For days now They Dance Alone, a song from Sting, has been playing in my head. It begins with the words, Why are these women dancing on their own? Why is there sadness in their eyes? It refers to those who were widowed by the war of revolution, but it might apply to anyone who has lost a spouse.
I’ve always imagined that I have enough empathy to truly understand what it is like to lose that person who has been one’s best friend, soulmate, lover. I thought I had the concept down pat until my own husband had a stroke. Just seeing him become so vulnerable nearly brought me to my knees, and even though he is still with me I find myself constantly looking for him and listening to him breathe at night. Having him gone forever is unimaginable. I now know that I did not ever truly understand what it has been like for friends and relatives whose spouses or partners are already gone. I now feel the raggedness of the hole that punctures the heart. I think of those who dance alone constantly.
I remember the devastation that my mother endured after my father died. Only now do I think that I am moving closer to understanding the extent of her emotional breakdown. I find myself wondering how she found the strength to pull herself together. I suspect that it was only her love for her children that pushed her to rise up from the despair that she must surely have felt.
Not long ago I attended the funeral of a young man who once lived next door to me. I still think of him as a cute and friendly teenager who was always eager to help. He was far too young to die and his widow was bereft. I have since followed her on Facebook and she struggles every single day to continue without him. Now more than ever I somewhat comprehend what she is experiencing.
And so it goes. There is the young widow whose husband left on a business trip and never returned, the neighbor whose husband was sick for years but somehow overcame each challenge to his health, our dear friend whose wife died of cancer. There is my cousin whose husband passed just before Thanksgiving after years of fighting to survive heart failure, the colleague whose spouse finally fell victim to heart disease. I suddenly have a far deeper kinship with them. I feel the visceral attack that such an incident engenders.
I’ve also been thinking of the people that I know who are caring for spouses who are very very sick. A long time friend literally devotes every hour of every day to her husband who had a major stroke that left him unable to do anything for himself and attacked his brain so violently that he suffers from early onset of dementia. I have been watching the courage and grace of my son-in-law’s mom who has spent months visiting one doctor after another with her husband. Her life has been upended and yet she keeps a smile on her face and demonstrates a level of optimism that inspires everyone. Still another friend has been caring for a husband with Alzheimer’s for many years now. She literally has to plan for someone to be with him each time she leaves home. I also have a cousin who has been watching over her husband who has Parkinson’s disease for longer than I can remember. These women are so remarkable and before now I underestimated the love and devotion that they so generously share with their husbands. It’s so difficult to think of the fear that they have somehow managed to subdue as they watch their loved ones suffer through their illnesses.
The old saw that we sometimes see our lives flash in front of us is all too real. During the days since my husband’s stroke I have literally thought back on the first time that I met him when he was so handsome and enchanting and I got that tingle of love each time I saw him. I’ve had flashbacks of him holding our girls when they were babies. I’ve remembered the times when he helped me hold it together when my mother was very sick. I’ve relived every single trip that we ever took. It is as though the chronicles of our time together have played in my mind like a biographical movie. In my heart I have laughed and cried and always in the end I worry, which is sadly so much a part of my nature. I once again have been feeling that little tingle of unadulterated love just at the sight of him. I also find myself thinking of all of those people who dance alone.
I just attended a wedding in Cancun where two people began their lives together. They celebrated their love and I thought even then of how happy I was to be there with the love of my life. In just a little over a year we will have been married for fifty years. He has been the most important person in my world for so long now that it feels impossible to ever be without him.
I have great faith that his stroke was only a warning of what might be if we are not more careful. We will change our ways and do everything possible to help him to heal and become stronger. It will be a partnership as we work our way back to a healthy lifestyle. Our friends and family will be with us. Of this I am certain. We are surrounded by prayers and positive thoughts and love. Still I feel guilty that I never fully appreciated the gravity of loss until this moment. I was cavalier in believing that I was somehow so sensitive that I might comprehend what they were feeling. Now I know that I wasn’t even close. I need to send lots of love to the people whose hearts have been rent in two. I have to congratulate them on being so strong, often without the level of compassion that they really needed. Now I know why there has been sadness in their eyes. I feel how awful it must be to dance alone. I promise to remember them.