Last Thursday was a beautiful day, the snow almost melted, the sun shining. I was walking the dog in the woods when I had this thought: What if when we got home, someone from my family was there waiting for us?
What if my brother, nephew, niece, or cousin were there? What if my grown children were there, ready to spend time with “Mom.” I could almost feel the hugs. They could take me out to dinner, fix the lights that don’t work, and help me figure out what to do about . . . so many things.
But they aren’t coming. My real-life relatives live far away and have busy lives. I don’t have any children, just the deaf old dog with vertigo who keeps veering across the path, pulling me along with her. With no one around to see me, I let the tears fall. In the movies or on TV, someone always shows up to offer comfort, but not in real life. I went home to my house that’s way too big for one person and buried my feelings in pastry and work. It’s when my mind is open, like when we’re walking, that I hear that voice saying, “You are alone; you’re not supposed to be alone.”
When I married Fred, I gave up the chance to have children. I don’t know if another man would have come around if I waited. I don’t think so. I have never met anyone else I wanted to spend my life with. I chose Fred, along with his kids from his previous marriage, because he was wonderful. I had no idea he would get Alzheimer’s disease and die or that his children would break the connection with me right after the funeral. I did not expect to end up alone. But here I am.
I suffer from depression. I know the grief attack will pass. But in the moment, it hurts like hell. I’m jealous of everyone who still has a partner. I hate that I’m alone while they’re surrounded by children and grandchildren. I know I’m not the only person in this situation. I know I have wonderful friends. All I have to do is call them, but when I’m depressed, I can’t make myself do that.
The rest of the world really doesn’t understand childlessness. They advise us to get involved with other people’s children. Become a teacher, work in daycare, be a mentor, cozy up to the offspring of your friends and family. Be a super aunt or uncle. But that is not and never will be the same. When it’s time to go home, the children go with someone else.
Choosing a partner who will not give you children means giving up the family you might have had. You lose the safety net that would keep you from being alone if for some reason he or she left you behind. I hope it never happens. I hope you have a lifetime of love together. If you end up alone, you will find your own way, but you might be doing it with tears streaming down your face.
I’m on my way to a writing conference in Seattle, where I will be surrounded by people who love words as much as I do. It will not be family, but I will not be alone and I will not be thinking about the children I never had. Last night I visited with my cousin, who lives in Washington. Her life is filled with children, but we have so much in common beyond children that it doesn’t matter. Today I am anxious–big city, crowds, commotion–but I am not depressed. I pushed myself out of my hermitage in the woods to seek out other people because I need them.
What about you? Does the grief knock you down sometimes? How do you get back up? Do you feel a wall between you and your family because you are the one without children? Please share in the comments.
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