They are dropping like flies. Husbands and wives disappear, leaving frightened, disoriented spouses flailing in despair, drowning in loneliness, and seeking purpose. For some, it is a sudden, unexpected departure. For others it follows a long, terrible time of nursing a suffering loved one. But fast or torturously slow, couples transform into singles now with a frequency that makes my head spin.
“Well,” you might say, “it’s perfectly normal at your age. People get old, their bodies fail, and they die.”
Sorry, but that’s just too easy. I watch vital, intelligent people who participate fully in living, people making a real contribution in their retirement years, applying their experience and expertise to creating a richer, more satisfying world. I see people who make art and music and theater and who engage in intellectual inquiry and impassioned discourse suddenly become helpless, ineffectual, and inert when illness and disease infiltrate.
Overcome by pain and fear, passively enduring myriad medical procedures, they wither. Eventually, they surrender, leaving us to wonder: why does it have to be so hard? Why can they not just drift off in peace when their time has come?
And the surviving partner? Some curse their misfortune. Others give thanks for the blessed years of sharing they’d been given. All are floating, without compass, in a void.
Family gathers. Reunions after years-long absences where conversation skips past superficial niceties to catch up on emotional and personal news. We can do that: we are family.
The house is not empty yet. Children and their spouses, grandchildren, neighbors, cousins fill it with supportive love. They are there to help with funeral arrangements, legal matters, and disposition of property. But they have lives to manage – work and home and community obligations. So the house is empty now. Fearfully quiet. The bed is far too big. The surviving spouse is faced with the foreign state of Singleness. That’s the part so hard to imagine.
Until it happens to you.