Spend fifty years in close quarters with another person, sleeping together by night, cooperating, conflicting, cajoling, shouting, listening, working, and playing together by day, then one day they’re gone.
My whole life was built around Diane and us and our two daughters. It all collapsed. Sixty-five years of cigarette smoke and other excesses blew her away, slowly, over two decades. When her life ended, she was released from all pain and anxiety, things she could still feel even when dementia obliterated most of her other awareness. Cancer took our oldest daughter without Diane ever knowing it.
I was released from my old life, now in ruins, needing urgently to build my life all over again. I had some help from our younger daughter, bright spirit and gadfly, our hope and concern since childhood, now my only connection to the life that was.
Surrounded by material objects and memories of the past, I was slow to see beyond them into a possible future of my own design. Before that could happen, I finally realized that to live a new life rather than continue living the old one I must change mentally and emotionally — a kind of rebirth.
Help came to me from a direction I never would have expected in the old life. I am not religious. I avoid dogma, don’t believe in supernatural forces, and I don’t understand what people mean when they talk about spirituality. Having said that, I came to understand that for my next stage of life, I needed to reach out and connect to other people.
Caring for someone with a disabling illness isolates you from the rest of society. Reconnecting is vital. I found a community of like-minded people in the nearby Unitarian Universalist Church. Beyond holding shared values, they were open, accepting, welcoming, and loving. It is exactly what I needed to begin rebuilding my life.
As they accepted me into their community, and I slowly accepted being a part of it, I began to feel a regrowth of my emotions, freed from the numbing restraint I adopted while caring for my dying love. When the little children run past in the aisle, I feel a pang from the loss of my daughter, once a child like them, but I also love their sweetness and joy. A door that was closed has reopened.