I used to hate being alone. I remember as a teenager, aching for the phone to ring, rifling through my closet for something ‘cool’ to wear, wandering the halls of my university residence listening for signs of music and laughter. I was restless and bored being by myself.
But not anymore. My searching spirit was quieted by years of solitude caring for my children. Nicholas is 25 now and Natalie is 22, but for many of their growing up years, I was with Nick in the hospital or I was home waiting for the next crisis. This forced confinement prompted me to name my book “The Four Walls of My Freedom” because although I was within the four walls of my caregiving duties, I learned to be happy without the company of others. Once I succumbed to my destiny, I began to look carefully at my garden, my home, my children, my husband and I looked very, very carefully. Suddenly I saw that contained within the ordinary is the whole world and all the emotions in it. I reflected on the meaning of peeling a potato, of planting a spring bulb, of bathing my children and of folding warm sheets.
So now, I am sitting at my grandparents’ family cottage on our lake in the Quebec Laurentian mountains. I gaze at the portrait of my Nana – her knowing eyes look proud and comfortable. She made peace with solitude and caregiving too. Her son, my father, had three strokes and died young. Many of her brothers and sisters perished as children in the harsh farming life of Northern Scotland. When, as a honours student, she was offered a scholarship to attend senior high school in the nearby town of Wick, her parents said “No. You must stay home and look after your younger brothers and sisters. You must do your chores here.” Like me, my Nana made peace with her destiny. She was a happy and strong person – a true survivor.
I delight in the company of others, but I savor being alone too. Not everyone is able learn how to make friends with solitude, but caregivers often are. Aren’t we lucky!
THE FOUR WALLS OF MY FREEDOM: LESSONS I’VE LEARNED FROM A LIFE OF CAREGIVING by Donna Thomson (The House of Anansi Press, 2014) is available in Canada and will be released in the USA on August 12.