Widow Journal Part II: Knowing when to ask for help

My almost-completed deck staining/sealing project. Sloppy for a beginner but at least it's good enough.

My almost-completed deck staining/sealing project. Sloppy for a beginner but at least it’s good enough.

The Bible readings at church this morning spoke of widows and orphans. I can now sympathize with the widows of the Old and New Testament, even though I resist that identification. They were considered the most helpless individuals throughout history, with good reason.

But fast forward to the 21st century, and at least widows are no longer deemed helpless. As a stubborn female who has always prided herself on being able to use power tools and do chores on her own, I have entered this new chapter of life without a mate determined to tackle some of the more male-oriented tasks that my late husband had to put on the back burner due to ill health.

With just a tiny bit of trepidation, I tackled the staining and sealing of our deck and patio (learning through mistakes and sloppiness). I went to Sears and bought a new self-propelled lawn mower when I became fearful that the rider in the shed was going to tip over in our steep yard. Like an idiot, I mowed both the front and back yards in one afternoon, trying to keep up with the self-propulsion that went a little too fast for my tastes and arthritic knees.

I even put both my dogs on the grooming bench yesterday and trimmed their muzzles and the fur on their feet, just like I’d watched my husband do so many times before.

But by golly, a simple little 48 inch fluorescent light tube nearly did me in. I’ve replaced those suckers before without too much cursing. Today nothing worked. Add to that the fact that my old washer finally gave out and leaked all over the basement. I’m not strong enough to move it out of the way and my newer one into place.

Finally admitting I could qualify as a helpless widow, I called my brother-in-law to ask for help from my nephews, knowing my son would not appreciate driving 45 minutes one way to put a light tube in a stupid socket.

See, that’s the thing. We are called to be humble, and widowhood will put you there fast. Widows, widowers and others on their own need to learn the power of discernment. We have to overcome our embarrassment and fears of being a burden on others and admit we need the help occasionally. We also should realize that most folks welcome the opportunity to be helpful to widows and orphans; they just might need to be asked.

So, when my basement family room is once again illuminated, when my standby washer is maneuvered into place by my much stronger and more capable nephews, I will go back to doing my normal widow things. These things include, but are not limited to the following:

–Marking time by how many weeks have passed since the funeral and doing a self-assessment of mental progress and spiritual growth.

–Marking the time also by mundane things like trash days and daily to-do lists.

–Staying insanely busy to keep from being overwhelmed by emotional pain and self-pity; just letting those things descend on nights and Sunday evenings, and then only just a little.

–Learning the full meaning of the term “third wheel” and of cruel sayings like, “It’s a couples’ world.”

–Thanking God and the entertainment industry for Netflix while wondering what to watch once I’m finished with 130 episodes of “The Medium.”

Comfort food and lots of it could prove to be less than healthy.

Comfort food and lots of it could prove to be less than healthy.

–Realizing with a pang of guilt that keeping grief at bay by eating my way through Great Harvest Bakery’s offerings and those little Ben and Jerry’s ice cream cups might not be the healthiest thing to do.

–Slapping my hand off the iPad before ordering yet another item on the Internet that I probably don’t really need, knowing my late husband would probably come back to life to chastise me for it if he could.

–Noticing with disgust that the air conditioner hose is clogged and leaking all over the basement floor, then wondering if I am up to getting the compressor from the garage to the basement and then figuring out how to unhook said hose. Maybe this is a nephew call.

–Realizing that calling for help too often would quickly wear out my welcome. I have a friend whose widowed mother could not understand why her grandsons would not be able to come and mow her yard once a week, driving 150 miles one way to do so, even though she promised to pay them $10.

Retirement holidays: Practical antiques and diminished expectations


Clap on!. . . Clap off!

Someone used a clapper on my holiday brain.

The career-years mode always clapped things on about Thanksgiving. Like an automaton, I followed its ON button to get the first batch of fudge and cookies made and in the freezer, holiday decorating accomplished that first weekend (with at least a little touch in every room) and Christmas cards addressed and mailed no later than Dec. 17. Somewhere in that manic month I managed to work in some solitude and peace, since that was the guilt-inducing admonition hanging over my head and urging me to wrap things up so I could enjoy the fruits of all that labor.

Enter retirement and a new set of self-expectations. Yep, the clapper done clapped off.

Here it is December 4. No cookies or fudge can be found in their collector tins in the freezer. I may not send out any Christmas cards for the first time in my adult life. And the decorating so far is confined to a wreath at the door, a lesser wreath on the back porch, a holiday lava lamp on a what-not shelf and, horror-of-horrors, one of those ceramic lighted Christmas trees on a table in the foyer.

You know the kind I mean. The same tree that’s been making the rounds on Facebook. You’re supposed to click “Like” if you remember them.

Like? Heck! We have one and we treasure it. Lemonade Man, the in-house artist, made it in a ceramics class, way-back-when. It’s always the holiday item that brings the most enjoyment when we haul it out of the basement. Lemonade Man says, “Why don’t we use that for our only Christmas tree this year?” I’m tempted, but reply that any presents we wrap to put under it may result in totally hiding the thing.

The Schwan’s man deflated our ceramic tree holiday spirit today when he stepped in the door and said, “Wow!  I feel like I’m in my Grandma’s house. She has a tree just like this.” She made hers in a ceramics class too.

But we no longer care about being embarrassed by our holiday antiques or that we are living in the dark ages of holiday decorating. We’re actually in the same category when it comes to kitchen cookware. Not only do I member cooking in white pyrex dishes with a blue corn flower design, I still use those puppies every day. That’s another Facebook post that keeps taunting me to like it.

Since the clapper clapped off this year, there is no little elf on a shelf whispering me to get a move on. So instead of going downstairs for another load of Ho-Ho, I watch a movie on Netflix in the middle of the day. Shame on me.

Lemonade Man sits at the kitchen table and watches a neighbor put lights on the outside of his house. I casually mention that we have the same kind of lights in a locker in the basement, but then make no protest when he replies, “Well, that’s a good place for them.”

Retirement clapper victims morph into down-sizers. This means that a mountain of unused holiday decorations made a trip to the Goodwill store last spring. Excess items from the linen closet and some kitchen cabinets met the same fate. And when I put away the Thanksgiving decor this week, the ceramic turkey soup tureen and a matching, but chipped platter, got added to the pile of clothing and bedding at the City Union Mission drop-off.

And all those holiday shopping flyers and catalogs that get stuffed in the daily paper or through the mail slot? Don’t tell the statisticians and media folks, but they no longer hold any allure . . . no longer entice us with their promise of the latest must-haves. Whenever we buy anything these days, it’s because it’s a replacement for something that broke. And all purchases are screened with the question, “Is it something that will have to go in an estate sale?”

Christmas will still come to the house of New Retirement Grinches. But it will be more modest and subdued. My daughter-in-law made a pointed comment last weekend about her anticipation of my fudge. And the artificial tree will be brought upstairs on the electric stair-lift that takes away any excuses for not toting heavy things. But even before retirement we learned to keep the lights and the unbreakable ornaments on it, cover it with a plastic bag, and thus save ourselves hours of work each year.

Call us grumpy grinches, but we’re not stressed this year. I’ll go get the tree as soon as we finish this movie. The holiday clapper clapped off and it sure is a relief.