When most people talk of loneliness I find it difficult to relate. Having always been a loner I don’t confuse loneliness with being alone. Besides I am accompanied by my “familiar” which reminds me I am never really alone. And these days with four cats that all seem to need to share my lap and a black lab to warm my feet, loneliness doesn’t come into the picture at all. I have good neighbors and the internet so I am surrounded by love and good will.
There have been a couple of times in my life when being alone wasn’t so great. In 1959 I found myself sitting on a bench in Waterloo Station in London England between Christmas and New Years. I was down to my last few shillings, having put a payment on room which wouldn’t be available for several days and had a job that would start in the new year. To spend the time I watched the ebb and flow of people from all over the world, many in native costume, as they passed my bench. I found cheap steak-and-kidney pies, and made use of the public washrooms. But there was a moment or two when I wondered what I was doing in that cold rainy country, thousands of miles from my home in Canada.
The next time I recall feeling lonely was after my beloved brother Joe died of brain cancer. He was a couple of years older but we grew up together. Not only was he my brother, but he was my neighbor and my best friend. With his death a light went out of my life.
Yet the sun kept on setting in the evening and rising in the morning and I kept putting one foot ahead of the other. Although Joe could turn his hand to anything from plumbing to wiring to building a whole house, his hobby was carving. He did African masks, King Tut and scary creatures from Stephen King novels. He also carved birds, many, many birds from Canada geese to buffle-head ducks to herons.
Joe had a small camp up on the Tobique, a lovely river in New Brunswick and one day I decided to drive up there. The instant I got to the Tobique grief and loneliness hit me so hard I had to stop driving. Tears poured down my face as I got out and stood beside the car. Suddenly from nowhere came a large chevron of geese and they changed direction and flew down directly over my head so close I was caught up in their sad mourning good-byes as they moved on south. It seemed that Joe was speaking to me through the geese.
Most of our ancestors lived long lives. Father was in his late 90s when he died and Mother nearly 90 so I had expected that Joe and I would grow old together. But the brain tumor (a Glyoblastoma 4) took all that away.
A year or two later I was walking the dogs around the orchard at the home place and again missing Joe’s cheery company when the tears started pouring down. “Oh, Joe,” I wailed. “I miss you so much.” The dog stopped in front of me and a voice, maybe in my head, maybe real, said: “I’m here.”
Then all the loneliness vanished. Now at 75 I find old friends and neighbors dying at an alarming rate. At the same time, I cherish the memories and know that they are all only a thought away.
And now I have to go feed my dog.