Posted in #BOAW2018, Blog Hops and Fests, Blogfest Entries, Commentary, Life Writing, slices of life

The Beauty of Community: #BOAW2018

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.

There’s a beauty in all these expressions of community – a calling many women seem to possess to try to bring some order to times of chaos, to do something practical in the face of a situation that can’t be truly healed. It’s tenderness and comfort in a time of grievous wounding, and it’s helped me to be a sweeter, kinder, more positive mother for our daughter and our son, and to find moments of ease and joy in a very difficult time.

And that is not only beautiful, but precious, too.

This post is part of The Beauty of a Woman BlogFest VII! To read more entries, and potentially win a fun prize, visit the fest page on August’s McLaughlin’s site between today and 11pm PST March 9th.

Author:

I am myself. I own my life, and live with three other people who own theirs. My intention is to do only those things that bring me joy, and to give myself wholly to those things I do. Writing has been my passion throughout my life, and this will become the home for my writing life...because it brings me great joy!

29 thoughts on “The Beauty of Community: #BOAW2018

  1. This is beautiful and powerful, Shan! The generosity of women coming forward to help you is amazing but even more amazing is your strength, courage and love in such tough times.
    Lots of Love. ❤

    1. Thank you, Swati. I agree wholeheartedly about the remarkable fellow women in my life – women who, even two months after Jim’s death, make it clear that they’re here for me. with a word, a hug, a few moments of their time just to listen…

      I tend to try to see the positive in everything – it’s less exhausting for me than dwelling in all that has been lost, and lets me move forward faster. And, since teens are particularly forward-moving people, that seems more useful than staying stuck.

  2. Your courage and fortitude are absolutely beautiful. What they say is true, it really does take a village. I’m so happy your were surrounded by other strong, kind and caring women during your time of need ❤ cyber hugs!!!

    1. It’s lovely to have such a community to lean on when I need them. I hope that what I can give back pays it forward to some degree – now, and into the future.

      Hugs, cyber or otherwise, always gratefully accepted! =)

  3. Shan, your story is so heart-wrenching and inspiring, both at the same time. The fact you began with taking us back to the true beginning with cave man and cave women is so perfect for establishing the true sense of community. Our tribes. Our clans. We share in everything, tears good or sad, support, and sharing; it forms and maintains our bonds, which is what the human race needs. Huge hugs!

    1. Thank you, Maeve. I think we have more in common with our earliest ancestors than some of us would like to think, and those are the things hard-wired into us, so that modern scientists can see that men and women truly DO think differently…

      Hugs gratefully accepted! =)

    1. Thank you, Audrey. So am I. The stronger I am, the stronger I can be for the kids, myself, and the rest of the world.

      When a woman is supported, she tends to support.

  4. This post brought me to tears and I just want to reach through my laptop and hug you, Shan. Your amazing strength is beautiful, and you’re so right about the beauty of community.

    What a blessing your friend who shared the CBD oil with you so Jim was able to communicate with you and enjoy the taste of some delicious foods. I can see how much that would mean to a chef. I believe the CBD oil a friend gave us is the reason George’s aggressive brain cancer hasn’t spread.

    Wishing you and your family all God’s blessings. You are an amazing woman and mother.

    1. Your kindness in a time of personal uncertainty is beautiful, too, Lynn.

      I’d love to crow about my friend and how amazing a gift she gave us – but legislation has lagged behind usefulness, so I will just express what the gift meant, and treasure the results. I’m so happy it’s helping your husband, too, and am fervently wishing it will continue to do so for a long time to come.

      We’re at the point where we’re seeing possibilities in this we didn’t have before. Lise and I are getting puppies this spring – my bed is too lonely, when I’ve shared it for two decades, and she and Jim were close. We know dogs won’t replace him, but they will be companionship, and something to care for…a new focus.

      Blessing gratefully accepted, and reciprocated! ❤

  5. I had goosebumps as I read your post, and they have not left me. And yes, there are tears as well. I was thinking back to how long I have known you (in the online sense), and that’s about six years, Shan. Always, there is heart in your words, open to the world around you, encouraging everyone else to embrace the experience what it is. That’s a remarkable and rare strength, Shan. For all your beautiful and precious words, thank you.

    1. You’ve known me long enough, maybe, to know how much a part of my life Vulcans are. There’s a Vulcan word, kaiidth. It translates as, “What is, is.”

      It took me about 4 decades to realize that not accepting what is for what it is wastes time, energy, and life I could spend, well – living.

      This is so not how I wanted to spend my 21st year of marriage, and not at all what I wanted for my kids’ teen years – or for Jim, who was a good, life-and-family loving man with so much left to experience and offer.

      But this is what is, even if it sucks, or, as one of my dear friends put it when I told her the news, “Shit shit shit shit shit.”

      As much as I can, I find it helps to face it head on, accept the pain – and the beauty of the love, support, and goodness of it, wherever I can find them. If for no other reason, it’s enough that Jim would definitely not want us to suffer or lose ourselves in grief. He would want us to live, and to be happy, so we can spread that love around.

      Thank you for writing words that – more than once, but certainly now – have brought me tears, too.

  6. Shan, our stories are so similar! When Steve passed away, my best friends dropped everything to come to my house and clean my kitchen and organize cabinets while I worked on arrangements. I will always treasure that expression of love. I didn’t have to cook for months from all the outpouring of love and support my kids and I received from friends all over the country. It’s truly beautiful. I’m so glad you have support, too! {{{HUGS}}}

    1. While it’s not a thing I would choose to have in common, it’s comforting to have the friendship of others who have traveled this route before me.

      I want to clean for myself – I find it therapeutic, but I am thankful for friends who helped with food, gift cards, and, lately, coffee and lunch dates. Those are things I need so I can be at my best for the kids.

      Thank you for so generously sharing bits of your experience – it’s another kind of community and help.

      1. I do understand. One of my dearest friends from college lost her husband suddenly the year before I did. She and I have been closer than ever. She told me that we were in the club that no one wanted to join. I’m glad you have a circle of friends to support you so you can focus on the kids–that’s the best kind of support.

        1. The club no one wants to join…yup, that’s an apt name for it.

          I plan to pay forward the wonderful support I/we have received, and be there for others who are forced into joining the club.

  7. I’m tearing up along with others here! What a gorgeous, heartfelt post, Shan. I’m so glad you had a tribe of women present to help you and Jim through that precious and difficult time, and truly grateful you’ve some of that magic on here.

    1. Thank you, August. Especially with Jim’s sisters, in those last days, I’m not sure I could have done it otherwise. I needed that support to make him comfortable when he was no longer able to move. I hope it was cathartic for them to be able to tend to some of his/our needs for those few days.

      Since, we’ve kept in touch. Last week, I mailed most of Jim’s ashes to one of them, and they will oversee them being buried in his dad’s orchard outside of Eugene.

      We’re becoming friends in a way we weren’t before, and I think we all benefit from being able to share our feelings – we three are the closest women to him, other than his mother, and there’s definitely a solidarity in that.

  8. There’s so much solidarity within the women’s world. Sometimes I wouldn’t have though myself how far that goes. I had a long term relationship once, a few years back, the guy even proposed to me. At one point I grew suspicious because some of the things he told me didn’t really make sense. After he dumped me I was contacted by a woman who told me she was his girlfriend too during the same time. We found another woman who was together with him. And after we did more research, tons of weird things came to light. I’m not going into the entire mess anymore. But two of these women because my friends. Really good friends. And whenever we found another woman being disappointed and hurt by the guy we comforted her together.
    That’s the good thing that came out of this mess. I’m grateful for my friends now. 🙂
    Thanks for the wonderful post.

    1. That seems to happen often when a man takes advantage of a series of women. It’s great, because not only is he found out and labeled as the predator he is, but the women gain something ultimately far more valuable than a man who wasn’t what he presented himself to be.

      I’m sorry you were cheated, but delighted you have your friends, and that you banded together to try to prevent others from getting caught in his trap.

      Thank you for sharing your story (and thereby binding us in a kind of solidarity, too).

  9. This is beautiful, Shan. I can hear how heartfelt your words are. I hope I don’t have typos because my eyes are blurry trying to write you. Two years ago when my sister lost her husband, it was women that rallied together too. Her friends contacted me and shared memories of my brother in law, they coordinated meals to get her through the school year, purchased gift cards, bought cozy stuffed animals for her girls, named a star after my brother in law… The list goes on. The generosity of women coming together to care for those who are in need or hurting is a powerful, powerful thing. I’m so glad that community surrounded us both. What a tribute to them and to your husband. ❤

    1. Jess, I didn’t see a single typo here, so you must have more cooperative typing fingers than I do!

      I hate that your sister lost her husband (and that I lost mine), but love that she (and I) had so much support.

      Something your comment made me remember is that we received a letter from an old friend from Jim’s Grand Canyon days. Her husband was a very good friend of Jim’s. I knew them a bit, since I was there only one season, but she knew him for several years, and her letter contained a few memories of him. As it happened, it reached us on what would have been Jim’s 54th birthday, and was the 21st anniversary of the day we met. The kids and I were headed to a restaurant to “eat dessert first” – a motto of Jim’s, and how Lise, 13, wanted to commemorate the day. I read them the letter, and they and I got to know Jim just a tiny bit better.

  10. Yep, you got me tearing up here, too. Isn’t our friends/family/farther community the best? I love your friends and family for showing us all that, and I love you for sharing the beauty of it. Big hugs to you and your family!

    1. Recognizing the beauty in those gestures is the only way I can express gratitude for the anonymous ones, and a great way to share my appreciation with those whose gifts were given with the added gift of their presence.

      Hugs gratefully accepted, always, and added to the stock of warmth for times when it’s most needed.

      Thank you for sharing your reaction. It’s one of those times when making people cry might actually be a good thing…

  11. You’ve got me bawling here, my friend. Because you’re right! That solidarity, comfort, and unselfish giving is ABSOLUTELY, hands down the most beautiful part of Woman! Not being an island, but being the strength, comfort, and care when someone else needs. Emotions are our strength, not our weakness.

    1. YES! Sadly, too many men are conditioned to hide their feelings, and to see them as signs of weakness. As long as that’s true, maybe we need women to soften the inevitable edges of that approach, and cushion the hard places…

      And maybe also to raise men who don’t hide or hide from what they feel, but incorporate it into the totality of their strength.

      I’m happy and sorry to bring you to tears, and honored that you shared them with me in the spirit ❤

  12. I’m so glad I can respond to this via my keyboard, because if I had to talk right now, it would be very difficult, what with the giant lump in my throat. Indeed, community is a wonderful thing, and women do it very, very well.

    I’ve said it before but bears repeating—I’m awed by your strength and courage, Shan. {{{Hugs}}}

    1. I’m honored you found something of value in these words, Kassandra.

      As for my strength and courage – a lot of other women have contributed over the years to its formation. I’m something of a focal point for their care and attention, I guess.

      When women are strong, we reflect the other women who have supported and nurtured us so we could discover and own our unique strength.

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