On Widowhood, Part Three: From Loneliness to Autonomy
“You are not alone”, my friends assured me after Bill died.
They were wrong.
You are alone. I am alone.
However, there is a journey from desperate loneliness to the recognition of autonomy.
This entry is about that journey.
All routines are disrupted after a death.
In the first year, I held on very strongly to the old rhythm of the days. It was a comfort, at night, to sit down to a meal at our dear dinner table. It didn’t matter that there was no one at the head of the table, no children sharing the meal. It fulfilled me to cook dinner as we had always done, light candles and put on Mozart.
At these dinners, I did not feel lonely.
People were amazed: “Come and dine with us; you’re always welcome. Isn’t it painful to be reminded of Bill at every turn?”
I didn’t want to go out. Dining alone wasn’t painful. It was reassuring – I knew who I was in my space. Going out to friends’ houses means effort. You have to drag your sorry body to another place, away from your protective shell. You have to smile and converse and pretend to be happy.
It makes your friends feel good.
But when you get back home, the house is still empty; the bed is still empty and your arms will find nothing but a vacant space to hug. Your feet do their dance to the music you’re playing without anyone to follow.
At my dinner table, Bill would be there, as he always had been, sitting at the opposite end, expounding, listening, smiling; sharing my every moment. The dark wood surroundings, the green walls with their pictures from our past put into relief the familiarity rather than the pain.
Then came the year of hiatus: I went abroad and learned new skills. I got to know some strengths I didn’t know I had. It was exciting and scary. It was exhilarating at times. It was a total and complete disruption of routine. At the same time, this period gave me a glimpse into a possible new life.
Some people have tried to analyze my time away: was it a brave move or did it mean I was running away? It doesn’t matter: It was a necessity.
Coming back, the reassurance of the old routine was gone. What there was, instead, was a growing feeling of loneliness. Loneliness can be good: a time to reflect. It can also eat away at you though. For me, the result was that a hard core started to grow inside me; a determination to survive. As Caitlin has said, you become more honest, voicing your opinion, saying “no” when you feel it must be said. At the same time, you become kinder.
You’re not hung up on certain conventions:
“You’re late? That’s alright; you tried to be here on time.”
“You’re not properly dressed for this event? No problem, we can cancel the outing.”
My mantra became, “No one is dying. We can move past this.”
Loneliness started changing me in my daily routine.
Little by little, imperceptibly really, some of my chaotic idiosyncrasies crept into that rhythm of daily life.
Into the old tightly scheduled regime of getting up, having lunch, dinner and evening activities I introduced small acts of renewal. Not a rebellion; more like a rediscovery of the “me” that I am.
I would watch a crime show instead of the news.
I’d stay up past 10 or 11 o’clock, writing.
I changed my daily diet: more salads and stir fries; fewer, if any, potatoes.
At first, these things felt like almost a betrayal. Oh my god, did this mean I had been going against my instinct all my married life?
Of course not.
It meant that my love for Bill made trivial things like food preferences unimportant. The important thing was that he would cook or buy the food because he loved me. These were gifts of love. It’s as simple as that.
I learned to do many other things on my own:
Painting rooms, talking to plumbers, building a compost enclosure, to name a few.
However proud I am of all of these, in the end all of this responsibility starts wearing you down. I’m not out of the woods yet.
[Contributed by Marit Quist-Corbett]