Category Archives: loneliness

Living Through Grief

Losing a beloved spouse is like being sliced open, with a piece of you taken out forever. Not only will you never get that piece back, but you are unavoidably changed from that time on. You still look like yourself, you may keep the same habits, but you are different.

            I have lost two husbands, fifty years apart. The first time I was 24, so young I was still unformed. I had a lot to learn, while taking care of a young daughter at the same time. The pain was intense, and I buried myself in books, which took me to a place where I could escape. Gradually, I was able to live a normal life, and to discover joy again, as the person I was becoming, on my own. I never wanted to remain single, but it took me ten years to find Jerry, a man who complemented me, and who loved me as I loved him. We had almost forty years together.

            Now I am mature, I know what I want out of life, and I feel content with the person I have become and am still becoming. It was not even a shock, as it was with my first husband, Jim, when Jerry died, from Acute Myeloid Leukemia. We had been battling Jerry’s two cancers, off and on, for 15 years, but our times together were almost all good. He was always active, and had great vitality.

            My two experiences of grief were very different. As a young person, it was devastating. My husband, Jim, completed several years in the Army, including a tour of duty in Vietnam flying medevac helicopters, from which he came home unscathed. After the service, he took a temporary job as a lumberjack for his dad’s lumber company in Pennsylvania. He had applied to several law schools and was waiting to hear if he had been accepted. One day he went to work cutting trees in the woods and never came home. A tree fell on him, killing him instantly. He was 28.

            I was in shock and had no idea what to do. I was fortunate enough to be able to live with my parents for a few months. I kept this image of a tunnel; if I could only make it through, there would be life and light on the other side. I clung to that, because I just knew the pain would get better. My brother-in-law, who lost his father when he was a teen, also assured me that time would help me heal, and I kept that message close to me.

            About nine months after I lost my first husband, I moved 500 miles away, with my two-year-old, to attend graduate school. By then, I felt strong enough to pursue a life for her and me, although I knew it would be hard.

            After losing Jerry, I suffered again, missing my special, unique man who was smart, caring, had many friends and was so full of life.  I have been very lonely without him. But this time I have noticed a strange phenomenon. I have felt vulnerable, which is normal, but I have also felt like I am experiencing the whole world for the first time, and really enjoying everything, like a wide-eyed innocent. I am reminded of advice which is given to new widows: don’t move or make any big decisions in the first year. Now I know why they say it! I keep running into people who just delight me, people I had never met or people I knew only slightly. I am enjoying the feeling of being opened up, letting down my defenses.

            I am also not afraid; I have this optimism that everything will be fine. There will be challenges, probably some mishaps, but I will be able to weather them. I will soon be entering my second year of widowhood, and I expect it to be full of exciting new experiences.

            I should note that this past year of grief has coincided with the covid-19 pandemic. How much of my experiences and attitude could be attributed to that, I wonder? For example, when I meet someone I really like, I can’t decide if I am really delighted with the person or just the opportunity to actually get out of the house and talk to someone! I feel so grateful that a new year is upon us; it just has to be better, which means my life will be fuller, and I will no longer need to be so isolated.

            Although I knew about grief, I did not know it would be so different the second time around. Perhaps I was more prepared than I realize, but probably it was just the gift of years of living, and not being blindsided. I feel like my grieving has been easier this time, and I am thankful for that. I have survived, and I am ready for tomorrow, whatever it brings.

I Need a Hug

It was early evening on a Sunday. Summer’s heat had not quite taken over, and I had the windows open to catch a breeze. Although COVID-19 has precluded parties or get-togethers in our quiet neighborhood, I heard voices in the yard next door, so I had to check it out. Walking out onto my back deck I spotted a deer in my neighbor’s yard, a big buck looking back toward Gary’s house. After my initial surprise, I could see it was not a live deer, but now I was curious. Gary and his family have not lived here long, and I do not know him well. I had met the family briefly, but since then, Gary would hail me if I was outside while he was mowing. I hail him back, smiling at how good it feels.

            Gary and another man walked over to the deer and appeared to be examining it. That was it, I had to find out. I walked over to his yard and said, “Gary, you have a deer!”

            He looked at me sheepishly, maybe a little embarrassed. “We’re doing target practice,” he said, “bow and arrow.” He introduced me to his friend, a polite good ol’ boy named Bobby. Bobby reached out to shake my hand, but I moved back, just touching fingertips.

            “Oh,” I said. “My husband used to do some bow hunting.” I realized Gary had never been in my house to see Jerry’s “stuffed animals”: deer head, black duck, fox and several fish. Jerry quit hunting years ago, but his trophies remain. Now I couldn’t invite Gary in even if I wanted to.

            Bobby nodded his head, “Yes, ma’am, I’ve heard so much about you.”

            You have? I wondered. Ah, yes, the widow woman next door. “Well, I brought over some cookies to Gary’s family to introduce myself. I guess I will have to make some more.”

            “Yes, ma’am, cookies would be most welcome.” I wanted to scratch my head over that. I wasn’t planning on making cookies for Bobby! I decided he was just being polite.

            Out of things to say and feeling awkward, I said, “I just had to check out the deer. Bye now.” I walked back to my house.

            This encounter was unusual for me. I rarely initiate contact with my neighbors, and don’t know many of them. The only neighbors Jerry and I had known well had sold their house to Gary. They were an older couple like us, and I miss them.

            Since Jerry died and I have been stuck at home, something has changed within me, and I feel I would do anything for human contact. Not just waving, not saying, “Fine,” if someone asks how I am. I need someone I can touch. I need someone who understands what I am going through and will hold my hand.

            I need a hug.

            Sometimes I hear Gary’s three-year-old daughter squealing next door and I want to go over and play with her! I taught three-year olds in a daycare center years ago. I love kids and I love that age especially. But I can’t do that; I feel like I am on the fringe, outside looking in.

            My sister and I talk via Facebook chat every Monday. Although we don’t cry much, she is the only person I can cry with without feeling embarrassed and vulnerable. She lost her husband a few weeks after Jerry died. I cherish my phone calls with Denise, but she is in New Jersey and I am in North Carolina. I would love to have her closer than five hundred miles.

            So this is where I am. I am not so much sad as starving for human companionship. Sometimes I say, to myself but probably out loud, “You can do this, lady, buck up.” But I can honestly say this is new for me. It is more than grief, but I am sure that is part of it. This is not a normal life. I never knew I liked hugs so much, but now that I can’t hug, I think about hugging complete strangers!

            I know how hard this isolation has been for so many, going on three months now. I am better off than a lot of others. I have some options that others do not. It helps when I am around people, so I am volunteering with a local organization, and it has been good for me. I go there twice a week for a couple of hours, and recently have taken on more responsibility. We wear masks and observe social distancing; I enjoy the interaction. My writers’ group has been meeting outdoors every week, maintaining social distancing. We have been together for years and care for each other. But we don’t hug, not now.

            Today I went to my first class at the Y in three months. It was outside in the parking lot, early enough that it wasn’t too hot. I enjoyed seeing old friends. We wanted to hug but we didn’t.

            I know there are people out there who love me, and I know those friends will be in touch as soon as we can get together. My daughter, Stacy, is coming to visit this month.

            Ah, at least she can give me a hug.