Small Kindnesses and Other Stories

Hubby has been away fishing this week. And I have had the house to myself for five whole days. My vacation, Hubby calls it.

I had some of the girls over for a barbecue one night. My friend Jo brought me a pot of purple mums. “In honour of your mum,” she said. That was so kind, I thought. Kindnesses of all types, particularly the small kindnesses, bring me to tears lately. I guess that’s normal.

small kindness from a friend.
Jo’s mums for my mum.

Hubby and his fishing buddy left at dawn on Monday, canoe strapped to the top of the truck. And, as I said, I’ve been alone all week. Blissfully alone. Blissful because I am rarely alone in the house. And also blissful because I know it’s temporary. So, I’ve been cramming in as many of my favourite solitary pleasures as I can.

Dawn on the Rideau River in Manotick. May 2023.
Dawn departure.

I’ve been walking when it wasn’t too hot to walk. Walking and listening to my audio book. This week I’ve been enjoying Trick of the Night by Joy Ellis. And I just started The Last Remains, the new Elly Griffiths’ Ruth Galloway novel.

Walking the Barrhaven Trail. May 2023.
Morning walk before it gets too hot.

I spent one day shopping. Poking around a neighbourhood I haven’t visited since before the pandemic. Perusing independent shops. Buying treats for my supper. Small kindnesses for me from me.

I wore my new white Levis 501s. I’m really enjoying their loose, easy fit. Just exactly the style I was seeking.

Shopping day wearing white Levis 501 jeans, COS striped shirt, black Birkenstock sandals with a beige Eric Javits bag.
Wearing my new Levis 501 jeans.

And I’ve been reading, reading, reading. With my breakfast, with lunch, before dinner, after dinner. I just finished Standing in the Shadows, the latest, and sadly the last, Inspector Banks novel by Peter Robinson. Robinson died in October 2022. I will miss the Inspector Banks series. Hubby and I have been reading them for years.

And yesterday I started a Paula McLain novel, When the Stars Go Dark. It’s been sitting on my shelf for over a year. I adore Paula McLain’s writing. The Paris Wife and Circling the Sun are among my favourite novels. But when I bought this book back in 2021 I found that I couldn’t read it. The beginning chapters are so dark, and I was not in the mood for darkness then. Now, though, I’m devouring it.

Enjoying a small pleasure. Reading and sipping wine.
Evening read on the deck.

One day this week I had my hair cut. And Carmen put in a few lowlights. Just a few that peek out under my bangs. The next day I took my new haircut to town to run some errands, get the mail, and pick up some groceries for the barbecue.

Woman with white hair on a deck wearing blue shirt, checked pants, black sandals and a black cross-body bag.
Off to run errands in old clothes with new hair.

You know, even with all the running around, the walking, the garden watering, and the reading, being alone still leaves time and space for thinking. It’s not been all murder mysteries and chocolate treats for dessert. I’ve been doing a lot of thinking. Of the recent past and of the future as well.

I’ve been thinking, in particular, of kindness. The fact of small kindnesses. Their value. How easy it is to be kind. Do something small. Say something gentle and healing. Pick up the phone. Show up. Whatever.

Hubby and I attended the celebration of life for the daughter of one of his former hockey buddies recently. She died suddenly. We didn’t know her, not really. Her father died of cancer years ago. Hubby played hockey with him for years and years before that. Decades, actually. Raised a glass of beer after games, traded verbal jabs in the locker room, swapped stories at parties remembering antics off and on the ice. And in the end helped carry his casket at his funeral.

We have seen his widow only rarely in the intervening years. But at that more recent event, when Hubby’s friend’s wife saw Hubby she cried. They hugged. A long hard hug. Hubby cried. I cried. And it dawned on me how much our showing up meant to her. How much Hubby’s embrace, that small, small thing, meant.

The pot of purple mums that Jo brought to the barbecue meant a lot to me too. Made me cry. Not for long. Jo for all her soft heart is not a sentimentalist. So jokes swiftly followed the tears.

Notes, small kindnesses, I received after my mum's death.

And this morning as I read my Paula McLain book with my first cup of tea, and contemplated my flowers, I remembered the other small kindnesses extended since my mum’s death. The cards that arrived in the mail from dear friends, and from family who live far away. The wordless hugs. The long phone call from my best friend who lives in Fredericton. The kind comments from blog readers. The messages and emails, the “are you okay?” texts.

And I realized that small kindnesses have a value far greater than the effort it takes to extend them. It’s easy to be kind. To do something small, say something gentle and healing. Pick up the phone. Show up. Whatever.

But my goodness, when one is hurting, it’s hard to overstate how much those small kindnesses mean. How much they help.

The fisherman has returned home now. He fetched up last night, all bug-bitten and in need of a bath. As he soaked up to his neck in the bath, beer in hand, I sat on the toilet seat, sipping red wine and listened to his tale of woe. So many portages. So many bugs. So few fish.

My vacation was over, my solitude broken. But I was glad to have him home. Temporary solitude should be treasured. But I am keenly aware that one day one of us will have to endure that solitude on a permanent basis. And that my friend will be a whole other thing.

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission which helps to pay for the costs to run the blog.

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86 thoughts on “Small Kindnesses and Other Stories”

  1. A moving post, Sue. Timing was probably right for you to have your annual patch of solitude. I’ve been wishing for some of that myself, but also keenly aware of what you allude to in your last two sentences — Oof! xo
    (I’ve just come home from the library where I serendipitously found a copy of Peter Robinson’s penultimate mystery which I haven’t yet read. I’ll be stretching it out as much as I can and not quite ready to read the last one. I’ll miss his writing as well. As I still do Reginald Hill’s. . .

    1. Every birthday makes me think that. I have to stop myself because I then spend too much time being sad in anticipation of being sad.
      P.S. Same here about Robinson and especially about Reginald Hill. He was one in a million, I think.

  2. Small kindnesses are important. While I agree that they’re mostly easy, there are times when I worry that I might be overstepping or not getting it right. I think that says more about me than anything. And I don’t let my doubts stop me – I just angst about the best form of words to use in a card, or the best choice of gift. So it’s reassuring to read that the gentle kindnesses you’ve received have helped.
    Your solo week sounds blissful. All that reading and having only yourself to please can be very restorative. But it’s always wonderful, when they return home 🌸

  3. Ms. Burpee – I’m so sorry to hear about your mum. This post reminded me of the lovely message you left on my dad’s obituary when he passed away. I remember finding it and feeling that tug in my heart of familiar comfort. I called Liz right away to tell her and she said “Ms. Burpee is a CLASS ACT.” Anyway – here I am returning the favour because I know the lady who raised my favourite teacher must have been pretty special. Take care.

    1. Oh, my…that was a three kleenex comment, Sarah. Thank you. I hope the teaching world is treating you well. From what I hear from my former colleagues many of whom are quite young, it’s very difficult these days. Hope you hang in there.
      P.S. Funny, as I write this I am picturing you as a grade nine student all dressed up for the class play in a pair of my husband’s old polyester pants from the seventies. Ha

    2. Oh, that was so touching. I could feel it way down here in Los Angeles. It just sounded like one of your students. That is a lovely gift to your favorite teacher. Much better than an apple.

  4. I’m so glad your friends are rallying round & showing you small kindness’s . This few days of your own company sounds to have been quite cathartic & has perhaps allowed you to come to terms a ittle with saying goodbye to your mum . I hope so . You must be enjoying that sunshine , it’s come at just the right time .
    I haven’t read any of those books so notes have been made . Books I’ve enjoyed recently . Lucy By The Sea – very good , brought back memories of the awful madness of Covid . The Romantics by William Boyd – I usually enjoy his books . It’s quite a saga covering most of the 18th century around the world . My favourite book was very different for me . Called George by Frieda Hughes it’s her memoir of adopting an abandoned magpie chick that she fell in love with & I did too . It’s changed my perception of the magpies that clack around in my garden . I’m guessing it won’t appeal to anyone with bird phobia ( I’m looking at you here 😁) but it’s beautifully written . She’s a poet & the daughter of Ted Hughes & Sylvia Plath , so has a good pedigree . I’m just on with Kate Atkinson’s latest now & it looks very promising. I like the period & the setting .
    Those jeans are the perfect fit & Carmen’s worked her magic again .
    PS You must be very touched to receive Sarah’s comment . What a lovely compliment .

    1. Christine Cascadia

      Wendy, you might enjoy the book “Mozart’s Starling” by Lyanda Haupt. Another book about a not exactly beloved bird species! Haupt is a great observer of birds, and when she finds a baby starling that cannot be raised by its mother, she takes on the task and discovers what an interesting species it is. She’s a good observer of the natural world; humane but realistic.

    2. Yep. Sarah’s comment went straight to the heart. I loved Lucy By the Sea. I have not read much William Boyd. Sometimes writers fall off the list in my head. I must put him back on there.
      P.S. I should have included comments and emails from blog friends in my list. I was so touched by your email when I was at home with mum. xo

  5. Don’t have many words, but your writing and the accompanying posts from readers brought a tear to share with my morning coffee this Sunday morning. You are unafraid to share your deepest thoughts with your readers, and your words are always relevant and true.

  6. Sarah’s lovely comment brought tears to my eyes. It is very special, as part of your virtual community, to glimpse how valued you are by people who know you in real life.

    The Griffiths and Robinson have gone on my library hold list. I knew both were due to be published imminently, but had not realized they were currently available. It will be bittersweet to read the Robinson. Like Frances, knowing this is Robinson’s last novel made me remember how I felt when I heard Reginald Hill had died. I could happily have read many more additions to the Dalziel and Pascoe series.

    1. Me too. She is a lovely kid…. although not a kid anymore. 🙂 Speaking of Reginald Hill, when I was searching for something to read after finishing Peter Robinson’s book, I took an old Reginald Hill off the shelf. His stuff never grows old.

  7. I was touched to read about the kindnesses (and your friend who brought the mums). The comment from your former student is so lovely.

    Younger friends and colleagues knew that I was unable to see my partner for two years because of the pandemic. They surprised me in small and heartfelt ways – dropping off little treats and chatting from the window outside. One crocheted a bookmark and sent it to me for my birthday. Those gestures meant so much and will never be forgotten. These moments when we cut to the core of what it means to be an empathetic human are little miracles.

    Loved reading about Stu’s return, too.

    1. Gosh, that must have been hard, Stephanie, with him so far away for so long. And how wonderful that your colleagues stepped up in small ways… small, but with big effects.

      1. It’s so funny – I hadn’t realized how much I’d suppressed the memory of the terror of the first year of the pandemic especially, because I couldn’t reach him, until I reread this.

        Hope you have a lovely week and continue to take good care of yourself

        1. Thanks, Stephanie. I’d kind of forgotten the fear and confusion of that time too until I read Elizabeth Strout’s Lucy By the Sea.

  8. Your writing again is spot on! My hubby was away for 4 days and although I savoured every minute homecoming a blessing. With Covid came too much togetherness and I agree a quiet house a beautiful respite until it is forever.
    I am a card and note sender and feel sad that it is going the way of the dinosaur. A few words can touch the healing heart!
    Sarah is a treasure.

    1. It’s amazing that card and note sending has fallen away so quickly. My sister-in-law is an inveterate sender of cards and notes. I love that about her.

  9. Oh Sue…such a beautifully written post…my eyes are not dry now. So much to think about and so much truth.
    Kindness never goes out of style, small gestures mean so much and make a significant impact.
    Random acts of kindness are still a thing…a friend recently moved and was at the coffee shop grabbing a coffee to go and a croissant when she realized that she had forgotten her wallet. The woman behind her in line paid and said pass it on….
    Those mums for your mum are lovely.

    Leslie
    Hostess of The Humble Bungalow

  10. This really hit home. My 98 year old Dad is in hospice care at home, my 94 year old Mom in failing health and it has been a lot lately, with no family support from one brother and the other has his own challenges to put it mildly. But that last couple of sentences just said it all, my heart has been so heavy with all of it. I am grateful that you have friends to help with the small but oh so comforting gestures. Oh, and your hair looks so fab!

  11. Loved this post, Sue. I have a newly retired husband so I can relate. I love your point about enjoying it because it as it is temporary, excellent point. I love your 501’s too. I think I need to give them a try.

    1. Thanks, Cindy. I was surprised to start wearing Levis again. I always counted on Nordstrom carrying Frame jeans which fit me perfectly. But then their stock became really patchy, and they announced they were closing the Ottawa store. So I began the seemingly endless search for jeans which fit. Still, it took me three or four visits to the Levis store before they had white/cream jeans in my size.

  12. By chance I also have an afternoon in solitude today, my husband being on a fotoshooting course. I also cherish being alone for some time though I also know how lucky we are to be together, having some widowed friends.
    I don’t know if my condolence comment did arrive, but I want you to know that I feel with you. I lost my mother more than 30 years ago. And it is always a deep cut, no matter how the relationship was like. I had the feeling that my childhood was finally over, better the connection to my childhood was cut off. On the birthday of our daughter I always have the feeling of remembering a mutual event. This birthday being linked between mother and child. And it is hard to accept that this link is cut off for this world.
    I wish you more smiles and little signs of love and sympathy, and send you also one from here. It still is magical für me that this is possible within a second from Austria to Canada😊

    1. I understand completely what you are saying about a connection being severed. My mum and I shared the same sense of humour. When something funny happened I always tried to remember it to share with her. In the last few years when she sometimes had forgotten funny stories from the past I would remind her and we would have a good laugh. I miss that. Plus the fact that other than my two sisters, no one remembers me as a little girl anymore. Sending you smiles right back… all the way to Austria. 🙂

  13. I realized upon losing my husband that people don’t know what to say or do. I realized they cared no matter what they said, they cared. The ones who did nothing said to me they did not know what to say or do. Grief is a very singular thing.

  14. So very sorry about your Mum and like all previous commenters including your lovely former student, I loved this post about small kindnesses for the gentle reminder to enjoy small small moments that bring bliss and enjoy today…

  15. Valeri Johnson

    I love this posting. It’s very well written and it made me stop and ponder. Thank you.

  16. Sue your last paragraph was so moving I felt prickles in my eyes. Tomorrow M.Ainsivalavie and I celebrate #47 and though only in our late sixties it gives one pause to think a time will come when only one of us will be there to ‘turn off the lights’. It’s the great price we pay for being in a loving relationship no matter the years.
    My father told me that after losing my mother ( his partner in crime for 69 yrs) that he would often turn to her empty chair to comment on something and realize she wasn’t there. My grandmother often spoke of reading a newspaper article “ then I would go to hand it to Charlie saying you must read this, of course his chair was empty.”
    Oh it’s good to have solo time (I can’t under stand couples that are glued to each other 100%) but what a blessing when the other half of the union returns.

    1. Being apart for a while is wonderful. If only that it gives us something new to talk about. Ha. Although we are usually not at a loss for topics of conversation. I sometimes wonder if Stu and I will ever run out of things to say to each other.

  17. After reading your excellent post and all the wonderful comments, I was thinking this was a good reminder to always be kind and go out of our way to do acts of kindness for others because you never know if that person is struggling with something. Whether it be sadness from the loss of a loved one or a diagnosis that has sent them in to a tail spin or just a ” bad day” – kindness can always make a difference. And you may never know that your kindness has made the difference but it has.
    One of my Mom’s former students came thru the receiving line to tell me how much my Mom had meant to her with her learning difficulties at school and how much Mom had helped her. It was such a wonderful gesture and I think my Mom would have been so pleased. I found that people coming thru the receiving line often needed the consoling even more than I did. I lost my Mom in Feb so this topic always brings tears to my eyes.
    Be kind to yourself as well everyone. 💖

    1. That must have been special meeting your Mum’s former student. How kind of her to attend. “Showing up” is important in so many ways.

  18. Sue,
    You have the best way with words, so thoughtful, hopeful and caring of self and others. And, you have the best readers too. So many of us have lost a parent or both. Just because they were old, doesn’t mean we don’t miss them. And yes, their passing moves us up the ladder of life and we feel more on our own than ever before.
    Thanks for this thoughtful “musing”.

  19. What a great post on this fine Sunday morning, thank you Sue, indeed we all need a little more kindness.

    Have a great day.

  20. Echoing others here. What a lovely read on a Sunday morning. And your student’s post was really touching. So nice to have so many supporting you.

    I know exactly what you mean about your hubby’s return. My hubby is in full on golf season, which gives me plenty of alone time, but we’re of an age where your last two sentences are also on my mind.

  21. Well Sue I finally got myself a new tablet and can finally read the comments of your lovely readers and comment myself. I, like most of the other ladies, thoroughly enjoyed your blog today! It is good to be reminded how much a small kindness means. Even paying for someone else’s coffee in the lineup behind you makes not only the person feel nice but makes you feel good as well.
    Being a bit of an introvert I really enjoy any alone time I can get but as my husband is a homebody it usually only amounts to a few hours a week when he goes golfing. It is good for me to be reminded that someday I may wish for his company so not to complain!
    My very deepest condolences for the loss of your mum! Having been there I know it is so very hard. Virtual hugs!

    1. Thanks, Ruth Janet. And welcome back to the comments!
      P.S. The few hours of having the house to myself on Friday mornings are why I love golf so much!

  22. Kindness, like manners, carries no weight but can make a huge difference to the recipient. It can be hard to know what to say but just reaching out and making contact can bring comfort. I think your former student, Sarah, put it beautifully. Sending hugs.

  23. Sue, sending all my thoughts and care. This time can be tender, in so many ways. I respect your need to take your time in writing, and I just had to say you look so beautiful.

  24. Thank you for sharing this sweet reality…Kindness Matters. Our two sons and I received many such expressions of kindness when their dad, my husband of 44 years, passed away last November.
    I hope you are feeling the love and care of family, friends, and former students (❤️) as you mourn your mom’s passing.

  25. Margaretanne Clinton

    Sue,
    What a beautiful piece of writing. A lovely post to read.
    I still sometimes pick up my phone to call my mother, usually from something happening in my life I know she’d think was funny.
    And , it’s been 15 years since she died.
    I wonder if it will always be this way.
    It’s wonderful to hear so many thinking of you.
    Margaretanne

    1. My mum always said the same thing about her mum. That she so often went to pick up the phone after my grandmother died, to check on her or ask a question.

  26. Leslie in Oregon

    Dear Sue, After reading this post, I checked to make sure that the condolences I sent to you via a post comment made it to print. They did not. I assume that was because, in response to that and every other comment I have written to one of your recent posts, I was asked to read and enter a CAPCHA code, which I always did. But, like the condolence comment I tried to leave in reply to Mary above, my condolence comment to you was not printed, so I will try again. … Please accept my heartfelt condolences on the death of your Mum. Having lost my mother to death when I was a young adult, I always have relished your stories of time and conversations you had with your Mum. I hope you share more of them as you remember them. May your memories of your Mum be a blessing to you always.

    1. I’m so sorry that you’ve been having trouble commenting, Leslie. That’s frustrating. Thanks for persisting. Did you have to put in the capcha code for the reply to Mary which did not appear? And did you have to do it for this one. What happens when you do so? Does the caocha prompt just disappear? I’ll contact my host again about comments. I know the new security measures they put in place have caused problems for some readers and not for others. If you try to answer and nothing happens can you email me at susanburpee@gmail.com ???

  27. Since so many of your readers are now or have been teachers, like you, and so many of you enjoy fictional crime stories, I have a book to recommend that includes a teacher and crime, or criminals, and it’s real story. It’s called “Shakespeare Saved my Life” . The author is an English professor, Laura Bates, who volunteers in a supermax solitary confinement unit full of convicted murderers, teaching Shakespeare’s plays to men with little education, killers all. Sounds grim, and their stories are that. But one in particular is extraordinary and his story is well worth reading. It is a reminder that everyone responds to kindness, even, or especially, those who have seen little of it in their lives. Highly recommended.

  28. Julie,Melbourne,Australia

    I think writing and reading are what you need at this time. Do what feels right for you and be kind to yourself. I lost my parents within a year of each other when I was 31 and 32 and I had no idea of how to grieve and what it would entail. I went through a bout of depression after the second loss and I was also 3 months pregnant. I got through it and found I had to just keep going. Family, friends and time do help but in my case solitude and reflection helped me the most. Loss at any age is hard and there are now long or right ways to grieve.
    I’m glad you have a loving husband and thoughtful friends.

  29. Small acts of kindness- how invaluable they are…for both sides
    Sarah’s comment was so meaningful-what a wonderful teacher she had!
    I’m so glad that both you and Stu had great time (and joyful reunion)
    I remember that you have mentioned here When the Stars Go Dark-I’ve downloaded it and forgot about it till now. Thank you for reminding us
    I re-watched the start of Inspector Banks series recently and was thinking about reading the books…
    I’ve read Peter May’s A Silent Death(situated in Spain ),Christina Mc Donald’s The Night Olivia Fell,Maggie O’Farrell’s The Mariagge Portrait……
    Your hair is beautiful as always
    Dottoressa

    1. Oh… a Peter May book I haven’t read yet. Wonderful. Stu and I just finished A Winter Grave. It was so good. All about climate change and murder, of course. I didn’t think I would like A Marriage Portrait when I first started it, but it drew me in with it’s poetic writing and the depiction of setting which was almost painterly in its detail. Which of course makes sense. I used to teach the poem “My Last Duchess” which was as you probably know is about the real duchess. So that made the book really special for me.

  30. Goodness, Sue…had I known that you were going to post a picture of my note, I would have used my very best handwriting, instead of my day-to-day “written by a 4 year old font.” Also, my heart drawing could use a little practice, too 🙂

    Hugs and wiseass jokes,
    Jo

  31. Sue, you’ve given us another thoughtful and touching post, with so much goodness to carry us through the week.
    As others have said, your words are moving, as well as the comments from you many readers. It was wonderful to read Sarah’s comments and those of many of your readers and friends.
    I correspond with a former coworker via letters and we both look forward to receiving the physical mail. We sometimes send a quick email, but it is the letters that are a delight to find in the mailbox.
    The Levis look good!
    I’ll be adding the books to my TBR list.
    Glad that you had quality alone time and that your hubby is back and bug bites are healing.

  32. Sue, I understand about those temporary solitudes…My husband is a fisherman, but at 83 he’s considering stopping…time will tell. But he also had quadruple by-pass surgery December 6th and I gratefully nursed him for the 6 weeks he returned home. It made me reminded me again how being without him permanently would be. We are at an age where friends are departing. We pray daily together for a long life together with strong minds, and healthy bodies. Thankfully, he’s just fine! and even fished for 5 days with a friend at the end of May.

    1. One of the things Hubby was most worried about after shoulder surgery a few years ago was whether he would still be able to carry the canoe. 🙂

  33. Finally a Canadian to follow!! I too love books fashion ( ok maybe too much fashion) and the best of all travel.I follow a few American women on their blogs but happy to hear from a fellow Canuck . I’m in Alberta .I just returned from Africa and found your blog thru Cindy Hattersley s happy to hear what is next. As an aside I’m also an artist.Bonita

  34. Just reread this post after Cindy Hatterley’s reminder this morning. I too am experiencing small kindnesses lately as my husband of 42 years passed away on Friday 30 June.
    Like you, I used to treasure small spaces of solitude when he traveled or even when he was in the hospital for one reason or another. But this is now “forever alone” and quite a different thing.
    At his passing, my girls were here and kept me busy, SD Animal Wild Safari, Indiana Jones movie, breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, White Claws to sip in the sun, and Skipbo on the patio with laughter and tears. Now they have returned to their homes and I am truly alone. It is quite peaceful to have time to let my soul rest and self-soothe. You see, he had cancer. The last two years were filled with chemo and the horrible side effects it causes. Slowly he lost his independence in every way, from cane, to walker, to wheelchair, and finally to bed for good. Before that, vascular issues and surgeries. Pretty much eight years of struggle progressively getting worse.
    Throughout it all, my sweet friends, neighbors, and office co-workers have been supportive and yes, Kind. Hugs. Tears. A shoulder. A hand. Doordash. Meals delivered. Flowers. Casseroles. Pasta salad. Even a cozy blanket for a nap on the couch. Honestly, it has taken my breath away.
    So while I may be “forever alone”, I am filled with the love and kindness shown by so many. So while I grieve and remember what we had in years past, I have all those kindnesses to help me find my future.

    1. Oh gosh, what a difficult time you’ve had, Holly. Watching your husband’s long decline must have been so hard. And you’re not just watching are you? But experiencing it along the way. I hope that things are easier for you going forward although I know it’s easy to say that and way harder to experience it.

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