August approaches, the month in which Leonard died. Each year it is a time of looking back and summing up, a time that used to bring me low. Less so with each passing year, as gratitude overtakes the sadness of loss.
How many of us ever seriously contemplate the likelihood that when older we will spend years living alone?
Long ago I read May Sarton’s “Journal of a Solitude”, a chronicle of her year of self-imposed isolation after an important relationship had ended. She described in great detail how she spent the days, her grieving and then her renewal. I loved that book and still remember the pleasure of vicariously sharing her daily experience. At the time, I was so completely engaged with my growing family and work life, such solitude could only be imagined. Now, it is here, though not by choice.
Or is it?
When friends, or even family, invite me to join them for more than a few hours of socializing, I decline. Even if little else is on my calendar that could not easily be put off, for I know that I will not willingly give up the solitude promised by time to myself.
I moved from my childhood home to the college dorm and on to marriage without missing a beat. Children, law school, the practice, life with Len. There were rarely moments, even if temporarily alone, that were not spent preparing for the next work or family activity.
So, I did not give serious thought to this time. The empty nest was never entirely empty. Even during my husband’s last months, I didn’t allow myself to imagine being without him. Life was the studied placement of one foot in front of the other. Goals were pursued, moments of reflection dealt with the present.
Now, for twelve years, I’ve been living alone. I find it quite a remarkable, even wonderful time of life. Are there anxious moments? Of course. Are there times of intense yearning for my past love? Yes. Occasional waves of grief wash over me, but I now know they will recede in time, usually with the coming of daylight.
I surprise even myself with how much I treasure my solitude.
Would that be so if I did not continue to engage with clients and colleagues, often share meals with close friends and wake many mornings to find a new email or text from a distant child? Likely not, for the human contact I have is a cherished part of my life, and always will be.
And I’m well aware of how my experience differs from those who are widowed or divorced in their middle years. Carrying on in the absence of a loved one, especially if feeling rejected, must be daunting, at least for a time. Then, I imagine, the need to start anew and build a different future fills the days.
Years spent living alone are ahead for many. For most, is the thought not even allowed to enter consciousness? So it was for me, to only later discover that this time of life affords an independence of spirit never before known, a time to live without pretense, completely authentic, a time to be savored.
I know not everyone finds my destination, this peaceful place. A more troublesome past might harbor demons. I feel such gratitude for those who loved me so well that solitude is a reward, rather than a sentence, and offers time to occasionally look back and distill and put into words that which seems worth passing along.