For Women in the Second Half of Life
Doing Hard Stuff Alone
I wrapped Mandy in a towel and put her in a box. The rat terrier had died sometime in the night after an illness (probably cancer, the vet told me). She was such a smart dog who taught herself tricks and slept under my pillow. She was the first dog from my marriage that died after the divorce.
I realized at that time, though, that burying pets was something my husband did.
I called the office at the high school where I worked as a paraprofessional, a job I took while working on my master’s degree. I told the secretary I would be back before lunch because I was meeting my ex-husband in San Antonio, two hours away, so he could take Mandy back home to be buried with the myriad of other pets interred on the property over the past 27+ years.
I didn’t wait for permission, which was out of character for me. I hung up the phone, loaded up and started driving.
I thought I had handled most everything well living on my own up until that point, but it’s like my emotions had been building up for some time, and Mandy’s death was the tipping point.
Four or five years after Mandy died, I had to put down my seventeen-year-old poodle, the last of the ‘shared’ pets from my marriage. I took her by myself to the vet, and brought her home and buried her on our property by myself. My sweet daughter offered to go with me and help, but for some reason, I thought I had to do it by myself. I've felt like for years that I have to be the strong one for my family. I guess I don't like for the people I love see me lose it. It's not pretty.
Dealing with the death of pets, and having to deal with dead animals in the street or on my property are some of the hard things I don’t like to deal with by myself, though.
I asked some of my single friends what were some of their biggest challenges they faced living alone.
Susan, from the Houston area, said that she’s been divorced over 30 years, so she doesn’t remember times that she didn’t do things by herself. Some of the challenges she had to deal with on her own included:
getting a dead raccoon out of her attic
learning how to drive on snow and ice when she worked in Alaska
Recognizing when mechanics tried to up-sell her or outright bamboozle her on repairs or more aggressive maintenance, which made her feel vulnerable.
Brenda, from Illinois, said her biggest challenges are home maintenance issues. She lives in a townhouse, but is still responsible for the deck repair and painting. Since she bought the place in 2009, her sump pump and dryer have had to be replaced; she’s had roof leaks; and currently the trim needs painting and the windows need to be replaced. The prospect of deciding how to spend her time and money is making her seriously consider moving into an apartment or condo, but it wouldn’t have the space she has now.
Cooking and eating at home alone are also challenging for her. It’s easy when working full-time to pick up a sandwich on the way home or fixing popcorn for dinner. She would take the time to plan dinner and buy groceries, but then she’d be too tired to prepare it. Working from home due to the pandemic has meant more cooking, but she’s “really, really tired of it.” This looks like a good topic to expound on in another article!
Janet, from Hondo, Texas, said some of the things that have been challenging for her include:
having to wait for someone, usually her sons or son-in-law, to help her move heavy things, i.e. like flipping her mattress
dealing with dripping faucets and other plumbing issues, such as a leaky cut off valve under the sink, a slow-flowing bathroom faucet, or no hot water coming out of the faucet
not always knowing how to troubleshoot a problem. She panicked when she opened her back door one day and one of the sprinkler heads had popped off and looked like a geyser in her backyard
reprogramming her lawn irrigation system
not knowing enough basic woodworking skills to do building projects on her own
having to find someone to drive her home following procedures like a colonoscopy. When her heart started skipping wildly in the middle of the night, she drove herself to the ER.
Dalina, from Taylor, Texas, said that she has always been a very independent woman who handled household duties, repairs, and more herself, although her husband helped. But since he passed away, her biggest challenge is to not have him close to share opinions and decisions. She loved to discuss what to do and how to do things, and just talking to him about anything that went on in their lives. But one thing he took care of was keeping bugs, lizards, and frogs away from her, critters she didn’t want close to her.
I also asked them what were some of the things they were doing well while living alone.
Susan knows more about cars than some (I would say most) women, thanks to her father, bur she found a mechanic she trusts now, which she says is the key. She advises getting recommendations to find someone you can trust to do a good job and tell you the truth.
Over the years she has learned to do most minor maintenance on her home, and is confident about using power tools— even a chain saw. She said the key is creating a good maintenance schedule and staying on top of things before they break. A recent move to a house with acreage prompted her to relearn how to drive a tractor and learn to use a front end loader to move dirt and other things around.
Susan and Janet both said, and I concur, that YouTube videos can show you how to do practically anything. But most importantly, Susan learned that if other people were able to learn how to do things, then she figured she could learn to do them, too, as long as she had the physical strength required. For example, she recently got online and learned how to recalibrate her Frigidaire oven that was heating 20 degrees less than the temperature claimed. It took less than a minute to fix it, and she save herself a $75 service charge.
As for me, dealing with varmints— dead or alive, is one of my challenges, but I’ve learned to scoop up and bag dead squirrels or raccoons that chose the wrong time to cross the street in front of my house. During the Pandemic, two small rats moved into our sweet camper, and I’ve had to wash and disinfect everything. I’m still in the process of getting my camper back to normal. My 89-year-old father agreed to handle any ‘occupied’ traps for me, thank heavens. But he won't always be around to do that for me.
Another way we handle challenges is to ask for help when needed. That’s hard for me, but I have friends and family that I can count on for help if I ask them. My stubborn nature is to try to do most everything I’m capable of doing myself, but sometimes, like Janet needing help to flip her mattress, we aren’t able to and need to ask for help. And most people, I’ve learned, including folks I’m not so familiar with, are usually happy to help.
Donna Van Cleve
Me talking while the picture was being taken while holding Mandy & Daisy, along with daughter Vanessa and granddaughter Audrie, and my husband, Jack; in the back are my son Van and son-in-law Jonathan. I know I have better pictures of those dogs, but I couldn't find them
This chore comes around every fall and takes over 30 bags to fill
Cooking for one can get tedious, monotonous, and leftover-heavy
Living alone for some means learning how to use all kinds of power tools
Some challenges involve moving stuff too big to handle by ourselves
What would we do without YouTube instructional videos?
Several weeks ago ago, I saw a squirrel run over on the road beside my house, flat as a pancake, poor thing. It had rained, so when I picked him up, it left a perfect outline of its body, like something from a crime scene. I thought I should take a picture of it, but by the time I got back to it, the outline had disappeared. So I recreated it for this article. I'm sure my neighbors think I've lost my mind.