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The Solitude That Follows the Loss of a Spouse

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I’ve known loss. If you are reading this, chances are you have, too.

For all the many wakes and funerals I have been to, one thing has continuously occurred to me. The wake is so much easier for me than the funeral.

When I sit back and think about why that is, I can only come to one conclusion: support.

There is so much support at a wake. At least in my circle of love, they usually last more than six hours, and the room is often filled to near capacity. In the case of my beautiful wife, we had every seat full and another 60 people or so standing. Over 200 people attended her services on that cold January day. A full house of standing room only for a beautiful soul who certainly deserved such a fitting goodbye. People came in droves as I stood by the casket and welcomed everyone, something I also did at my dad’s wake. With each person who came up to say their final goodbyes to Michelle, stories and memories were shared, kind and inspiring words were spoken — a sense of hope and love in a moment filled with heartache and despair.

For Michelle’s wake, I opened the floor so anyone who wanted to speak could. After the last person who wanted to speak did, I gave the eulogy. I thought I would cry during it, but I didn’t shed a single tear as I read it — a product most likely of having read it so many times before, most notably to Michelle as she lay in a coma the morning of the day that she passed. Talk about some hardcore tears. Professing my love to her with the eulogy I tried so hard to perfect as she lay dying.

After I was done speaking at the wake, we played six songs that meant so much to Michelle and me. A few from the wedding ceremony we didn’t quite make it to, and a few others as well.

The wake. A moment of support, community and love.

As is often the case, the funeral the next day was attended by far fewer people, however the support was still there. We attended an absolutely beautiful church, played some amazing songs, including “Amazing Grace,” and went to lunch with everyone after. The most beautiful moment was when my sister’s father-in-law sang “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” as the pallbearers carried her light casket to the hearse. The clouds and grey suddenly made way for the sun to shine at that exact moment — and no, I’m not making that up.

And then, the funeral ends. And when all of the final goodbyes are said and all of the supportive Facebook messages are sorted through and responded to, something interesting happens.

Solitude begins.

Although, in fairness, it’s not complete solitude right away. Family and friends realizing the scope of loss and the rawness of it all reach out, come around and are generally there for you.

But then something funny can happen. Some time passes. And the solitude grows.

And then it grows some more.

And then, by the time you realize it, it’s almost complete solitude.

Now, before I go on, let me state clearly: Part of this blog entry is about myself, but do not think I am alone. Whether it be the in-person support group I go to or one of the number of support groups I am a part of on Facebook, the undeniable fact is the most complained about feature of being a widow or widower I hear about is this: solitude. Or, to put it in terms I don’t like to use because it can make many of us feel rather pathetic: loneliness.

So solitude is there, and then it grows, and a part of you may begin to wonder “Why?” — but then you realize you may be guilty of the same.

You think back and realize when your aunt lost her husband and daughter in the span of one calendar year, you told her at the funerals that you would be there for her, but you weren’t. Nope, not even a little bit. You ask yourself how you could have failed a loved one like that, and you feel guilty.

But the answer is clear: For you, life moves on.

For the world, even those who loved the deceased, the Earth continues to rotate, the sun continues to shine, rainy days continue to dampen outdoor plans, and life moves on.

But for a select few, the loss can be more profound.

And for those select few, solitude is almost certain to follow.

“It seems like everyone avoids me.”

“All my friends are married.”

“I think they don’t know how to act around us.”

“Everyone thinks I’m fine now.”

“Nobody gets it.”

“People go on with their lives, yours is the one forever changed.”

These are some of the comments I hear or read. Over and over again. From widows and widowers who feel as though the loss of their love was simply the first step of loss in a whole new world.

OK, it happens. We’ve all probably done it. Certainly nobody means any harm. Life goes on. I get it. We all get it.

You adjust and adapt through the grief. You try to move forward, not on.

But how?

“I just don’t want to bother people.”

“I don’t want someone to spend time with me out of pity.”

“I’m no fun anymore, I don’t want to bring people down.”

These are some of the comments I hear or read. Over and over again. You see, with the loss of your love, something else can happen: self-doubt.

Often it is not immediate, but rather later in the game. Think about it. The person who was your biggest cheerleader, the person who chose you instead of anyone else in the world to spend the rest of their life with is no longer around.

The love you felt from them is gone.

And then slowly, other support starts to drift. And solitude grows.

And knowing you aren’t exactly the same person as you used to be, you might start to feel like a “burden.”

And then you take a step back, and you wonder if you are handling things correctly.

But really, what is the correct way to handle the loss of the love of your life?

Do you post about it on Facebook? Start a blog?

“Attention! Attention! He wants attention!” — you fear many will say.

“God, he needs to get over it already” — others might insist.

Maybe you take the opposite approach — maybe you act like all is OK. Shoot, maybe you decide you want to find love again.

“If he’s already looking to date, he must not have loved her that much” — some will probably think it.

“He seems to be doing great. I don’t think I would be doing that well if my spouse died” — others may proclaim.

Judgment of your actions, your life, how much you laugh or don’t laugh, how much you cry or don’t cry can begin to run rampant.

And you let it affect you. Even though you know you shouldn’t.

You take it, and you internalize it — because after all, your other half isn’t there to share those feelings with anymore.

You have a lot of free time on your hands now to sit, to stir and to think.

It used to be when something good happened, you couldn’t wait to get home to tell your love. Or when something bad happened, you knew you would have your other half there to help you get through it.

I mean, sure, you could text a friend or a family member.

But there’s that self-doubt again.

Do you really want to bother them?

“Haven’t they had enough of me and my loss and my problems?” you ask yourself.

And then Saturday comes, and after having a really good week, you all of a sudden are having a horrible morning. You thought you were beyond this type of breakdown, but then you remember the big-headed guy from Volo, Ill. whose blog you follow, and he told you that grief comes in waves. So the tears are there, and they are rampant. The type of tears that make your stomach hurt. But nobody is around to see. And you actually consider walking to a neighbor’s house for a human to human experience, but you don’t. You get through it yourself.

“How are you today? Maybe we can do something later?” a friend of yours asks via text message shortly after you gather yourself.

“I’m fine. I’m not feeling well though, so I’m going to stay in,” you respond. You’ve learned by now saying “I’m fine” is a lot easier than explaining why you may not be fine on that particular day.


And so, the cycle continues. Because quite honestly, half of the time you really don’t want to do anything, and the other half of the time you don’t have anything to do. And sometimes you want to be around certain people, and sometimes you don’t want to be around those same exact people.

And let’s face it, sometimes being around people brings comfort, and other times it flashes a light on the void that is.

That’s OK. And that’s normal.

Solitude. It can be a lonely road. It can also be a two-way street.

Image via Thinkstock.

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Originally published: December 20, 2016
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