Its funny and a bit fascinating how the idea of “being alone” changes with the decades, with life, and with living through widowhood.
Ive always been an independent person. I love being around people, but I NEED my solitude and I need my alone time. When I was 18, I moved from small town Massachusetts to NYC life, to pursue a dream career in performing arts, tv, comedy, whatever. I ended up working here and there in those fields, mostly for little to no money while holding multiple jobs to keep the dream alive, and I ended up living there for over 26 wonderful, chaotic, insane years. Before I met Don, one of my apartments was just me. No roommate. I loved it. Yes, I got a bit freaked out at night being alone, but I loved having the place to myself and just being able to do and be however I wanted. When Don moved in with me 3 years after living there alone, it was an adjustment, but honestly, not much of one. Don grew up being severely independent also, and he loved his alone time as much as he loved spending time with me. On weekends, we would spend time doing things together, and also time doing our own thing seperately. Two independent people who chose to spend time, and life, together. It wasnt always perfect, but it was ours and it was bliss.
Whenever Don and I would spend time apart for a few hours or even a day or two when he would work his overnight shifts and we would barely see each other, it was never really that hard for him. Sure, I missed him, but I knew I would see him again the next day or in a few hours and it would be awesome. Our time spent together was always quality time, and we cherished it. Don’s sudden death was missing him on a whole other level. It was me being alone on a whole other plane. His death meant that I was now alone FOREVER, and that I would NEVER see him ever again. Never. Again. That concept was terrifying to me, and honestly, some days it still is. What keeps me going, often times, when I get caught up in missing him, is that I do feel him here with me, and that is honestly everything.
The weeks and months and years of being alone after the death of a spouse/partner can be absolutely brutal. It is so lonely, and so isolating, and you often feel forgotten about by the world. When you come home after work or after being out, you are reminded again that nobody is there to greet you, to love you, to make you soup or to hug you or say they are happy you got home safe. When you are alone by choice and you feel independent, its a great thing. When you are alone because your person is dead, there is nothing more awful or terrifying. Even for the most independent person, like me.
In those first few months, I did anything and everything to leave my apartment. If I was invited somewhere, Id go. I was out a LOT, at work, and then just doing anything to stay out of those walls where our life no longer existed and where I felt paralyzed and suffocated by piles and boxes and things that I didnt know how to cope with yet or what to do with. Being alone in that apartment meant I was alone with my thoughts, and my thoughts were depressing and at times, borderline suicidal. I was scared and I had never been more sad in my life. And the way that I missed Don actually physically HURT inside my bones.
Now, 11 years later, being remarried, and having a partner who is a retired Veteran (so he is home a lot and Im out working a lot), Im back to my old independent self where I really cherish my time alone, because I dont get much time alone, especially in our house. AND Im also aware of what its like to have my partner gone away, not on a weekend trip or an overnight shift , but dead forever and never ever coming home. So this weekend, when Nick went away to Maine to stay with his good friend and do a little trout fishing, it felt so nice to have the place to myself for two full days and nights, and it also felt so nice to know that he will be coming home to me. Do I miss him? Sure. But I know what its like to really miss your person in a way that you never imagined possible and that you dont know how to live through, so it takes a lot more than a couple days away for me to really start missing him. Its just different once you are aware of that horrific type of missing that eats into your soul and bones. I never want to feel that again, and so when he goes away for a day or two, I try to enjoy the time apart because I know being apart is healthy and needed, and I also focus on the idea that all things are temporary, except love and death.
He will be back tonight, and then we will enjoy some time together, and then next time he goes away for a night or two, I will look forward to my time alone, and also look forward to him coming home – with the knowing of what its like when your person never comes home again.