Beginner’s Guide to surviving aloneness
The day is just beginning to light up in this remote place, all snow-piled with far-flung hills blending into the white-edged sky so you can barely tell where the mountains leave off and the sky begins.
Who knew gray and white could be so beautiful?
I bravely—foolishly, without putting on outer wear or shoes—stepped outside, shivering, hugging my steaming mug of cinnamon tea. Because I wanted to hear the quiet.
And what I heard was a duck squawking on the pond below. And I made out two or three distinct bird songs, even with the freezing temperature, these crazy birds singing.
And I heard a small stream gurgling near the gate, and the wind gently tapped the pipe against the dinner triangle adding more music to the air.
Being here has been a reminder to me of some of the basics of surviving widowhood, the club you don’t want to be a member of, but you’re automatically enrolled when you leave Hospice House without your husband and best friend, and return to an empty place, and begin figuring out how to function alone in between the wash of tears. That club.
Being in this remote and beautiful location has reminded me of a few thoughts that were beneficial back when I was first recruited into the Widows’ Club:
Cultivate independence. I broke my wrist the second day here, followed by surgery and an amount of hardware that will set off security machines.
It’s been good for me to see that I can still function independently, even with one arm full strength and one not-so-full-strength, doing a few of those jobs—like bringing in firewood and emptying ash buckets—that would fall to a husband, were a husband nearby.
It can be frightening to think of all we have to do alone — those things the man in our lives used to take care of. But as we say Yes to opportunities that require a bit of independence, then we grow braver, tougher, more resilient.
Appreciate interdependence. One of my nephews, who likes to plan ahead, came up to plow the narrow, graveled road to the cabin — in case of an emergency, since most ambulances don’t have 4-wheel drive.
He also insisted on driving my tractor (well, maybe my brother-in-law’s tractor) to haul loads of firewood to the back porch where I had to practically arm wrestle him to let me help stack it.
We can need people and not be needy. Connect with your people. Often.
Allow yourself do-overs. My reason for accepting this generous invitation of six weeks in a gorgeous log cabin was to complete the re-write of a book. This is now my third re-write, and it is a gift to have people who believe enough in your project to offer constructive criticism that requires a major re-working.
I take comfort from these words by Phyllis Whitney: “A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.”
If you’re still working on something you haven’t quite gotten right, no worries. Be patient with yourself. Allow do-overs.
Embrace nature. Nearly every afternoon in town, while I was waiting for my broken and pinned wrist to get stronger, I walked the neighborhood. But it’s not the same as being in the middle of God’s creation, a place like this where the quiet gently roars at you, and the whiteness causes you to wonder how can a non-color transform even the homeliest of things into beauty?
Get out into God’s great wonderland and marvel at his bigness, his creativity, his genious.
Don’t forget to refuel. I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert because I’m outgoing and I like people.
But my son-in-law, Josh, set me straight when he asked: “How do you refuel? Do you recharge best around people, or alone?”
Oooh, hadn’t thought of it that way.
In order for me to be any good around people (good, as in, playing nice), I need time alone. Time to journal, and time to pray, and time to read and reflect. Need to.
Figure out the best way you refuel, and then do it. As frequently as possible.
One final thought
Based on where I am at this moment in time, on this acreage that’s inhabited by more wild animals than by humans, this insight by someone named Ava:
There is a difference between loneliness and solitude, one will empty you and one will fill you. You have the power to choose.
I’m being filled at the moment. Filled to overflowing.
Which begs the questions: Are you an introvert or an extrovert, and how do you prefer to refuel?