My husband died four years ago, and I live by myself in our home. As a widow, I face many challenges—feeling nervous about living alone, going places as a single after being part of a couple for many years, and handling the business affairs and the upkeep on the home and car. But the most difficult challenge for me was finding a way to feel content in “the long line of the lonely.” (See Ensign, Feb. 1992, p. 2.)
My daughter lives within walking distance of my home, and a son lives in the next state. Both of them telephone and visit often. We hold family gatherings, and I travel to attend blessings, baptisms, missionary farewells and homecomings, and weddings. I attend plays, concerts, and study club with family and friends. But the time I spend with people adds up to only a fraction of the time I spend alone.
Knowing that I’m alone, my neighbors and ward members are thoughtful. Patty, my visiting teacher, often sends her daughter Tiffany across the street with hot rolls. Nor am I left to my own resources when problems arise. When a sprinkler pipe breaks, Lloyd, a neighbor, is the first to notice and repair it. I almost hesitate to ask a favor of Don, my home teacher, because he regards my slightest need as an emergency and rushes over to take care of it. Other neighbors and ward members extend kindnesses, and I am touched by each one.
After my husband died, life seemed empty. I had cared for him during the twelve years while his Alzheimer’s disease progressed. Then he was gone, and suddenly no one depended on me; nothing demanded my time. I remember thinking one morning after his death, “Why get up? What does the day have to offer except long, lonely hours before it is time for bed again?”
At first I tried to run away from the aloneness. I made frequent visits to my son’s home and went on tours with another widow, but I always had to come back to an empty house. I considered selling the house and moving to an apartment or condominium, but I knew that not even the closest neighbor could fill the empty place left by the loss of a companion of more than fifty years.
Church activity helped me. I had been reluctant to ask people to stay with my husband for very long on Sunday and for several years had attended only sacrament meeting. It was comforting to hear again the inspiring discussions in Gospel Doctrine class and to feel again the love of the sisters in Relief Society. I had been unable to hold Church positions, and I welcomed the call to be a visiting teacher. I attended the temple often. The peaceful, other-world atmosphere seemed a link between this life and the hereafter and affirmed my faith that I will sometime be reunited with my husband. The leaders of our ward gave personal invitations for parties to widows and other singles, and I gratefully attended the functions. But I still spent many hours feeling lonely.
Then one day I took a dish of chicken soup to a friend who was suffering from a terminal illness. She had been a devoted wife, had raised a fine family, and had served in Church callings all her life. She expressed regret that she had not written her life history. We talked about her recording the history on tape for her children to transcribe. Time and her strength ran out before she completed the project.
Her death made me aware that it was a waste of precious time for me to fret away the hours I was alone. These hours, I realized, were a gift—a gift of time to accomplish something worthwhile. I had written my life story and had done other writing as well, trying to discover meaning in past experiences. I started weaving these writings into stories and giving them as presents to family members. I worked on several writing projects for my ward. The days became too short and the birthdays too frequent for me to complete all the writing I wanted to do.
“To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.” (Eccl. 3:1.) I am thankful for a season to write; it is the new door I had hoped would open for me after the door had closed on my marriage in this life.
Not everyone likes to write, of course; many people find other satisfying ways to fill their lonely hours. Marvella, a widow of twenty-two years, is an expert quilter. I doubt she could give an accurate count of all the quilts she has made for her children and grandchildren. For years, she spent several hours every day at the senior citizens’ center quilting and teaching others. They sold quilts to raise money for a new building the center is planning. Marvella also served as the Relief Society quilting specialist for her ward’s homemaking nights.
Effie has combined an interest in writing with a desire to give volunteer service. During her husband’s long illness from a lung ailment, she started a weekly newspaper column. After his death five years ago, she continued writing the column and also volunteered twenty hours a week to hospice, a group of volunteers who visit and nurse the terminally ill at home. Effie also serves as a Relief Society teacher and temple worker.
Ruth and LaMar were temple workers when she was stricken with cancer. After her death, LaMar continued working in the temple for more than seven years. At the same time, he donated his labor on the farm a nephew was running for him. LaMar quit working in the temple only when the long days and early-morning drives, often through winter blizzards, became a strain on the heart condition that brought death to him last year.
A long list could be made of the ways lonely people use their otherwise empty days to do something worthwhile. Ed, a widower and an accountant, still keeps books and does tax returns for people—at the age of ninety-two. Martha, a widow and former teacher, works as a volunteer tutor in a literacy program—from her home, where she is confined due to osteoporosis. Some widows serve as hospital aides or volunteer grandmothers. Many Church members find contentment in doing family history research. Others, whose age and health permit it, find joy in serving missions.
After our children had grown up and married, my husband and I used to talk fondly of the hectic, wonderful days of raising a family. During his illness, I looked back with longing on the days when we were alone again, the two of us free to travel and to share our lives with just each other. Since his death, I have often felt nostalgic for the quiet hours we spent when he was ill, with him resting and me sitting nearby reading or writing. When my time comes to leave this existence, I want to think back on each stage of my life and say, “Those were the best of times,” including these solitary days of writing.
If I am someday too old and infirm to write, I have faith that in answer to my prayer, the Lord will reveal a way to make my days meaningful, if only to help me believe that “they also serve who only stand and wait.” (John Milton, “On His Blindness.”)