When you are alone, take control of your time

  • My smart Coffee Cat, left, and Sheba at 3 months. These sisters and best friends are now over 7 years old.

    My smart Coffee Cat, left, and Sheba at 3 months. These sisters and best friends are now over 7 years old. Courtesy of Susan Anderson-Khleif

 
Posted2/1/2020 7:00 AM

One of the most difficult challenges after losing a beloved spouse is being alone, doing everything alone, and going everywhere alone. Well, not always literally alone because you are often with friends or family. But still going as a single.

Another type of being alone is when you lose a parent, a child, a close friend or cousin you used to talk to all the time. That leaves a big void as well.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

In my case, Baheej and I were together for 44 years and we felt like a "force" together. We have our own personalities, of course -- but everything was more enjoyable, exciting and interesting when we were together. Soul mates, for sure. We felt special, invincible, like nothing else. It was extremely hard to lose that.

So all of this remains a big loss, even seven years, going on to eight years, later -- and I imagine for the rest of my time. There are three dimensions to this: being, doing, going alone.

Now the funny aspect of this for me is that, because of our careers, we were often apart because of traveling for business or research. So we both knew how to be alone, how to travel alone, how to eat alone. He would go on long summer research trips because he was a professor and I was in corporate life. He had summers off to travel and do research. I had four weeks vacation, but that only stretches so far. And I was traveling abroad on business a lot.

Once, for almost two years, I spent half my time in India. Another couple of years I spent half my time in Brazil and Argentina -- two weeks there and two weeks at home.

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Of course, we also traveled together on vacations or I would join him to visit wherever he was in the summer. Occasionally he traveled with me on my business trips.

But the big difference was that when we traveled separately, we always came back home, or knew the other would be coming home. Years ago we actually wrote letters every day. Then, eventually, of course, we shared daily email and cellphone calls.

In fact, after Baheej died, I used to trick to comfort myself by pretending he was just on a European research trip and would be home next month. Strange, but it helped. I can still imagine him walking through the door, smiling, glad to be home.

These recent holidays reminded me that it's so different going everywhere alone. Parties, shopping, cooking, holiday parties, nice TV movies -- all alone. Of course I was with friends and family who are a Godsend. And at home, not completely alone because I have my two affectionate kitties, Sheba and Coffee Cat.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

I don't mean the kitties are any substitute for Baheej, but they are sweet little beings, padding about the house, and they usually follow me from room to room at various times of day. They're always around. I was retired by the time I got them, so I raised them with lots of affection, attention and protein. They were born two weeks after Baheej died. They are sisters and I am sure he sent them to me. He knew I wanted kitties.

Funny how it happened. My friend Jolie also knew I wanted kitties, so one day she said a colleague at work had some young kittens to give away. The colleague lived on a farm way out in Belvedere, about an hour west of me. So one Saturday that December we took a cat-carrying case and went out to look at them. They were so cute, only 3 months old, one a calico tan and white, one a black and white. The farm woman said the black and white cat was a boy and the tan was a girl. She said they were best friends and slept together. So I took them both.

When I took them to the vet -- Dr. Aimee Maras at the wonderful Dundee Animal Hospital -- for their first checkup and shots, she said, "Oh no, they are both girls, sisters." She's been taking care of them ever since.

When Baheej and I were working and traveling, caring for cats was not possible, but now it's a joy.

Living alone is a huge change and problem for many. After a long marriage and years of routine, such as cooking for the spouse or family, the days after a death seem very empty. Some face the additional challenge of moving to a new neighborhood or apartment or even a different state where they just don't know people. This can be very isolating and lonesome. What to do all day?

Actually, I personally never had this problem because I had so many projects waiting in the wings, and I have a tolerance for being alone. But I know people who don't know what to do with all those hours alone. Basically one needs to build a new everyday life.

Reach out to groups and organizations that interest you. Get a nice pet. Get to know the neighbors better. Invite people over for supper or snacks, or just coffee.

The point is: Time must be taken into your own hands. Building a new everyday life is a big part of coping with and managing grief. It may take some doing but it can be done.

This may lead you into new activities, new groups and new places. Try it, you'll like it. And don't forget the idea of having a pet cat or dog. They are fun and entertaining and they bring cheer. And we all need cheer.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at sakhleif@comcast.net or see her blog longtermgrief.tumblr.com. See previous columns at www.dailyherald.com/topics/Anderson-Kleif-Susan.

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