Tuesday, December 12, 2006


Some or all who read this probably know the routine of having to suddenly take on tasks with which they have previously been unfamiliar. The past six months or so, since my husband passed away, I've been doing just that. I am reminded of all this, because it suddenly occurred to me that one more unfamiliar task is approaching with the end of the year. State and federal income tax figuring can't be far behind.

Over the years I made an effort to try and understand how various vital but menial tasks were accomplished for the efficient functioning of our household, even though I was not the one who would be performing some of them. When that unexpected day arrived that I had to assume those responsibilities too, I was surprised that procedures which had seemed quite simple, seemed a bit more complex than I imagined. I expect that was probably because I hadn't actually performed the steps or process on a regular basis.

For example, I've spent a lot of time these past months reading instruction manuals, studying picture diagrams labelled A, B, C, etc. They say, "If you have Model ..." whatever, followed by 17 digits with a few alphabet letters thrown in "... go to Figure 12 ... but if you have Model ..." 17 more digits and alphabet letters mixed in "... then go to Figure 13 ..." Then, do this or do that, but if this happens, do another thing. Be sure to turn this off before you do that. If none of this works, try something else.

The time also came to tackle systems with no written instructions. I remember years ago when my husband was trying to figure out two different sets of security-type lights without benefit of an instruction manual. He would become so frustrated, and I was so glad to not have to even think about the problem, much less resetting them as daylight and darkness hours gradually changed, along with the human-devised Daylight Savings Time coming and going, complicating matters even further. I've only been able to find the control for one system, and that's the one my husband could never get to work right. I think I need to reassess these pain-in-the-tush lights for possible conversion to a more current digital operation.

Then there were the separate front and back sprinkler systems with his subsequent changing controls and two different systems, the care and cleaning of the permanent filter in the air flow system for the air conditioner and the furnace, remembering when to put out the trash then adjusting for delays with holidays. Keeping all the trash sorted correctly in the first place has been a great boon though we had pretty much become accustomed to doing that -- environmental greenery in one container, but certain other green items have to go into the regular trash. Then, of course there are the recyclable papers, bottles, cans, etc. in a third container. I'm keeping it all straight, pretty well. I'm getting everything put out to the street on the right day, even adjusting correctly for holidays. I'm glad our community is so environmentally concerned, so I'm not complaining.

And then there are the vehicles, as if all the above wasn't enough. My husband had managed complete care of the automobiles, including keeping the gas tanks filled (we have to pump our own gas in Calif.,) oil and air filter changes, tire pressure checked, cars washed, etc. Years ago when he wanted to be in control of the autos, I had been happy to relinquish the responsibility for all these tasks to him.

I haven't pumped gas since I was fifteen, when girls/women didn't do those kinds of things. I had a summer job at this stop-in-the-road little store/gas station. Today it would be an auto mart, only self-serve. But in the early 1950's more than a few drivers were shocked when I checked the car's oil, too, as the couple who owned the operation expected. But, the owners where I worked didn't allow me to go near the cash register, or behind the counter. They had stashed back there items in little packages they usually and secretively sold to men, that my underage eyes should not see. I also, had to do double duty in their personal kitchen at the back of the store. That was when I determined I would never ever own any cooking utensil with a copper bottom based on all the scrubbing of theirs I had to do day after day after day. But...I have digressed.

There are many menial but important tasks to keep life running smoothly. These are just some of the ones with which I was confronted these past months.

None of these tasks are that difficult, it's just the unfamiliarity of how to go about certain ones, even though in my single days many years ago some of them I handled without a second thought. But a lot has changed since then. I'm having to take the time to figure out all of it. Integrating these activities into my schedule of responsibilities has required some adjustment. Sometimes, when some new unexpected task has emerged, it has seemed like the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.

There is a feeling of accomplishment and confidence as familiarity through the repetition of doing becomes more commonplace. Occasionally, during this process, some small seemingly insignificant interaction with a heretofore stranger can acquire magnified importance, if only for the moment.

The other day I visited a service location with which I was quite unfamiliar. I had occasion to speak with several different employees in charge of various phases of the business. Sometimes I asked what I imagined sounded like rather dumb questions. Each time, I briefly explained how long we had been customers, that handling this task was new to me and why. Everyone was courteous. After I had completed my final contact, a supervisor who had overheard that conversation quickly turned to me and said, "We'll take good care of you here. If you ever have any questions, just come to see me."

It was the end of my busy day, the end of a hectic several weeks and month and I was tired. The thoughtful message from that supervisor was just what I needed to hear. I left that business establishment with a nice warm feeling of confidence that I would, in fact, be taken care of there in good fashion in the future. I felt renewed encouragement that I would be ready for whatever the next unexpected challenge might present. I thought again, the world really is filled with nice people, despite negative experiences we sometimes have, all the news we hear to the contrary.


  1. Joared,
    I have been "doing it all" for myself since my divorce, 40 years ago. What I find true is that I don't have to do it all, I just have to make sure it all gets done. There are professionals who can do things I can't or don't want to. I've never been affluent, but I have always managed to afford either to pay for or trade for those tasks. For years I traded home cooked meals with a friend who had a black thumb for oil changes to my car.

  2. It is hard to run a house all by yourself and you've got to deal with grief from your husband's death on top of that.

    Take each day as it comes and I'm sure you'll get through.

    Of course you've now got your blog to vent when times are tough, or not. I find it helps me.

    And you are lucky that there are some kind people out there that are willing to help. It's certainly a boost when you do come across them.

  3. I know how difficult it can be to have suddenly thrust upon you those tasks you are unfamiliar with, as it hit my dad when my mom died. She had paid all the bills, done all the shopping and taken care of housecleaning for all their 50 years of marriage. When he was faced with doing it all, it seemed an impossible task to an 88 year old man. Hang in there, and like Maya's Granny said, you can find other people to do those more difficult tasks for you.

  4. Lots of things have changed since I last owned a car in 1975, and pumping my own gas is not, in my opinion, an advance in the human human condition.

    And although I understand its value, I don't understand why recycling has to be made so difficult. Here in Portland, Maine, only plastic labeled 1 or 2 can be recycled. Have you ever tried to read those little numbers on the bottom of plastic containers? I've seen numbers as high as 7. Who knew there were so many kinds of plastic.

    And taxes? Please. I've paid an accountant for 30-odd years to handle that. I'm with Maya's Granny on that - paying others to do as much stuff as possible or as one can afford.

    Except toilets. Somewhere through the years, I learned toilets and can fix those, including replacement parts, myself.

  5. If ever there was a post I could relate to...it's this one Joared. I'm learning every day...like you. I just posted something today that epitomizes what we, and many women who have lost their spouses, have to deal with. You never think beyond the heartbreaking loss of your loved one...never about all that will land in your lap to be taken care of. You just handle it as it comes. I've certainly learned that lesson in this past year. I'm right there with you Joared. If ever you need to gripe....you know where to find me. I'll do the same.

  6. How I relate to this post! My husband was the person who took care of fixing everything, I am a dodo with my hands and he knew it. And that is one part I haven't learnt.
    I guess I am both lazy and hopeless and admit it!
    I am with Ronni! Pay for as much as you can afford to save you the headaches!

  7. Clearly each of you have offered excellent advice that I engage others in doing, rather than trying to do it all myself. Makes sense to me. Am checking into that.

    I like the idea of trading services. Think I recall reading about groups who exchange their skills. Maya's Granny seems to have a handle on that.

    Leave it to Ronni to zero in on developing the most important skill when it comes to home repair. She knows where the priorities are!

  8. Oh I understand my dear...I run my household all by myself...I get as much help as I can from wherever I can get it..BUT, as I get older...it gets harder and harder...So, I understand and sympathize completely!

  9. Joared, this is my first time on your site; which was recommended by a dear chat friend of mine. I can all to well relate with your current situation. My husband passed away just 4 months ago but had been quite disabled for the past 10 years. I retired early from teaching to be home, taking on a new roll as his 'care-giver'. He had been a "jack of all trades" and spoiled me rotten. I did the cleaning (except for the bathrooms) and he took care of everything else. Once his health started to decline, he would merely say: "You can do that".... hmm, sure~!!! But over time, I did learn to do things that I thought I never could. I had watched him work over the years, just to be close to him; but using my own hangs? ruining my nails? That was a totally new and frustrating ordeal to be sure.

    But, with time, one learns to do what has to be done. I must confess I am blessed to have a son who lives close but, Mother is reluctant to call upon him for his help. (he has his own life with a lovely wife and excepting their first baby); but willingly comes when I ask or takes it upon himself when he visits and sees something that needs done. And I am doubly blessed with wonderful neighbors. Talk about sharing jobs: during the summer I cut lawns for 5 neighbors since I have a riding lawn mower. They in turn, clean my gutters, fix small things that need to be repaired, trim my trees, etc. and are a never ending source of comfort. Yes I am blessed; but yet they can't replace my Bill.

    Unlike you Joared, I have been doing so much for so long that I'm not sure I want to continue here in this home. People have told me not to make a major decision for a year but, I am very close to moving. Our daughter lives 4 hours away with my 4 lovely grandchildren and that's where my heart is right now. I will wait a while longer but the years have taken a toll on me to be sure.

    Please know that you are not alone in your struggle and you will find the strength to do all that is necessary. Take the advice of those that have written replies and simply take what I have written as one who has 'been there, done that'..... and, if I can do it; so can you.