F. Scott Fitzgerald writes in The Great Gatsby that, “The loneliest moment in someone’s life is when they are watching their whole life fall apart, and all they can do is stare blankly.” In a lifetime, these moments come more often than we’d like. Sometimes, it’s a wake-up call. Other times, we’re not so lucky.
My friend lost her 10-year-old son to cancer. It was a short fight – less than a year. I’ll never forget when they got the diagnosis and she told her son they would FIGHT this and they would WIN. Over and over, that was her creed to him – “We will beat this!” Every radiation session that brought lower numbers she told him, “You are winning!” One day, he asked her, “Mommy, what if cancer wins?” What a question! She told me then of the emptiness in her when he asked. How could she possibly answer?
For months and now a few years after he left her, she continues to miss him so terribly. She is a changed person – she is missing part of her soul. She continually asks me what she is to do with the extra piece of love she has reserved in her heart just for him. How can I answer?
How can anyone relate to how lonely she feels?
The husband in this story was sent on a Sisyphean task – to earn more money than he could ever make to afford the treatments his child needed. The last months of his son’s life, he was not able to be with him every moment but labored instead to try and meet the need of the future that never was and the family that still is. How hard would it be to go out into the world to deal with the family’s needs as a whole when all he wanted to do was to hold his son close for the precious time that was left?
I’m sure I have never felt so alone.
I was an adult the day I first saw my grandmother cry – it was the day Grandpa left us. In a moment, it hollowed her out. The disconnection of a tube and she was on her own. My grandmother had always been an exclamation point in my life – There was no doubt. There was no weakness. There was no question about what she thought. I was shocked when she broke.
In the following months and few years she had left, she kept herself busy with things, but it was always obvious she was missing that one vital piece. She spoke of the house where they had lived with great sentiment, but when offered a chance to go back she refused – she knew it wouldn’t be the same. Her other half had gone on and she was just here marking time.
I have never had to feel this lonely.
My dad has always been another rock-solid person in my life. He never got ill. He never took a sick day. He was responsible. He was hard-working. He was sturdy. All that was true, until the day I fainted in his hospital room. He’d had a major heart attack while out jogging. It was the first time I’d ever seen him not 110 percent. My mind could not process this dad in a hospital bed with tubes in him and looking so pale.
That night, I went home with my mom. She cried all night. She was so upset I thought certainly no body and mind could contain so much sadness. She cried for him over and over and over again. I was overwhelmed with the fervent outpouring. She moaned, cried, and wailed until she was a sagging scrap of emotion.
I’m sure I can’t comprehend the lonely place she was that night. It was almost as if I wasn’t there – she was far away and alone in her own mind.
One day last year, my dad called me on the phone. This is a rare and unusual thing that almost never happens – my antennae were immediately up and twitching. Mom was in hospital. She’d had a stroke. I went there to see her. She seemed normal to me – up walking and talking. This couldn’t be real. All night that night, I kept waking up with the question on my lips, “Mom had a stroke?” I’d sleep and wake up asking the question each time. I could not fathom a world where my base was not intact. I could not imagine having no place to take every little morsel of my life to share. I couldn’t picture a world without the purest and most unconditional love of my life to hold me up. In other words, I could not fathom a world without my mom.
For certain, I have never felt so lonely.
Luckily for me, both these issues with my parents were wake-up calls and i still have them here to help me soldier on. But times like these happen in everyone’s lives. What matters is that we realize these moments come and when we’re lucky, we can use them as a wake-up call to really recognize what’s important in our lives and to never take it for granted for one moment. All too soon, there will be no more wake-up calls and the alarm will go off. This will be the moment when you recognize that your world is falling apart and all you can do is stare blankly. You’ll realize then, you’ve never felt so alone.