I know that anyone reading this who has lived on his or her own for a good part or all of their adult life will find this post pretty much a whine. But bear with me, please.
I'm 75, and I've lived on my own for perhaps three weeks of my adult life. This doesn't count three weeks here or four weeks there when I house-sat for my aunt in Vermont, or my husband took a trip to England or California. Those don't count because my husband was still part of my life, and I knew I would be coming home to him or he would be coming home to me. They were interludes, vacations from my "real" life.
Now that he's dead, I am having to learn to be a single person, and it isn't easy. The first few months, coming home to a dark and empty apartment was like entering an alternate universe. It felt wrong.There would be a half-second before I opened the door when I would think, maybe he'll be there. Maybe somebody will be there. What if the light is on? What will that mean? Are there ghosts? (Neither of us believes/believed in ghosts or anything spiritual. He would not have expected to come back to haunt me or reassure me — and he hasn't. But I still understand the impulse, the desire, to believe.)
After about six months, something clicked. I was riding home on the bus and didn't dread that moment of opening the door to a dark apartment. It would be okay. I went out of town for a week, and when I returned, I greeted myself at the door as he would have: "Welcome home, baby." Before taking another trip, I bought a timer and set it to go on and off at set times, so it wouldn't be obvious no one was home. And after I came home, I kept the timer so there would be a light for me when I came home.
But I still miss the help. As in, I'm now responsible for everything. Jack and I didn't have a traditional marriage, with me doing all the housework and he doing all the earning a living. Whoever cooked, the other washed the dishes, or whoever cooked also washed the dishes, but neither one of us was the only one who cooked every day. We took turns doing the laundry. And we alternated going to the accountant for our taxes.
Now I have to do everything. After I bought a new kitchen faucet, I had to e-mail the super to set up an appointment for getting it installed, and I had to be home for the installation. I had to do the taxes last year and this year... And the year after that and after that and after that... I have to call the super to change the lightbulbs in the kitchen and in the bathroom; no longer can I stand on a stool while Jack holds me steady, or vice versa. I have to do all the shopping and all the cooking and all the washing up, although if I decide not to wash the dishes one evening, no one will complain.
I dread the time when I will be in the hospital and need someone to advocate for me, as I advocated for him in his various hospitalizations and his last month. Or when I will need help after coming home from some hospital procedure and can't take care of myself. My daughter can help in minor situation, like picking me up after my cataract surgery six months ago. But if I can't get to the bathroom by myself and need 24-hour assistance? That can get expensive — and it's not the same as having a partner.Yes, I know, many, many people live like this all the time, and in far worse circumstances. But I feel like I need lessons in being a grownup, and it feels a little embarrassing to admit that as an old person.