Beginner’s Guide to surviving aloneness

The day is just beginning to light up in this remote place, all snow-piled with far-flung hills blending into the white-edged sky so you can barely tell where the mountains leave off and the sky begins.


All photos: Marlys

Who knew gray and white could be so beautiful?

I bravely—foolishly, without putting on outer wear or shoes—stepped outside, shivering, hugging my steaming mug of cinnamon tea. Because I wanted to hear the quiet. 

And what I heard was a duck squawking on the pond below. And I made out two or three distinct bird songs, even with the freezing temperature, these crazy birds singing.

And I heard a small stream gurgling near the gate, and the wind gently tapped the pipe against the dinner triangle adding more music to the air.  



Being here has been a reminder to me of some of the basics of surviving widowhood, the club you don’t want to be a member of, but you’re automatically enrolled when you leave Hospice House without your husband and best friend, and return to an empty place, and begin figuring out how to function alone in between the wash of tears. That club.

Being in this remote and beautiful location has reminded me of a few thoughts that were beneficial back when I was first recruited into the Widows’ Club:

Cultivate independence. I broke my wrist the second day here, followed by surgery and an amount of hardware that will set off security machines.

It’s been good for me to see that I can still function independently, even with one arm full strength and one not-so-full-strength, doing a few of those jobs—like bringing in firewood and emptying ash buckets—that would fall to a husband, were a husband nearby.

It can be frightening to think of all we have to do alone — those things the man in our lives used to take care of. But as we say Yes to opportunities that require a bit of independence, then we grow braver, tougher, more resilient.

Appreciate interdependence. One of my nephews, who likes to plan ahead, came up to plow the narrow, graveled road to the cabin — in case of an emergency, since most ambulances don’t have 4-wheel drive.

He also insisted on driving my tractor (well, maybe my brother-in-law’s tractor) to haul loads of firewood to the back porch where I had to practically arm wrestle him to let me help stack it.

We can need people and not be needy. Connect with your people. Often.

Allow yourself do-overs. My reason for accepting this generous invitation of six weeks in a gorgeous log cabin was to complete the re-write of a book. This is now my third re-write, and it is a gift to have people who believe enough in your project to offer constructive criticism that requires a major re-working.

I take comfort from these words by Phyllis Whitney: “A good book isn’t written, it’s rewritten.”

If you’re still working on something you haven’t quite gotten right, no worries. Be patient with yourself. Allow do-overs.

Embrace nature. Nearly every afternoon in town, while I was waiting for my broken and pinned wrist to get stronger, I walked the neighborhood. But it’s not the same as being in the middle of God’s creation, a place like this where the quiet gently roars at you, and the whiteness causes you to wonder how can a non-color transform even the homeliest of things into beauty?

Get out into God’s great wonderland and marvel at his bigness, his creativity, his genious.

Don’t forget to refuel. I’ve always thought of myself as an extrovert because I’m outgoing and I like people. 

But my son-in-law, Josh, set me straight when he asked: “How do you refuel? Do you recharge best around people, or alone?”

Oooh, hadn’t thought of it that way.

In order for me to be any good around people (good, as in, playing nice), I need time alone. Time to journal, and time to pray, and time to read and reflect. Need to.

Figure out the best way you refuel, and then do it. As frequently as possible.

One final thought

Based on where I am at this moment in time, on this acreage that’s inhabited by more wild animals than by humans, this insight by someone named Ava:

There is a difference between loneliness and solitude, one will empty you and one will fill you. You have the power to choose.

I’m being filled at the moment. Filled to overflowing.

Which begs the questions: Are you an introvert or an extrovert, and how do you prefer to refuel?


How to fall in love with being alive


Why rest?


  1. Well stated. It’s a club no one wants to join, and many of us fear.

    Thank you for teaching us about independence.

    • A friend and co-worker at the cancer center used to say, “It’s a club you don’t want to join, but it’s got some great members” (referring to a cancer diagnosis). It’s the same with the Widows’ Club – I’ve met some very lovely women. Thank you for your comment, Marilyn.

  2. What a lovely site, Marlys. Thank you for sharing your thoughts (and your beautiful photos) as you journey through this club membership.

  3. Grace Lawson

    That is so very nice that you not only are helping other people but you also have quiet time to yourself to accomplish your goals. Nice to have the wild animals around also !!! God bless you Dear Marlys !!!

  4. Peter

    Dear Marlys,
    Thank you so much for sharing your “being there” moments, in this script. You took me to cycling with a dear friend who always had to stop at 11am. (food – diabetic). I recall, we would be high up on the North Yorkshire moors cycling off road. At 11am we’d stop, we were drink our tea & snack, i happened to say, ‘It’s so peaceful and quiet’, he immediately came back with, ‘It’s peaceful but it’s not quiet, listen’, as he leaned his head to the side in a listening pose. It took only seconds before I heard insects, moths, butterflies buzzing around the gorse and moorland flowers and that sound became many other sounds, including the breeze. I realised then that it was too easy to take the seeing (landscape) and feeling (in God’s wilderness) for granted and to including all the senses God gave us, Amen. I wish to share this with you. I was invited to speak recently and somewhere in speaking I’d said that from time to time on the rides I would stop and draw a rough sketch. Over a tea and biscuits afterwards a lady (Carol) came over to me and asked, ‘Do you have any of the sketches from when you cycled Vietnam’?. I checked my briefcase and I did have sketches of the Vietnamese girls/ladies riding their bikes. I showed them to Carol and almost immediately she started crying!. I asked if there was anything I could do to help and she then said that she had lost her son some 6 weeks earlier and that looking at the sketches, she felt her son was present and they soothed her. She then said, ‘I want these, please’. Thinking on my feet, I said that they were rough sketches, would it be OK if I took some time to draw some more, which she could have. She seemed to settle down and agreed to let me get on and draw some sketches for her. So, this morning, I apprehensively took those sketches to Carol (this was a new venture for me). Fortunately, the sketches pleased her and she reiterated that the sketches brought her great peace, so far as the loss of her son was concerned. I thank God for the skills he gives us all and for such moments as this that can be shared, it is God’s hands at work, I am just the vehicle for it to be so. As for the value of those sketches only Carol knows, she will make a donation to our supported children’s cancer/leukaemia causes. There you have it Marlys…. my 1st commissioned work…… is in the hands of someone who has a need. God Bless, loved your blog again… again, pray your wrist makes a full recovery. Bx P & family.

    • I love this beautiful story of your first commissioned work, Peter. Thank you for sharing your gift with Carol, and your story with us. Blessings.

  5. Nora Weed

    Good morning Marlys, here I sit in Bend viewing a huge snow storm. I’ve never seen this much snow fall. It is beautiful and along with your blog, it is inspiring. You gave me many things to think about but first it was the widows club. My dear Bob is now 82, every now and then the thought of becoming a member of your club slips into my mind. I am so grateful to you for preparing me if it should happen; you give me hope and the courage to know I will survive. You also made me ask myself if I am an introvert or an extrovert. Most people I know would probably say I’m an extrovert but honestly I so often prefer my own private space. I do love my people! I want them to be happy and succeed but if I could just sit back and watch it happen without being too involved I think I would be OK! However, like you, I like to communicate and I want to be connected. I want my people to know I love them and I want to share my thoughts and experiences. I hope that after I’m gone my people will know me because I was always in their lives in one way or another. Maybe I am a reluctant Extrovert! Love, Nora

    • Nora, I think you’re not alone in this: “ … every now and then the thought of becoming a member of your club slips into my mind.” A number of women have voiced this same concern. I remember walking beside Gary as he slowly slipped away from his life on earth, and wishing I knew what to read, or who to turn to for help with transitioning from wife to widow. And, as brave as I like to think I am, it was rather scary at the time to think of widowhood.

      It’s this, the way you said this: “I am so grateful to you for preparing me if it should happen; you give me hope and the courage to know I will survive” that drives my passion to continue what I do. Thank you for these kind words, Nora.

      P.S. I love your closing sentence: “Maybe I am a reluctant Extrovert!”

  6. Jen

    Easier said than done for many of us without access to resources such as beautiful landscapes and immediate family support. I wonder how this would be heard by those who are poor, marginalized, and do not have availability to family, nature, and social resources?

    • A very good question, Jen.

      You mentioned that many don’t have access to beautiful landscapes and immediate family support. I have no family in my hometown, but I belong to a small knitting group, and a hiking/walking posse. While not a big community – these knitters, these hikers – it is a big-hearted community. I’ve picked up the phone and asked for help more than once: help with moving, with fixing a flat tire, with changing oil, for housing as out-of-town family members were coming for Gary’s funeral, and for rides to hike trails, to name just a few things. They have been my family and my social resources and part of my access to nature.

      If we don’t have family nearby, may I gently ask: Can we find one? Perhaps at support groups, through meet-up groups, in the work place, through volunteer opportunities, or at churches? We need to get plugged into community. Because we need people, and they need us.

      As for beautiful landscapes, before my husband died, we lived in a small duplex with exactly four windows that faced a busy street with ugly apartments surrounded by chain link fence right across the street. That was my nature view when I sat to write. But instead of seeing the ugly apartments, the industrial fence, the traffic, I saw a tiny patch of green grass just outside our slider door. I saw a few small trees that dropped their gorgeous fall colors and then grew a new spring wardrobe every year. I looked upward and saw snow piled on the rooftops of those apartments underneath a sky that changed colors, depending on the day.

      True, not everyone will have access to what everyone else has, but again may I ask kindly, gently: Can we choose to make the most of what we do have? Can we choose what we see, and how we see it? Can we choose to speak gratitude, even after so much loss has piled up?

      Thank you, Jen, for taking the time to raise the questions. For asking and causing me to think, and rethink, and pray for sensitivity when I write. Please know that I never want to write from a place of arrogance, or smugness, because I am a student in this classroom of deep loss and learning how to live fully again.

      Blessings, my friend.

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