As an aspiring hermit (something I believe I may have mentioned before), I have a soul that delights in solitude. There doesn’t have to be artificial noise created by some man-made device. I don’t have to have people around me, constantly talking to me and expecting me to respond. Small talk has never been my strong suit and if I can avoid the panic of having to engage in such, I’m okay with that. That doesn’t mean I have to constantly be alone, just that if, given the choice between a party and a book by myself, hands down I’m curling up with the book, the only exception being family birthdays and family holidays.
But there’s a sizable difference between solitude that is sought and that which is forced upon someone. Right now there are more individuals than ever before who are facing an unwanted silence in the place that should provide the most comfort—home.
I’m not sure we ever realize how much we need the people who share our lives until they’re no longer present. And I don’t mean “need” as in being physically dependent on them. I mean “need” as being mentally and emotionally bound to them. I think Alan Jay Lerner said it best when he wrote the lyrics for “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” for the musical “My Fair Lady”.
“I’ve grown accustomed to her face. She almost makes the day begin. I’ve grown accustomed to the tune she whistles night and noon. Her smiles, her frowns, her ups, her downs are second nature to me now. Like breathing out and breathing in. I was serenely independent and content before we met. Surely I could always be that way again and yet, I’ve grown accustomed to her looks . . . accustomed to her voice . . . accustomed to her face . . .”
Professor Henry Higgins was bemoaning the fact that his student Eliza Doolittle had walked away from their relationship . . . and beginning to realize just how much he missed her. Granted, for them there is a reunion and a happy ending. But when a spouse or significant other dies, there’s no one to script a joyous return. A home can suddenly become a house, quiet and still, missing the laughter and conversation, the discussions and yes, even the arguments that brew when two people know each other almost as well as they know themselves. In the blink of an eye, one is left behind, forced into a solitude that can be suffocating in its magnitude. Even if friends come to temporarily fill the void, they can’t stay forever. And when they leave, the silence becomes deafening once more.
I’m not going to offer possible solutions or advice; I know better than to think this is a problem easily solved. Everyone is different and what works for one person may be the worst possible idea for someone else. But I am going to remind the rest of us that we have an important part to play when someone we love is struggling with loss while traveling the road to adjustment. There’s no reason anyone should ever have to make that journey alone. We have the power to see to it that they don’t.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.