Fifty-one years. That’s how long they were married before the wife died late last year. In the months since, he’s struggled, attempting to understand his place in this world. His adult children have wrapped their arms around him and included him in every aspect of their lives so he’s rarely at a loss for something to do … but he’s lonely. Female friends have invited him out – dinner, dancing, movies and he’s gone a time or two, but then the realization overpowers him … even in the company of others, he suffers from loneliness.
For this man (whom I met today), his struggle with loneliness is complicated because his wife was housebound and eventually bedridden for several years with him as her sole caretaker. The routine he’d adopted created a familiar pattern and meaning for his world. However, as he’s navigated the last ten months, the loss of pattern thrusts him into meaninglessness. Whatever efforts he’d made to care for his wife during her illness, he did so for her benefit. Today, like a rudderless boat, his striving seems without clear direction. When he was telling us about his present pain, tears came to his eyes and the rest of us sharing lunch with him were deeply moved by his obvious suffering.
Sometimes the world simply doesn’t make sense. We can live with someone for fifty years or more and their habits and actions can be endearing (at certain times) as well as exasperating (at other times) but their absence – especially the suffocating separation of death – is so jarring, it causes a wrenching amputation unlike anything else we’re ever likely to experience!