By LORRAINE V. MURRAY, Commentary | Published November 30, 2022
I came down with a cold last Sunday. One of those raging, exhausting colds that seem to take over your entire being. Of course, I didn’t want to share it with anyone, so for the past week, I’ve been alone. I stopped going to daily Mass, missed Bible study, weekly counseling and other activities.
I still am visited by my husband in my dreams. Last night, we were both working in the library just like old times, and I told him I’d give him a ride home. It is so lovely to share life with someone, and help them when they need you. Lovely to know they’ll be there to make meals when you’re ill.
Fortunately, my friends have checked on me this week, and brought soup and groceries, but the loneliness has been painful. Is this it? I wonder at times. Will this be my life forever?
At my age, there’s not much forever left, and perhaps that’s a good thing. I know that at the end of this lonely life, there will be a moment when my husband and I will meet again. Alice von Hildebrand writes in “By Grief Refined” that when her husband was seriously ill, she awoke each day with the thought that the hourglass of his life was emptying fast.
After he died, she saw the hourglass turned upside down with the upper part, symbolizing the time of their separation, full of sand. “Every single moment, day and night, a grain is falling, and every single moment brings me closer to the overwhelming moment when I shall see his beloved face again.”
As a widow, I’ve learned what it means to enjoy one’s own company. Solitude allows me time to read and write, and reflect. Other times, though, my soul pines for someone to talk to, especially when I come home, filled with stories, and there’s no one there to listen. Or I see a new bird outside and I want to ask, “What kind is that?”
After my husband died, my aunt said, “Widows have a lonely road.” I hated that she said that, because it was something I didn’t want to accept. Who wants to walk down a lonely road? Who wants to go from a loving marriage and deep friendship to a solitary existence?
In her book “Faith,” Catherine de Hueck Doherty writes poignantly about loneliness that she calls redemptive: “Christ calls some people to share his loneliness.” If we do this, then “We too, with his help, can redeem the world.”
A woman she knew was dying of cancer and offered her life for priests. “This ordinary woman was lying in bed doing absolutely nothing except telling God she offered him her suffering for priests.”
Years later, Doherty received a letter from a priest, who had been considering leaving the priesthood. He wrote: “I had heard about this woman…and she entered my heart. I stayed in my Order.”
“Jesus walked this lonesome valley. He had to walk it by himself” are the lyrics to a spiritual. Jesus experienced intense loneliness, when he was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane, and his friends fell asleep. After his arrest, he had to wait all night, alone, for the shocking suffering to come.
Even during his life, he was lonely, because his friends often misunderstood him, which had to be painful. When he was dying on the cross, the apostles, with the exception of John, deserted him.
Maybe, in the end, the only way to survive the loneliness of widowhood is by turning our suffering into a prayer. Maybe the solitary road of widowhood can somehow become a path upon which others walk to their salvation.
Maybe when a widow gets to heaven, she will see the people who were saved by her prayer of loneliness. She will meet her husband at the door to paradise, and he will take her to Christ. The last grain of sand will fall and she will step into eternity, where the word “loneliness” doesn’t exist.