I have never been lonely in my life – until now.
I had never understood loneliness or how it can eat people up. I’ve always been so busy with work, dozens of projects in process, and a constant pile of thoughts and ideas in my head, that any downtime was spent “getting stuff done”.
When life hit hard (and it did, too often), I used those projects and that busy-ness to stay focused on the future, and to get through the tough days.
When life was good, the ingrained habit of always being busy would continue.
I was perfectly happy working on some project in bed, while my husband was sprawled out, reading a book from which he’d quote passages to me, while the dogs were sleeping next to us, and some oldies television show was playing. It felt good; it felt calm. It felt right.
But now he’s gone, and I feel so alone, so lonely, I can hardly bear it.
He’s not at the foot of the bed as I write this. He’s not in his man-cave, eagerly researching whatever piece of military history or science has suddenly taken his fancy. He’s not out on the back deck, with one foot up on the long built-in bench, smoking a cigarette and pondering mysteries and other ideas. He’s not endlessly throwing a ball to our Millie. He’s … not. He’s not here.
I think of all the people out in the world, those who have been so supportive and who have offered to do anything I need to help me get through this time. People who have invited me to their homes, who have offered to drive me places or just spend time with me.
And I appreciate them.
But they are not my husband. They are not my Johnny.
My house is big. At 3,000 square feet it has loads of room and is quite a lovely house, although there’s a fair amount of maintenance needed that we never got done. (I didn’t understand before why John didn’t complete a lot of projects he could have/should have done, although I rarely said anything to him about them. Now I know that he didn’t have the energy, and worse, he didn’t think they mattered because he might not be around to complete them.)
It’s big and it’s full of our stuff. My stuff. My husband’s stuff. He is everywhere I look.
I spend all my time in our bedroom.
Sometimes I watch television, but it doesn’t interest me. I can’t really read, although I’m trying to get through some kids’ books that my high school best friend gave me – she had known John longer than I did and these were books she had introduced him to when they were kids.
I call on-line counselors. I search Facebook groups for insights and support. I write blogs.
I go to work – as a social worker – and come home. I try to have an interest in our antiques shop and our used book store, but he’s everywhere in those shops, and after a few hours, the pain and anxiety build up and I have to leave.
I try to work on The Warrior Project but now that I have most of the background done and it’s time to make it happen, I’m stuck. I know what I need to do next. I just can’t seem to do it.
Throughout everything is this horrible, pervasive feeling of loneliness.
We joked more than once that we would be perfectly happy living on an island somewhere with no other people around, just the two of us. It wasn’t really a joke; John liked being around other people more than I need to, but he was too sensitive to the particular issues each person would carry.
If a customer came into the shop and seemed irritable for any reason, it wounded him. He would take it on as a slam against him personally. He wanted to be kind; he wanted to be helpful; he wanted to make people happy. And those who brought their own pain to the table were hard for him to handle, although they probably never knew it.
Under it all, he was lonely. He told me this, but in the stoic, gruff man way he had. I didn’t realize how very lonely, because I didn’t really understand the concept. I did what I could to be there more for him, but my social work job demanded that I be out evenings… and those were the times when he was most alone.
He once forcefully told me I had to change my schedule and be home evenings… my response was that this was unreasonable; I’d do what I could but there was no way to meet the job’s billable requirements and be home every evening. I did in fact tell my supervisor at work that I needed to be home more and made some adjustments to my evening schedule. And I began applying for daytime jobs, but with no luck there.
When months later, he said it again, that he was lonely and needed me home, I immediately changed my schedule so I was home every night.
At that point, it didn’t matter what the job needed from me. My husband needed me more.
It seemed to be working, at least for a while. He was eating more, and he seemed happier. We spent more time together. We made love more.
But it didn’t last long. I guess it was a case of too little, far too late. Within three weeks, my husband – the man I loved more than anyone else in this world except my daughter – was dead of suicide.
And now I’m living with this unbearable sense of loneliness.
If this is how he felt when I wasn’t physically with him, if he was so sad and depressed, and in so much chronic bodily pain that he needed me right there to feel my love and support, and to keep him from making desperate choices, then I am destroyed thinking of how I failed him.
Logically, I know – and several therapists have pointed out – that I could not be with him all the time. The sheer force of my will and my love could not have sucked that loneliness out of him, no matter how I wish it could have.
He put too much faith and responsibility on me and our love, and not enough in the medical field which might have helped him.
Because he didn’t trust the medical professionals, he refused the help he could have received.
And now I’m living without him, and it’s so very sad and wrong and unfair. And I’m so very lonely.
In memory of my beloved husband John Kelly Snyder… 20 Sept 1956 – 21 Oct 2016.
The Warrior Project is a warm, welcoming drop-in center for those living with extreme emotional and/or physical pain coupled with hopelessness, and a resource for families and friends fearing for the life of, or grieving the loss of, the person they love so much.
My Johnny was a true warrior, fighting demons no one else could see. I thought he was the strongest man in the world, and perhaps he was, but tragically, the demons got the better of him.
The name of this project is in no way intended to be reflective of, or piggy back off, Wounded Warriors which serves those wounded after September 11, 20o1. Like too many others, John was a warrior long before then.
Fair winds and following seas, Husband.