A Burglar? Not Exactly

When I made plans to go on vacation last month, I alerted my neighbor and asked her to watch the house in case of fire,flood or any other disaster.

She took me seriously. I forgot to go back the next day and tell her my son called moments before I left, to say he’d be dropping into our home on his way from his home in Colorado to a meeting in Ohio–and would stay here overnight.

Unfortunately, my neighbor saw his rented car in the driveway but didn’t recognize my son. When she saw the light on on in his bedroom, she called police.

They arrived moments later, with red lights flashing and guns at the ready. My son opened the door, explained who he was, and showed ID.

Then he had the presence of mind to point to a family photo on the table–with his face in the front row.

Whew! What that tells us is that my local police does a great job of watching over me.l But it’s still smart to keep a family photo in a prominent place in the house.

Finders Keepers, Losers Weepers

It’s happening more and more often among my widowed friends: we lose things.

But the “win” comes when we find them again, which usually happens rather quickly.

Part of the reason is the large purses most of us carry, filled with everything we deem important: medicines, makeup, money, checkbook, credit cards, tissue, keys, photos of everyone in the family (many, many photos, ready to pull out and show to anyone who will look) and our Smartphones and Ipads.

They’re hard to lift, and clutched anxiously to our breasts most of the time.

Last Saturday a small group of neighbors gathered at a nearby restaurant for supper and when the check arrived, Renee reached for her purse and began searching for one of the several silk, zippered bags it contains. The one she was searching for holds her medical and credit cards—and it was gone!

She actually cried, and we were all upset,because we could definitely identify with her dilemma. I even confess to having occasional nightmares about losing my purse or my wallet and am abnormally grateful when I wake up and realize it wasn’t real.

We grabbed our phones to call there theater where we had just seen a film, but one man was smart enough to ask for the keys to my car because I had driven Renee to the restaurant. While we were all still wailing in the booth, he returned holding the black silk bag, credit cards intact, that had been resting on the floor of the front seat. Renee had forgotten to zip the large purse when she got in.

There was more here than just losing a bag. I have read that if you have suffered a traumatic loss of some kind, even in childhood, the feeling of tragic loss will reoccur whenever you lose something, even many years later.

In the case of widows, we have all lost someone very, very important to us. And if, as in Renee’s case, yours has been a long, loving marriage, that feeling of desperation is even greater.

But so is the “win” when you retrieve it.


Don’t Dessert Old Friends

We’re all so busy, it’s really easy to ignore friends who need a little extra “TLC”, and I was guilty.

I met Betty in college and continued to see and love her throughout our lives, eventually adding our husbands and children to our warm circle of friendship. She was the smartest, wittiest and most fun-loving girl I ever knew, and there were so many parallels in our lives until recently, that we enjoyed being together. Her marriage was a fine one, to a man equally intelligent, and together they traveled the world and were successful in their careers while rearing two remarkable children.

But when her husband died six years ago, Betty underwent a drastic change, becoming abnormally anxious and depressed. It became worse with each year and she stopped driving, going anywhere, or calling anyone. I noticed she became forgetful, more terrified of everything, including losing hr keys or medications, so she carried them with her in a huge purse, that must have weighed 30 pounds, everywhere she went. She also began using a four- pronged cane, though no doctor ever suggested it, “Because I’m terrified of falling.”

She became terrified of everything, and it was too much for me to watch. I stopped calling, and she never did. Last week I realized she hadn’t called me, and I missed talking to her. When I called she was lying on the loveseat in her kitchen trying to watch a program on a new TV set she hasn’t learned to operate. I felt ashamed when I heard the happiness in her voice when she heard mine. Excitedly she agreed to meet for lunch and we made arrangements for me to pick her up.

I walked through her unlocked door (“Oh, I kept forgetting my keys so I stopped ever locking the door,” she said, showing no concern for the fact that she lives alone in a small ranch house in a town where most people lock their doors AND install burglar alarms.

The house was in as much distress as Betty was, with unopened mail strewn across the couch and overflowing onto the living room carpet. The kitchen sink and table were covered with dishes and, and blankets, books and DVD tapes crowded her on the loveseat.

She hadn’t been to the beauty salon in weeks, she said, and this formerly fastidious Fashionista was wearing a long sleeve velour brown sweater and dark brown polyester pants with pills all over them on a day registering 9 0 degree heat. To stop her dismay over the condition of her once beautifully coiffed hair, I suggested she put on a hat and she did as we trooped out to my car. Now she was using two four-pronged canes and still hadn’t ever fallen.

We had lunch and for two hours she was her old self, retelling funny anecdotes of our years gone by together.

But then I took her home with a heavy heart.

I’m sure her children have tried to intervene but Betty is a very stubborn woman who will smile and agree, then do as she likes. I’m debating about how much intervention I can provide too.

I won’t dessert her again. I am keeping close and will try to encourage her children to bring in professionals to help.

What are YOU doing for old friends in this situation? It’s happening to so many.

See You At the Voting Booth

Regardless of which party you believe in, it’s important to get to the polls and vote for its representatives in November.

I realized that before the last election, and signed up to become an election judge. It seemed the least I could done for this country that has been so generous in all ways to four generations of our family.

I took training and worked in the polls fro 5 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Election day. I felt somewhat intimidated by my lack of experience and skills, because the last time I did that, so many years ago, everything was on paper and simply distributed and collected. Now it is complicated and computerized. Being somewhat older than my fellows at the Polling Place, and somewhat slower with responses because of eyesight issues, I was afraid I wouldn’t be asked back ( A hard pill to swallow for someone who was voted Most Popular Girl in her high school graduating class!)

But lo and behold we are our own worst enemies, seeing problems and prejudice where none exists. It seems no one else dismissed my work, and I was invited to return for the next election as a judge in either a polling place or a nursing home.

I was delighted to have that choice for the first time. A nursing home will be the perfect place to exercise my election judge talent, since everything in such a setting moves slower, including the people and some election judges.

God bless America for setting up polling places in senior residences!
See you at the polls!

Kids Gone, Dog Died–What Now?

“The kids are gone. The dog died, I hate my job and don’t know what else to do.”

I hear that refrain often from women in midlife–especially if they are widows. For without question, midlife IS more difficult when you don’t have a mate.

It’s even more discouraging if you don’t have a satisfying career.

“But what else can I do now? ” you ask.

Start by thinking about what actual activities would make you want to jump out of bed, run to your car and be impatient while you wait at red lights because you’re so anxious to begin your day.

That’s where you start trying to find more satisfying work.

Tally up all the skills you’ve learned in your previous and present work life, plus your education so many years ago, and see where those lead.

One widow named Sally mentioned she loves horses and her most happy hours lately are at the stable nearby, taking riding lessons. She stays afterward visiting managers, the facilities and especially the animals. Her degree happened to be in agriculture many years ago, but she doesn’t use that knowledge in her present job.

It’s pretty clear where she should begin inquiring about full- or part-time or even voluntary positions in her “after retirement” days.

And Sue loves to bake and make candy. Her finest creative moments are when she’s making fancy pastries and chocolates to serve at her own parties–or to bring to friends’ events. She has no such joy performing secretarial duties at the office.

We pointed out she can begin setting up a future company, (“Sweet Sue’s Sweets” perhaps?) All she needs are cards and weekends dedicated to the project until she can do it full time.

In both cases, that would get their minds off the beloved kids and the dear departed dog, and focused on moving forward.

So don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to stay where you are and feel sorry for yourself.

It’s more important to remember that this life is NOT a dress rehearsal and it’s up to you to make each day as happy and fulfilling as we can. And also remember no one can do it for you.

But of course, www.Widowslist.com is always here to help, with our many years experience as the DR.JOB columnist syndicated in newspapers throughout the country.

So send us your questions and we may be able to help you develop and market a new career–and an exciting new life! ####

Want Senior Discount? Ask for IT!

OMG! I can’t believe what just happened!

I brought in the mail, opened a bill from the tree service that removed the 50-year-old Willow from our yard last week, and phoned the company to pay with my charge card.

Before I gave the receptionist my information, I casually asked, “Say, do you give a senior discount?”

She said, “Yes, you get 5 percent off.”

That changed my $2,650 bill to $2,518.

It was that easy.

I learned about senior discounts on my 65th birthday when my older brother told me I qualified for Senior Coffee at McDonald’s. Some stores don’t comply but most will either give you a few pennies off, or—the best—hand you a small cup of coffee free.

Recently, when I took out my credit card to pay for a root canal treatment, I was pleasantly surprised to hear the receptionist say “You get a 20% senior discount if you pay in full.”

Which I promptly did. (I also returned to my regular dentist and asked for the same, and have paid 20% less for all services there too ever since.)

So the lesson is clear: you deserve senior discounts simply because you’ve survived all these years.

So open your mouth and ask for them.

Remember: The squeaking wheel gets the grease.

Guard Your ‘Brain Space’

Just spentthe morning with my cell phone provider because the phone keeps dropping off in the the middle of calls.

This isn’t the first time I tried to fix that. Sometimes, in frustration, I drive to the store. Others, like today, I try to work it from the house. Always with the same result: no fix.

I was starting to feel my blood pressure rise, when my pal, Bev, called. She was almost in tears because SHE spent the morning with her land line provider and got the same runaround with no improvement.

They promised to call back and set up an appointment to send someone to her home to fix it. “I’ve been waiting two hours and no one called back,” she said. “I can’t go out because they may call when I’m gone, so I’m trapped and I can feel my blood pressure going through the roof!”

I could feel my own blood pressure falling back to normal as I considered our predicaments. We get angry if we feel hurt, and when widows live alone, we easily misread all treatment as “personal.”

Bev and I talked about how busy all the phone companies are, and how uninformed most of their customer service people are. They usually read from the same manuals we could access online if we knew how.

“So why are you sitting there upsetting yourself?” I asked. “The phone is their problem not yours. You can use your cell phone for everything. Go to your card game and stop at Macy’s for the after 4th sale.”

She stopped venting. “I never thought of that,” she said. “You’re right. I’m leaving and I feel better.”

This all happens because we live alone and have no one to bounce our feelings off of, so we sometimes make the wrong emotional choices.

Most important: Remember that you have only so much space in your brain. Don’t give nonsense free rental space there.

Saying Goodbye to Old Willow

I lost another dear friend yesterday: the 53-year-old Willow tree my husband planted in the back corner of our yard the year we moved into this home.

We often sat on the patio with morning coffee and watched it grow. Then I sat alone, remembering that strong, handsome young man who had dug the hole and lovingly patted soil around the roots. As it grew, so did our family.

It’s been trimmed fairly regularly as it began towering over the neighborhood. One grumpy neighbor (who moved long ago, thank goodness) constantly complained about leaves falling into his yard from “…your dirty old tree!”) We trimmed his side, but kept caring for our majestic beauty.

Four years ago I paid $800 to have the top and dead branches trimmed back so they wouldn’t smash into the house during a thunderstorm. I didn’t have the heart to take it down, and the tree specialist said we’d have about five more years.

Then last month I noticed sawdust around the ground beneath it. Then I heard a “thud”!” and huge chunks of bark began falling. The botanist assured me our old Willow was dead and had to come down to avoid serious damage to the surrounding area.

Yesterday,for 8 hours, Montoya Tree Service in Glenview IL climbed up and down the enormous trunk, grown as wide as three full size Maple trees, methodically sawing branches and chunks from the main trunk . The fee included grinding the stump out of the ground and hauling away huge blocks of tree this morning. I did have another surprise when I saw a mountain of stump shavings over that hole, and I asked if they were going to remove it too. They said many people leave it, then spread it around the garden for mulch.

I quickly called MC Landscaping, which handles my lawn care, and owner Manuel Cordoba said,”Make them take it away.It’s not good mulch. I’ll bring black dirt and grass seed to fix the area later.”

Meanwhile I checked Google and found that’s an ongoing controversy. It’s an old view that it’s harmful to gardens, yet many newer gardeners claim they have used it as mulch with no problems. I always side with Mr. Cordoba, and I’m glad the shavings eyesore is gone.

But I’m not glad our lovely old Willow tree is gone. I will miss it and remember it–as I do so many other things–and people– that are no longer in my day-to-day life. Now it’s up to me to keep them all alive with sweet memories.

Diffuse ‘Cat Fight’ with Laughter

As so many of us do, I love going to the movies with women friends on Saturday nights.

Of course I’d rather still have my husband here to go with, but there is a guilty pleasure in seeing chick flicks instead of murder and war films.

Although we all usually get along well, occasionally there’s a “Cat fight.”

Like last night. Three of us set out to see “A Bag of Marbles,” (which, by the way, is a fantastic film and should win any awards it qualifies for. Don’t miss it!).

We no sooner picked up “Backseat Driver” than she told “Driver” to turn left to get onto the expressway from a second entrance.

“I like this one,” said Driver through clenched teeth.

Then we heard from the back, “Park on the street, it’s free, and there’s a spot.”

“I like the lot and I’ll pay for it,” Driver responded, again through clenched teeth.

I could see future issues brewing about seating when we got to the box office, and when they started snapping at each other, I broke out in laughter.

“This is the nuttiest thing I ever saw,” I said. “You both had to be bossy raising crazy kids and then had to take complete charge when your husbands were ill, but that was then and this is now.”

They looked surprised, then they started to laugh too.

“Guess what?” I added. “We better all learn to get along because we’re all we’ve got now.”

They laughed too and there was a silent truce.

All of us really loved the film as well as hot dogs at the joint across the street later. We sat and traded wonderful stories (and talked a little politics since we all agree about that no matter where we park.)

Saying goodnight, everyone hugged and planned to do it again next Saturday.

Where can I buy a “Smile” button?

(What do YOU do in these situations? Tell us in a comment.)

God’s Waiting Room

Don Rickles once joked his mother was living in Miami, which he called, “God’s waiting room.” But that was while he was still young.

Those of us in senior years have a different view. Florida, Arizona, California, all start to look pretty good to us at retirement. They’re all places where we can walk outside without fear of slipping on ice. They’re also places where we can expect to meet others our age, with similar interests, often without mates, and the same eagerness to embrace some pleasure in these remaining years.

But you don’t really have to leave long- time friends and a beloved family to do that. There are plenty of very nice retirement residences, villages, and apartment complexes in most places provide the same. Granted, there’s the snow and ice issue. But there’s been less and less of both these last few years as climate change takes its toll. And when we DO get a snowfall, most of these places provide buses,in addition to the usual Pace, and Uber.

I recently attended a wonderful 90th birthday brunch at The Lodge, a charming (fast expanding) complex in Northbrook, IL. The chef prepared a beautiful and deliciious buffet table and the family provided decorations, a special birthday cake, and a pinata with the face of a president many there enjoyed smacking with a baseball bat.

When asked how they enjoy living there after 50 years in a nearby ranch home, the hosts exclaimed the many virtues mentioned above. “But the menu is too repetitous” grumbed the host, whose wife obviously spoiled him all their previous married years with varied gourmet meals.

“You get what you pay for,” sniffed his wife. “IT’s $13 a meal and it IS very good, but every two weeks they repeat menus exactly.”

I wouldn’t complain about that, since I eat a lot of broiled chicken and lamb chops here in my home kitchen (often in less time than two weeks apart.)

So I’d say The Lodge has a great rating since everything else was fine. I did suggest the couple organize a small committee to take a poll of residents and if all agree, to speak with the chef about disguising some main courses to vary menus.

The next week I attended a reunion of Chicago Media reporters and editors who meet once a month at our local Meier’s Tavern in Winnetka, IL.

One former publisher, who had already downsized with his wife to a nearby suburban hi-rise, said they were on the waiting list to move into fine old local senior complex.

“My wife has back trouble and just can’t cook or care for a condo anymore,” he explained, overlooking the idea that he might have pitched in on this over the years.

“This requires a down payment of several thousand dollars, which our kids will get back in part some day,k and about $7,000 a month for both of us. That includes rent, food, housekeepers to clean the apartment, and other amenities. ”

His biggest reason for moving now? “You have to be independent to get in,” he said. “They won’t take us if we suddenly become infirm and need assistance or nursing care.
We have to get in while we’re healthy .”

I wondered why he thought there would be no assisted living or nursing facilities available when they became dependent. There are many that provide services as good, or possibly better, than this independent complex.

But I’ve noticed there is a fear element in every sales pitch, especially to seniors, and we should consider them carefully, preferably with family members, an attorney, and definitely an accountant, before making final decisions.

There is much more than bingo and bridge to consider.