The innocence of the young

Amid the grief of this past summer, after the June 21 death of my wife, Jean, one of my most important emotional anchors was almost daily meetings with my two grandchildren Kayley, almost 11 and Collin, 8.

I sat drinking my coffee while they enjoyed smoothies and we explored life through their amazing lens. They played their video games a bit and then I’d call timeout for conversation. We talked about their favorite this or that and I told stories about the “old days” and they taught me how to play Minecraft. I found Minecraft a remarkable learning tool for youngsters their age. Many people fear this Generation Z will not be creative. Minecraft is the soul of creativity.

One day the conversation wandered to the fact that I was moving out of the apartment Jean and I rented even though we only spent about 11 weeks year in Minnesota. I told the kids that next summer I would stay in a Residence Inn.

I said, “You know guys, I have to be thinking about the time you two won’t want to have much to do with Grandpa in the summer.” Both Collin and Kayley looked at me as if I had a third eye in the middle of my head. They were more than incredulous and protested much. “That won’t happen Grandpa,” they said in unison.

The sweet young things have no clue about the hormones, rebellion and contrariness that will grip them in a few short years. Their parents, and I need to savor moments like that because I fear soon that will be a funny and fuzzy memory.

The problem is “onliness”

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