Friday, January 17, 2014

Grief: Loneliness

When my husband was alive I had a quote about how one could be married and still feel lonely.  Sometimes when we fought about things or I wanted him to behave a certain way and he didn't I felt lonely.  I had no idea what loneliness really was.  We are both damaged people.  Friends of his often told me I was a saint for putting up with him.  I wasn't.  He put up with me too.  It was part of the beauty of our relationship that we loved each other not only at our very best but also at our very worst.  He called it buying the whole package.  We had a pact - and we said it often, "Nobody Leaves".  I would say, "Don't leave me, okay?"  He would say, "I could never leave you.  Loving you is like breathing."  Then he stopped breathing.  He left not because he wanted to but because his body was too sick to stay.  I gave him permission to go.  Then I learned what real loneliness is.

I don't feel guilty but I can see more clearly now the ways in which I could have done things differently.  Our journey of teaching each other about love and life isn't over.  It is part of the reason that I so want it to continue.  I feel that as much as I learned about him while he was alive - I have learned even more since he died.  I believe that in his new form he is also learning.  I don't know if there is reincarnation - but I want there to be so that we can love again - marry again - and this time have a new starting place.  In his dying time he looked at me and said, "I am sorry for all the ways in which I failed you."  I replied, "I am too.  I am sorry for all the ways in which I failed you."  That exchange stripped away all the things that had come between us over the years.  We got back to the very alive essential core of our genuine and strong love.

The loneliness during our marriage came - I think - from simple things.  I would be writing at the computer and he would come downstairs and want a kiss.  I would think he wasn't respecting my work.  Now I know nothing was more important that that kiss.  He would go upstairs to his man cave and watch sports or movies.  I wanted him to be downstairs with me.  Now I know I could have made more of an effort to join him where he was.  We so often have expectations of how people should treat us we miss what is most precious.  We also had, of course, many wonderful moments together.  Holding hands at the back door looking at the roses bloom.  Walking on the beach.  Our love of bad puns.  Too many things to list.  I like to remember it all as best I can.

What we didn't appreciate (like most people) when he was alive was how precious every moment was.  As he got older I did make sure that whenever he left the house we gave each other a big hug and kiss and told each other how much we loved each other.  I was on some level conscious of the possibility of death - but not conscious enough.  My sense of loneliness while I was married would have been less if I had seen things more from his point of view than mine.  It is so normal to be that way.  When I see couples now I want to shake them and say - cherish every moment.  But when people are alive it isn't always easy. With my daughter now it is the same thing.  We are human so as much as we love each other - we also irritate each other.  I try to remember what I learned from my husband dying - that our relationship is more important that what I am feeling at the moment - but sometimes I get hurt and angry.  Sometimes we both say things we don't mean.  Why is difficult to treasure every moment when someone is still alive?  I think it is for most people.

When I found out that Artie didn't have very long to live I thought, "Well, we really messed that up."  We did and we didn't.  From where we started - we came very far.  I wish we had had more time to go even farther - deeper - into knowing how to express that deep love we had for each other.

The loneliness now is a different kind.  In some ways I feel that I have not relaxed since the day he died.  Each kiss is precious.  How can there be no more kisses?  How can there be no more hugs?  How is it I will never see his smile again, never have the love going back and forth between us as we gaze into each other's eyes. It creates such unease in the middle of the happiest moment to know he won't be waiting at home for me to share it with him.  Simple things make me lonely.  Seeing a t-shirt he would like, finding a new TV program or movie to share, hearing a story I can't wait to tell him.  The loneliest part is that we truly understood each other.  I am lucky to have good and loving friends and family.  Loneliness is not being alone.  Loneliness is for the relationship between myself and my husband.  I miss that relationship.  He is not replaceable.  No one will every look in my eyes just the way he did.  No one will understand me the way he did.  No one will every think I am special the way he did. I won't have history with anyone the way I have history with him. He is the only person who ever took care of me - and I am the only person who ever took care of him in that very special kind of way.  I live in a city with millions of people.  None of them is Artie.  I am important to many people - but there is no longer anyone alive to whom I am the most important person in the world.

We were both independent people.  We liked missing each other and having time alone - so I would travel and then come home and tell him all my adventures.  I was the only woman who never bored him.  Our minds as well as our hearts were joined.  How can it be that he is not here when I come home? I can search the whole world over and never find him.  I can feel his spirit and his love.  I believe in that.  I believe our relationship continues but I am still encased in this earthly body and he is not.  Little me on earth needs flesh and bones and I can only have spirit.  To be blunt - it's not easy being in love with a dead guy.  Yet I am.  I continue to miss him more; love him more every day.

What does he look like now?  With that last exhale - where did he go?  Is he a ball of energy?  I still picture him looking like he did when he was alive - but what is left of his body and face are ashes now. I'm not delusional.  I know he is dead, I know his body is ashes, yet it is difficult to accept that all that energy between us - all that love - has shifted shape in ways I cannot begin to understand.

Loneliness is part of the daily trauma of someone we love dying.  When people want to know why we aren't over it yet it's not because it hurt the day they died - a year ago - 50 years ago - it's because we live with the loneliness of missing them every day.  All day, every day.  There is something exhausting about that.  It doesn't mean we can be fully alive;  that we can't fill the years we have left with wonderful times and meaningful action.  I have started to think of my life each day as an empty basket. I can leave the basket empty or I can go into the world and find glittering jewels and pine cones and roses or whatever I want and need to fill it up.  I have to fill up my own basket now. There will be no more physical presents from my husband's presence - just spiritual presents from his presence.

My big question, as some of you know, for 2014 is if I want to try to have a new relationship.  I still feel so married. If I fall in love again in one way I will feel less lonely because I will have someone to share things with in a new way...I won't always come home to an empty house.  In another way I will still be lonely for my husband.  I know people who are quite happily remarried and yet sill miss their spouses who have died.  I can imagine being happy - I am often happy - I can't imagine every not being lonely.

Loneliness is one of the challenges of grief.  Not to drown in it.  Not to be smothered by it.  I wish for all of us that we have the love of family and friends - and if we do not - we seek it - so that love can be a cushion for the loneliness we feel because we are still alive and the person/people/pets we love so much have died.

I am getting close to my birthday which is also my wedding anniversary on February 3rd.  I feel like I am rocketing back into the past.  As much fun as I have - and I am doing quite a lot these days - every road seems to lead to an Artie story.  It does make me less lonely to know that there are so many people who understand how I feel.  So many people whose memories are a strong force in their life and who know that a relationship and love do not end because of death.  I wish us all laughter and comfort in the midst of this repetitive throbbing loneliness.  With love. xo


  1. Thank you for your post! It helps me so much because I relate to your words so much it has only been just a few days short of 8 months since I lost the love of my life and I still face a lot of loneliness. Tears come often but not all the time like they did in the beginning. God bless you for sharing your story through this blog.

  2. Jan,
    I lost my Paul just a few weeks after you lost Artie.This post is wonderful and I know that it will help others. It helped me to explore these feelings with someone who has been down the same path. I have recently begun a friendship and ??? with a friend from my childhood. Many questions swirl around in my head about this move. Paul is very much a part of my life, but I am beginning to make room for more. Who knew our hearts could expand so wide? Good luck and I look forward to reading more of your journey. Hugs, Patti