My Firstborn finds himself living alone for the first time in his life, and he's enjoying it. Except for a very brief period 46 years ago, this is also the first time I have lived alone. But our circumstances are rather different. He has a lovely new relationship which may well change his present living arrangements in due course; meanwhile it alleviates his solitude. Me, I'm adjusting to the permanent loss of the one I love best.
I feel particularly sad about that when I come down with a heavy cold. I feel weak, vulnerable and little-girlish, and I want my love here to cuddle me and tell me to go to bed and rest. I do go to bed, and I wrap myself in a favourite warm shawl, but it ain't the same. I find myself wishing I hadn't got rid of all his pyjamas. I might have liked to put a pair on and feel embraced by him that way. Eventually I decide to be grateful for the years of cuddles and kind words, which I can recreate vividly in my mind. Recreating them makes me feel sad, but also somewhat comforted.
I know from past losses that in years to come the warm memories will produce more happiness than sorrow ... but that can take quite a lot of years. At 73, I wonder how many I have left.
When I am well, there are things I enjoy in this new aloneness. In fact only yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to notice how happy and contented I can feel now. I am just beginning to fully appreciate how very run off my feet I was, looking after him, and looking after all the tasks I had been used to sharing with him for most of our marriage. I am only just realising how much stuff I was having to keep in my head the last few years — when he needed to take which pills, and so forth. On his frequent visits to the doctor, I would take whole lists of things we needed to discuss. (He himself could not remember them all.) The new leisure is very pleasurable, now that I'm getting used to it. Not that I'm not still busy; I'm still the one looking after everything — but I'm not nursing him as well. I'm not running on adrenaline all the time. I don't have to any more.
There is no-one I need to please or consider but me. (Well, the cats a little, but they're easy.) There's no-one to whom I need to explain why that object lives in that particular spot, or why this one should not be picked up right now.
There is also no-one who takes as much interest as I do in the minutiae of the living arrangements. I now have time to make all the small improvements I always wanted to, and can't help thinking how much he would have enjoyed them too — but when he was here, I simply couldn't get to them. Bitter irony!
I never have to tell anyone what time I'll be home; I can make spur-of-the-moment decisions to change my plans.
On the other hand, there is no-one to come home to, or to come home to me, with whom to share the small adventures — bumping into a friend while out, overcoming a car problem, finding or not finding a particular item in the shops....
I can write a poem without constant interruptions. It will take me a while to get accustomed to that. I still anticipate and even miss the interruptions, though they used to drive me mad. But when I get absorbed, it takes longer to miss them now. The frustration and attendant stress levels must be considerably reduced! It is a luxury to be able to give my full attention to creating my art.
And in general I get to choose whatever I do whenever, and exactly how I want my life and my home to be. It is complete autonomy.
Well no, not quite. Complete autonomy is impossible for anyone, without support. When I'm ill, there's no-one to rush down the street for me and get medicines; no-one to drive me to the doctor; not even anyone to feed the cats while I flake out. Ah well, those were not options anyway, in his last months.
He was aware of my burdens and wanted, and sometimes tried, to help. Sometimes I let him, so as to allow him to feel he was contributing and pulling his weight — that he still had value. (He did to me, regardless, but he needed to see it for himself.) Other times I tried to discourage him because I was concerned that it would take too much toll on his already frail health.
We always looked after each other as best we could. Always. So things are very different now, in all sorts of ways. A line from a poem keeps going through my head, that so much expresses where I'm at. I don't remember the rest of the poem, nor the poet, but it's probably well enough known that someone will be able to refresh my memory. It's about a spouse or loved one having died; and the poem concludes:
'Alone, most strangely, I live on.'
I do, and it's very strange.