While I was away in Miami the week before last, I came to a sobering realization: I’ve been half of a couple essentially all of my adult life, almost two-thirds of my years. (I’m 55 years old. Richard and I were together nearly 29 years, and I was married once before.) There’s nothing wrong with that, if couple-dom is healthy and nurturing, and my time with Richard was certainly that. Still, what it means is I have no practice in living alone.
It’s not that I’m not independent and capable. This morning when I got up and opened the blinds, clouds masked the eastern horizon–there would be no solar energy to heat the house. So I put on my bathrobe, cleaned the ash pan in the wood stove, took the ashes out to the metal bucket on the back porch, and then chopped kindling and firewood, and made a fire.
Then I checked the temperature in Richard’s studio to make sure it was warm enough (there’s a woodstove there too), did yoga, cooked my hot cereal, and got on with my day.
Which included finally taking the lights off the solstice tree and hauling it down to the creek bank to re-vegetate an eroding area, hosting our little Quaker/Buddhist silent worship time, replacing an attic vent that chinook wind gusts blew askew, paying bills, filling out yet another after-death form (I swear that paperwork is the only eternal thing about our lives!), adjusting a squeaky door hinge, calling my dad and helping him sort out problems with his computer, and making dinner.
Once I would have had Richard’s help. I can do many of the things he used to do, but there’s a lot I can’t do: I’m not Ms. Fix-it (though I’m learning); I can’t use power tools (Raynaud’s syndrome long ago took the nerves in my fingertips, so I don’t trust myself); I couldn’t design or build my way out of a paper bag; I’m neither big nor brawny.
But I’m smart, determined, and I have friends and neighbors who are happy to help. (Thanks especially to Maggie and Tony, Jim and Rynn, Kerry and Dave, Bev, Lisa and Tim, Jerry, Susan, Toni, Doris and Bill, Grant, Bob, and Mark and Brenda. You all are wonderful!)
Still, at the end of the day (and the beginning, in the middle of the night, and much of the time in between), I’m alone. On my own with whatever decisions, fears, challenges, and issues that may come up. That’s new. Richard and I handled most everything together. Sometimes that made things difficult, but we worked it out; we learned to forgive, and to trust each other.
Even when he was bedridden, and frustrated that he couldn’t do the things he had always done, we talked everything over. His brain might have been severely impacted by the glioblastoma that killed him, but his mind never lost its brilliance.
Now he’s gone. At first I assumed I would simply continue on the path we walked together. Now I realize that since his death blew a hole in my life, I have an opportunity I didn’t anticipate: I’m no longer part of a pair. I’d rather be with Richard, but that’s not an option. So I’m going to explore what this new role of “Woman Alone” holds.
That title, by the way, comes from Margaret Coel’s Shoshone/Arapaho Reservation mysteries. Woman Alone is the name bestowed on one of Coel’s main characters, Arapaho lawyer Vicky Holden, for her solo status. It’s not necessarily meant as a compliment. But it could be. I like Woman Alone better than “widow,” a word that comes from an Indo-European root meaning “empty.” Just because I’m without a man, and specifically, without the love of my life, does not make me empty. At all.
When Richard was healthy, our path was was a matter of mutual adjustment to reconcile sometimes divergent needs. After his bird visions revealed his brain cancer, our direction was guided by helping him live well for as long as possible.
Now I’m alone, charting my own life-path. On I go, mindful of the grace in this ephemeral gift of life…