I was visiting in the UK, traveling by train between Manchester and Shrewsbury en route to Wales. Seated in one of those foursome seats with a table between, I shared conversation with two women traveling from different locations in England.
We chatted as strangers on a train will do, comparing and commenting on the different final destinations for each of us. One of the women mentioned meeting with friends for a holiday weekend for the first time since she lost her husband.
As the conversation continued, the third seat mate asked the widow, “How long have you been on your own”? Her question struck me as a kind and forward thinking way to approach a loss.
She wasn’t expressing condolences or asking when the husband died or anything else about the deceased. She was asking this woman who had suffered a loss how she was moving forward. I found it to be a thoughtful way of saying, you are important. How are you moving forward, looks to the horizon of the widow’s life rather than questions about how long she had been married, when her husband died.
No, her question was, “How long have you been on your own?” The question opened up the widow to respond that it had been 13 months, describing changes she had made to her home in the meantime, and plans for the future which included this particular holiday weekend with friends in a seaside village in Wales.
That conversation and the questions of ‘how long have you been on your own’ can apply to many transitions and take various forms, whether it be a divorce, estrangement from family members or perhaps loss of community due to a location move that is beyond our control.
As the topic arises with friends, or with strangers, how do we engage? There may be need to commiserate and hear out a friend, a mother, a sister. But after doing so, as the seat mate so beautifully did, how do we ask the questions or invite comments about how are you since this disruption in your life, and how have you been moving forward. We already know what was behind us, but what is on the horizon?
As we pass the ages of 60, 70 and beyond, the likelihood of loss in the form of people in our lives or a beloved home we must move on from, even when it is unspoken, even when, and especially when, relationships with people and place were a part of us, the need to move beyond sweet memories and regrets will come.
By the time we are reading a publication such as Sixty and Me, most of us will have already experienced some transition, whether an unexpected job loss or a death of someone close to us.
We need the time to mourn and digest our loss, but hopefully, when the time is right, someone will be there to ask the questions about you, not about the person, home, or employment that was taken from you. Someone to ask about you, how you are moving on, asking the questions, “How long have you been on your own since that loss? How are you doing since then, and what is on your horizon?”
If no one is there, asking us these questions, perhaps we will need to ask it of ourselves. “How long have you been on your own,” with the unspoken subtext of “How are you moving forward since your loss; since your life changing event?”
Thank you, stranger on a train, for offering me this tool as those close to me will inevitably face life’s losses.
How long have you been on your own? How are you moving forward? What’s on the horizon for you?