It has been six months since my husband died. I am learning to “lie back in the generous comfort of solitude,” as Donald Hall wrote in his essay, “Solitude Double Solitude.” I have never lived alone and am slowly getting used to the benefits of a solitary life. Books and magazines remain on the coffee table until I move them. My sewing needles and nearly finished quilt can stay draped across the sofa. I can leave the house in the middle of a writing project and keep notes and books sprawled across the den. I can always find the remote control for the TV. I can have repairs done to the house, like repainting the back bathroom, replacing hoses under the kitchen sink and changing lighting fixtures without inconveniencing anyone but me.
The house still bustles with activity when my sons are home or when family and friends visit. The backyard fills with music and laughter when the workout team comes three days a week. Each Friday, conversations resonate in the living room after dinner with my neighbors. When the house is full, it reminds me of the hustle and bustle in our home in Salinas when I was growing up with my five siblings. It reminds me of the commotion in the house when the boys were young and full of energy. It reminds of the early days of my husband’s brain injury when the house swarmed with therapists and caregivers. Moments of solitude were rare and precious and I longed for a place of refuge to have a few minutes or hours to myself.
Now, the entire house is my refuge and the quietness comforts me at times. But, like Donald Hall wrote, “Now and then, especially at night, solitude loses its soft power and loneliness takes over.” For me, it’s those moments at night after dinner, or when I first wake in the morning, or when I return to an empty home that the silence in the house echoes the loudest. Loneliness takes over as I remember my husband’s smile, his loving glances as he sat in his lounge chair and the sound of his chuckles while watching TV.
I wait for the loneliness to fade and the return to “the generous comfort of solitude.”