One Is A Lonely Number
By Christena Wiseman
For forty years my husband had been promising to write me a love song. He was a wonderful musician so I knew he could write something I would cherish. He never did. The closest he got was when he was dying and he came out of his coma long enough to tell me he’d decided to live and would write that love song. I asked him what the name of my song was. He said it was “What Do I Need You For” and it was beautiful and with that he went back into his final sleep.
My brother-in-law who was in the room chuckled and said, “Well THAT could be taken either way!” And I said, “Yes it could and that’s the beauty of it because when you are in a committed relationship, some days it’s one way, and some days it’s the other, but he said it was beautiful so that is enough for me.
Sometime later I met a friend at a theater performance and I was smiling and enjoying friends and she said, “Christy, I mean no offense, but you look much too sparkly and happy to be a grieving widow.” The connotation in my mind was that if I had really loved my husband, I would look sad and not enjoy anything for years, but maybe that isn’t how she meant it.
I gave public opinion and the stereotypical idea that “the longer you make your grief public the more you loved your partner,” a thought and decided to follow the exhortation of Jonathan Swift 1667-1745, instead who said, “May you live each day of your life.”
We all need to make our own choice. Mine was that I would honor my husband more by living each day of my life as he had done, rather than forgetting joy and basically dying with him. When you lose a spouse or partner or ‘significant other’ that you have loved and shared years, possibly decades with, it breaks you. There is no sadness like it.
It isn’t that the person has suddenly achieved sainthood and that you no longer are aware of the imperfections that person had. You still know the things that used to annoy you; the personality characteristics that would occasionally upset you. What is so destructive is your own failing in the things you didn’t do, like listen better, or hold hands more or know more ways to make the other person more comfortable as they were dying. Even if the dying was quick, you still berate yourself for your imperfections and wish you had another chance to be better.
But physical death is final. It is forever. There is no “one more time.”
And one is a lonely number.
People handle grief in their own time and in their own way, but those outside the circle of kindred spirits (those who have not been through it) don’t understand.
They tell you: “You are so strong.” “You are handling this so well.” “I’m so proud of you.” or other such nonsense that lets you know that they have absolutely no clue about the hell you’re enduring. Sometimes I just want to die too. Sometimes I just want to scream. Sometimes I just talk to that special person and hope somehow he can hear me.
Sometimes people bring up his name and suddenly I can’t even talk for the lump in my throat. Sometimes out of the blue, I feel overwhelmed. Most of the time these are private moments, which is more comfortable as I can let go and drain for awhile the flood of tears that are mine to shed and NOT others to see.
Friends don’t know what to say so some pretend it didn’t happen. For me the best expression of caring and understanding is a hug. It says what words can’t.
So how do I react to these well meaning and very dear friends when they ask how you are? “Just fine, thanks, and you?” It is a gentle lie and what friends want to hear – and most of the time it is true and I’ve been assured that “things will get better.” I hope it is true.
One of the things nobody discusses is the loss of intimacy. Here is the person whose body you shared, you knew every inch of it, this body which housed the person you loved and with whom you had shared so many memories. This person who you knew how to please and who knew how to please you. This person who knew the subtle hints that you wanted to enjoy his body once more or whose hand you held or arm you reached for which gave you such comfort and such a sense that all was well with the world. Now even touch is gone, but your feelings aren’t gone and your need for intimacy seems greater than ever.
I think doctors and priests or ministers avoid this area of loss because they don’t know how to deal with it. Sensing that, you avoid sharing your feelings on the subject too and no grief counseling seems to address it either and soon you realize you can’t discuss this area even with your close friends. Not even with those who have lost a spouse. Why? They might not understand or share your feelings and then you’d feel more cut off than ever and you might feel you’d lost the respect of your friends. After all, you are now supposed to settle into your role as grandparent, add some pounds and forget you were ever a sexual being, something you almost forgot if you’ve watched your husband through a long process of dying – almost, but not quite.
I read this to the Ajijic Writers’ Group and one lady said she wanted the words to the song. He died before he could write them, but someday when I hear the music, I will already know the words.