In the early days of my journey I was consumed with loneliness especially from around four in the afternoon until I went to bed. Those, of course, were prime times with L–times when we would share the events of our day, times when we would discuss our tomorrows, times when it was just us. In the first year I realize now that I tried hard to fill in those empty hours by taking long walks, waiting/hoping for friends to call and offer some impromptu activity, watching hours and hours and hours of mindless television, and aimlessly pacing through the rooms we had shared. I had a lot of suppressed anger in those times–not specifically directed at any individual–especially not L who I knew would have done anything he could not to leave me–but at the unfairness of it all. For one thing he was a far better friend to our circle of friends than I could ever hope to be. I labeled myself “sloppy seconds” in the friendship department and was always touched and amazed by the countless gestures of love and outreach that came my way. I felt I didn’t deserve such kindness–and yes in my worst moments I suspected such gestures were little more than pity which of course I resented.
But lately…lately I have deliberately taken action to get out into situations that give me the opportunity to interact with new people–people who did not know me as part of a couple. And not to paraphrase Sally Field too often but I found out that “they liked me–they really liked ME.” And slow to get it as I am it finally dawned on me that the friends L and I have had for decades also “like me–really like ME.” These days I am more relaxed around people–those I have just met and those I have known for more than half my life. These days I struggle fewer evenings being alone–I have learned that the more I believe that L is with me, the more I feel his presence and his encouragement and his love. Oh, do not think I have even come close to licking this grief thing–but I can see progress–I am getting better at this.
A few days ago it occurred to me that for those of us whose spouse suffered a long and often painful end–perhaps months or as in my case (and perhaps yours), years– there is one small compensation in living on: I realized that I no longer worry all the time or walk through my days waiting for the other shoe to drop or sleep with one ear open for a possible change in breathing or a fall or other catastrophe. Not that I wouldn’t cut off a vital body part to have him back for an hour or a day, but there is that release of responsibility.
Then just a couple of days later I developed some “a-typical” (the doctor’s terminology) symptoms that lasted through one night and into the morning. Alone as I am (without children or other family nearby) and ingrained with a need not to “bother” anyone (although I am blessed with wonderful friends and neighbors), I could not decide what to do. Finally I told myself the choice was: either sit and worry and hope symptoms that had last several hours would simply go away or get myself to a walk-in clinic and find out what was going on. I chose Door #2. Foolishly I drove myself to a walk-in clinic where I found that my description of what was going on was taken VERY seriously. Long story short I went directly from there to the ER at the nearby hospital and this time the clinic doctor gave me HER choice: either go in an ambulance or call someone to come and take me. She was clearly upset that I had elected to drive myself to her clinic! I called my sister-in-law.
Long story short–I was in hospital for 2 nights and 3 days; they ran tests, drew blood (every 4 hrs), scheduled a stress test and eventually sent me home without really identifying the root of the problem,. The symptoms improved by the end of that first day and did not return. I came away with a solid baseline of test results that told me whatever my problem was it was not a cardiac issue–that was certainly good news given a strong family history of heart disease. I also came away with a connection to a cardiologist–a specialist I should have added to my team of doctors well before now. And–should those same symptoms reappear, at least I can be fairly certain the problem is not with my heart.
But the real pony in this one is that as news spread friends came…and kept coming and calling and checking in. I was not alone. Mentally I knew that I could have called any one of them, but emotionally I had not yet accepted that their need to be there for me was more than being there because L had asked them to be. I had not yet accepted that they wanted to be there because it was ME. And when I came home (again with my sister-in-law seeing me safely back) I got out of the car and there on the grass at my feet was a beautiful bird feather–as has been the case on a numbers of occasions when I have learned one more lesson in this journey.