by Toni O’Keeffe
The past five years of my life has been a period of reflection. I’m grateful for the gift of this reflection and for the blessing of the alone time that came with it.
Growing up in a large Irish/French-Canadian family full of happy noise and our own brand of chaos, which included; 14 hands rummaging through the sock box looking for a match, one bathroom where it was not uncommon to have three in the tub, one on the pot, Dad shaving over the sink while one of us brushed our teeth as mom hollered “you’re going to be late.” (I sometimes felt those words were her default cry, as chances were, “someone was always going to be late.” I became use to the familiar buzz of family noise and it was comforting. It was what I knew and it was a constant companion for most of my life.
When I left home I moved exactly half-a-block away into my aunt Jeanne’s house. My 6 year old brother Chris pulled most of my belongings in his wagon as I dragged my dresser up the street and my two little sisters Jacquie and Jeanette lugged the rest of my stuff up the road to where I would now reside.
My new residence was always buzzing with the movement of aunts, uncles, cousins, people, pets, my younger siblings and friends constantly coming and going.
From there I moved into an apartment with the man who became my husband and the father of my two sons. Life continued to be a chaotic swirl as I grew my own family, worked full time, went back to school, moved several times and still stayed closely anchored to the roots and busyness of my immediate family.
As my boys grew, and my first marriage ended, life continued to be a beautiful hectic blend of community service, career responsibilities, cubs and scouts, baseball, soccer games, swimming lessons, ski trips, camping adventures, birthday parties, sleep overs, trips to the emergency room for stitches, ear infections, broken bones, things stuck up little noses, strains and enlarged tonsils. Never a quiet or lonely moment. And, I loved it.
When the boys left home my new partner and I still led a busy life with our jobs, trips, entertaining, my sons coming and going and attending events related to the various community organizations I was involved in.
Then it all changed. The happy noise of my life became quiet. My son Ryan passed away at the age of 30. My partner of 16 years decided he was “done” and we parted ways. My youngest son was settling into his adult life and I retired from a long and successful career, leaving behind the social structure, community service and workplace friendships that were tied to my identity and a big part of my life.
A deafening silence settled over my world.
What the hell had just happened. 55 years had just zipped by.
Now alone in my new home with my grief, two little dogs as my primary companions, and no outside commitments, I began to assess, question and ponder my life. What was the purpose of any of it? I looked in the mirror and saw an older version of a person I thought I knew. Yet I didn’t know her at all.
A loneliness I had never experienced began to creep in. I had always been an upbeat positive optimistic person despite the painful parts of my journey. So, how did I land here, feeling lonely, lost and pushed off my perch?
I knew I had to fill the void. I considered part time work, joining clubs or volunteering as I had lots of experience and talent to offer. However, something held me back.
I missed the noise, my children, being a mom, a wife, a leader, I missed the busyness, the commitments, the responsibilities and the community service, or, did I?
I was lost.
After years of being many things and wearing many hats, here I sat not knowing who I was at all.
I started taking long walks to figure myself out. I thought about the son I had lost and played “what if” scenarios over and over in my head.
I found myself wandering into the forest or along the ocean. Retreating into the lap of nature brought me great comfort. I analyzed my relationships, all of them, to try and figure out what was wrong “with me” and understand how I had arrived at this place.
I also began to journal which was something I had done off and on over the years. I wrote down everything and began to pose questions to myself. And to my surprise, the answers came.
I began to realize that this aloneness was a gift of time, time to take a break, take a breath and pause before I stepped into the next phase of my life. This alone time was my chance to forgive and heal myself, to course correct, to reflect on and own my past behaviour, challenge my beliefs and chart a new path forward. A time to walk in nature and listen to my inner voice, the gentle voice I had not listened to for years. I had shut her out, listening instead to external voices, opinions, beliefs and the noise of others.
I recall hearing this inner voice when I was a child. “She” had provided me with inspiration, encouragement and wisdom. She had always been with me when I was playing or creating. Then, somewhere in my teenage years I stopped listening to her comforting, wise and loving words. “She” is my spirit, my soul, always childlike, ready to play, kind, compassionate and true to herself and always there to guide me.
It was in silence and in my aloneness that I met her again and I started to remember who I was and what this life journey is about.
This kind and loving voice kept me from jumping back into busy, noisy things because she knew exactly where she was guiding me. And, her timing was perfect.
She reminded me to be thoughtful in how I engage with the rest of the world, to make time to exercise my gifts. She helped me understand that we have to forgive, heal and love ourselves before we can forgive, heal and love others. In this alone time I committed to being careful with who I give my heart to and to embrace the magic, the starlight, the forest, the rainy days and each moment of the life I have been given.
I will continue to listen to the voice of that sweet spirit that continues to whisper in my ear. I don’t know exactly where she will guide me next. But I am going to trust that whatever comes, is meant for me and is meant to be.
Listen to the voice that calls you from within. It will guide you. No matter where your road leads, take time to listen, to forgive, to heal and to spend time alone and love the one you’re with❤️
(c) January 30, 2020
Toni O’Keeffe 🌹❤️