Solitude – Entirely Essential


A recent 80th birthday party included new and past/young and old family members.  The rest of us were long-term friends.  Toni, the birthday boy, greeted everyone with the same charm he possessed 42 years ago in Corporate Canada. Jackie, his wife #3, graciously welcomed Toni’s first wife, the mother of his 5 children.

Jackie’s parents, heading toward their 90s, were both bright and vital with delightful senses of humour.  Jackie’s Mom, an artist, and I stood admiring two of her semi-abstract paintings hanging on a nearby wall.  I asked, “Do you look at those paintings and see things you want to change?”

“Oh no!  Once I’m done with it, I’m done!  But the one on the left is not hung the way I painted it. Jackie hung it sideways for the effect of the lines.”

I cocked my head to the left and looked at the painting again.  A landscape appeared, in full sunset glory, viewed through a window frame.

“Is that okay with you?”  Jackie heard my question.  She stood by to hear her mother’s response.

“I don’t care.  Once I give it away, it’s no longer mine.”  Jackie nodded knowingly.

Later, this same octogenarian and I ended up sharing the couch.  I asked how her husband occupied himself when she was busily painting.

“He golfs with a gang of men – has for years.  I love Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays!  For three fabulous hours, he goes golfing and I have time all to myself.  It would be great if he’d go even more often, but his knees won’t tolerate it.”

I said, “Alone time is so important, isn’t it?”

Her emphatic nod seemed to underscore her heart’s sincerity, “I can’t understand people being bored.  What’s that?  From the time I was a child, when I’d whine about having nothing to do, my mother would put the onus back on me to find something enjoyable to do.”

“My mother did the same thing.  She’d say, ‘You can do whatever you want.’  I would bug her for an idea, but she was determined.  She raised all five of us to appreciate our alone time.”

Our chat reminded me of Mom saying to my siblings and me, “If you don’t enjoy your own company, what makes you think other people would enjoy it?”

So, at this recent birthday party, I told Jackie’s mother about my mom needing time alone.

During years of Dad working away from home, Mom enjoyed great chunks of alone time.  Grandma died when Mom was 16 so she felt responsible for her younger siblings.  Then she raised her own children, educated countless school children and welcomed freedom in retirement between visits with grandchildren.

Mother loved her life of reading, napping, cross-wording and catching up on correspondence – in whatever order or amounts she chose.  Sometimes she’d read three books a day.  To keep herself in a good supply of books, she had a fistful of Library cards thanks to her version of identity theft.  I wasn’t surprised to discover some distant grandchildren were members of our local Library.

When Dad retired, Mom’s solitude was threatened.  Rather than adjust to his constant presence, she found his ever-growing “being in the house” more and more difficult.  We didn’t know Dad’s behaviour was showing signs of early onset dementia.  Soon his driver’s license was revoked.  He felt traumatized and thoroughly discouraged.  He couldn’t even offer breaks from home by being mom’s chauffeur.

Mom asked me to do Library duty.  I’d return up to a dozen books and find ones she hadn’t read – a daunting task.  She said, “Go to page 100.  If the second zero is blacked out, I’ve read it.”

That worked well until the day I brought home her favourite author’s latest mystery novel.  As she inhaled the words, she came to page 100 and discovered a blackened second zero.  Someone else was using her technique!  She agonized over thoughts of all the books she may be missing because of this copycat.  She immediately switched to a strategically placed symbol from the Greek alphabet.

My last Library trip for her was in 1996.  I still go to the shelf containing her favourite mystery novels to see if I can find one of her symbols in a book.

Jackie’s mother’s responses confirmed her reverence for solitude.  So I decided to share mom’s secret:  I told her about mom calling me one day.

With obvious decisiveness, mom said,  “Just so you know, I’ve packed my bag and called a cab.  I’m going to my motel room.”

“Really?!  Do you want me to take you there?” I knew this was no time for questions.

“No, I need be independent.  I’ll call you, though, when I’m ready to come home.”

A few days later, she called to invite me to her comfy motel room.  In fact, she needed some favourite food items. Our visit felt different.  As if we were both on vacation, we were more relaxed.  Our conversation flowed freer.  The atmosphere held the old spark reminiscent of the last year she and I lived together.  Humour laced our conversation even though soul talk held the bulk of our exchanges.

We were like a pair of old friends caught in a wrinkle of time.  Age held no bearing.

After this first motel visit, I arrived home to a ringing phone.  It was Dad – the only phone call he ever made to me.  The welcome, familiar and deep voice was saying, “Amy?  It’s time you went and got your mother.”

“I just visited her, Dad.  She’s not ready to go home yet.  Are you okay?”

“I am if she is.”

“She’s enjoying the change of scenery!  She’s happy and just fine.”

“Well okay.  You don’t have to tell her I called.”

“Okay Dad.  See you soon.”

After 60 years of marriage and longs periods of solitude – away from and with each other – I had to trust they knew what they were doing.





21 thoughts on “Solitude – Entirely Essential

    • Thanks, Sherry. The top photo, taken by a very talented woman who I worked with in the North, is from her canoe trip on Bowron Lake in B.C. The closest center is Quesnel. I find it soothing so thanks for commenting.

      I’m with you – my daily dose of solitude saves my soul.

      P.S. – referring to a previous post – I told the Elf man you were in love with him. He blushed and mumbled something about not letting love ruin a perfectly good friendship. “Whoa,” I said. “Love doesn’t ruin much. We do the ruining.” I think he is very shy!! I keep making more and more discoveries about him…his elfhood occupies a pretty good piece of his life.

  1. What a charming recollection about they way in which your parents met the challenge of her needing alone time, Amy. I love and need to spend time alone, too, but at first Martin couldn’t understand and it made him more clingy. Now he understands I’m not rejecting him, we can work around it. I’ll keep the motel trick up my sleeve, though, just in case! 🙂

    • Admittedly, the first time Mom ran away from home, I was taken aback until I went and visited her at the motel. What a difference I saw in Mom and my heart melted with compassion. I had tons of alone time and hadn’t considered how much she must be missing it. Youth! (I was 40 years younger!)

      I recently watched a great movie about an older couple going to Paris for their second honeymoon – Le Week-end. It reminded me of the great ups and downs I saw in my parents’ marriage. With Dad away alot, his time home was was a honeymoon – for about a week… Mom was an inveterate advocate for anyone else, but never learned how to speak up for herself. So they were terrible models for showing us how to have a good fight. Dad would fly off the handle for a minute, get it off his chest, then be just fine. It was over for him. Mom, however, would go underground – passive aggressive – with Dad, not us. (Sometimes we wished she’d do the silent treatment with us! 😀 ) With Dad, she didn’t set the boundaries she needed.

      Good for Martin and you! Great to have the ability to deal with these types of issues before they become an madly irritating situation.

      So, when mom returned home, each of them were back to the tenderness I remember most. Well, for awhile. I loved their feistiness

  2. What a novel (no pun intended) way for your mom to deal with the oh so common retirement dilemma. Both your parents were unique in their ability to give each other space and understand each other’s needs. I suspect your dad felt pretty lonely when your mom was at the motel, but bless him for not putting his need above her need.

    • When mom began taking her “time outs”, I finally understood how much she needed them. I wouldn’t doubt that when mom take these breaks, it was the first time Dad was alone in their home. Mom used to take trips on her own, but Dad would be away working. Sheesh…I hadn’t thought of that until this moment. He had lots of time alone when he was off working, but it’s different to be alone at home.

  3. I love my time outs, I had a four day one this past weekend…
    a Great post…one I not only related to but enjoyed very much,
    Thank you for sharing your mom with us….
    Take Care…You Matter…

    • Yes, I remember you saying he was away a lot. When he was home, it sounded like you two made up for all the fun events you missed out on while apart. My men were often working away from home, too. I liked that except for the adjustment when they first leave for another bit of time.

    • I would love to feel that way about my writing, Kim. Everytime I look at an old post I experience one of two reactions: Wow…did I write that? or Omigod, I didn’t write that!

  4. Hi, Amy! ~

    Such a sweet & beautiful post — I fell in love with every single character!

    I am especially tickled by your mom’s code for identifying books that she’s read! And the thought that someone else used the same code kind of blows my mind — haha! I can relate to the library card situation. My boyfriend says he always braces himself before we walk into the library together, waiting for the alarms to go off and the S.W.A.T. team to surround me 😉

    ahhhhh, Alone time! I have much less of it since my sweetheart moved in about 3 months ago. It’s funny because I missed him terribly when I only saw him once a week. Now I sometimes miss having the house to myself. I think I’m an extroverted introvert: I constantly seek to balance between alone time and couple time. Very grateful for such a luxurious ‘problem’ at this stage of Life!

    • You brave woman…what an adjustment. I work in such peace and quiet that when one of the regular walkers struts down the road – at the end of my driveway – yakking on her cell phone, I pop outside to welcome the loud eccentric who I think is coming to my house. I love music, but find I’d rather have silence while I write. Does that affect my romantic life? You bet… However, it’s the best litmus test in the world. If I really love someone, I’ll be ready, willing and able to make room!

      I believe the results achieved by the medical scientists…when we’re newly in love, we have the same chemical process going on as when we are mad as hatters. Plus I just saw a great quote: “We have this magnificant brain that works faithfully and diligently 24/7 throughout our whole lives – right up until the time we fall in love.” I’ve recommended to the women I’ve mentored, “No life altering decisions for the first year.” Number who listened? None! 😆

      Yah, I used to wonder if I’d be called on the carpet for bringing back and taking so many books – using all those cards. However, the staff didn’t bat an eye. Probably a lot of elderly do this – and it does give libraries a bigger membership which means a little more supportive funding from gov’t coffers. They’ve probably been enabling identity theft for centuries!

      Now we have a new, hi-tech library. Mom could have enough card to play poker. Now we can only drop off through an outside slot and check out books – ourselves – with our tiny computerized key ring library card. Librarian? She’s in some back office doing government forms.

  5. Love this article, Amy. I require a lot of solitude also…maybe I enjoy my own company just a little too much! 😀 Thanks for sharing the story about your parents. I like that you realized that your mother knew what she was doing when she “ran away” and you visited her at the motel…and funny that that was the only time your father ever called you. Family dynamics are an endless source of fascination to me…or maybe I should say human behavior.

    • Hard to believe the first home we had with a phone, I was 13 – so Dad was 53 – after we moved from the country to the city. (Mom had been city-raised so she was clued in to all these marvels of “modernity”. 🙂 ) In our country life, the General Store had the town’s phone. A phone call was either VERY good news or VERY bad! Whenever the store owner asked me to run to fetch the person, she’d say, “Now you tell them it’s NOT bad news!”

      Family dynamics are really fascinating. My family has always given each other lots of space. I’ve jokingly called us a Foul Weather Family…when things are good, we are seldom in touch. If there has been something “sad, bad or scary”, we connect. Friends who need lots of close family connection don’t understand, but I observe they are in each others’ hip pocket a little too much for me.

      Yes, I agree…here’s to solitude, Gayle. And because of your poet heart, I want to share a quote I came across – I love much about it: A monk once wrote about Thomas Merton: “The little silence he knew, he wrote about very well.” I chuckle every time I lay eyes on it!

  6. Oh my goodness…that really was country living with only the General Store having the one phone. I marvel at how fast things have changed in my lifetime…

    Haha…I like your little nickname for your family, Amy…but seems appropriately descriptive. And families have different ideas of what “closeness” means…that’s for sure, though there’s such a thing called co-dependence…if you know what I mean. I grew up in a physically tight space with seven other family members. It was not ideal, to say the least, and our father was an alcoholic. Let’s just say that we were not a peaceful family. But as we kids grew up (and away from each other with our own space) we came together very strongly. I’m very happy about that.

    Here’s to solitude…and that monk with the sense of humor!

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