Sassy at Seventy: A widow’s journey of grief, strength, and dealing with snakes alone

May 09, 2023
Source: Getty

You would think that after being married to a man whose work, for the first two decades of our marriage, only allowed him home on weekends, and sometimes only every second weekend, that I would find being by myself easy to accept. And it is. To a degree.

It’s that degree that makes such a difference. Being alone is a bit like stress – when you feel in control of it, that’s okay, but when stress becomes overwhelming it can be detrimental.

On what would have been our fifty-third wedding anniversary, “aloneness” hit me like a tidal wave. The house echoed with it. My heart ached with it. The day stretched out before me in aloneness. Up until then, I thought I was okay, I could handle it. It’s two and a half years since he died, I’d pulled up my big girl socks and soldiered on.

What I hadn’t counted on was the fickle nature of grief. It lies quietly, waiting to ambush you when you least expect it.

My sister-in-law phoned. “You shouldn’t be alone today. How about we go out for lunch?” A lifeline I grabbed with both hands. We launched. We shopped. We had afternoon tea and she went home.

My daughter phoned. She sounded exhausted but offered that if I needed to, I could go to their place for dinner. I was tempted, but knew she was battling deadlines and kids’ homework pressures, so declined.

At seven o’clock that evening, I wondered why my cat was sitting in the dining room and staring up the hallway. I turned on the light. A snake. Zigzagging its way to the laundry.

For a second my mind stopped working. In another lifetime I would have called my husband, and with his years of experience dealing with snakes, he would have caught it. But now there was only me.

I grabbed my steam mop, walked softly up behind the snake and gently placed the mop on half of it. Juvenile brown. Venomous. I called my daughter as I knew she had the snake catcher’s number.

I suppose you could say it was a fitting end to the day – having to prove that I could handle the situation on my own. But it made the loneliness worse

It seemed to reinforce that this is it, kiddo, you are on your own, get used to it. I am lucky to have good friends and loving family, but they have their own lives, of which I am but a small part. I have to accept the cards life has dealt me and be grateful for the years we had together.

It’s easy to tell yourself all the right words, the positive words, but harder to believe them. Physically, it was tiring. Just getting out of bed seemed to take a mammoth effort. For the next couple of days, I tried to shift the pressure of re-ignited grief from my shoulders, but in the end, I learned that I just have to allow it to do what it does – roll into me, through me, and then slowly, slowly, roll away.

Gardening, swimming and walking helped ease the emptiness (or perhaps made me too tired to care) allowing me to see beauty and feel joy again, to feel gratitude for all I have. 

Will I be ready the next time this fickle beast creeps up on me? On special days – his birthday, Christmas, New Year’s Eve? Or even on the unexpected times when a song, a movie, or a smell, will hit a memory nerve and choke me with loss? Perhaps. Perhaps not.

I wasn’t ready for his death even though I knew it was going to happen. The heart can’t always accept what the mind acknowledges on an intellectual level.

I recently listened to a podcast in which a psychologist said grief alters the brain. Hardly news to the bereaved. You cannot go through great loss and be the same person you were before.

But with love, luck, and support, you can still find joy in life. And deal with snakes in your hallway.

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