Unleashed and Remembering my prince

Tomorrow, April 23, marks the 10th anniversary of my husband Fred’s death of complications from Alzheimer’s Disease. Ten years! For two years before he died, he lived in a series of nursing homes. At the end, he did not know who I was. But oh, the years of love we had before that. As time goes by, it’s easier to celebrate the good and let go of the bad.

Since 2009, I have been living alone with my dog. When I named this blog and the subsequent book Unleashed in Oregon, I was not talking about that. I was thinking more of Fred and I escaping our lives in the Bay Area and being set free at the beach, sans jobs, history or family. I was thinking of my dogs. I was not thinking of being a widow. I didn’t expect that to happen so soon, that Fred would only enjoy our Oregon coast dream for six years before he got sick, for 15 before he died. And here I am, alone and unleashed, like a dog whose human partner unhooked her, walked away, and didn’t come back.

Annie is still here, thank God, but her time will come, too.

Living alone is not for sissies. A great deal has been made of living solo since the pandemic hit, but the truth is some of us were already doing it for a long time before that. Today, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 35.7 million Americans live alone, 28% of households. That is up from 13% of households in 1960 and 23% in 1980.

Living alone is both wonderful and terrible. Wonderful for the freedom to eat, watch or do whatever you want. Terrible because there’s no one to hug, to talk to, or to help when the plumbing goes awry or a tree falls on the house. And yes, the pandemic makes it worse because all those social things we might do to plug the holes—clubs, choirs, gyms, yoga, concerts, meals, parties, classes, etc.–are not available. Nor does it feel safe to travel these days. I guess that’s why so many of my poet friends are writing about the birds and flowers in their yards.

Here on the blog, I’m going to be writing more about living alone because that’s what’s on my mind. I’m in the early stages of writing a book about it. If you who are reading this are also alone and would like to talk about it, feel free to email me at sufalick@gmail.com or start the discussion in the comments.

Many of us enjoy our solitude and are not necessarily lonely. But there are times when it gets tough. If you are not alone, think for a moment about what’s it’s like to see no other human being 24 hours a day. Experts say loneliness can be as bad for one’s health as smoking. It can lead to all kinds of health problems and cut years off one’s life. We’ll talk about that in another post. Meanwhile, if you know someone living alone and haven’t talked to them in a while, how about making a phone call?

Today I’ll be remembering Fred. He was the best thing that ever happened to me. He was smart, handsome, funny, loving, and just plain good. He treated me like a princess. In return, I did the best I could to love my prince, especially during his long illness. We had love. We were blessed. Rest in peace, dear Fred. We all miss you. I bought a good bottle of Cabernet Sauvignon, which I will open tomorrow night. I wish you were here to share it.

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What’s Wrong With Being Alone?

“People, people who need people, are the luckiest people in the world.” Are you one of those people who need people? Are you uncomfortable being alone? Or do you crave time alone? Is your happy place on the couch with a book or in the middle of a noisy crowd? These are questions I’ve been asking lately and questions that were asked yesterday in a conversation at the Newport Library sponsored by Oregon Humanities.

“Going Solo: The Value of Solitude in a Social World” was the topic led by Jennifer Allen, director of programs at Oregon Humanities. The 20 or so of us who attended had a lot to say on the subject. In general, we’re in favor of solitude. Maybe not 24/7, but we like our “me time.”

Much of our discussion focused on technology, how some people, especially the young, seem incapable of leaving their smart phones, tablets or computers for more than a few minutes at a time. (I’m guilty of that). Our connections pursue us with phone calls, emails, texts and status updates to the point we never seem to be alone even if there’s no actual human nearby. Can you claim to be alone if you’re plugged in? If you get an email or the phone rings, is it okay to ignore it?

Are people forgetting how to be quiet, how to think? To daydream? Are we hiding from our thoughts and feelings? Allen described a scientific study which asked people to spend 6-15 minutes just thinking, doing nothing else. The subjects had a hard time doing it.

I like to be alone. For me, a good time, is sitting out in the sun reading or writing. A nightmare is walking into a noisy crowd.

I love playing music alone. But I also love jamming. Our jam in Waldport last week was magical (Fridays, 3-5 p.m., community center). You have to learn your songs alone, but combining talents can create beautiful music way beyond what is possible on your own. It’s pretty hard to harmonize with one voice. But, let’s be honest, one lousy player or off-key singer can ruin the whole thing.

That sounds bitchy, something introverts like me are often accused of. People who like to be alone are called bitchy, snobbish, or antisocial. No, I like people–in small doses. I think we all need people around sometimes, but all the time? Sometimes my dog is too much company. Other times being alone makes me very sad. Then I wish I had a house full of family.

During our conversation, we agreed there’s a difference between solitude that we choose and solitude that is thrust on us. Many older people fall into this category. Their kids are grown, their spouses die, their friends have died or moved away, and they spend far too much time alone. Remember, prisoners are sent to “solitary confinement” as punishment.

Ideally, we have our time alone AND our time with others in whatever mixture feels comfortable. Meanwhile, we have dogs or cats.

It was ironic that although most of us at yesterday’s conversation prefer to be alone, we got together with other people to talk about it and never ran out of things to say.

Oregon Humanities plans several more conversations throughout the state. For information on the conversation project, visit http://oregonhumanities.org/programs/conversation-project/.

How about you? How do you feel about being alone? Do you enjoy it? Hate it? Fear it? Wish you could claim a minute to yourself? Let’s talk about it.