I grab up, wash and recycle, along with discarded half-eaten McDonald’s meals—Annie likes burgers and fries, too—potato chips, cookies, orange peels, snuff, cigarette packs and cigarette butts, socks, underwear, shopping receipts, CDs, and Watchtower pamphlets. None of this is good for dogs and other animals. What’s sad is that often there’s a garbage can nearby. Every few days, I bag it all up and throw it away, but there’s always more.

Because our walks take us down roads and paths through the coastal forest, nature leave its share of flotsam, too: dead newts, dead garter snakes, dead robins and Stellar’s jays, dead rabbits, a dead possum that has been deteriorating into dust for months, mysterious bones, feathers, once feet cut off of a deer, and once a massacred chicken, probably killed by one of the hawks or vultures that often circle above us. We find tracks from all kinds of animals. We also find branches knocked down in the latest windstorm, mushrooms in the fall and wildflowers in the spring. In other words, we find what’s supposed to be there, along with what’s not.

We rarely run into wild animals or other people while we’re on our walks, but clearly a lot goes on when we’re not around.

We can’t all research to the extent that Bonnie Henderson does, but go for a walk. See what you find and think about where it came from. If it’s garbage, put it where it belongs.

Not Your Usual Graduation Present

IMG_20150315_224323314_HDR[1]If parents are going to give their kids something big for high school graduation, it’s usually a car, right? Maybe it has bald tires and the seat covers are torn, but it’s got four wheels and the engine is sound.

Or maybe they write a big check or buy you tickets to Disneyland. Or ?????

Me, I got a sewing machine. And I was thrilled. It was 1970, still the days of long hair, short skirts and psychedelic colors. After two years of home ec classes, I was making most of my clothes. That machine, a putty-colored Singer Stylist with—ooh—a zigzag setting, was way better than a car. I had been sewing on my mother’s old machine, which had been my great-grandmother’s. My folks had converted it from treadle power to electric. I can still feel the rocking of that treadle under my feet and the cold steel of the wheel in my right hand. It worked well, but now I had my own sewing machine that I could use in my own room, and I couldn’t wait to get going.

Hour after hour, I laid out patterns on the kitchen table, cut the fabric, pinned it and sewed it on my Singer. My sewing raised objections from the family during prime time because in those antenna-TV days, sewing machines and other appliances wreaked havoc with the TV picture and sound. But I sewed and sewed. I loved the colors, red, green, yellow, blue, and the fabrics, cotton, corduroy, velvet, satin. My clothes were always unique. Even if I used the same patterns as other girls and even the same fabrics purchased from the old House of Fabrics, I never combined them in the same way.

In more recent years, I used the machine to make the quilted wall hangings that hang all over my house. I saved bits of fabric for decades, knowing someday I would use it.

I used that sewing machine for 44 years, through 11 moves and two husbands. The initials I stitched inside the necklines changed three times, and still I sewed. In recent years, I didn’t using the sewing machine as much. I was busy with family and work. Losing my mother and mother-in-law, both avid needlewomen, took away some of my sewing mojo. Plus the machine was getting old and cranky. Finally, a couple weeks ago, after doing more cursing than stitching trying to make it work, I decided to look into new sewing machines.

The result? I’ve got a new Brother sewing machine sitting in the bedroom I am now turning into my sewing room. It’s computerized, it has 60 different stitches, and has push-buttons for everything. I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to work it, that it would be too complicated, but somehow, the basics are still the same. When I started sewing, my hands knew exactly what to do. And that machine hummed and sewed like . . . a Cadillac.

I don’t know what I’m going to make yet. But I can’t wait to find out. And the old sewing machine? I don’t know what do with it, but as I told my 92-year-old father the other day, it sure served me well, better than any old car would have.

Did you get a big present for high school graduation? What was it? Please share in the comments.

Oregon Coast birthday runaway

Hi there. Yesterday was my birthday. I decided to run away for the day. Rather than a detailed narrative, let me show you some pictures from my trip which began at the South Beach Post Office, meandered north to Robert’s Bookshop in Lincoln City, then lunch at Kyllos, some time on the beach, a little antiquing and a visit to the Nestucca Bay National Wildlife Refuge. Oh, and a quick stop at Fred Meyer to grab chicken, sushi and red velvet cake for dinner. I rounded out the day with the three-hour finale of “The Bachelor.” Perfect.

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AARP arrives on my birthday to remind me I’m getting older.
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                                                                Siletz River just south of Lincoln City
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                                                             Pippin, the bookstore dog greets me at Robert’s
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Located on the D River in Lincoln City, Kyllo’s offered a stuffed salmon special that was fabulous.
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I had a horse like this when I was little. Her name was Susie. Ah, memories. Little cowboy hat, little red boots . . .
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You’ve got to go to Granny’s and Rocking Horse Antiques when you’re in Lincoln City.

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It was crazy cold, but the wide open spaces at the Nestucca Bay Wildlife Refuge warm the soul.