Home alone. I managed to dodge my greatest fear for almost seven years—being sick at home by myself. Few widows want their children to physically care for them, but the alternatives seem worse to me—a stranger in my house who might rifle through my papers or steal small items, a rehab or extended care facility. I simply am not ready to be dependent! Actually, I hate even the idea of it.
This first experience is not illness but elective outpatient surgery for a torn meniscus, when the patient cannot be home alone for the first 48 hours. Modern medical procedures and Medicare policies don’t seem to differentiate between patients who live with someone else and those who live alone. Given the choice, I would have stayed at the hospital until I could care for myself.
Diagnosed last September, I looked for a time that had minimal impact on both my and my daughter’s calendars. I waited until after all the holiday season celebrations and then went to her house to stay those first two nights. Fortunately for us both, I was never in enough pain to require painkillers that left me immobilized and incoherent, so I didn’t need someone at my bedside all night. Thanks to a borrowed walker, I was back on my feet almost immediately, all the while seeing the walker as a symbol of age and infirmity. I know—I have too much false pride.
Two days after surgery, cleared by the orthopedist to come home and care for myself, I returned to my empty house—another scary prospect. I was blessed by a BFF with empathy and a medical background who showed up with dinner and stayed and spent the night with me. I didn’t “need” her, but her presence was a huge security blanket. My daughter-in-law in Dallas was on standby to come if necessary, and I was thankful that I did not have to call for her. I am deeply conscious that time spent caring for me is time away from spouses and children.
It takes a village. Neighbors brought soup and checked on me daily. Now that getting to the front door is less difficult, I look forward to the arrival of promised meals and to the company of friends who bring them. I am managing quite well. And I’m learning. I will be a better friend to my single friends in the future.
I am freshly reminded of what I have lost. Lev provided tender care and concern, a touch that is irreplaceable. I recall various surgeries, injuries and illnesses through the years of our marriage. When I was scheduled for major surgery in January 1974, his Christmas gifts to me were beautiful gowns and bed jackets, a cream wool robe printed with delicate blue flowers, an old-fashioned wicker bed tray. Any time I was sick I could count on his showing up by my bed in the evening, tray in hand, with hot tea and toast or crackers, perhaps a flower cut from the garden in a tiny bud vase. Just another item on the list of intangible losses that widowhood brought. Family and friends have met all my needs, and I am deeply grateful. It simply doesn’t stop me from missing Lev.
If you’re single, how do you cope with illness and the like? What is the best thing a friend can do for you?
Note about my blog: Between the craziness of Christmas and approaching surgery, I experienced writer’s block for the first time. Usually, I can churn out 500 words in my sleep, but not lately. During the weeks of recovery, I hope to get back on a daily writing schedule. I plan to reduce my blogs to twice a week in order to complete revisions to my book, RECLAIMING JOY: A PRIMER FOR WIDOWS.