He arrived late for the reception, pausing at the door, searching the room for the guests of honor and any other familiar faces. Impeccably dressed in a dark suit with a crisp white dress shirt and matching tie, he carried himself exactly as you would think a true Southern gentleman should. His eyes lit upon the host and hostess and then the honorees and, after greeting each and conversing briefly, he took a piece of cake from the groom’s table, along with a cup of punch, and seated himself next to me. I was one of those few familiar faces, the child of his friends long since gone, and a friend in my own right.
He apologized for arriving late, but he’d gotten involved in a project at home and, as he so aptly put it, there was no one to shoo him out of the house. I understood completely. His lovely wife of 58 years had died a little over three years before. She would have been the time-keeper, the one who would have reminded him to stop work, clean up, and change clothes so they could make the drive and arrive in a timely manner. Now he had to serve as the keeper of his own clock, and sometimes other things proved a distraction.
And so it is when husbands or wives are left alone in this world, minus the partner they’ve depended upon for so very long. He still remembers to send beautiful flowers when a friend leaves this world. He still comes to the visitations and funerals and I’m sure other, happier affairs. He still does all the things they once did together, only now he does them alone.
When Death or even divorce lays claim to one party in a marriage, the one left behind often struggles with the day-to-day responsibilities of life. To the eyes of the world, my friend seems to be managing quite well. But public faces are often very different from the truth and I know there are times when his eyes have glistened with unshed tears as he speaks to me of his loss and how much he misses her hugs.
It’s the little things, the daily tasks of life that can prove to be the greatest tests when you struggle with loss. On Facebook the other day, a friend of mine was celebrating a small victory. She had changed the flapper in her toilet tank without having to call a plumber. For some that may not seem like a big deal. But for the rest of us, that’s quite an accomplishment. She, like many other women—and men—had never done that before, but rather than call for assistance, she decided to tackle the problem herself. And she tackled it successfully. Small victories, people. Small victories mean so much when you’re trying to cope with loss of any kind. Those victories tell you that you might actually be able to survive on your own, that you are truly capable of far more than you first thought.
As the reception drew to a close, he excused himself with the explanation that he had an appointment in Jackson and had to be on his way. I stood as he did, and we wrapped our arms around each other. Then I watched as he walked away and thought about how unfair Life and Death can be . . . and how many little things are required of those Death forces to walk alone.