January 22, 2019

Throughout my thirty-seven first marriage that I ended in 2012, I’d measured my success in life with the reassurance that I would never divorce. When I did divorce, though, I knew from the beginning it was the right thing to do, even while acknowledging it could never be a good thing.

Unlike that divorce, widowhood was thrust upon me quite unexpectedly. Throughout what turned out to be an all too short marriage to Carolyn, I’d never expected I’d be living my life as a widow. Yet, when it happened, my sorrow over losing Carolyn – from the first moment I kissed her cold cheek for the last time – has been buoyed more by the happy years we were able to share than the ones ahead we were never going to have.

Divorce and widowhood, for me anyway, have not been the dark, permanent stains of pain and sadness that they can be. They’re both nullities, an emptying of a life experience, rather than a wound that will not heal or a scar that won’t fade away. And it’s not because I’m an unfeeling or cold-hearted son-of-a-bitch (though I’m aware there may be a contingent who would disagree).

When I divorced, it was because I’d finally come to see that my marriage and my heart had become empty. When I lost Carolyn, my heart was not broken; again it was empty. Pain and sorrow did not fill my heart; it was simply a nullity. And what I learned in my year of being alone after Carolyn passed – the first time I would be completely alone in more than forty years – was that life could still be lived with an empty heart, but that an empty heart is not a living one. 

It is a nullity.

Hearts are made to be filled. When I traveled alone, I felt a freedom I hadn’t felt since my vagabonding days back in the early ‘70s. It didn’t make me nostalgic; I’d experienced some of the deepest pangs of loneliness during that time. This second experience did not include pangs of loneliness. I think I understand why.

Once a heart has been filled with love the way Carolyn filled mine, it no longer yearns for something it never had. That is the essence of loneliness, I believe. Widowhood for the heart is more like a house following a move. It’s not broken or destroyed, but emptied and lifeless and awaiting a new resident. When filled again, that house is alive and is a home once more.

With Carol my heart is a home again, full of energy, like an empty house with new owners. Where there had been darkness, here is light again.

The only part of a train trip I don’t particularly enjoy are the tunnels. I’m not claustrophobic; it’s that the sudden darkness erases all sense of motion. Time seems to stop, along with a sense of motion – forward or backward – and space – up or down, creating an emptiness. The light at the end of the tunnel brings relief and just a smidgen of joy that the passing of the countryside is about to return and filling my vision again with interest and delight.

Carol has been that light at the end of the tunnel for me. For her that light might still prove to be an oncoming train; as a train, I can be more like Amtrak rather than Eurostar. But for now the tracks remain clear and the journey speeds along.

  1. Susan Mattern says:

    Really loved this blog! Thanks.

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