Settling in to a New Life Chapter 3

Carol and Carl Voss hold hands | Photo provided by Carol Voss


For 34 months, Carol Voss nursed her husband through an illness that ended with his death on June 19. Now after more than 60 years, she is on her own. Over the past couple of years, she turned to Facebook to describe her confrontations with aging, with sickness, with death and with the interminable bureaucracy that faces grieving family members. Using social media as her diary, she openly shares her fears, her gratitude, her random observations and her wicked humor.

With her permission, Voices of Monterey Bay is sharing passages from her Facebook page in diary form. The following is the conclusion of the three-part series. Read Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here.

By Carol Voss

Sept. 13 — An exhausting day, emotionally draining but sitting here in my cocoon chair in my robe in the new digs. I feel more serene than I have in ages; 600 square feet of many familiar furniture and treasures, some new items. But I finally feel as if I am getting out of the free-fall zaniness of the legal and financial and real estate issues that have to be handled and am on my way to get back in control and run my world like in the old days.

Yes, I am fortunate to be financially secure and have our children backing me up, but I think the old lady is going to rise from the ashes and regain her super bitch status! To you all — please stay with me!

Sept. 14 — First rule infraction. I didn’t push the little black button in the bathroom before 10 a.m. to let them know I was alive, so someone came to check on me. First success of the day — I figured out the one-cup Keurig coffee maker.

Sept. 14 — First dinner in the jail. The next-door neighbor graciously knocked on my door and asked me to join her. Definitely a unique experience … fleets of walkers and scooters …

Sept. 15 — Just another caveat about living alone: Carl insisted that I have one of those pendant panic buttons when I was alone— so the jail provides an in-house service for a one-time charge of $184 for the ugly little white pendant on the ugly little bead chain which will know wherever I am in the facility if I push the button. Not if I fall down in the Fairmont bar, but here on the premises.

Sept. 17 — Hard to see Alex Trebek facing the inevitable with another round of rat poison. But he said, “I am 79 and have had a helluva good life and every day is a gift.” My Carl said the same of his life at age 84. Fight on, Alex!

Sept. 18 — I keep turning my head to say something to someone and no one is there.

Sept. 19 — So as I suspected, food service in institutional situations like this is an ongoing melee of infighting, management changes, howls of horror from the inmates, ongoing arguments between the “committee” and food service management, etc. etc. I will try not to bore you as this saga plays out — probably forever. I can always have someone get me an In-N-Out from down the street.

Sept. 22 — So my doctor has provided a new med for my anxiety and to boost my appetite to be taken before going to bed. Having read the four pages of detailed potential side effects and etc., I am really worried. If I don’t show up on Facebook tomorrow, call Gloria Allred and file lawsuit!

Sept. 23 — App signs of change … When I want to check the tides I get Alviso instead of Elkhorn Slough. The Amtrak time for the Coast Starlight is San Jose instead of Salinas and the weather channel is now San Jose. Guess I am officially back home.

Sept. 24 — So the good news is that the house sale is in escrow and the estate sales people are peddling the detritus and flotsam and jetsam out of it and son Carl is managing the hell out of this process, which has what’s left of my head spinning. Wake me when it’s over! I have been sitting here in my cocoon chair doing nothing and am tired out!

Oct. 3 — This is going to sound bizarre, but other widowed friends have told me of strange things after their spouse left them. Carl and I were handholders all our 66-1/2 years together and last night as I was drifting off to sleep I seriously felt that he was holding my hand in bed just as we used to. Today my daughter-in-law Mary took me to buy my new set of wheels, a fancy walker, and when we came out of the store there sitting next to us was the exact same make and model of our Lexus! I think it was Carl applauding my trading the car for a new set of wheels which will keep me ambulating! I think I will name the walker Lexi.

Oct. 4 — It’s been three weeks today since I was moved here to the senior jail and walked out and left behind 62 years of the contents of our marriage in the 3,000 square feet of house and 1.09 acres of Master Gardener beauty … and the biggest crisis du jour is I can’t find a pair of tweezers to pull out a pesky chin hair! Priorities, people! Priorities!

Oct. 5 — People often would ask what was the secret to our 62 years of marriage and I would say to use separate tubes of toothpaste and not obsess about the toilet seat being up or down. I just realized that one of the new things in my new life is that the toilet seat will always be down. Sigh.

Oct. 7 — Tonight is the first time I have ever watched a 49ers game solo. I kept his Niners sweatshirt but maybe not wearing it has made them be winners. Since I have never pretended to understand football. All I watch for is who gets into the end zone by whatever means. Go Niners.

Oct. 10 — Just a sudden observation that moving here to the senior jail finds me in a place where there is absolutely nothing to remind me of Carl. We were never here together. Maybe that helps to soothe the grieving process and is a good thing; no sudden or recurring sharp memories to grip and wrench the heartstrings. But I still reach out my hand in bed every night.

Oct. 12 — For the last 20 years Carl and I volunteered at places such as the Monterey Bay Aquarium, National Steinbeck Center, his Master Gardener work at La Mirada garden in Monterey, Point Lobos. Most volunteers today are our age and older so we haven’t been isolated from seniors older than us. But here I am going on five weeks into a veritable hotel with 331 seniors, am told average age is 85 and it is a sea of gray and white hair with occasional blotches of flagrant black or blondish dye, and 99 percent including moi with walkers and scooters. I don’t know if I should be depressed or happy that I am a tad younger and in better shape than they are.

Oct. 13 — It has been several weeks since I relocated to the new chapter here. Very mixed emotions, very mixed reviews, but give it time and I’ll get my shit together. Patience is a virtue and suit I am not particularly long on, but … With all your love and support and kicking what’s left of my skinny ass I will survive!

Oct. 13 — Having been gone for 20 years from the Bay Area it is rather jarring to see how all the TV news anchors have aged or changed. But then again I also find myself looking in the mirror and seeing my mother … res ipsa loquitur.

Oct. 17 — It’s been five weeks since I plopped myself into this senior jail, just in time for some major management and staffing issues in the dining room and gawd knows there is nothing like food to focus the troops on deficiencies and rally their ire, lighting torches and sharpening pitchforks for the storming of the barricades. I have become acquainted with the new food services manager who just arrived mid-August to inherit this swamp full of alligators. I think he has the years of experience and will get the ship righted but the inmates are pretty restless and impatient. Fortunately, most of them are too frail to do much more than howl and complain.

Oct. 18 — Running a hospital, prison or a hotel involve basically all the same elements and when management makes any kind of changes there are always howls of anguish from the employees and guests/patients/prisoners. The latest weekly memo to us inmates here in the Land of the Twilight Years says we are all getting new “smart” thermostats and right on cue the other three at my table were bitching and complaining. Only one actually had it but was already disliking it for being too complicated. He probably still has a rotary phone!

Oct. 21 — Finally had a nice visit with my across-the-hall neighbor. She lost her husband of 64 years in March after he had a long decline with congestive heart failure and then she had to move here in April because the Meadows where they had lived for 11 years closed down to completely rebuild and then she broke her hip in June. But she is hanging in and sort of in the same mental limbo that I am. They too enjoyed train excursions and even had a garden railroad! I think we will become good friends. The breakfast delivery resumed today so things are looking a little brighter.

Oct. 23 — My neighbor across the hall and I realized that until we moved here to what I snarkily call the senior jail we had not been alone for 62 and 64 years. She has been here since April and she has kids and friends nearby, as I do. We both have walkers and neither of us has yet to venture out using the facility shuttle buses to shop, go to church, or medical appointments by ourselves. That is going to be a major hurdle for me, which is hard to mentally compute when I used to charge ahead and run the world, damn the torpedoes, etc.

Grief is insidious — and, I should add, has many facets and faces. Reading the second of the Kenneth C. Haugk books on grieving, I need to learn how to cry and understand that it’s okay to cry.

Oct. 27 — Daily dinner dining here continues to rather jolt me as even though I now have to use a walker because of the back injury. I look at the myriad of other women with walkers — and, no, I am not going to put cutesy seasonal decorations on mine. But I hope I do not look as bent and — okay, here’s the word — old as they look to me. I know that many of them are much older than me but when I know that I am in the walker brigade, does being there somehow make you age physically? I wonder what my kids think when they see the old witch here with a walker!

Oct. 31 — Glad to see the Niners doing so well but Carl would not be glad to see that idiot Joe Buck.

Nov. 2 — Warning: “They” say not to sweat the small stuff. I have realized in the last chaotic four months of cycling through the Kubler-Ross five stages of grieving — and btw, you don’t go through those five stages in sequence, you ping-pong your way through them from this to that — that it is the very “small stuff” that grabs you and sets you off into whatever. A stupid ad on TV about a veggie chopper we used to use and that I left behind in the “estate sale detritus” set me into a funk. And a call from our real estate agent about something reminded me I left behind the five dried red roses I saved from the bouquet of 50 that Carl sent me on our 50th anniversary. And then our daughter-in-law today brought me a letter opener she found in the house that Carl got in 1974 when he was Santa Clara County Farm Bureau president and went to Tennessee on a tour or something. These are the small things of which poignant memories are made. Be prepared!

Nov. 5 — Looking at the results of the estate sale that my movers conducted. While the price I paid them to pack up and move me and set everything in place here in the jail was fair, the charges on the estate sale they conducted and my net proceeds are pretty sad. I think I was screwed. But we could not have done it ourselves, sooo … pass the Vaseline. To all of you facing your own or your family’s estate sales, pay close attention to the details of what they will do for you and for how much. I was in the just-get-it-over-with mode and that was a mistake.

Nov. 14 — After 20 years of having Carmen in Pacific Grove cut our hair every five weeks, and not having my hair cut for nearly three months now, I thought I would try the gal who works in the jail salon every Wednesday and Thursday. I will wait to see what my kids say before deciding whether to kill her or not.

Update Saturday: Her life will be spared as one daughter and daughter-in-law both say it looks great!

Nov. 26 — Son picking me up tomorrow morning to take me out of my cocoon to Bakersfield for the holiday until Sunday. I have some anxious trepidations but need to start facing reality.

So to all of you I send the following: An amazing five months of my life turned upside down and inside out. But I am so very thankful for all of the love and support from all my family and friends who are helping me through it. You are the wind beneath my wings!

Dec. 1 — Where is “home?” I’ve been away from this cell since Wednesday afternoon (and I) return to reality today. Now that we closed escrow on the Prunetucky house last Monday, it is their home now. I guess I am now officially “ home” here at the jail since that’s where the monthly check goes. Very mixed emotions. But someone I can’t recall said “home is where the heart is.”

Will have to ponder it for a while. Any of you have thoughts to share?

P.S. As of today, even though Carl and I never lived in this cell while he was alive, I realize now that he is here across from me in the gold box beside our picture. So, yes, I guess I am resigned to this being home for now. It will be okay, eventually.

Letter: More Carol Voss, Please

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Carol Voss

About Carol Voss

Carol Voss is a retired assistant hospital administrator. She and Carl Voss were married in 1957. They moved to Prunedale from San Jose in 1999.