When you’ve stayed alone for a while, being by yourself and living by your own rules becomes second nature. Creating space for anything and anyone new seems a lot to ask. And when you are in the autumn of life, it is a near impossibility to let someone in.
It was something like that with 68-year-old Miss Sally.
Having lost her husband at a young age, she had created a simple, contented and well-organised life for herself. An English teacher until retirement, Miss Sally had chosen to live alone–she had her reasons. Despite her cherished independence, loneliness was a frequent intruder in her life of solitude. Yet, she was not open to the idea of living with her children or asking them to move closer.
As time passed, a gradual lack of purpose and loneliness seemed to get a stronger hold over her life. Often, she made mental lists of regrets, unanswered questions, and sometimes, complaints from life. On a still, a rather listless evening, she sat in the garden holding a hot cup of tea, lost in thoughts of the past. Something broke into her reverie… it was her next-door neighbour, holding a leash to the happiest dog she had ever seen. Her face lit up as the young man called out to her, “Miss Sally, meet Ollie… I named him after Oliver Twist!”
Ollie’s prompt display of affection put an effortless smile on Miss Sally’s face. A bundle of joy, her canine visitor wagged his tail, jumping and galloping across the garden. Before she knew it, he had licked her face twice. Miss Sally hadn’t laughed so much in years. There was a chuckle in her voice and sparkle in her ageing eyes as she invited the bouncy, clumsy mutt for a treat. Ollie followed Miss Sally all the way to the kitchen.
And, he never left.
From that day on, Miss Sally woke up with the sound of Ollie scratching on her kitchen door. Her compassionate neighbour let him out every morning so he could sprint off to her house. Ollie went everywhere with Miss Sally–to the farmer’s market, on morning walks, and to the post office. When she worked in the kitchen garden, he fetched her the water hose; he sat patiently by the kitchen door (silently waiting for his treats) when she fixed her meals; and when she took naps, he did too.
Happiness and laughter filled Miss Sally’s life. Her loneliness gave way to unconditional love from her constant companion. With his puppy eyes, the quintessential head tilt and the perpetually wagging tail, Ollie assured her he was there to stay. He had filled a hole in her life.
Until she had met Ollie, Miss Sally thought about the past, dreaded an even lonelier future and an eventual death. Ollie taught her to cherish the past, live in the present and not worry about the future. He showed the old-timer that life was a gift not to be squandered away. Even if the lesson came late in life.
Miss Sally passed away peacefully at the age of 73, with a hint of a smile on her face. She did not die alone, after all. Ollie sat beside her through her final days–every day, every moment until she breathed her last.