The Stages of Grief: Loneliness

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I get up late. I have my bowl of oatmeal, fruit, orange juice, and coffee. Strong coffee. I need it. I’m sitting on the sofa in the den — the same sofa Mom spent all her waking hours on in her final years when she couldn’t walk or get up without help. Our beloved cat, Ginger, stayed right beside her day and night. She was the sweetest cat. I sat on the other end of the sofa when the caregivers had left for the day.

Now, early each afternoon when I take my place on the sofa to have that late breakfast, I’m aware of how utterly quiet it is, and a feeling of deep sadness and loneliness comes over me. No bustling around seeing that Mom eats, gets her meds and insulin, and that she is comfortable. I have an old, retro clock on the table next to the window. If I listen hard enough, I hear it go “tick tock, tick tock,” over and over in steady, rhythmic, and comforting repetition. The sound of the clock makes me want to rest or fall asleep.

Until the coffee kicks in, I usually sit there in a kind of a dazed silence. Morning after morning, always aware that life for everyone has been completely upended by the pandemic. And yet it seems to me, to quote a popular saying for all the introverts and solitaries like me, “I’ve been preparing for this moment all my life.” And I have. I’m really not bothered about being alone day after day. Each day I talk to my brother and sister on the phone. We text each other, too. We are truly close, and I’m thankful for that because I’ve heard the stories of other sibling situations after a parent has died.

And then there’s the Internet with all the emails and text messages. There are the invaluable writing communities I’ve been a member of for so many years reaching out to others virtually. What would I do without all this? I think I’d become a hermit and read books day and night.

Hours pass sitting on that special sofa of deepest, recent memories and sadness. Back and forth to the kitchen, maybe to the porch to sit on he rocking chair for while. No children or grandchildren to call and make me smile or laugh. Just me in my little, interior castle. The whole place to myself. I have lots of friends out there in cyberspace. Their words on a screen are their living, vital presence to me, as real as if I was talking to them in person. I’m not exaggerating about this. I’m grateful. I think I’d be lost without them since my loner proclivities are so powerful.

For years, until this past January, my life was taking care of my mother. I worked full time, too, up until the end of May 2017. Things were very different after that, but I still had my main, full-time job — caregiving. Just this past December, Mom had turned 96. It was hard for me to grasp, but her decline was noticeable.

Yesterday afternoon, while finishing my coffee, I noticed the place at the other end of the sofa where she sat was now covered with books and magazines so it wouldn’t seem like a barren void of a spot. I was thinking about Mom. My gaze turned to the rocking footrest she used. It was under the table by the window. I remember those black orthopedic shoes I’d taken off and put on her feet so many times. I got up and went into her bedroom, opened the closet, and found one of them. Where was the other? I looked under everything in closet trying to find it. I couldn’t locate the other shoe. Determined, I poked around the back of the door where her purse hung on a hook along with the nightgowns she had worn the days and weeks before she died. Everything was just as it was back then.

I checked inside her purse. Her wallet was still in there and her house and car keys. The car insurance card dated to 2008, but she had stopped driving well before that. It was no trouble for her to give up driving. She never even mentioned missing it. She had a square, metal engraved butterfly attached to her keychain. I gingerly took it off and put it on my keychain. I had the strangest feeling of emptiness. It's times like this when I feel most alone. Her bedroom is exactly as it was before she became ill and disabled. My sister saw to that when she was last here in February. On the wall to the right of her bed is the beautiful framed, antique bird print that was her favorite. She had a number of others hanging on walls in other rooms of the house. Right below the framed bird print is a cabinet in which is the reproduction, mahogany box containing Mom’s ashes. Naturally, I keenly feel Mom’s presence whenever I’m in that room. We haven’t been able to have a memorial service or spread the ashes since the pandemic flared up in February only weeks after Mom passed away. I think we will do something simple, which I know she’d approve of, and that is to spread the ashes in her front garden under the camellias and azaleas she dearly loved. If we decide to do that, we’ll wait until they are in bloom next spring.

It’s always very quiet in the den now. Just quiet music and the gentle sound of a zen fountain. The music of flowing or moving water soothes me so much.

Everywhere I look in this house, something reminds me of Mom. I open a book and there’s a slip of paper with instructions for a caregiver on what to give her for lunch and when. There’s the bouquet of artificial daisies Mom loved. For years, I always had a vase or two of fresh-cut flowers which Mom enjoyed more than anything else. Every time I’d come in from the grocery store with a carefully selected bouquet of cut flowers, I’d show them to her first thing. Her eyes would light up and she would invariably say, “Oh, those are so beautiful.” Those were very special moments for me that I will always remember.

It’s five in the afternoon and time to get up and out of the house for a walk. Sometimes all those memories close in on me a bit too much, and I need a little break. But the memories are precious, and my life is all the richer for them.

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