After my husband passed away in 2009, I would face many challenges, one of which was being alone. When I was a teenager, I yearned to be free of the responsibility of caring for my younger brothers and sisters. They were wonderful, but sometimes devilish and a handful. Many years later, I would have that desired time to myself which would last at least four or five years. After that period in my life, I would never live alone again until my husband passed away.
I got used to the rhythm of my life with my husband and son: academic life, social activities, work life, family time. Chuck and I rarely spent time away from each other and we seldom went away without one another. Once he went on a weekend Marine Biology retreat and another time when his beloved dad died, he spent the weekend at his parents’ brownstone in Brooklyn. I went on several girls’ trips to the spa, the beach, but I always, always missed my husband Chuck and couldn’t wait to get home to see him again. He was my lifelong partner, my compadre, my everything. When I cared for him when he was ill I was the devoted caretaker fulfilling my vow “for better or for worse, in sickness and in health”. I have often thought that he would have taken much better care of me as that was his nature, to take care undauntingly, willingly, lovingly, steadfastly, but I gave it my best.
I recall once when I had gone out with girlfriends and became suddenly ill, later attributed to something I had eaten, I had to leave the restaurant unexpectedly. A dear friend of mine hopped in a cab with me and rode with me home. When I arrived, there was my Chuck ready to greet me. He wasn’t repelled by my disheveled appearance, he just took my hand and led me upstairs, helped me undress and saw to it that I got cleaned up and put into bed straight away. He washed my clothes, and fed me crackers, he even called our doctor, and talked to me till I fell asleep. I didn’t have to ask him if he could take care of me, he just did and knew the right thing to do. It comes with the territory you know- love, commitment, caring for the one you love.
Years later and a short time after Chuck had passed away, when I was living all alone, I came down with a virus. As I lay in my bed writhing with pain , I had that moment where I came to the realization that I was truly alone. The one person I could rely on to be there for me emotionally and physically was gone. That stark reality at that time led me to weep in my pain, tears of enormous sorrow. But that incident was also the beginning of my slow awareness that I would have to be there for myself from then on. No more consolation, no more words of comfort, no more kisses, no more hugs. It took awhile to acclimate myself to my new way of living. Alone, alone, all alone, just me, myself and me again. Soon I would come to appreciate my time spent with me.
This brings me to the time we’re living in now. We’ve been asked to stay home during this pandemic, and as the outside world begins to open up people are understandably anxious to get out and get on the move. Still others remain cautious. Most people I speak to have recreated their lives in ways that prevent them from getting cabin fever or going stir crazy. A daily walk, masked, and then back home again. Sitting out in the yard in a controlled space, and terraces and balconies in urban settings, are very essential at this time.
For me, this time, reminds me of that period of my life when I had lost my husband forever, and had to figure out how to navigate my aloneness and see what that would be like; it was a process. Like then, after we were shut in, on lockdown, I felt untethered to my known world anxious to hear my friends’ voices, but soon after I’d retreat to my space, choosing to become re-acquainted with myself, my work, my home, my life, my soul.
This moment in time, I believe, is meant for us all to get re-acquainted with ourselves. Putting down cell phones, giving social media a break, re-evaluating our material possessions, reconnecting with books, thinking, doing and knowing, and experiencing the unbearable lightness of being. It’s time to face regrets and fears and demons and it’s a good place to renovate ourselves so that we come out of this better. This is the time when we must think about the unthinkable, but the inevitable, our own mortality, and how we make our time left, whether 10, 30 or 50 years more meaningful.
Why are so many people afraid of getting to know themselves more fully, more intimately? Probably because they’re afraid of what they may encounter hidden within the crevices of their subconscious. The rush, rush of the daily no longer exists in this time, so what excuse do we have for not connecting with the one person we are closest to, ourselves? There’s only so much ZOOM, FaceTime, Go To Meetngs, etc., keeping one connected to others, still outer directed, that we can do until it becomes another distraction from being one with ourselves. We should be able to find contentment within, once we take the time to excavate our souls. This takes undivided attention which this unanticipated fortuitous time provides. No need to be anxious even as loneliness sets in. You are meant to care for yourself as no other person can. You will slowly begin to be with others again overtime, but who will you be, what will you have learned, who do you have to forgive, what do you have to forget? How will you fulfill your purpose, the reason that you are here?
We must seize the moment to step into our inner sanctum, amidst the quiet and solitude. Some have probably never visited that place before because it’s too scary to deal with the parts of us that lie dormant waiting to be awakened, given attention, looked at closely and made peace with. The human touch, your human touch, is there for you at this time as you practice self care, since no one else is available to care for you, but you. Our normal lives are full of distractions, so in this unusual time that is not what we need. One day someone may be put in your stead who can be there for you in that way but don’t count on it. In the meantime you will have to care for yourself, and you can do it, no matter how much of a people person you say you are. You can vibe on your alone time and cherish it when you’re done. Do not focus on the loneliness but on the happiness and the joy that you will find as you enter your inner sanctum and turn your loneliness into wholeness. You may have to step on prickly thorns along the way, but that is what this life is meant to be,uncomfortability leads to growth if we push through. Then when this incredible time in history comes to a close you will feel as if you can step into the next chapter, knowing that time was not wasted, as you walk into the new normal that awaits YOU and Us.
Read more about rebuilding a life after loss in my book Brave in a New World: A Guide to Grieving the Loss of a Spouse avaialable on Amazon http://tinyurl.com/qghzw3e or you can order at Barnes and Noble.