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Getting over it

Food For Thought

“Does one ever get over loneliness?” asked my friend Richard whose wife of 62 years had died about a year ago. That long-lived marriage between high school sweethearts had survived all the usual hurdles of life including the tragic death of their only daughter. I could relate to that, I’ve learned that some things can’t be “gotten over” and that we simply must get accustomed to them and keep going.
Two of the kindest people I’ve known in my lifetime, they chose to stay right there in the hometown where we all went to kindergarten together and graduated together.
Richard, for many years the town’s postmaster, knows practically everybody in town and has many life-long friends there. But he is lonely.
I’ve been trying to think of something encouraging, helpful. At least, comforting to say to him, to let him know I understand his great sense of loss and, just maybe after eight years of widowhood, I have learned how to cope with the void left by the death of a spouse.
“All my friends have died,” claimed another friend some time ago.
I’d reminded him that there are plenty of other people in our lives who care about us, once we find ourselves alone and haven’t yet learned to cope with the changes.
“Well, there are a whole lot of nice people around; make some new friends,” I suggested.
He rejected that possibility immediately.
New friends don’t share our history like old friends do. All the interesting people already seemed to have plenty of friends and didn’t need him. At this age, most of the traditional “male bonding” activities are no longer available. It is just too much trouble, trying to get to know strangers.
I admit to the validity of those objections. I’ve heard them before from other men.
Women don’t seem to have so much trouble forming friendships.
Maybe it’s something that’s programmed into our DNA and it really is a female trait, this ability to relate to and care about other people within a relatively short span of time. I suspect it is largely because women don’t set out to find friends.
They set out to learn about quilting or cake decorating, to volunteer at church or school, to join the garden club, to work out at the gym, learn Spanish, or raise money for a worthy cause. The friendships happen on the side, arising from the commonality of interests, the frequency of the time spent together, the incidental things they learn about each other in casual conversation, the cooperation required to reach a common goal.
I’ve learned the human spirit can sustain grief for only so long. It is debilitating, counter-productive, and extremely boring.
Once we learn to separate the grief from the loneliness, we can begin to deal with the sense of desertion we feel when a loved one “leaves” us. The reaction may surprise us. Sometimes it manifests itself in anger at the lost one.
Why didn’t they take better care of themselves? Go to the doctor sooner? Try harder to lose some of that weight? Drive more sensibly? Quit smoking?
Blaming the other person for their own death is a lot more sensible than blaming yourself for somehow neglecting to prevent it, especially when there was nothing whatever you could have done.
As an introspective child, I appreciated solitude, the opportunities to daydream, read, create things, simply reflect on the ways of the world and the people around me. To figure things out.
Then, for a good many years there didn’t seem to be enough time for the luxury of solitude and I missed it.
For practically the whole 50 years of our marriage, I longed for the day that I would have sufficient time to paint, write, read and otherwise pursue the personal joys that I never seemed to have time for.
Today, I no longer have to be concerned about somebody else’s meals, somebody else’s laundry, putting away tools that somebody else left lying about or running the errands that somebody else hadn’t time for. I can cook when I’m in the mood or eat peanut butter straight out of the jar. Wash dishes when I run out of clean forks and bowls, read all night and sleep until noon. Vacuum when the dog hair gets ankle deep or not.
It may be that I am more suited to living alone than my friend Richard is and what works for me might not work for him.
But there’s one thing I’m sure of, loneliness is a self-imposed condition.
We can change it and only we can change it.
My life is very different from what it ever was before. I have a whole new set of priorities, a whole new set of activities, a whole new set of friends. And I’m not lonely.