Suddenly Solo: I Was Widowed in My 40s
In my mid-40s, with two young children to raise, I was abruptly a woman with a broken heart, and a broken life.
How do we measure loss? Against the size of the hole left in the heart, the space in the bed, the mail that comes to the house addressed to someone who is no longer there to read it at the breakfast table, glasses by the coffee cup?
No one tells you how your heart will stop in your ribcage when you happen to hear Peter Gabriel sing "I Grieve," or how to move on when you find a shopping list in his handwriting in a recipe book. The business of grief falls secondary to our responsibility to the living. The days swoon by in a hammock of sorrow and survival. Caught, as Jane Hirshfield said of grief and hope, between "the skipping rope's two ends."
Breathe. Do what you promised one another you would -- care for the young. Middle school graduations, high school honors, college applications, first dance, first kiss. And unbelievably, the children you brought into the world together, that he left you to raise, are ready to strike out on their own.
The boy has his handwriting, wears his wedding tux to the prom, uses his same dusty shaver. The girl sets her mind on medical school -- to make a difference, she says, in lives twisted by accidents even as her own has been. And as the house empties, and the noise quiets, the space that remains folds around you like battered wings. For now, the business of mourning really begins, and you understand that you have arrived at this barren place on your own.
Surrender. There is no right or wrong way to grieve. No right amount of time. You know when the sentence in your heart comes to its conclusion. Nature pushes forward. Life hooks us by our very unwillingness to give up on it.
In the wilderness north of where I live, a well-known white Trumpeter Swan returns in late winter to live in the waters of a nearby river marsh. Wildlife officers have tracked this swan for years as he and his mate raised untold generations of cygnets. Regrettably, the swan's mate died. "Solo," as the wildlife rangers then dubbed him, continued to return to the river for nearly 10 years, always alone.
One spring, Solo arrived with a new mate. But then, last winter, a swan was discovered dead near the frozen lakes, and it was feared to be Solo.
Now 33 years of age, four or five years older than swans usually live in the wild, perhaps he had grown too frail. No longer clever or nimble enough to survive the wilderness.
Late in the season, however, Solo was spotted once more on the river, his mate and three young cygnets trailing the waters after him.
Why do I tell you this? Because I have faith that nature sets an optimistic course through life. Solo found his way, or the way found him, I don't know. But I take great inner joy thinking of Solo and his new family -- the third brood now with this mate. It seems we are all an integral part of the landscape we live in, and new beginnings continually find us. Even me.
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