MORNING COFFEE 40 - slow solitude

By Susan Weber

Sorting a lifetime of memory goes slow. I’m in the attic, about to toss a small, old-school three ring notebook that, even half empty, has heft. Nostalgia is potent stuff so, sneezing through the dust, I flip to a random page. I find this.

August '88 family reunion on the beach, Shawnee State Park, PA
Son: I wish all these people would go home.
Daddy: You want a sea monster to come and gobble them all up and you’ll be all alone on the beach?
Son: No, just Daddy and (names brother) and Mommy and (names self) will be there.

Our three year old had already sorted his nuclear family from the crowd that shared his DNA but not necessarily his comfort zone. Through the cancer ridden months of last winter, a steady stream of family came to bolster our reserves. Our clan lives out of town so they don’t drop by, they live here when they come. And since the stakes were high and survival chances low, they came and stayed. And stayed, and stayed, and stayed. I remember one night when, miraculously, my husband and I found ourselves having dinner alone. We looked at each other here in our ultimate comfort zone, remarked on the quiet, and dug forks into the mashed potatoes.

We loved them all for being here. They had dropped their lives and come to us unbidden when we needed them most. We leaned and leaned and leaned on them in our hope unraveling dread. Now, as my husband has turned to his hereafter and they've pick up their lives again, I turn to my solitude in earnest.

In The Wild Edge of Sorrow, Francis Weller says, “Solitude is a slow bow to the soul’s need for time alone.” I think the slowness of this bow reflects the depth of compassion we allow ourselves as we mourn. For the soul pierced by sorrow, alone time is not the same as loneliness, though of course loneliness factors in someplace too.

Survivors of a dear one’s death have been cut by a jagged blade. Healing work is physically demanding, emotionally draining, and slow. The scars will not look pretty, our features forever disfigured by the fierceness of our love. Think of a woman in labor, a forsaken child sobbing, a sea churning upwards from its deepest reach. We all belong to this upheaval, whether or not we’ve owned our loves and losses. The sea monsters are here. We humor them until we can’t any more. Until they gobble us up and spit us out, gasping on the solitary beach.

Photo by Melissa McMasters CC BY 2.0