Though this letter is published with permission, the author has requested to remain anonymous.
One Sunday, my priest gave a sermon on Job. He focused on being lonely and being alone, and kept referring to words from an old song by that title. I tried to find the message, but he continued on, telling tales of people suffering loss. I was gripped with an overwhelming sense that I had been grappling with my loss and alone-ness by putting a new face on a new life in an old place. I don’t want to stay here anymore. It hurts. I can’t run fast enough to get out of the way of this kind of loneliness, the kind that occurs when you feel surrounded by people and they are not feeling what you are feeling.
When I started to cry in the pew, a person sitting behind me that I hardly know started to rub my shoulder to comfort me. In that moment, I realized I could not even turn around and thank her, but what she did opened the floodgates of emotion… and I realized that I had lost the one forever who loved and comforted me. I really miss him and the life we shared together. I had to leave. I hoped someone would notice. No one did. And I don’t mean God. I have been holding on as tight as I can to God to give me the strength to see the path ahead… to know it will have meaning and purpose.
I have a box of condolence cards next to my husband’s cane and ashes. There are many cards in it. They all express some words of comfort, sent by well-meaning people who know us. Most came to the funeral. “So there, task done,” they must think. He died believing that the friends who came by to see him in hospital would look after me. Since his death, I have had very few social invitations to join anyone to do anything. Not even for a cup of coffee. It is hard to ask. I guess it wasn’t friendship for me, it was for us as a couple, or maybe just him.
One friend used to call every day: “How’s the old boy doing? Can we pick you up and go somewhere for supper?” Not only did I lose my husband, I lost that as well. The first dinner at the Senior Centre came along. We always had a seat at a particular table. When I was asked if I had my ticket, I replied, “getting a ticket is easy, getting a seat is the hard part.” Not one of those who sent a card thought to invite me to join them at their table. I could always join the widows’ table that a friend arranged, bless her heart. I didn’t just lose my husband, I lost my seat at the table. I could be squeezed in, I was told. Then I started to reflect… not just my husband, but my partner, handyman, my travelling companion, my cheerleader, my driver.
Last week I overheard part of a conversation of between a man who had lost his wife of 50 years and a long-time acquaintance. He spoke in a frustrated tone: “Why do people ask me how I am? They already know how I am. Why don’t they just talk to me?” I wonder if people think we need time, or space, to grieve. There are plenty of hours in a day (and night) for that.
A friend phoned one day and said she and her husband were coming for coffee (and bringing her famously delicious scones). Wonderful! While they were here, they noticed a new blind laying on the counter, still needing to be installed. They put it up for me. They saw that I had a need, and they filled it.
Being alone is my new normal. Sometimes, when I’m in a community full of fine people, it feels like I’m standing at a bus stop and watching the bus go by full of people getting on with their lives. And I am standing alone again, naturally.
In the time that has passed, I spoke with a friend with terminal cancer, who said, “Your experience is the same as mine… serious health issues leave others not knowing what to say or do, so they do nothing. If it is important for you to have contact with people, then it is up to you to step up and go after that. The circumstances in their lives never changed. Yours did.”
With that advice, I have, and I’m getting better each day.