The Lonely Hours

dining_alone-2In the hurly-burly world of 50+ hour workweeks, we complain about never-having-enough-time, with transporting kids to soccer & dance & football & piano practice and weekends that feel over in ten minutes, and another fast-food fix tonight even though we promised to make a homemade meal and the church and Rotary and the blood bank calling about the Sunday school meeting on Wednesday night, the pancake breakfast on Saturday morning and donating our blood on Monday afternoon . . . and on and on and on it goes. Will we ever get any time to ourselves?

And then your spouse dies. Your beloved is buried.

Just “yesterday,” the hours between the workday’s end (5:00pm or so) and blessed bedtime (10:00pm or so) were filled with meals, chatting with our spouse, watching a favorite show, walking the dog and catching up with work. It was a relaxed time; a precious time. Now it’s the worst time. These are . . . the Lonely Hours. Who wants to eat alone? Every television show seems dull and trivial. The news has as much relevance as moldy bread.

Once, a little “me time” seemed so elusive. Now, there’s only “me.” Maybe you’re retired and that hurly-burly work world is a thing of the past . . . but at least you can fill the day with things to do. But night comes. Maybe you’re still teaching, nursing, pushing papers or making high-powered executive decisions (and keeping busier than before your spouse’s death), and things aren’t awful as long as the sun shines. But night comes. There’s no magic solution for the Lonely Hours. I can only be honest and say: these can be the lousiest, longest stretches of the day. Nonetheless, I offer two suggestions and—in writing and posting these words—invite you who are reader to add your own ideas.

First, in a grief group, a gentleman shared about his volunteer job. A local hospital needed folks to provide comfort for parents and infants in their neonatal unit. He did the necessary volunteer training, with the goal to hold and rock and care for an ill or premature newborn as part of the hospital’s extensive support system. He asked to be scheduled for the early evening, a time when the hospital struggled to get volunteers. He intentionally sought a meaningful task during the Lonely Hours. Before his spouse’s death, he would have never considered this “work.” And he knew he wasn’t helping the babies as much as they were helping him.

Second, what if friends or family members met at a restaurant (or a home) once a week? Whatever regular time and place is determined, plan a dinner (not lunch) where you share a meal and conversation with at least one other person. If you go to a restaurant, order more than you can eat for leftovers. If you prepare a meal or if a meal is prepared for/with you, make extra. Not only do you connect with another, but there’ll also be a bonus meal or two for later.

These two ideas are probably better attempted months (or more) after the death, but both bluntly confront a difficult part of the day.

So . . . what activities have worked for you, or for someone you know?

The Lonely Hours are tough, but they may worsen if ignored, if we assume the passage of time will eventually return us to “normal.” Time does not heal. It’s what we do with the time that creates the possibility of healing and of piecing together a “new normal.”

(Hospice vigorously protects a patient’s privacy. I’ll take care with how I share my experiences. Any names used are fictitious. Events are combined and/or summarized.)

Image from here.

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