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Several months after my husband’s death, my son said he had a suggestion for me.  He recommended I get a gym membership.  He said I should also consider getting a trainer to help me figure out a good exercise program.  He said it would get me out of the house to be with other people and would certainly make me feel better physically.  I took his advice, joined a local gym and even hired a trainer for 6 months.  His advice could not have been better and I pass it along to anyone who is dealing with the loss of a loved one.

I’m not such a gym enthusiast that I go every day but i do try to go several times a week. It absolutely does make me feel better afterwards and, while I have little interaction with the other people there whenever I go, I’m always grateful for their company. 

One interesting consequence of my gym membership, and regular visits to the gym, is my ability to be able to lift my carry-on suitcase by myself into the overhead compartment on a plane and to be able to open more easily some heavy windows in my apartment.  There is a great virtue in being able to fend for yourself and while I’m not bench-pressing 200 pound weights, I can more easily handle some of the daily challenges of living independently. 

 

 

 

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I looked out a window in my apartment this evening and there was a little boat gliding along the Hudson River.  My first thought was the Alcott quote I painted in watercolor on the box shown in an earlier post.  The difference was that the sky tonight glowed in pastel pinks, soft orange and yellow. The Hudson River was smooth as glass and the western sky over New Jersey was a magnificent pastel palette,  the last glow of a beautiful sunset after a gorgeous summer day in New York.

This wasn’t the stormy sky I painted but it was the image of a lone boat in the middle of a big river.  I suppose that imagery resonated with me as well.  Even without the storms anticipated in the quote by Alcott,  there is the need in widowhood to be able to be steer your little boat alone, no matter if the water is calm or stormy.  It’s still a little boat and a big river and you’re on your own.

 

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I created the little board game (above) after 2 recent trips this past year: a Road Scholar tour of Charlottesville, VA area and the homes of Jefferson, Madison and Monroe, along with the campus of the University of Virginia, and a Tauck trip to Italy to visit the Lake Como area, Venice, Florence and Rome.

Traveling alone, after 40 plus years of always having my husband as my travel companion, posed interesting problems, which the board game illustrates.

One of the first I encountered was the necessity to drag my suitcase into the ladies room with me since I couldn’t simply park it next to my husband while he waited at the gate reading the newspaper.  

Then there’s finding someone congenial to sit next to on the bus if you’re on a tour, realizing that there’s no one’s hand to hold when you walk around a new place, having to navigate on your own, not having someone with whom to split a pizza or high calorie dessert, eating alone and, of course, needing to take selfies, unless, of course, you’re on a tour and could ask one of the other tour guests to take the important picture of you in front of the Trevi Fountain to send home to your family.  Some of these travel challenges are made easier if you’re on a tour, but none totally disappear, since even on a tour, you’ll encounter days when you’re scheduled to be on your own.  And that doesn’t mean on your own with someone else.

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I visited the Metropolitan Museum a few days ago to see their current show on Japanese Edo Period paintings. I stopped for a while in front of the 2-panel screen (above).  It was painted around 1778 by Yosa Buson and is called, “Lone Traveler in Wintry Mountains”.  The scene Buson paints, with ink and gold leaf on paper,  is stark with bare trees and bleak mountains.  A lone traveler (shown in the lower left) makes his way along a narrow path towards a thatched hut.  The wall text notes that Buson’s paintings “frequently include motifs such as a path or stream that suggests the passage of time”.

After I came home,  I looked at a small watercolor I painted 4 years ago and a year after my husband’s death.  It was also of a lone traveler shown in the moonlight walking along a perilous mountain road.  The traveler stands looking ahead at no clear path around the edge of the mountain.

I contemplated how I might repaint that today with a wider path.

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If you were a tour operator and wanted to discourage single people from signing up, one approach would be to add a “single supplement” to the cost of the tour.  

I didn’t even know what a single supplement was when I booked my first trip on my own about 7 months after my husband died.  I suppose my hope was to be able to meet other people traveling alone for company, and not be constantly reminded of the fact that my husband wasn’t with me.

As it turned out, that particular tour to the Grand Canyon with Road Scholar did not have a very high single supplement so there were 4 other women on the trip traveling alone, which made for company at dinners and on bus rides.

Other trips after that had higher single supplements and fewer people traveling by themselves.  That’s not to say that friendships aren’t possible with couples who are traveling on these trips.  I’ve made some wonderful friends on these trips, with whom I ate meals and visited sites, on a cruise through Belgium and The Netherlands and on a recent land-based trip to 4 cities in Italy.

However, when you travel with your spouse, it’s very different than when you travel alone.  Having other single people makes it easier to have company.  Unfortunately, those single supplements don’t encourage the traveler on her own to sign up.

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Traveling alone always reminds me of the story of Noah’s Ark.  On each of five tours I have taken on my own after my husband’s death, I have encountered the phenomenon of the bus ride.  Inevitably, couples, like their animal counterparts entering the Ark, pair up to sit together.

There have been many occasions when I’ve sat with other (usually) women traveling alone, and am reminded of the social awkwardness of adolescents gauging their popularity by the number of requests they might receive for a seat mate on the school bus.

Of course being widowed after four decades of marriage does often bring me back to reflect on my life as a young single person and all the wonderful things I lost 5 years ago when my husband died.  Unfortunately, travel is a challenge and the bus trips are among the most challenging of the travel experiences.