This story is by Aaba RaDale and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
My husband, Ron and I had reached senior citizenship and were rapidly approaching retirement. Almost time to relax, breathe easy, to start the rest of our lives together. Just one more year. Wrong. I thought all the i’s were dotted and the t’s were crossed. Then life hit so hard it knocked the breath out of me.
We had just returned from a thoroughly enjoyable road trip seeing our families and friends. As we traveled, we laughed and talked about family issues, and determined all the things we needed to resolve to be completely ready for retirement. Nothing was slowing our progress and our excitement continued to grow.
As we pulled into the drive, we were welcomed by the cool air, the scent of the pine trees and wildflowers, and our son’s dog. What a great feeling. Getting home, collapsing in our favorite overstuffed chairs for what felt like hours. Then, a long hot shower and curling up in our own bed after ten days of roaming. It felt heavenly and sleep came quickly for us both. The next few days were simple and relaxing. No demands. No need to go anywhere. Then it was time to return to our normal routines.
Morning came with the brightest sunshine. Little did I know it would be my darkest day. I woke up early, as usual, sensed Ron was still sleeping and decided not to disturb him. The previous night he remarked about still being tired from our long trip. I went down to start coffee, and search to see what we had to fix for breakfast, before readying for work. Taking my time, I enjoyed my first cup of coffee and watched the birds play in the birdbath.
I decided to start breakfast and called to Ron several times. He didn’t answer. I didn’t hear the shower running so I went up to find him still in bed and not responding to me. He felt cool to the touch as I shook him in my frantic attempts to arouse him. Scared to death, my brain was a blank, I was shaking so badly I could hardly hold the phone to call 911. I’m a nurse. One would think I would know how to respond. But No.
While the EMTs unsuccessfully worked feverishly to revive him for what seemed like hours, I was so stunned, I could hardly breathe. He was gone. By the time my husband was taken to the ambulance and driven away, I was a basket case. The sadness and pain were devastating. Then the guilt crept in and took over. Had I waited too long to see what was taking him so long? Why didn’t I know something was wrong? Why hadn’t I done something? How could I just stand there?
My closest friend, Shirley, arrived almost before I got the phone hung. She helped me know who to call and what needed to be done. She herself had lost her husband a few years prior. Without a blink she guided me through those first few days. She reminded me which calls I had already made, which were still to be made, and directions to the mortuary and what to do when I got there. What I do remember most was that she was there. Taking me for walks, reminding me to eat, take my meds, and rest, although sleep evaded me. Even so, the next week or so have remained a blank for me. All I remember clearly was the merging of time and the feeling was isolation. Three weeks from that day would have been our 40th anniversary.
So alone in this big house we shared so many memories together. Here where our three sons and their friends used to run in and out and be in the way. Now, no kids were coming and going. No noise to shush. No music or TV playing to turn down. Sheer solitude. I’m sure family came, and friends were here several times but all I could feel was the loneliness and isolation from all of their condolences and best wishes. Was I polite? Was I short or rude to them? Did I even acknowledge them? And now I was alone. Isolated from the life I had known for so long. Now what was I going to do with my life? Friends were drifting away one-by-one. I had no clue if I was going to survive the loneliness.
Days became weeks and weeks became years trying to get my life together. I realized what a sad and lonely time this period of isolation had on my life. Concentration was a thing of the past and as the depression crept in and returning to work as a productive participant wasn’t happening, so I decided to take my retirement early. My wake-sleep cycle was out of whack. Previously I had slept well, then I found myself waking up ever hour or two and having difficulty getting back asleep. I lost 40 pounds the first year. My lifetime enjoyment of preparing food in our newly remodeled chefs’ kitchen and even eating became an unpleasant chore. I could afford to lose some weight until I started looking emaciated. With the mind and body changes anxiety and fatigue became unmanageable. It was hard to believe what was real and what was figment. I found my previously active self become complacent and not wanting to leave the house.
Leaving the big home, we had together and relocating to a beach town, which was closer to where the boys lived with their own families made a difference in my life. It was a blessing to be close to my young granddaughters who added so much joy to my life. Finally, my trusted friend reminded me of the painting hobby I had always enjoyed. I was like a child in a toy store finding just the right paints, canvases, and brushes. Taking some painting classes, joining a senior dance program, and finding a new church family have all given me great strength. I have begun making friends that are truly friends. The painting and the dancing replaced the loneliness with encouragement and happiness.
Life feels good to me again. It must be. I smile for no apparent reason, hum to myself and look forward to activities with my new friends. I became active, social, and hopefully more pleasant to be around. The lonely days have been replaced with a busy calendar. Although there are still days when I sit and stare at the sky, watch the trees swaying in the wind, or walk by the water’s edge in loneliness. I can talk about my loss now without breaking down. Now I am surviving and have lost most of the isolation feeling. At the end of the day, I am grateful that my memories keep me warm, make me smile, and help me get on with my life.
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