Something I love about women is the way we come naturally together to tend to one another. Throughout history, we’ve done: in the PTA, for suffrage, in quilting bees, to tend children, hearth, and home – whether in the suburbs, the frontier, or in prehistoric caves, while the men were off hunting mastodon and doing the things prehistoric men did.
As the nature of technology has redefined how we form communities, women have adapted, as well. I have dear friends I met first online, and I have communities that span the globe and touch upon many of my interests.
We women truly shine in the community arena when there is an upheaval in a member’s life – such as this fall and winter, when my husband died of late-diagnosed metastatic pancreatic cancer that chewed up his liver and his life in a matter of weeks.
One friend provided CBD oil, which, in those last days, provided a level of comfort, lucidity, and appetite none of his prescribed medications could. We had a precious few final conversations as husband and wife, and I will treasure them forever. Having an appetite was a relative thing, and meant a few sips of a smoothie, or morsels of pineapple, but Jim was a chef and food was his passion. Anything that could give him a few more tastes was priceless, to my mind.
Another local friend seems to always be there to meet practical needs. When we ran out of kerosene, which powers our furnace, and a delivery was about 10 days off, she brought us a loaded can, and smaller wood for our stove. I’d ordered an abundant supply of firewood, but Jim had always been the one to split it, and we were nearly out of kindling. She also provided clothing her older-than-mine kids had outgrown, a gift card to a favorite restaurant, and offers of whatever else we might need.
What is maybe most amazing about this is that this woman was my nemesis in the forced containment of high school. Had I been asked back then if she would ever do anything nice for me, I would have said something rude and walked away (I was a lot more judgmental as a teen).
Twice, I found gifts left by our front door – something sweet, a little cash, gift cards. No identifiers, except the feminine handwriting on the labels and cards.
The women in my local writing group took very good care of me, so I could tend to our kids. Two weeks running, I went to pay my check after our weekly gathering at a local Denny’s, only to find that one of my colleagues had picked up my tab without mentioning it – an unexpected and lovely gesture. I was given gift cards for the restaurant, and a meal train was arranged, so that I wouldn’t need to think so hard about how to feed us (I’m a chef’s widow; he did the cooking for the vast majority of the 20+ years we spent together, and my cooking muscles are stiff and atrophied).
A far-flung group of women, mostly writers, gathered together and asked what we might like in the way of a gift. Since the kids and I had decided to try some of the meal kit services, I suggested that as an option, and I’m now gradually building my culinary chops with meals from Plated. The premeasured portions and relatively simple, adaptable recipes have eased my trepidations and reduce waste (I have a habit of shopping bigger than anyone’s appetite, then getting distracted). And each time I prepare something tasty, I feel embtaced by these women, some of whom I only know by name, and only one of whom I’ve physically met. These women heard of our situation, and wanted to contribute something, and, in doing so, they made a new community of cooperation.
There have been offers of administrative tools, too. As I move through the mountain range of tasks required to shift our financial life from two adults to one, I’m hugely grateful to know women who knoos something of these areas, since I’m a bit shaky on paperwork things.
I’ve had coffee dates, and invitations for myself and the kids to visit, and inclusion in online groups that offer support for things like older unschooling moms and Instant Pot cooking.
But the most potent example of community came from Jim’s two sisters, Jennifer and Joanne, who set aside their own lives, and flew from their homes in Oregon to ours in a cold and snowy upstate New York, so they could be here for their younger brother’s last days. The three of us have always been friendly, but often lived in very different places. During those days, where they helped me to tend Jim and also tended the children and I (they never came from their hotel without bringing something that allowed me to stay home with Jim and still have food in the house. Since, we’ve touched base with one another, and I feel a community was forged that will endure – and that would have made Jim, who was close to his sisters, very happy.