Camping on the Edge of Life

Too often now I feel as if I am camping on the edge of life. To a certain extent, this feeling comes from my current living situation. I am staying with my 96-year-old father to make sure he retains his independence as long as possible, but since his house is fully furnished, that means most of my stuff is in storage. I have my clothes, of course, my computer, my own towels, a few kitchen items, a couple of furniture pieces (such as the table and chair I’m presently using for my desk) — just enough to connect me to the past but not enough to make me feel settled. I won’t be staying here once my father is gone campingand that knowledge also keeps me from feeling settled, makes me feel as if I am just camping in. (Rather than camping out.)

More than that, though, this feeling of camping on the edge of life comes from being single in a coupled world. It’s been three and a third years since the death of my life mate/soul mate, and I’m still not comfortable with his being gone. Despite that, quite inexplicably I’m forgetting that I once shared my life, once loved deeply, once felt as if I lived smack dab in the middle of life. As my grief continues to wane, as I move further from him, it seems as if this is lonely existence is what my life has always been — and it should be enough, but it isn’t. Not yet.

We live in a world where movies, books, songs, videos, shows, ads and commercials all extol the virtue of being in an intimate relationship. Love makes the world go round. You’re nobody till somebody loves you. All you need is love. Love makes you feel complete. Love makes you feel fulfilled. Love makes life worth living.

This constant barrage of coupled love and happily ever after is a sad message for many of us — either we lost our love too soon through death or divorce, or never found someone in the first place.

Intellectually, I know that whatever I am doing or feeling is life. Being together or being alone, feeling fulfilled or feeling unfulfilled — all of it is life. And yet, I can’t help feeling that something is missing.

It might sound as if I’m looking for someone to share my life with, but I’m not. I’m just aware of the realities of being uncoupled in a coupled world. I suppose there will come a time when I embrace the freedom of my alonehood, and plunge deep into the heart of life, but for now, all logic to the contrary, I feel as if I am camping on the edge of life.

***

Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

Grief and the Double Standard of Love

It seems as if our whole culture revolves around and reveres couplehood. Most songs, novels, movies, are either about people looking for someone, finding someone, losing someone, or getting a second chance at love. A large percentage of non-fiction books are written to help people find a mate or help them stay mated. Hundreds of websites are devoted to matching people with their true love or a reasonable facsimile. Many holidays are geared toward love — Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, kissing your love at midnight on New Year’s day.

Clichés about love abound, mostly because they are true (or feel true). When you meet the right person, your life suddenly make sense. Whatever has been missing now is found. Love fulfills you. Love makes the world go round. All you need is him/her. Love is all that matters. Two hearts beating as one. Soul mates. Everlasting love.

It’s so inbred in us, this need for true love, that few people question it. In movies (and maybe even life) when someone has an affair and ends their marriage to be with the new love, all they ever feel the need to say is, “I fell in love,” and that explains everything.

But . . .

When you lose your one true love to death, all of a sudden you are supposed to be able to slough it off as if love didn’t matter, and go on with your life. Everyone else is celebrating their love, but you are supposed to accept that yours is over and you are supposed to have a good attitude so you inconvenience others as little as possible.

This double standard is hard to deal with. Not only do we bereft have to contend with the effects of suddenly being deprived of love, companionship, fulfillment, not only do we have to contend with being alone in a coupled world, we have to deal with our culture’s belief that love is all important. Other people can continue to have the benefits of a living love, but somehow we bereft are supposed to be able to make do with memories.

My life mate/soul mate and I didn’t have an easy life, in large part because of his illness and other setbacks beyond our control, but like most couples, we hoped for a payoff sometime in our golden years, and his death killed our hopes.

I’m finally to the point where seeing couples doesn’t bother me, but for many months, just the sight of two people, middle-aged or older, holding hands brought me to tears. I realize some people never find anyone to love, but others have been married for forty, fifty, even sixty years. I try not to compare, try to accept my situation, but the truth is he was my home, and now I am homeless. When I was with him, I had a sense of belonging, but now I belong nowhere, especially not in this coupled world.

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