Friday, August 8, 2014

Party of One

I go to a lot of places alone.
I have never had a problem with spending time alone, even before my husband died.

I moved out of small town Massachusetts when I was 18 years old, to NYC, to go to Theatre school and pursue a career in acting and comedy. After having roommates for years on end, I lived by myself for 4 years in an apartment in New Jersey, before my husband moved in with me. I have been to countless movies by myself in my lifetime. I have no issue with going to a cafe and sitting down for lunch, by myself.

There are some things I wouldn't do alone, just because they seem extremely lame and I would absolutely look like a complete loser if I was alone doing those things. Like going to an amusement park. I would never stand in line for a ride and then get on a roller coaster all by myself, with nobody else to speak to the entire day. That seems weird. Or a concert. Standing and cheering and singing a band's hit songs, by myself, seems a bit pathetic. However, if it was someone I really truly wanted to see, and the only way I could go was if I went alone - then I would go. It just wouldn't be my first choice.

When Don first died, those first few months, I hated being alone suddenly. Even though I had always been alone and it had never bothered me, all of a sudden I would fall into a panic and start breathing fast and feel really clausterphobic if left alone for too long. I felt suffocated by the silence and the empty space that filled the air where he used to breathe. Whenever I was alone in our apartment, it was as if someone had turned up the speakers on his death, and I couldn't turn them down. I tried to disappear out of that apartment, and into social gatherings with other people. Everywhere I went those first 5 or 6 months, I was not there.I couldnt be home, and I couldnt be out.  I was not anywhere, for a very long time.

Then a funny thing started to happen. Well, it isn't really "ha ha" funny, but more interesting-funny, in a silent and subtle kind of way. That same clausterphobic feeling I was getting those first few months being alone in my apartment - I was now getting whenever I was around groups of people for too long. There was no warning either. I'd be fine one second, and then literally the next second, would have the urge to scream at the top of my lungs: "I NEED TO GET THE F**K OUT OF HERE - NOW!!!" It was as if being around other people amplified his being gone and dead forever. Other people were happy. Laughing. They had partners and families and kids and giggled as they shared ice-cream cones and walked along merrily. I was dying inside, and all the people of the world were ignoring it.

Now, 3 years later, I am alone quite a lot. I have a roommate, and I have lots of good friends, and I have family. But, even so, there are lots of times when my friends are busy with their families or their partners - and my own family lives 4 hours away. Sometimes, if I want to take a walk and go get a cup of coffee or have a drink somewhere, I will just go. By myself. It's not a big deal in NYC. Literally, nobody cares or even notices. Lots of people sit with a book or playing on their phones, alone. It's very normal. But despite that, it has taken me 3 years to be able to sit alone in public, without feeling like I must somehow have a giant sign on my head that reads: "LONELY WIDOW. I AM ALL ALONE. LOSER. "

There are many times when I am alone nowadays, that it brings a certain sense of peace or clarity. Just looking at a sunrise or at something in nature. Hearing a piece of music and really paying attention. Breathing in the silence, which no longer carries his death in it with every inhale. Many times, I feel closest to my husband, when I am by myself somewhere. Sometimes, I will even sort of pretend that he is there with me, or I will just feel somehow that he is there with me. It's not the same as having him there with me. How could it be? But it does offer a strange sort of odd comfort that can't really be explained to other humans.

On Saturday I am going to a Yankee game by myself. This was one of our favorite things to do together - see the Yankees play. A friend of mine who has connections at the stadium was able to score me a ticket for Saturday's game, where they will be honoring Paul ONeal, my all-time favorite player. He could only get me this ticket BECAUSE I am alone. It was a single ticket. If you go into a very busy restaurant and large parties are waiting to be seated, you can almost always go right up to the front and say "Is there a wait for one?", and they will almost always say: "Right this way." That happened the other day, when I was walking back to the subway in the city, after having just gone to see a friend of mine who was starring in an off-broadway show. I went by myself to the show, because none of my other friends could go. Afterwards, I was hungry, so I went into this cafe and ate something. They seated me in the corner, and right next to me was a large party of young friends, maybe 12 of them. I kid you not, the very second that I sat down - one of the guys stood up and said triumphantly: "A toast to Cynthia, who is celebrating her 25th wedding anniversary today!!!" Everybody clapped, and a sharp dagger went through my heart. 3 years later, and it still hurts. It silently hurts to watch total strangers celebrating 25 years of marriage that I will never ever get to have. Oh boy does that hurt.

It hurts so much that I think I need to order me up some chocolate cake and a cup of coffee. And in that moment, I am happy to be alone, because that cake is all for me. GET UP OFF OF MY CAKE!!!


  1. I so feel your post. I used to be very comfortable going to bars, movies etc alone even when my lovely wife was alive. But nowadays I cant stand being alone but I feel loneliest when with people. I sometimes take road trips out of town alone and stay in big rambling houses by myself but cant wait to get back to town and when I do i cant wait to get out of town again! So strange. Also, when Im alone my friends worry about me but when Im with them and they are all coupled up (they seem to have gotten closer in their marriages since Im the first in our young circle to lose a spouse) I feel so desperately alone. Its been about 13 months so Im slowly adjusting I guess. All the best and thanks for sharing. R.

  2. I get this. I did a lot alone before my husband died as well. There are only a few things I wouldn't do alone, just because they are a waste, like having a long dinner served in courses at a restaurant ... so silly to do all that work for one. But I've done most other things by myself before and afterwards.

    I do miss travelling with him because it's just a bit extra effort that exhausts me ... keeping myself alert at ALL times when travelling so that I don't put down my tickets or purse or bags and wander off!

    I agree that it really hurts when you are by yourself and there is a milestone celebration close by ... just another reminder of your new widow status.

    Thanks for sharing; always love your posts.


  3. I'm not sure that I could have stayed in my condo alone those first couple of months. After Laura's motorcycle accident the doctor said it would be at least a two month recovery. So, I found a short term rental and committed to two months since her hospital was 90 minutes away. However, she died after 20 days in the hospital.

    I kept that rental and made periodic trips to the condo, but didn't stay overnight. And my time at the rental wasn't alone. My sister arranged for my brother to come stay and then when he left she arrived. So, it wasn't until two months after her death that I was physically alone.

    As to the restaurant thing, the bigest complaint I had was the host/hostess that would respond with "just one?" When I would ask for a table. Maybe single diners are more prevalent in large cities, but I seem to be an oddity in my town.

    1. Hello, just read this post..oh I too knw that Alone now.. Today aug. 8, 1974.. Our engagement anniversary..that was 40 years ago..

  4. Leslie in Little RockAugust 8, 2014 at 9:36 AM

    I was like you, after college I moved to "the big city" just so I could prove to myself that I could do it all by myself. I worked at a large company in the Advertising and Recruiting departments. I traveled around the country at age 22 by myself, interviewing employees to new positions within the company. I lived in an apartment by myself, although I did have family and friends who lived nearby. At the same time I was dating my future husband after meeting him in my last semester of college. After two years apart, I moved back to my hometown (which was not his), we got married, I got a job, went to grad school, had two daughters, and then he passed away suddenly at age 52 from an undiagnosed blood clot after going to the doctor the day before and was told he was "fine".

    I remember the first days after he died - I couldn't even ride in a car with my 19 year old daughter driving to the grocery store. I didn't realize it, but I was having panic attacks, anxiety, insomnia. I remember the first time I tried to go to church a few weeks after he passed away, a friend had me sit with with her on the front row, crowded between her family and grand kids. I felt like I couldn't breath. I had to excuse myself and run out, sitting in the lobby by myself. Until another friend who had survived a horrific plane crash, came out, held my hand, and just sat with me.

    Over two years later, I am lucky to have my family and high school & college friends to go out to eat with and our two daughters, now ages 21 & 17, are doing well in school and activities. I can go by myself sometimes now, even though I don't like it. We were married 25 years and he was supposed to still be here.

    Thanks again for your posts. I look forward to Fridays to read your entries in the blog.

  5. Thx!! Here same, I feel more close to him when I am alone. And strange, we used to sit together with some couples here in the neighberhood. Lately I feel weird being there. Like I don't belong there anymore. I like seeing the couples one by one, that's OK. But all the couples together is a strange thing for me now

  6. dear Kelley,

    i have been thinking a lot about things you said in this post. it feels like the terrible loneliness, even in a crowd of one's i love, and when i am home by myself keeps getting etched even more deeply into my heart. i go over and over it in my mind, and it makes me feel so hopeless. the emotional and physical isolation is so painful.

    since being diagnosed with 2 cancers, one just 8 weeks after Hugh died so suddenly, i notice a lot of talk about scars - both external and internal. people say they eventually honor their scars - they are symbols of their ability to survive and move forward.

    i can only hope that the scarring effect of this unrelenting loneliness will be part of my re-birthing process, and that i will find the will and the strength to survive - but it hurts so bad. i do all i can to lean into the grief and to honor it as testament to the incredible love we created - but no one, not a single soul, who hasn't been decimated by such a horrendous loss understands. i am so grateful to know that at least when i get to read your posts, i have respite from feeling so very alone. thank you, Kelley, for your always honest candor in sharing your story.

    much love,


    1. You are so welcome, Karen, and thank you for sharing YOUR story with me. You have been through a lot ...

  7. I laughed so suddenly, and so hard, at the part where you had just sat down and a guy called out "A toast to Cynthia...". I couldn't have taken that.

    I am in a new place in my life, a very frightening one. When I was younger I went places alone. I have just come out of a two year hiatus brought on by public humiliation and vague threats. I have marshaled my strengths and begun to go out, alone, again. But I now have memory problems and deficits in attention. I NEED someone to go out with me. Yikes! My advice: do whatever you can, when you can! Life's too short. -Snowygirl