On Being Alone

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My husband died recently, in his sleep, at the age of 72. Larry suffered from advanced cardiovascular disease,and in 2009, following 11 years of declining health, he was life-flighted to the hospital from home with yet another heart attack. His cardiologist told both of us that, while he was able to save him that time, it might be the last time he could. I was told to prepare myself for the eventual reality that Larry would probably not survive another blockage, as his arteries had blockages in areas that could not be accessed – and he would most likely die. I knew this meant that in about three years or less, he would be gone. He was having a heart attack on schedule, every two to three years. We tried to prepare ourselves for this; he worked to accept his mortality, and I played it out in my head, the same way I prepare myself for presentations before committees and job interviews.
The end came at some point around midnight on January 13 or early morning January 14, while Larry lay asleep in our bed and I, who had been up studying, slept on the living room couch, unawares. When I got up about 2:30 a.m. to make my way to bed, I found him gone. The next two weeks were a blur. I did everything I had planned, robotically, by the script. I tried not to be angry, and mostly succeeded, but it was very hard to accept. And now, in the aftermath of all the drama, now that the curtains have closed on that part of my life and I’m putting the pieces of myself back, I have found that I am, simply, alone.
Faced with challenges, I have learned to make lists. For example, when choosing one job opportunity over another, I make a list of pros and cons. Now I am dealing not with a decision, but with accepting what is my new life, and a list might be helpful:
The Downside of Being a Widow
1. Sleeping alone
2. Cooking for one
3. Parenting our four children who are all grown but like all children, still needing parents, without Larry. The boys have a mother and now instead of Dad, they have a stepmother who is not old enough to really fill the role but who tries, anyway.
4. Running the farm without Larry.
5. Fending off well-meaning and not-so-well meaning suitors, who might think they are rescuing me but are in reality, horrifying me with their overtures.
6. Bearing the brunt of the local pundits without the Larry filter: “Really? So what are you actually going to do with this Ph.D. when you get it?”
7. Relying on the kindness of strangers (OK, borrowed from Blanche DuBois, but I think you get my drift.}
8. Accepting (or working on this) the fact that I live in a giant fishbowl, with neighbors and others watching my comings and goings, taking note of vistors and reporting them to my boys, and in general feeling like I live in East L.A., with “helicopters” hovering over me incessantly.
9. Taking care of the cats alone, especially Regis, who was very attached to his “Daddy,” and no longer can snuggle up to him while watching TV.

The Upside of Being a Widow
1. Sleeping alone. I can go to bed when I want now, without worrying that I will wake my sleeping husband, who often went to bed about 9 p.m. and got up before dawn while I slept until the sun rose.
2. Parenting alone – I have more time for really getting to know my children and their children, my step grandchildren (and great grandchildren) and my own grandson.
3. Learning to do things I’ve never done before, such as starting the fire in the wood insert, shooting a shotgun (watch out, Robbers!) and dealing with rude and insensitive people who treated Larry with diffidence and now treat me with indifference or worse.
4. Redecorating the house without censure. Now I can hang the prints I bought in Paris during my many trips there, and move things around.
5. Clearing the clutter left behind by a pack rat, and making the house look more like me – orderly and everything in its place.
6. Making my own decisions about finances, formerly shared with someone who was afraid to spend money on things that needed to be done, such as trimming trees.
7. The future lays before me like a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate that I alone will write upon.

The hardest challenge, believe it or not, is cooking alone. I am a gourmet cook who now is trying valiantly to learn to cook for one. I never realized before just how hard this would be, and how little I nurture myself in order to take care of others. I have spent the last 35 years being the sole cheerleader for a wonderful man who was also unable to visualize good outcomes, and who saw the glass half empty. Now I must learn to take care of me. And my generous spirit is often taken by others as a weakness OK, that’s enough for now. I think you get the picture.

One thought on “On Being Alone

  1. Those who take your generous spirit as a weakness don’t know you. Please accept our most profound sympathy and know that any time you need a friend, we are here.

    I don’t read the paper and Ted does online, but would not have picked up on Larry’s name on an obit. Sorry I didn’t know sooner.

    I think you’ve covered the widow thing pretty well. But covering it and mentally understand what’s happening and the choices to be made, don’t ease the pain and loneliness at 2 am.

    I’ve thought often of calling you, but since you dumped your email address with no update, I’ve felt that you probably didn’t want to hear from me. So I’ve left it alone. Please know that I think of you often and wish you well. I’ve thought back over the long hours you spent working with us trying to find a house and don’t know as I’ve ever truly said “thank you, you are appreciated” but you and the time you spent were appreciated, – and still are. They were long hours away from a spouse who, I now know, you worried about.

    We wish you well.

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