Some friends who have lost spouses talk about the overwhelming loneliness they face. I have certainly experienced that since my wife Jean’s death but there has been another bigger, more pervasive emotion for me. It’s “onliness.”
I doubt this is an original concept but onliness is bigger than loneliness. When you have been in a loving marriage for 39 years your entire operating context is “What is Jean doing now?” “I wonder if Jean is doing well now.” “I like this artist, I wonder if Jean would want to go to that concert?”
My thoughts on the weekend, our kids, retirement and even trivial things such as dinner, always revolved around Jean and me. Now that Jean is gone there is no one else to consider. It is only me. Only I can decide where I should live. Only I get to decide what I eat tonight. Only I decide when to pay bills and where I should invest.
I recently had a fairly routine medical procedure. The receptionist did her medical privacy spiel and then asked me, as such receptionists had done scores of times before, “Can we tell your medical information to anybody else?” At that moment I was singularly focused on Jean and did not give my kids the credit they deserved. All I could think about was that I didn’t want the friend who drove me to have that information. Jean was not there to share things with.
Daily, when I look over my shoulder for affirmation or comfort or even disapproval, there is no one there. It is only me, and I hate it. That is onliness and for me it is far worse than loneliness.
Excerpted from the coming book Some People Even Take them Home