Conscious Aging: Emails with a Newly Widowed Friend

There is not much about the loss of a spouse that makes me an expert on anyone else’s comparable loss. Death is a universal experience, even for young children. Pets die. Grandparents die, sometimes even parents or more rarely, siblings or peers. As life rolls on our list of significant losses grows. I do think loss is cumulative. All of us, by my age, should know a lot about death.

Yet every loss is unique, and every path for those who mourn is singular. That makes it hard to offer advice. Better the role of empathetic listener.

For me, the loss of Jerry happened in phases. After the busyness of coping with funeral and memorial service thank-you’s and all the personal business details — I had our financial planning business to deal with for two more years — came the dead air, the silence and stillness in the space where Jerry used to be. That’s very hard to get used to. A house for two that suddenly becomes a house for one echoes. I recall vaguely, after my father’s sudden death, that my 44 year old mother kept the radio on all the time, I suppose just to hear another adult talking. I’ve never done that. But I do remember the rooms on San Gabriel drive suddenly seeming large and still and empty. Perhaps that’s why I’m comfortable in a smaller space now, one that I can fill. I could always fill my own space. I never learned to fill that which was left empty by Jerry.

The second phase, ongoing, has been learning to be single at this age. I haven’t chosen to look for another relationship, although I have friends who are great role models and have met lovely men through dating services. I can’t tell you why. My spirit has simply never moved in that direction.

There’s an axiom that we live in a coupled world, and I think that’s largely true. I kept many of our couple friends in Rochester when Jerry died, but have found it harder to make new couple friends from scratch in a new location. I don’t take that personally, never have from the moment Jerry died. I’ve always felt that if I’m not enough on my own, it’s not a friendship I want anyway. That means I’ve had to develop the skills of entering new situations without a partner for support, learning to break into existing conversational groups to be part of the social setting, and being more assertive than I might normally be when protecting my dignity as a person. I never, ever accept the singleton table in a restaurant that’s in the back corner near the rest rooms.

Emailing with my friend who has just lost her husband has evoked a lot for me. Reflections to continue, I imagine.

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