My mother lives alone. She is sixty six. On most days she manages reasonably well. I admire her courage because living alone, being lonely, without constant human presence enlivening and punctuating the caverns of silence, can encompass one in a depressive frame of mind. Often when my partner goes away on his business trips i experience the same loneliness, a similar undertow of despair.
The problem though is my mother's hypochondria. Everyday she calls me and talks for half an hour. The region of discomfort in her physiognomy is amorphous. Sometimes it's a headache, or indigestion, or blood pressure. Where she otherwise deals with solitude imperturably her health is really the paradigm where my mother's discomfiture with her loneliness shows itself. She's old and ageing and a certain physical discomfort is inevitable. These intermittences of queasy feelings in her otherwise courageous demeanour shows that even she ,with all her strength and will is capsized by absence of human contact, cast adrift, unanchored. And i shudder to think of how i ,in my old age, will cope with the onslaught of mortality.
So i temper my exasperation when mum calls. I am patient, proffering anodyne, palliating platitudes to shore her up, console her. I feel terrified thinking of her in pain, with no one to call to or ask for aid. At the same time this litany of plaintive deluges of discomfort anger me. Sometimes i think of her as an attention seeker, trying to demand from me, as an interlocutor, a sufficient block of time to alleviate her misery . It is the protracted nature of the commitment she solicits that renders my solicitations tinged with anger though intermingled with a piquant, frustrated love . And this combination, astringent, makes me aseptic.
My elder sister lives with her husband and two sons in ontario. Mum visits them every year for five months. It is miraculous that when with them her phone calls become fewer and when she does speak it is in softened tones, with a gentleness of concern which is how i have been accustomed to think of her through our childhood. Moments like these it seems as though the connecting tissue between her healthfulness and aloneness is human contact. All her grievances pall, her illnesses diminish in intensity and her hypochondria is obliterated. And then she comes back to live on her own and the whole process ,inexorably, is replicated.
Currently i'm enjoying a restful interlude. Mum is in ontario. Thinking through her admixture of depression and gregariousness i think of how nebulous yet how durable happiness is. That even when moments of low feeling drag us down they are always interlaced with a hopeful tomorrow. The ultimate nobility of a true sufferer, with an unrelieved stretch of despair is frightening to behold. But for what it's worth one chooses to find ways around one's loneliness until, at that fatal moment, all corporeal appendages are relinquished and we become part of a larger silence. But till then, we live on, as best as we can.