They say it gets easier but I miss him more. – Nancy Reagan, widowed 12 years
Chapter 7 – Loneliness
I was utterly unprepared for loneliness. Before I got married I lived alone as do many career girls. I never felt lonely. I had a job and friends and I didn’t miss my parents or my siblings overmuch. Of course I often went home for the week end to see them and I spent Christmas and other holidays at home as I still called it. Sometimes I actually thought how wonderful it was to have a bedroom all to myself after having to share space with my two younger sisters.
I expected to feel the same now. I still write and I still have friends. I am not really isolated. I can fill time by reading and watching TV as I did when John was alive.
Instead loneliness hit me like a tornado.
Both as farmers and as retirees John had been my constant companion 24-7. At every turn I missed his presence.
I’d turn to his recliner to remark about the TV show I was watching and see it empty. I would wake up at night and hear no quiet breathing beside me. I was overly aware of the empty chair, the silent meals, the quiet house, the unused toothbrush and the unworn clothes. I’d see his favourite foods on special and be ready to stock up; then I would remember.
I missed all the little things I always took for granted before – his key when I forgot mine, his arm to steady me on the icy roads, his smile across the room, little unexpected presents, and his insisting on making breakfast or washing up to give me a break.
At first I felt totally isolated in my loneliness. Then I met a widow who asked, “How are you doing?” I replied honestly, “I am managing well but it sure is lonely.”
She said,” Tell me about it.” She felt as lonely as I did at times.
In memoriam told me there is no moratorium on loneliness. Here is a favourite of mine:
Day by day I miss him more
As I go though life alone.
He was my soul’s companion
A life joined with my own.
I felt less alone just knowing I wasn’t’ the first widow to ever experience loneliness. March 6, 2016 Nancy Reagan died at 94. She had been widowed for 12 years and shortly before her death in a TV interview she said, “They say it gets easier but I miss him more.”
It is nice to think of Nancy and her beloved Ronald together again reunited at last. But 94? I can’t imagine being a widow for 21 years for, like Nancy Reagan, I know I will miss John more with each passing year.
Queen Victoria had 39 years of loneliness. Betty White and Joan Rivers never remarried after their husbands died and both had even more successful careers as older widows. There are role models for me.
Like many widows I often feel fragile alone. If my big, strong, healthy husband could die, so could I, or you or anyone. I know I was blissfully protected from death and fear of death by his big protective presence. We didn’t attend funerals except for relatives. We rode and mixed with younger motorcyclists. We rarely spoke of death except in abstract as young people do….’When I am old” or “when I’m dead” were still far in the future.
I feel loneliness when I am all dressed up to go out alone. That’s when I miss the compliments for here is no one to say, “You look beautiful.” Shortly before he died, John looked at me in wonder and said, “You are still beautiful.”
I laughed but I still saw John as the handsome young man I had married. I loved him. I was proud of him. I still thought of him as the handsomest man in the whole world. He made my heart sing. If we were apart and he entered the room, I was aware of him even if I wasn’t facing the door because I felt a burst of joy.
I loved him when he was alive and I loved him when he was dead. I was proud of how John looked in his coffin. When the undertaker remarked how fit he was I felt proud.
I remembered Miss Emily in William Faulkner’s story, “A Rose for Emily”. She slept beside the body of her dead lover for 40 years until her death at 74. I understood Miss Emily. I didn’t want them to take John’s body away. I loved him alive and I love him dead and I will love him forever.
People, who don’t understand say, “You should get out and meet more people.” I have come to understand the saying that you can be loneliest in a crowd. I really miss John most when I am shopping. I turn to ask him if he agrees that I should buy it and he’s not there. I don’t like eating alone in a restaurant. I find the loneliest thing of all is to be totally alone and surrounded by happy couples. That’s when I miss John the most.
For me loneliness hasn’t been the fifth stage. It was there from Day One and I imagine it is here to stay for the rest of my life. When John first died I couldn’t picture a life without him. I still find it hard to look ahead.
Thoughts I live by:
It will get better
Things will get easier.
I manage well enough.
I have nothing to fear now.
Death no longer frightens me.
One day I will join John.
I will carry on alone.
I will go where life takes me.
John will be proud of how I cope.
The quiet is deafening.
The loneliness is unending.
I miss John more every day.
I am half a person now.
The other half was amputated by death.
I miss John day and night.
I will miss John the rest of my life.
His happiness was my life’s work.
His happiness was my happiness.
He was wise and wonderful.
For me the hardest and most important part of the grieving process is learning to live alone as a single person rather than as half of a couple.
It is not what I wanted. I was very you. I was very upset at the funeral and after when people showed concern about my future alone rather than talking about what a wonderful person John was.
Eventually through my loss-shattered feelings I had to admit John would never return.
I walked alone and missed the tall shadow that always walked beside me.
I walked alone and when I’d get back, I would enter the house all eager to tell John what I had seen and who I had met on my walk. Then the emptiness of the house would hit me.
At first I even felt a bit guilty eating John’s favourite foods because he could no longer enjoy them. In fact his half of dark chocolate still sits in the kitchen cupboard.
And always there was the empty recliner beside mine. We had matching recliners you see.
For the first few weeks I was in shock. John couldn’t be dead. There had to be a mistake. It was a joke. He’d come back laughing about it saying, “I sure gave you a scare.” And I would hug him tightly. I would wake up expecting to find him sleeping beside me. I would hear a car or motorcycle stopping in the street and I would happily think, “John’s back” and rush to the door to let him in.
I am not sure when reality and loneliness set in.
I thought of Edgar Alan Poe and “Nevermore.”
I think that is when loneliness became my reality forever more.
In his book Facing Death Father Robert E. Kavenaugh said that a lot of people go through life with unfinished grief. He said that pockets of unfinished grief must be opened and aired. I must share my true feelings even if I appear foolish to some.
That is what I am trying to do. I don’t expect to ever stop being lonely but I want to learn how to live a happy and productive life in spite of my loneliness.
I hope that naming and identifying my problem will help me cope better with it.
I don’t want to ever forget John and the wonderful person he was, but I want to learn to live a full life living with memories of him.