A year ago, I was listening to peepers as I stood outside in the quiet of a star-covered mid-Michigan late evening, as fireflies twinkled at me on all sides. It was my ritual of calm, my meditation. I was in the midst of cleaning out my parents’ longtime home that they no longer could inhabit. My dad had died in May; my mom would die in October. I was still caring for her, feeling more in love with her by the day.
In early July 2013, I was in the final big push of redistributing years of their life to hundreds of down-and-out folks in a down-and-out state. It had proved futile to try to sell much of anything, even at rock-bottom yard sale prices. Capitalism failed many here a generation or two ago. So my folks’ rambling house became part “really, really free market” and part informal social center in which I met some of the kindest strangers ever — many of who ended up offering me various forms of mutual aid. They didn’t call it that; they simply noted, “This is what people do. We don’t have much, but we do have each other.”
Tonight, or early morning technically, I’m doing pretty much the same thing. This time, though, it’s to help my mom’s best friend of 40 years — or perhaps better called soul mates — move into a new room in her assisted living home — one far better suited to her declining body’s needs. The room is down the hall from another room, where I moved my mom in and, later, moved her remaining stuff out again after she died in her room turned hospice. My mom’s name is still on two storage units in the basement at this personable assisted living home, although it’s been crossed out and replaced by other names of new residents at this place that’s oddly like a collective house for lots of old, now-single, courageous women facing total change in their lives, with death walking ever closer toward them.
I fell in love with my mom in a way I never could or would have during her last year — her year of living “alone” in this group housing, with me there much of the time, too. Dying, when done well and with dignity and care, brings startling intimacy, surprisingly beautiful meaning, intensity of minutes and relations. So I also, right after she died, came to realize that I’d fallen in love with her best friend, now part close friend and part second mom to me. And I fell in love with this place where I grew up and now, inexplicably, appreciate, with its lush green summery warmth and magical fireflies, and its people who still have time and calm to remember to be there for each other.
Déjà vu never felt so good.
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(Photo by Cindy Milstein, mid-Michigan, 2013.)