Packet Sea Foam: Widower ponders life's changes

January 24, 2011 

Thanks to David Kerins of Sun City Hilton Head for sharing some very personal thoughts.

"I hope the piece helps someone," he said.

Lifelines

By David Kerins

The answering machine blinks on and off. Two messages. Who is reaching out to me? Is it someone in charge? Is it an omnipotent, all-knowing Father or my personal angel? Is it my deceased wife sending a message?

I'm in a new place in my circle of life and am not happy.

"Give it time," is the advice I receive. "Everyone has their own timetable working through grief."

I attend meetings of the church bereavement group. We new singles are alike now, but different stages of grief are etched in the faces around the table. For some, spouses have died unexpectedly while others after years of illness. Tears flow. These widows and widowers are new acquaintances. We come together to comfort each other (which is really impossible), but we discover we're not insane -- others share our tangled thoughts and weaknesses. My problem is common: an inability to make a decision. Should I go to the store or not? Watch TV or not? Take a nap, go for a walk, listen to music, call someone and go out to eat, stay home and take a shower?

"Till death do us part" is a reality. After 60 years, part of me has died. Everything reminds me of her. A song -- not our song, but any song -- will have a line about love, loneliness and sorrow, and I'm overwhelmed with memories of particular moments.

I find a note in her handwriting and I'm close to tears. The TV plays reruns of shows she liked and I hear her laugh. Sometimes I feel her presence. I work on the Internet and type an answer to a research problem when I feel her presence in the next room. Three times I'm on the verge of calling her in to see what I've written. A strange and eerie feeling!

'I'M FINE'

I think about my new situation in the context of our culture. I'm told you have no useful function in society; what you produce determines your value. Single, elderly widows and widowers have little to offer. We are part of a family, and our children love us and are concerned with our well-being.

They want us to be safe, preferably with other seniors. They, and other young, active, productive members of society, have their own problems: jobs, budgets and their children. Their lives are full and busy. Their beloved elderly are an added and serious problem. We are in the way.

Perhaps we play one valuable role. If our grandchildren are very young and share time with us, they might retain some fond memories.

If bright and attentive, they might retain some snippets of wisdom. Time is limited, though, because the young want to be with the young. Visiting Grandpa or Grandma becomes a chore.

You think I've painted too bleak a picture of our families and the love that envelops us. Here is a typical weekly phone conversation:

"How are you doing, Dad?" my daughter asks. She is one of five children who dearly love me and call each week. All five are concerned about me. They often comment about assisted living.

"I'm fine," is my appropriate answer.

Does each child really want to know how I feel? Suppose I answer, "I feel like crap; it's lonely. It's a doubles world, and I don't fit in. I'm alone after 60 years, and the silence is deafening. I go out to eat and the restaurant promotion is 'buy one and get one free.'

"I have no appetite and can't finish one meal; now they offer me a free one.

"I say, 'I'll take the free one, and you can charge the next single who comes in.'

" 'We can't do that, sir.'

" 'May I have one at half price?'

" 'No, we can'T DO THAT.' "

An enduring love

A widow shows interest in a relationship with me and I mention that in our church bereavement group, I'm reminded, "We know right from wrong. Let your conscience be your guide." I think the church is still not big on pleasure for pleasure's sake. I have another thought: Wouldn't the children be shocked?

Imagine hormones raging at my age. I'm passing in a downward cycle from old age to adolescence; next I'll be a child, and finally a helpless baby. We arrive in this world nWe leave naked and hopefully with some peace.

My new life is enlightening but disconcerting. I'm not alone. There are millions of widows and widowers. It's really a national health problem for individuals and their families.

I realize families share an enduring love, but I find myself in a lonely and lost place.

I try to remember what a wise spiritual adviser told me: "You are a child of God and you're never really alone."

I cherish that thought, but it is difficult. Each time I attend Mass there are prayers for the dead and I'm reminded I'm alone. For years I attended daily Mass, but not now. Sins rear their heads at any moment and the battle between my faith and the devil is joined. Faith often loses and I wonder if I have lost the best part of me. Is the devil winning?

I push the button on the answering machine.

The first phone call is a retired nurse in the bereavement group.

"If you need anything call me."

The second call is stunning: "Mr. K. This is Margaret Walsh, a student of yours, class of 1979. I want to tell you how much you and your 'Introduction to Philosophy' course influenced my life. I'm teaching and coaching and use Viktor Frankl's book, 'Man's Search for Meaning.' The same book you used in our class. I'll leave my number. Give me a call."

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