A Reason To Live

(Before I go any further, I want to beg my Loyal Readers not to read anything more into my words than what they actually state. This is a philosophical discussion, written in as dispassionate a manner as I can manage given the circumstances.)

It seems to be a fact of life that when one spouse of an elderly couple dies, it’s not long before the other dies too. I haven’t looked up any actual stats for this — it’s purely an observation — but it seems that if it’s the wife that goes first, it doesn’t take long before the widower follows. It seems especially true if the couple is truly elderly — say, in their 70s or 80s, and I believe that spousal deaths “days after” (and sometimes even “hours after”) are almost a given once a couple has reached their 90s together.

I know exactly how they feel.

What I’ve figured out, speaking just for myself, is that once one is older, the death of a spouse takes away a large reason for the survivor to stay alive. The kids are grown, have left the house and are getting on with their own lives. (Which is exactly as it should be. Nobody should be held to their parents so tightly in adulthood that they can’t follow their own lives’ dreams and ambitions.)

It’s not just the lack of companionship following a spouse’s death. It’s that a large part of living involves being there for someone, to help them, care for them and (if you’re a man) protect them or (if a woman) feed them. (I speak here of a traditional couple, where roles are clearly defined and assumed with willingness and even joy. I have no idea how “modern” couples function, nor do I wish to follow that tangent here.) Once that part of the relationship has ended, what’s left is… not much. In my case, I can cook for myself, clothe myself, defend myself and generally look after myself and my needs. But so what? I’ve always been able to do all that. What a relationship means is that you can do all that, not just for yourself but for someone close to you — and it’s not a duty or obligation; it’s a pleasure to do it, to share it, and to give all that to someone you love.

And it gets worse the longer a couple has been together. In my case, The Mrs. and I were together for over twenty years, and I mean “together” in its most elemental sense: other than the (very) occasional business trip where we were forced to be apart, we were together — and I mean in the same home office, living room, bed or even on the same couch — pretty much all the time. That’s how much we enjoyed each other’s company, conversation and intimacy. If I went to the supermarket, I hurried home as soon as I was done, and if she was out of the house for whatever reason, she’d race home as well. In later years, we were inseparable, as much by choice as (towards the end of her life) by necessity, and let me stress this as strongly as I can: it was never — never — an imposition for either of us. There were no “craft rooms” or “man caves” in our home; if she needed to do some work on her sewing machine, I’d go and sit close to her, or she’d bring the machine and stuff into the family room and work there. The only time we ever declared apartheid was when I wanted to watch a Formula 1 Grand Prix race or a Chelsea football match because the noise drove her scatty, and I’d go watch it in the bedroom. (And get back to where she was, in the living room, library or kitchen the minute the event was done.)

And here’s the problem. That intimacy, that pleasure in each other’s company was forged over many, many years. I’m now in my early sixties, and probably won’t have another twenty years to forge that relationship with another human being, even if I wanted to — and right now, even setting aside my still-active mourning and pain, I don’t want to. There is a feeling of not exactly pointlessness, but of, I don’t know, maybe despair at what life holds for me in the few years remaining to me on this planet.

Of course, I have several very good, very close male friends who are not only supporting me during this shitty period of my life, but have promised to help me achieve the (very few) activities that remain on my bucket list (a topic for another time). But I’m a man, and as much as I enjoy the company of men — and I do, very much — it’s nevertheless true that male companionship is by its very nature episodic and finite: trips to the range, drive trips, hunting trips, cheery conversation over pints of beer (or pints of gin) at the pub, and so on. All of those are wonderful, and I look forward to them with great anticipation and participate in them with considerable enjoyment; but at the end of the day (or evening), I still have to go home to an empty house, an empty living room, and an empty bed. Those are the Empty Times, and they’re lousy.

This is not, by the way, a cry for female companionship. It’s just that, as an old-fashioned man, I miss the intimacy of female companionship — but at the same time, I know that the odds of me ever finding same again are depressingly slim.

I suspect that most older men feel the same way I do, deep inside, and especially so if they’ve been blessed with the same kind of relationship as I was over the past couple of decades. I can’t even begin to think of what George and Barbara Bush mean to each other, after a relationship which has lasted over seventy (!) years. What I do know is that if “Bar” dies before GHWB does, he will follow soon after. That’s not a gloomy prediction: it’s an observation based on many similar circumstances of men like him.

When you reach that stage of your life, the question any man is going to ask himself is: what’s the point of it all? Why carry on?

Hence the title of this piece, and here’s the thing. To give just a few examples, captains of industry, successful and driven politicians or endlessly-creative men do have something to keep them going: their businesses, their idealism, their creativity, whatever. They have a reason to live. But they are the exception. Most men who have lived ordinary lives (such as I) don’t have any of that to keep them going, and they die of loneliness, of a broken heart, or of just plain despair.

I need a reason to live, and other than from my writing (which, admittedly, is a strong one), at the moment it’s hard to find that reason, that purpose. As I said at the top, this is not a cri de coeur or warning of a suicidal impulse — I’m a lot stronger than that, so don’t worry. And maybe this is all just a part of mourning and dealing with the loss of a loved one; I don’t know because I’ve never been here before. I’ll probably get past this mood because I generally do — I am an even-tempered man not susceptible to mood swings; but as much as I know that “this too, will pass”, it sucks all the same. And I’ll be really honest: many artists and writers find that pain is a catalyst for their creativity, but for me, it’s hard to be creative at a time like this. It’s easier to write a blog, which is reactionary writing and commentary, than to find the impulse to pen a new novel or short story.

I understand the appeal of religion, now, to people of my age and circumstance. It must be so comforting to feel the presence of some greater power that will soothe the torture of existence, or an afterlife which promises reunion with the love of one’s life. Sadly, I still can’t go for that, despite the temptation, because it’s just not realistic.

Reality is where I live, and right now, reality is pretty fucking bleak. There’s a very good reason I chose Max Bolotov’s The Setting Sun as the header of this new blog.

34 comments

  1. Lost my dear one of 25 years – 4 years ago. Very similar story as you. First two years were real tough. Third year was some better, this year better still. Often, physical exercise or physical work seems to help more than anything. And I still have the dog she loved so much – that’s been amazingly comforting.

    Good luck sir. Hang in there. My prayers/best wishes heading your way, for whatever good they might do you. Remember – life is good, and (I believe) she still wants the best for you.

  2. Get out of yourself. Let me explain.
    I was in similar straits, and what helped me was volunteering. I started tutoring kids who needed help at a local elementary school. I helped them save their grades, and somehow that saved me. Moving the focus to someone outside myself was the key. Knowing I was needed, and doing some good in the world, right there where I could see it, is what helped me get out of the hole.
    Now, that was me, and those were my circumstances. I don’t know what that will be for you. Might not be volunteering, might not be young people, might be something I’ve got no clue about. I don’t know enough about your circumstances and abilities to advise you on specifics, but I strongly believe that serving others (face to face for me) in some way, shape or form is the key to finding the way back into the light. You’re the one to figure out what “serving others” or “moving the focus off yourself” means to you.
    Won’t lie, the light has never been as bright as before, but it’s a hell of a long way from the cold grey fog I was in when I lost her. I’m glad to be alive again.
    It also helped to realize that I was not just “me”, but I was the person I had become while we were together. A better person than before, a person she helped shape. She’s gone, but not her influence, not as long as I’m still here and doing some good.
    I’d pray for you, but I’m a nonbeliever too….I’ll toss some coin your way instead.

  3. Another one who’s been there. Lost my wife of 47 years 2 1/2 years ago. The stages of grief are all, for the post part, real. I was still grieving for months, though after a year or so a lot less. So hang in there. My faith (“religion”) helped, but no one gets a pass on the grief, not if it was a genuinely close relationship.

    Glad to see you back blogging, and I hope that will help you. Writing (not blogging, or anything online though) certainly was a major escape from the grief for me. It will be for you, too. I never really understood why you stopped blogging the way you did, but I am sure Connie would be happy with your decision to return to it as a way of dealing with your loss.

    Basil

    1. Basil,
      What has astonished me is the number of emails and messages I’ve got from people who’ve recently lost a close relative. Looks like there’s a lot of death out there — probably because my Readership demographic is a bunch of old farts like me.
      Thank you, and thank you to everyone else who has offered me such kind words, thoughts and yes, prayers too, even though I’m an atheist. I have the best Readers on the Internet.

  4. Men fade away when they lose their purpose. It’s our nature. It’s why divorce is harder on men than women.

    Look into pizzagate. The pedos are out there.

    There’s one more dragon that needs slaying.

  5. Kim,

    I dont know how often we ever interacted back in the day, but I know that I actively read your writings for many years. I was not much of an active participant on the older forum either, but have managed to become the number 2 most prolific poster on the most current iteration, so I have no life, lol… I also know BobbyK personally and have even been to his house. I guess what I am trying to say is that I have always held you in high regard even though you and I have had little personal interaction…

    My wife of 12, almost 13 years passed away suddenly back in October so I can relate to much of what you are saying here. I am a good bit younger than you, so I can’t really relate to that part of things but I certainly know what you are going through in your mourning and in your loss.

    One thing that hit me hard was less than 48 hours after they certified brain death, a formality necessary to start the organ donation process, I was out at the mall with my kids and interacted with a very attractive clerk at one of the stores. What bothered me was that I did not have my typical thought of “Damn, she is hot” I had a thought of “I wonder if she would go to dinner with me”. That threw me into a head spinning series of emotions and thoughts that I just was not ready for and it took me a while to come to grips with the idea that I was normal and these thoughts were not crazy.

    I hear a lot of people giving condolences and expressing sympathies, and while I know that is the only thing they know to do, it really becomes nothing more than platitudes after a while. I tend to fall back on what I told my teenage son the night I had to tell him that his mother was not coming home. “You ask yourself what now? Well, what now is that the sun will come up tomorrow like it did today. And if we can make it to the sunrise tomorrow, we can make it to the sunrise the day after that, and the week after that and the month after that… Knowing that each time it rises, the day will be a tiny bit easier to deal with.”

    1. The other day I was at the supermarket, and a song came over the speakers that was so catchy, I broke into a little dance. This morning I was warming up something to eat, and out of nowhere started to sob uncontrollably. I have no idea how to deal with any of this, but I’m just going to ride it out and hope for the best.

      1. Yea, the Sunday after my wife died, the day they were doing the organ harvesting, I had to go to the grocery store. Half way through my shopping trip it hit me like a truck, here I was completely torn apart in every possible way and every person within 100 yards was completely oblivious and going about their lives like nothing had happened. I was so angry, how dare they live their lives normally when this horrible thing had just happened to me… I just wanted to scream.

        Later that week, I was walking through my living room, into the bedroom and towards the bathroom and I saw a couple of her bracelets sitting on the shelf between the dining area and the kitchen, then I saw her electric toothbrush sitting in the charger on her sink, then the towel she had been using hanging from the hook on the closet wall. I just lost it, tears streaming down my face and me on the floor in the bathroom.

        It gets better, the moments like that do get less frequent but im nearing the 4 month mark and the pain has yet to disappear. Part of me hopes it never does completely… I still havent gotten rid of the toothbrush or taken the towel off the hook in the closet…

  6. I really don’t have anything profound to say that would make things right for you, but you do have my deepest sympathy. I lost my wife of twenty years about eleven years ago, and like you I was very close to her. We were both science teachers and for most of our time together we taught in adjacent rooms. I can only say that you don’t get over the loss, but you will come to an accommodation with it. The thing that helped me most was interacting with the good people around me, hopefully helping them as much as they helped me. My daughters, my grandchildren, my Sunday school class, and others pretty much kept me alive. The drugs my doctor gave me didn’t hurt either. Keep on going.

    1. Thank you for your kind thoughts. I’m keeping clear of the drugs — there’ll be a post about that topic later in the week — and so far, I’m leaving it to the occasional gin, brandy or beer to smooth off the rough edges of the day.

  7. I’ve not been where you are. I’ve seen death (CPR on my dad until the EMTs showed up and said no good), but nothing like as close as what you’ve just gone through. So, while I’m sincerely pulling for you, take these with a grain of salt.

    No big life decisions for 6 months or so.

    Maybe resurrect the NoR, aimed at younger people?

    A dog could provide something to take care of that would give you unconditional love.

    If you come through here again, give me a ring, and let’s have breakfast or dinner or a beer or something again.

    And now, I’m scared of BobbyK.

  8. Hits pretty close to home. Dad’s 94 and had 65 years with mom until last Friday. But they saw it coming even if they didn’t tell us. She got two extra years with us on oxygen. Dad was a preacher so it’s hard for him to NOT do the ceremony, since that was his role in life – but he can’t yet. He has to re-learn things she always did and managed, like how to write a check to the gas company. Don’t know how long we’ll have to spend with him, but I hope he comes up to the mountains here – I’ll have to hide the liquor since he’s a teatotaler.

  9. Don’t think we ever get past grieving for loved ones. Of course, we aren’t grieving for them, their troubles have ended. We grieve for our loss. And that just gets a little less immediate, day by day. You will find what you need and want. But every day provides us a new opportunity to experience, to love, to cherish unique moments in time. Each day gives us the chance to make a difference. May you find your purpose and peace.

  10. So glad to see you back blogging again, Kim… and my heartfelt condolences for your great loss.

    I’m now 70; Mary, my wife of 17 years died young, when she was only 47 & I was 46, of breast cancer, which had been diagnosed 9 years previously. Both of us knew it was coming, just like the two of you did. That’s really hard to handle, and no matter how much you think you’re prepared for the worst- you never really are. At least I wasn’t.

    I did volunteer work- don’t know if it helped anybody else, but it sure helped me. Expect mood swings; I would feel fine one minute then think, “what am I doing, here I am smiling like nothing’s happened, but how can I forget that Mary…” and back down into the black hole I’d go. It takes time. A lot of time. I’m mostly recovered now, but sometimes it still hits me when I least expect it to- but now it’s just a pang, not the crippling pain it was at first.

    Writing, and this blog where you interact with people, is maybe the best thing you can do. I tried to isolate myself, and that didn’t work very well for me. If there’s anything at all I can do to help- please let me know.

    I sure enjoyed your old blog, and still have a lot of your writings stashed away; I’m so glad that you’re continuing!
    And I promise never to mention anything about using the library wi-fi when it’s closed! 😉

  11. Kim, my dad lost his wife (mom) at age 60. They were inseparable and it hit him hard, hit me hard too but I was 4000 miles away and on a whole other path in life. He kept working a couple of years then turned to his hobbies and enjoying the home he built. Dogs, cats, parrots and a housekeeper kind of held it all together until he was out of the grief stage and back on an even keel. I am mid 60’s now and he has been gone 16 years, still have twinges over that loss. We all deal with loss in our own way and seem to have great resilience providing we don’t retreat into the darkness. I have followed the path of the father, many hobbies, interests and curiosity about every fool thing that comes across my sight. Seems to be a good formula.

    Would very much enjoy an opportunity to meet up with you and other fine folks that have corresponded over the years (many on the Rott, old NFO, Brigid and so many more). Plan to travel about the country at leisure. I suspect wife will retire once she observes how I take it . As one mentioned before, hang in there brother from another mother (we are both from the southern hemisphere near the same latitude with a bit of Atlantic in between).

  12. FWIW, this is also the eternal dilemma of terminally single folks middle-aged folks with no kids. After all the partying and material self-indulgence is over and you’re left with reality, a few wrinkles, a college degree, and some sagging adipose, it’s like “Okay…what’s the effing point?”

    Come to realize that if you’re breathing then there’s a point. The point is to overcome, as long as possible, the big dirt nap. Kick the ass of mortality as long as you can. And try to make the world a better place while you’re doing it, however you do it.

    Think that’s what Connie would want?

    Some people do it by volunteering or investing themselves in a social cause or some charities. Meals on Wheels and stuff like that is appealing.

    Some do it by rescuing animals (big fan of this myself).

    IMO you can do it by boosting classical liberalism…by giving common sense hell to progressive libtards, Marxists, and various other fascists (sorry, forgot the redundancy alert there). Work to deliberately and relentlessly undermine those who think they are our betters and who seek to impose a new world order. They *are* out there and they are relentlessly working to achieve their own aims. Only relentless vigilance will keep them from succeeding. Where we are now in our cultural evolution, the pen is still mightier than the sword. You have a mighty pen and a ready-made audience than can only get bigger.

    Also, there’s your kids. It’s nice that they’re not dependent upon you but they’ll damn sure miss you when you go. Be nice to spare them that pain for as long as you reasonably can, don’t you agree?

    Best to you. I have faith you’ll figure it out. 🙂

    1. Ah Norma, I think I’ll be okay. I have the occasional moments when I fall into the black pit, but I come out again. Today was a black pit day — this morning — but then I got phone calls from two old and dear friends, and another came round for dinner. Now I’m fine — perhaps the Scotch with the spaghetti Bolognese had a little to do with it — but I have to tell you, and everybody else, that reading your words on this website is JUST like getting a phone call from an old and dear friend.

      Thank you all. This could be the saving of me.

      1. So glad you’re feeling better! Companionship, scotch, meat, and starchy carbs will definitely do that. 🙂

        Another thought:

        You can always ask yourself on any given day in any given mood

        WWCW? (What Would Connie Want?)

        Certainly not despair over her demise, or a hastening of your own to be with her. Correct?

        Also we know that CWNW (Connie Would Not Want) self-immolation in incendiary rhetoric, but seems like you’re maybe not as much into that these days, either. Which is good. Freedom is one thing, self-destruction entirely another. Myself, the older I get, the short list I have always kept of truly evil cocksuckers who need to be very, very afraid if I reach the point where I have nothing to lose matters less and less in the face of things like personal integrity that really count. (Diagram that sentence, will ya! :p)

        Anyway, enough o’ that. Just glad you’re feeling better. It’s fun you’re back. 🙂

  13. Kim

    You know me, and you know I am where you are now. A few days ago would jhave been our 25th wedding anniversary..I had such plans..gone.

    She is sleepng now and I miss her every single day..the pain becomes manageable. You ask why go on. We have no choice. We have to, for good or for ill, that’s what she would have wanted me to do. She didnt want me mired in sorrow, crying every day, helpless, lost.

    I can go on, fight, try to make some kind of future, or sit there and let the grief have my soul. My family wont let me surrender, my heart wont let me go. We have to live.

    Only that way will my love, hope, strngth and memories have any meaning.

    One day at a time, one breath at a time..one tear at a time. All we can do.

    Tomorrow? Will take care of itself.

    1. LCB,
      The problem is that I KNOW all that stuff. I know about the time, I know about the pain that won’t go away, but just gets attenuated, and I know that I have to carry on. That’s my brain. Now tell that to my heart.

  14. Welcome back, Kim. I guess I qualify as one of the “old hands” having been a reader of your old site. I was truly very saddened to hear of Connie’s passing.

    24 years ago, my wife died from acute leukemia. A very rare and fast acting form of the disease. I can empathize with all that you are going through. After my wife died, I was lost. I went through all the symptoms that you have so far described as well as too many of your other fans and readers. The worst part of the whole ordeal was dealing with the “triggers” or as I described them, ghosts. All the little things we see or do on a daily basis that remind us of our loved one and the sudden inevitable pain of realization that they are now gone. Sometimes it was the smallest of things that brought on the ghosts, and I would find myself on the verge of breaking down.

    My best friend saw the pain I was in. He is of the school of thought that you don’t let a wound sit and fester. You excise it, quickly and dramatically. He came to my house one day and (figuratively) kicked me to get me moving. He made me clean out the house of all the items that were hers that were no longer needed. Clothes, bathroom items, books and magazines, etc. Pictures were put into an album until I was able to look at them without pain. A few precious items were put into a trunk. The only thing I kept of my wife’s was her damned coffee cup from the company she worked for (it’s sitting here on the desk next to me now, having just finished my first cup of coffee). My friend’s form of therapy helped. It didn’t lessen the pain, but it did make the recovery period much shorter.

    I don’t know if this advice will help. I do know that there are a lot of us out here that are glad to have you back among us and we will help in any way we can.

    Ray

    1. Ray,
      Thankee for all the kind words, and I’m truly sorry that you’ve had to go through this same tragedy. I’m blessed with kids who’ve started to help me clear out Connie’s stuff, so I’m on the way. I’ll be selling the house, so there’s added impetus to get rid of stuff. I’ve found a home for some of her things, and the rest — let’s just say that Goodwill and the Salvation Army have been getting a LOT of useful stuff.

  15. I’m glad to see you back in the blogging biz, Kim. I read both of your previous blogs, but I lost track of you and Connie after you closed out the last one. I was saddened the other day when I read about her death; please allow me to add my condolences to the list.

    Over the last 19 years I’ve lost both sets of grandparents. In 1998 my maternal grandfather died due to a stroke after having surgery to deal with a brain aneurysm which had not yet burst. 9 years later, his wife died (renal failure after many years of high blood pressure). On the other hand, my paternal grandmother died after a long battle with lung cancer in 2013. 13 months later, her husband died (suddenly due to some sort of infection; he went from dinner with family in good spirits and reasonable health, to dead, in less than 2 days). Both sets of grandparent were in their 80’s; my paternal set had hit 60 years of marriage a couple years previous to my grandmother’s death, and my maternal set was also well over 50 years married.

    As a point of comparison, my wife has lost 3 of her 4 grandparents over the last 18 years or so. The first was her paternal grandfather, pneumonia on top of asthma, emphysema, and latent lung cancer which was discovered after his death (in 1999 I believe; he was in his late 70’s to early 80’s). Then her maternal grandfather died in his early 90’s due to stroke. Her maternal grandmother lived several more years before finally dying in her early 90’s. Her paternal grandmother is still with us, in her late 80’s; she’s been a widow about 18 years now. If memory serves, the lengths of their marriages were similar to those of my grandparents.

    My own experiences, as well as a number of other deaths I’ve read about, do certainly match with what you have observed.

  16. Kim –

    So sorry for your loss. But happy to see you back to writing. I always enjoyed your musings a few years ago – I have taken a long break as well, but just getting back to it.

    From the female perspective, with going on 27 years married to my 60-something spouse, I can tell you that we’re pretty close too – but we do have a couple mostly grown (and employed) daughters living with us. We’re at the age, though, when death does begin to surround us. My husband’s parents have long been gone, my own still with us for the moment, and I can hear and see in my husband the worries niggling in his mind – fear of losing me, or of leaving us. He is my best friend; losing him would be a huge blow. Knowing, however, that he experienced loss of a spouse through death as a young man, I do not wish that for him again in this life. Time is hopefully on my side, being the younger by eight years; however, we aren’t given any guarantees in this life for sure. But I love him enough, and know that my life is busy enough and full enough that the empty times for me would be less stressful for me than for him.

    Keep writing, we’ll keep reading.

    1. LBF,
      Thankee for the kind words, and you’ve given me an idea for a future post. Thankee again, for that.

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