Sometimes it hurts so badly I must cry out loud, I am lonely. “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes,” Crosby, Stills and Nash

Hiking (and holding my mask). Nature as a cure for isolation.

Can we admit we’re not okay right now? 

When I was newly widowed, one of the hardest things was having to act like I was fine, grateful to be alive and healthy, with so much of life still ahead of me, and no real problems aside from, you know, that pesky missing husband. No complicated grief here, ha ha.

But what I really wanted to say was, “I’m lonely.”

And, “I spend too much time by myself.”

And, “This sucks.”

But we don’t do that. Who wants to appear pathetic? Especially in a milieu where being busy is it’s own type of currency. So many people I talk to are just so swamped. They will never have time for you, ever, but they will tell you, upon rejecting your offer for coffee or lunch, all about their schedules as if you really wanted a play-by-play of their social lives.

And now, the world feels apocalyptic. So many people are grieving now. 
Bloggers are supposed to offer solutions. Five ways to Spot a Wanna Be Sugar Daddy. Twelve ways to Defang a Narcissist. (Just Block them, really). Eight Ways to Love Spaghetti Squash. (Is that cooking or porn?)

My best idea at this point is being able to admit we’re not okay.

”How are you?”

”I feel isolated. I’m sad and lonely.” (There. Doesn’t that feel better?)

A Little Background

Last summer, driving a friend’s boat and feeling hopeful. That was a year ago.

I wrote a manuscript. I hired a big deal editor to work on it with me. She was encouraging and I worked on my oeuvre every spare minute I wasn’t working on my Masters of Fine Arts in writing. Which I got in May. I sent my manuscript out to agents with my editor’s blessing.

And thud. No on wanted me…l mean it not me, yeah, it.

My one finished fiction piece got rejected by every literary journal I sent it to. Having completed the MFA, I don’t know what to do with it. I’d hoped all the intellectual stimulation and smart people in the program would inspire me to try….something.   

But I was not inspired. This past summer, one of my best days was taking half a gummie, watching all of Looking for Alaska, and ordering both the dragon roll and the double hamachi maki on Doordash. Such is the power of having not one, but two, graduate degrees.

It all had to count for something. But it didn’t. The universe was supposed to provide, but it was porous. 

Back to the Beginning

Starting again.

My life post-graduation reminded me of when I was a new widow, after the paperwork was done, the dust had settled, the leaky bathroom was remodeled, and…nothing. Now my MFA cohort is scattered, my well-curated schedule of classes, and homework, and editing my alleged manuscript is over, and I don’t know what to do anymore.

Dare I say it, I am lonely? 

I’ve been reading (some really good) articles by widows who are using their special widow powers to get through this time. They say how all of usage now living in a world upended. But we widowed people have had our worlds upended before. We’ve got this. (I do not have this). Sometimes they use my least favorite world: resilient. Resilience a rose-colored blanket we’re supposed to pull over ourselves with so nobody has to see the wounds underneath. That might be kind of awkward.

When my mom died when I was ten, the hardest thing I went through was having to act like nothing was really wrong. I was told how strong I was. But I was pretty unhappy, trying to keep up with hours of home work and new chores and even then I wondered, what’s the point of all this if I’m miserable. (Nope, I’m not bitter. I just became a lawyer at 25 to prove I could get all my homework done). 

I lost my dreams when my husband died.

I’d thought we’d have the rest of our lives together, cooking odd recipes, fixing up our little house. I thought he’d stop being such a workaholic and we’d finally travel together. When he became wheel-chair bound from cancer, I planned on fixing up our backyard to be a lovely place to sit together. At peace. Still in love after 32 years. A quiet kind of love. My dreams were tiny, finally get that deck installed, plant some new flowers for color, get him regular physical therapy.

Then he was gone.

And I did not want to hear the r-word. 

But I could go for a walk and look at the vermillion flowers on the crepe myrtle trees. I could say hello to the people I saw day after day and find some tiny bit of warmth in their smiles. I could add more flowers to my yard, go to yoga classes, breathe in unison with my classmates, and go out to brunch with my in-laws, reconciling with them after the confusion that was George’s death.

Here is what you are supposed to say to yourself when you are panicking, “I am breathing in (deep inhale), I am breathing out (sigh a long exhale).” It sort of helps. I know because I wake up panicked in the middle of the night, roiling about with the ghosts of my dreams.

I am not the r-word. It’s too grand. Too formulaic for a lost dilettante with two unused graduate degrees and a shitload of resentment for the American model of grieving. 

So back again.

To long walks alone and saying hello to the dog walkers. And planting flowers in my yard. And thinking of ways to turn what used to be George’s home into mine. And following the breath in what’s now video yoga classes. 

And saying to myself, “The hydrangeas are blooming. I feel less sad.” 

And thinking there are other dreams. They will come. In the meantime there are ridge lines to walk, and gardenias to feed, and breath to follow.

What I am Doing to Get Through These Times

Okay, I have not truly given up. There are only so many John Green film adaptations. So, I am:

  • Seeing a career coach-most people do this to add value to their professions. I am doing this to see if I can say the word ”career” without sputtering. (I never recovered from the sexist, unequal workplace that was my first–and okay, only–legal job). But I need to believe there is something that will give me purpose and keep me off the daytime gummies. I have homework again. Which would be good except one of my assignments is to write again. Hence yet another resurrection of this blog.
  • Hiking with a very small, socially distanced, masked group. I feel less lonely having a regular schedule with a couple of weekly hikes. I would recommend trying to configure your old groups to be helpful now. My old writing group meets one morning a week on Zoom. I miss the banana bread, but it’s still good.
  • Trying to figure out how I might self, or otherwise, publish my oeuvre. Not sure on this, but I’m not ready to put it in the bin. I feel like a failure with writing these days. And that’s not good. It’s what I’ve done for a long time, from legal writing to when I wrote for magazines. Even though nothing panned out the way I’d planned.
  • Needing to recognize progress. I am currently seeking purpose. When I was widowed seven and a half years ago, being a widow was my sole identity. Surviving widowhood was all I could handle. Trying to recover from George’s denial of his illness, my guilt as his caregiver, and my own fears of being alone, of dying alone, were all I could think about.

    And now it’s time to think about something else. Which means this blog may be moving on to the next question, “What comes after widowhood when it’s no longer all-consuming?”

    Take care until next time, (I’m shooting for every other week),
    Debbie