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Abby Pratt: On being a widow

Larry’s health was in jeopardy for years. He had hip replacements, heart valve replacements, a kidney from me, plus at least a half-dozen other surgeries on various parts to keep him going.

But his death was sudden (in an emergency room in Boston) and, oddly, unexpected. I couldn’t be with him because of the COVID pandemic, but his departure in an ambulance from our place in a retirement community near Boston was nothing new. He waved and smiled at me as they took him away. By the time I got to the hospital, he’d been admitted, and I was told to go home; they’d call.

And call they did. First, to say he had been stabilized and was headed to the cardiac ICU for further workup. And then, a half-hour later, to announce his death. I later learned that the resident in charge of his case had made a fatal error in his initial treatment.

Which is a prelude to what followed. For a while, I went on as though nothing had happened. I joked that I missed his taking out the trash, doing the dishes, etc. He used to bring me coffee in bed. I also had a brief romance with an old friend, with whom I eventually broke up. (He was married.)

And then, slowly, the loneliness and depression set in. It’s not that I don’t have good friends, whom I see and enjoy. Nor that I don’t have a therapist and an antidepressant. I don’t have a job, and I’m not a joiner, both of which lengthen the day. But it’s the lack of the most important (to me) things that create the vacuum: his warm body beside me in bed; our conversations over dinner about the kids and the news and stuff; his marvelous sense of humor and highly informed reflections on just about everything.

I joined SilverSingles, an online dating service for old folks. I connected with several old men, each of whom eventually revealed himself to be unsuitable: chronic illness, distance, simply not enough in common. Occasionally, I’d get a message from a 50-odd-year-old, saying how much he’d like to meet me because I was so beautiful, etc. Sickening.

I know I should get more exercise, join a book club — but I’m not inclined to either of those things, and it seems they aren’t going to happen. I did buy a water rower. I do go to concerts and talks and movies. (I don’t find streaming very sexy.) I keep up on the news.

I have to believe that an answer will come. I’ve applied to a couple of continuing care retirement communities in the Boston area, where many of my doctors are. (I inherited them from Larry.) It’ll be a year or more before I get to the top of those waiting lists, but I think by that time, when I’ll be 83 or 84, it’ll be good to be in a place where they feed me dinner in the company of my peers and provide some entertainment at night.

So there you have it. Not a very happy ending, but not a disaster. It’s widowhood for a particular personality. I’ll be eager to hear from others who are grappling with or overcoming this late-life reality.

Abby Pratt is a resident of Housatonic.

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