Thursday, April 12, 2007

on being alone

Yesterday morning I went out early to buy bread. It was a perfectly ordinary morning - clear, cool and the sun just easing its pale light above the horizon. I strode along the deserted streets, and wondered why I felt so odd.

I felt light, airy, and bouncy. There was something new afoot, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. My thoughts ran free, uninterrupted. I crossed a road unimpeded. I hummed to myself, unheard by others. Suddenly it dawned on me - the reason for this queer high I was experiencing. I was alone! Not even the damn beagle was there to drag on her lead and trip me over.

I'm the first to say how grateful I am for the opportunities I have in my life. I know I am very lucky to be able to spend time at home, to work, to exercise, to see my friends and to go out with my husband every now and then. Really, I have it much better than many of the other mothers I know. And yet, how amazing it was for me to realise that I am hardly ever on my own. All my 'time away' from home and hearth involves being with other people - husband, friends, fellow karate students, gym class pals. I loved my morning walk by myself, just tripping along and admiring the dawn skies. It was heavenly. I told myself I'm going to do the 'bread run' more often!

Then all this merry morning meandering was tempered by a rather sobering thought. I remembered what my grandfather had said to me a day earlier.

Grandpa had been reminding me that I should only visit when I have the time, and that I must never feel guilty when I have to leave. He is horrified by the thought of detaining a visitor through their sense of duty; he never wants to feel like an obligation. Then he'd added quietly, "I never thought it would be like this. I thought I'd always be hale and hearty - driving, working in the yard, and making things." And although he stopped there, and didn't elaborate, I knew what he'd left unspoken. I know that Grandpa is mostly alone, and I know that he gets lonely.

I asked Grandpa how he spends his days at home, and he told me, hour by hour. One hour getting showered and dressed. Half an hour preparing and eating breakfast. An hour of radio news here. A nap for an hour there. Then he lowered his voice, looked me in the eye, and told me huskily, "From two o'clock to four o'clock in the afternoon - that's the time I struggle to fill. They're the hours that seem to drag." It was fairly unemotive statement on one level. On another level, the pathos in those words could fill a room, a house even.

As I recalled this conversation with Grandpa, I imagined myself older and spending more time on my own. I imagined my children grown and gone. I imagined the house quiet and neat. My imaginings filled me with the anticipation of freedom but also with a tinge of sadness. I began to grasp the lingering loss I will feel when I am no longer indispensible to my children; when I am free to walk alone to fetch bread every hour of every day.

In the end, I guess we make the best of whatever life brings. When our children are small - dependant and needy - we love them and care for them day in day out, savouring our rare moments of freedom and solitude. When we are older, we adjust to spending more time alone, and look forward to the company of family and friends.

I'm going to go walking at dawn every now and then. I'm also going to hug my kids and kiss their damp foreheads in gladness when I return.


Motherkitty said...

Jelly, I am sitting here almost in tears.

Although I can understand and appreciate your savoring your brief "bread run" and being all alone, I can feel your grandpa's pain of his coming to the end of his life just treading water, so to speak -- just trying to fill his days and nights and not be a burden to anyone. I think each human's wish is not to be a burden to anyone as they approach the end of their life and to not suffer. I think this waiting IS suffering and IS ghastly, never knowing whether this day will be the last. No one knows when their number is up.

I also think that's why they "invented" nursing homes which are nothing more than warehouses for the infirm, the aged, and those who are unable to take care of themselves anymore. I think most old folks' prayers are, please let me go quickly, don't let me suffer, and don't let me be a burden to my family.

You are certainly a dear one to be so attentive to your grandpa. I know that he appreciates your presence in his life more than you know. I'm glad I "know" you.

Redneck Mommy said...

Oh dear Jelly.

That was beautiful.

But I really must go call my Gramps now. I don't want him to feel alone.

Remiman said...

I too am misty eyed!

In true male fashion:
We only have this moment.


thisisme said...

Jelly, you made me cry again. Struggling to fill the hours between 2 and 4 just set me right off. I guess all we can is treasure the time that we have together, and enjoy and appreciate the snatched moments of solitude while they are so precious.

shelly said...

Oh Jelly that was beautiful! I wish I could visit your Grandpa too!! I often wish I had afternoons alone 3-6 would be great!! But I do miss my kids when I am away from them and have time to myself.

Puss-in-Boots said...

I do feel for your Grandpa. Poor old soul, not wanting to be a burden, yet lonely because of not wishing to take up a visitor's time.

It is hard when the children leave home and I guess that your grandpa is totally alone without even his life's partner. How sad is that?

What can one do, except visit? My neighbour's lovely old dad lives on their property, but because she and her husband work, he gets lonely, too. There's something to be said about extended families like there used to be long ago.

Val said...

I see a few positives here. First you are recognising that you need time on your own, away from your roles as mother, wife, daughter, etc. I think that many people don't realise this. It's necessary to be on your own to be able to appreciate your own company and as practice for later on.

Second, your grandpa has given you such a great tip: he's lonely at a predictable time of day. Now you might not be able to personally visit with him during that time, but could you organise to call him once in a while during that time? Do GPs get afternoon teabreaks? ha! But you could maybe get others to contact or visit him then, or are there community services that provide something in the afternoon? If a few of these afternoons are accounted for, your grandpa might even come to relish a "day off" once in a while.

As for the "lingering loss" when you are no longer indispensable to your children? Jelly Jelly Jelly! Believe me, this will be such a sweet relief, you won't know yourself.

meggie said...

Jelly, he loves you so, & your vistits are so important.
I was shocked to find, at the end of my Mum's life, I was her parent.
And I loved her so fiercly!! No one could harm her!

Sandy said...

As I read Val's comment I agreed with much of what she said about your grandpa. He is lonely at a predictable time of day and to ease his loneliness this would be a good time for family to visit or to plan activities. Do you have senior citizen centers over there? My father enjoyed visiting and participating in activities with other seniors for a while until he got too cranky.

Although my daughter has always loved alone time for her own special activities, she is going through the empty nest thing right now. She has too much alone time, but she'll just have to find ways to use her time to her advantage. She can always come visit me more often, although I see her everyday already.

I am so lucky to have all my children & grandchildren living so close, but I know there will come a day when we will all feel like your grandpa and don't want to be a burden to anyone all the while suffering from loneliness.

Jelly you are a wonderful granddaughter and I know your grandfather looks forward to your visits very much.

Kerri said...

There you go thinking again. See, I told you, you are a great thinker! And having thought, you have a remarkable gift for putting it into words to share with us...and consequently, you make us think.
I know how much your grandpa loves to have you visit. How sweet you are to care so mucha bout him.
I'm thinking I should go call my dad....
I'm glad you had a little taste of freedom. Young mums need that once in a while :)
I hope your week isn't too hectic Jelly. xoxo

Susie said...

Hi Jelly,
I came here from Kerri's to read about her Thinking Blogger nominees.
I must say this was a very touching post to me. My own Grandpa is nearly 99 and I could relate to so much of what your Grandpa was able to verbalize to you.
I'm glad to meet you through Kerri...

mackeydoodle said...

Just wanted to let you know you were nomainted for a Thinking Blog Award!

Alipurr said...

how true....