This post is dedicated to all my dear friends who have lost their life companion. And to all the friends who are no longer with us.
I practice Linguistic Empathy and I expect you to do the same. Please bear with me if my English is not perfect.
A while ago I was in Milan and in bad need of antibiotics. I entered a pharmacy, and saw an elderly man sitting on a stool beside the counter. At first I thought he was feeling unwell and the pharmacists had invited him to sit down. Then one of them, in a rude yet loving tone, told him to stop complaining and react. He told him what had happened to him happened to lots of people, it’s life.
The elderly man was looking at me, and I felt compelled to ask what was troubling him. In a whisper, like he was secretly looking for an ally, he said “my wife has died”.
My impulse was to hug him, but I did not want to look too melodramatic. Instead I told him I was very, very sorry and that I perfectly understood how he felt, and wished him all the strength and courage to keep on living without his beloved wife.
The first widow I got to know well in my life was my mother. She was 49 when my father died at age 57. I have a bit of confused memory of her pain. I was seventeen, and busy to deal with mine. But I distinctly remember how she dove into family life, how loving and present and ever active for us children she was. She had always been a wonderful mother, but after my father died she became even more devoted to her little tribe.
At that time I had no idea of what losing a life companion could mean. I had not found one yet, and had a long life ahead to live.
Now I am in that phase when death occurs more and more frequently in my tight circle of friends. In these last years I have seen many friends, some of them very dear ones, losing their life companion.
I was always grateful to them for letting me get close to their suffering. And although I don’t pretend to know what this terrible moment entails, I have come to realise that we too often dismiss it as something natural in life, something we have to give for granted.
Of course many people die young, and we should feel lucky for every year we spend with the person we love. Losing a life companion though must be an unimaginable pain. I can’t even start figuring what it means to have to learn to function as a single person after a whole life full of sharing, from the tiniest details to the biggest questions.
It must be a horrible inner earthquake to have to shift from a life shared with the one you love every single day, to exist as a single person, with a baggage of memories that span a whole life and that constantly reminds you of what will never come back.
At every death that has touched us recently, at every devastating news on the phone, through the screen, WhatsApp, I felt closer to my choices, my love, and my will to live life fully and deeply as long as we have it.
Often, at night, I think of the friends who have left. I remember their faces, their voice, the shared laughter, and then I think of their wives who fight to fill the immense void they found themselves to face, some of them very suddenly. Then I hear my mother-in-law, old and sick, telling me “this life is a cheater“. And I do the only thing I can do: I talk about it, I remind myself how fleeting life is, and hold all my dear friends in a warm embrace that never breaks, even when we are apart.
Main pic by Nenan Tovilovac