I worship alone 99.7% of the time. On the surface, it’s not a big deal. Corporate worship negates the solitary; voices raised in unison, hands lifted in praise, hearts kneeling in prayer. Corporate worship is communal and community, the broken falling down before the throne of grace, common in their bankruptcy and need. So, really, I don’t worship alone.
As Len’s condition has progressed, he is less and less able to make it to church. It’s such a rarity, that, when he’s actually beside me, I can barely concentrate. My Spidey-hovering senses roar into overdrive and I drive him a bit batty checking if he’s okay. He’s perfected a glare that succinctly says, ‘Leave me alone, woman, you’re losing it.’ He’s usually right.
I do a lot of things alone. ‘We’ were part of a dinner club, but Len was only able to attend once. Most birthday parties and small group gatherings I attend solo. Church meetings, special events, trips to the zoo… I frequently need to take a deep breath and head out the door on my own.
Over a year ago, in my darker days, I could barely leave the house. Stepping over the threshold into a life that Len didn’t seem to share was overwhelming and exhausting. I had the privilege of being able to work. He didn’t. I had a social life and the energy to visit with friends. He didn’t. I ran errands and browsed stores. He stayed home. Typically, less than an hour after I had left, he would text me: ‘Going to bed. Hope you’re having fun.’
I love being married. I do. He is my best friend, my whole heart. I am deeply grateful that we were brought together so each could choose the other.
There are days, however, when I feel single. No, that’s not entirely true. There are moments when I feel single.
I don’t mean to sound ungrateful. Truly. I know there are people reading this who would love to be married, and I mean no disrespect or harm to them. I am deeply aware and grateful that I get to be wife to my best friend. I know it is a gift not given to all.
Within the reality of spousal caregiving there is something that leaves some feeling single and alone in moments. The days when Len is asleep when I leave for work and ready for bed by the time I get home. The days I cook for one and eat alone and attempt adult conversation with the dogs, which only works (poorly) while there’s food on my plate. The days when an important event is happening and he would love to go but simply cannot, so I head out alone. Again. Or almost every Sunday morning where my first prayer as my feet touch the floor is ‘Please, let him have slept well enough that we can go to church together.’ Hours later, I smile politely at the ushers and find myself a seat for one.
I squirm a bit over this admission. I worry I sound ungrateful or pathetic. I wonder if, of all common within spousal caregiving, I stand alone in this. Am I the only one who feels this way? I tell myself I’m not, and plunge ahead.
For those who married healthy spouses, the loss (gradual or otherwise) of a partner, a team mate, a helper, a date-goer and sit-beside-me-at-church-er is keen and painful. We try to say it doesn’t matter. We try to believe it’s fine, that, even though life is turning out completely ‘other’, so utterly opposite of every hope, dream and desire, we’re fine. We’re not lonely or exhausted or worried.
We humble ourselves before the fact that our spouse didn’t choose this either. They long for wholeness, for strength and health. As their body betrays them, they succumb to loss just as we do, except more keenly. They bear the loss in their body. They bear it in our absence when we fulfill social obligations while they remain home. They harbor the loss in their spirit, as we head to church for our daily bread, and they try to focus long enough for a recorded message on YouTube.
Spousal caregiving has stripped me wide open. I am, by nature, a horribly selfish person. I grumble and complain. I hold elaborate pity parties for myself, replete with cake, ice cream and a thick slice of martyrdom. I frequently suggest to God that he read the wrong resume when he chose me for Len. I’m pretty sure He smiles as He continues to renovate my heart, to turn me helpless and open into the hurting life of my husband.
There are moments when I feel single. Where I long for the moments I see in the lives of others… Sunday hikes and camping trips and flights to sunny climes. When I pause at the door, my hand resting lightly on the knob, and I quickly re-evaluate the importance of wherever it is I’m heading… work, church, small group, family.
There are moments when I choose married. Daily, in fact. I choose to carve out a quiet space of rest for my husband instead of enjoying time with friends. I set aside housework for silence, because Netflix and the vacuum would wake him, and sleep is a precious commodity. I cancel plans with gracious friends, and learn to build help into our lives.
Even as I write this, I know I’m not alone. I know there is someone reading this, her heart in puddles, wondering why it must be so. I know there is a weary warrior pausing before these words, hearing me as only she can.
We are not alone, friends. We aren’t. We may hesitate in the deep to voice this admission, but I see you. I hear your heart in this particular hurt. I know the choices you make, and the loneliness often inherent in those choices.
Keep choosing. Keep turning that knob to leave the house, and to return. Create margin. Create haven. Be near. Allow yourself moments to honour what life might have been… allow the dreams that have slipped away to return. Savour them briefly, like a rich swallow of hot cocoa, but hold them lightly. And then carry on.
And remember, above all, the One who turns you helpless and open into the hurting life of your spouse. I know you feel exhausted, ill-equipped. Do it anyway. His hands are on your shoulders… let Him turn you towards love. And home.