The pain can be overwhelming after a spouse dies, and the grieving process can be long and hard. But what makes it even more challenging — especially if you are an empty nester — is learning to live alone after being with a spouse and children for almost three decades.
I lived alone in my 20s and did not marry until 28. So I knew what it was like when I was young. But now it had a whole different feel — an all-consuming loneliness.
I was dreading August a year ago, when my daughter left to go back to college. Even if you are independent and have a cadre of friends and some family, like I do, living in an empty house can be crushing. The loneliness engulfs you day or night, weekdays or weekends. No matter how many people you go out with, you always come home to an empty house and the sad feeling comes back. I spend a lot time crying and thinking I will be alone forever. Sundays are the worst — I become engulfed in sadness even if I’m out with friends or have people over for dinner. I’m thankful for my full-time job that gets me out of the house five days a week.
Many nights this past winter, spring and summer — even when I managed to stay out late, drink too much and even do my first bit of having a guy over — would after leave me with this feeling that the good days of my life are pretty much over. Exercise doesn’t help; neither does meditation or prayer. Options such as watching TV, reading or going online provide temporary escapes, but this solitary lifestyle just stokes the grief.
I used to be afraid at night, hearing random creaks downstairs as I huddled under the covers in what now seems like a giant, queen-size bed. So toward the end of last winter, I had an alarm system installed. It helps give me peace of mind, but I still struggle with being alone in the late hours before bedtime. I drink wine and eat popcorn and head up to bed each night knowing I have my books and magazines. I journal, which allows me to vent about my sorry life, but I consistently reach for the sleep aids to get me over the hump into slumber.
As winter ended, I became more accustomed to my alone life. I still felt bad, but more comfortable. My daughter stayed in her college town until June because she had a job there. I was coping better. She moved back in with me a few weeks later and stayed for the better part of three months. But she has her life, her friends, and is back at school once again. It’s what is best for her, but her coming and going is hard on me. I get used to her being gone and she comes back. I get used to her being in the house, and she leaves.
There are no solutions for this creeping loneliness, except maybe time. I continue to struggle to deal with the all-encompassing feeling of being totally alone now that my soul mate is gone.