Stan walked into the kitchen and stared out the side window. It was only 6 p.m., but the sky outside was already dark.
Stan felt depressed, knowing he would spend another night alone in his home. Just nine months ago his wife would have been there with him, eating supper and talking about her day. Her unexpected death changed everything.
Spring, summer and fall went by quickly. There were months of painful mourning as Stan reconciled himself to the fact she was never coming back. This year’s harvest had been long and stressful but had given purpose to his days. Now it was cold and dark, and the nights were very long. Watching TV had quickly grown old.
As Stan sat in his recliner, he wondered what would become of him. He had other friends who were divorced at his age of 55, but that was not his situation. His friends seemed to marry on the rebound. They had found someone almost immediately.
Stan was not ready for a new relationship. His wife’s memories still occupied all of his heart. But the loneliness was going to drive him crazy.
Stan’s first attempt to fill his time consisted of buying several jigsaw puzzles. They took a tremendous amount of time and focus to complete. After the first week, Stan had three puzzles out on his table but only border pieces were together.
One day he ran into a friend at the co-op who suggested Stan would meet interesting people if he joined the fitness class at the local rec center. On Tuesday night, Stan walked into the rec center to find himself in the middle of a yoga class full of young and older women.
Stan found himself stretching and twisting in ways which he hadn’t done for years. At first, he was quite embarrassed and red-faced, but after a while it was actually enjoyable.
Stan’s next adventure into the world of meeting new people came from an invitation to go line dancing. Every other week a large group of people met at the fairgrounds and danced. Stan was willing to go but was not much of a dancer. He spent the first evening trying, but it was more torture than enjoyment.
While there were many single women in attendance, it just never felt right for him to talk to them.
Stan learned that most of his farming skills did not transfer well to his new endeavors. With some encouragement from others, he stretched and twisted three more nights and danced two more times. He still felt alone most nights at home and continued to work on his puzzles.
One day as Stan was scrolling through Facebook, he saw an invitation for a local painting class. Once a month about 20 people showed up and practiced oil painting on canvas. After Stan’s unsuccessful yoga and dancing experience, he was reluctant to try something else new. He felt as if his only skill would be painting stick figures. But on Thursday night, rather than spending another exciting evening working on a puzzle where all the pieces looked exactly the same, he decided to try the painting class.
Stan was surprised to find a wide variety of people in the class. Not surprisingly, almost all were women, but that didn’t hurt his feelings.
Everyone was painting the same picture of a vase with flowers coming out of the top. The vase was yellow with some diagonal blue lines going down the sides. The flowers were mainly red and blue with long green stems.
Stan believed if he was able to master auto-steer on his tractor and combine, then painting a vase should be an easy task. As the people around him got to work, Stan decided he would begin by applying yellow paint to the center of the canvas. The paint didn’t flow as easily as he thought it would, and soon he had a large yellow blob in the middle of his canvas.
Stan was not sure what to do next, and the uncomfortable feeling increased when he realized the instructor had placed him in the front row of the group. Everyone behind him could see his painting and dilemma.
After a while, a woman came forward and offered some advice on how Stan could transform the yellow blob into a yellow vase.
He then started on the blue diagonal lines. His hand was not as steady as he thought. He did not have enough paint on the brush, and so the vase only ended up with some blue streaks across the front. After he reloaded his brush, not only did he get a thicker blue line, but also blue paint drops going down the front of his vase.
The same woman came forward and offered some advice as to how to change the vase.
Stan focused on painting the flowers next. Holding the paint brush at the right angle and applying just the right amount of pressure took all his concentration. Stan realized he was not paying any attention to the other people in the class, which was the whole reason for him being there.
He wondered if the woman who had helped him might be single. It would be an awkward question to ask or just bring up in a conversation. As the evening went on, Stan noticed she had a wedding ring and so his hopes of finding romance were dashed.
At the end of 90 minutes, Stan had a picture of a vase with flowers in it. He rated it at the level of a 6- or 7-year-old. At the end of the class, each person had to display their painting and comment on how the process went and what they would do differently next time. When it was Stan’s turn to talk, he apologized for his lack of painting skills but told everyone he honestly enjoyed the experience.
As people were putting things away, it took Stan longer to clean up because there seemed to be blobs of oil paint scattered all over the place.
Soon the room was almost empty, and Stan noticed someone in the back still working. He walked over to ask her if she needed help. The woman confessed that she was very hesitant to paint and thought he was brave to come by himself to the class. Without any real effort on either one of their parts, they ended up standing around and talking for another 20 minutes.
Without thinking about it, Stan asked the woman if she would like to go out for ice cream to celebrate their painting successes. After extending the invitation, Stan realized he had not looked to see if she was wearing a wedding ring. He quickly made a joke about not wanting to anger her husband. Much to his relief she told him she was not married and gladly accepted the invitation.
Feelings of loneliness can be painful and losing a spouse or much-loved person is a hard experience to go through. As we go through these experiences, we may need to make life changes and leave our comfort zones.
Trying something new and developing new skills can help overcome feelings of loneliness and isolation. It is possible to feel more joy and connection to others. Perhaps your efforts will help someone else.
Bob Dunaway and Associates offer estate and retirement planning. Gary Johnson can be reached at 563-927-4554 or by emailing him at email@example.com.