Thursday, July 26, 2012
Yesterday, the heavens opened and rained down love upon me, love dressed in the clothes of The World's Best Friends.
Just over a month since my sister's death, I found myself hard up against the deadline to clear out her apartment.
I'd been through the rehearsals for this last August when she moved from a non-assisted senior complex into a wonderful assisted living facility, and the year before that when she moved to the senior complex from the house she'd shared with our mother. Over the years, she had turned into - if not a full-blown hoarder - a person with a serious inability to part with stuff. She wasn't a generalist, like the folks you see on reality TV, their spaces full of every item they've ever touched. She was a woman with specific attachments. While she was more than willing to toss things like family photos ("Why should I keep those? What's the point?" she asked as Young Girl and I pulled our history from the large green trash bin after my mother's death), she refused to part with a single book, be it a cheesy circa-1962 "annual" from the pharmaceutical giant for which my father worked (full of head shots of every intravenous fluid salesman in the country), one of four outdated dictionaries, or one of the dreadful romances or cozy-mysteries she favored. She had mock turtlenecks in every color L.L Bean produced in any given five-year period with fake Crocs to match. In the last move, I did manage to coax her down to 25 shapeless fleecy vests. You get the picture.
Handling the tangible evidence of a lost life is always complicated, but doing so in an assisted living facility is exponentially more so. With every box or bag you cart down the hallway, you see realization of their near future on the faces of the elders you pass, regardless of their level of cognitive capacity. They all know what it means when the furniture starts to move. I did my best to work while people were in the dining room or at "Sit-er-Size" or bingo, but contact was unavoidable and painful all around. I told myself I was putting the task off because of my other responsibilities - funny how busy we become when we need to be - but the truth was I just didn't want to do it. Too much finality.
I'd declined many offers of help. Part of me somehow felt I was doing some kind of penance, paying attention after the fact, and that such things needed to be done in isolation. But the unit had been rented for August and it was Time.
I asked the fabulous women of First Amendment Friday if they could help me for a couple of hours yesterday. I needed, I told them, help bagging up and loading the items I was sending to the Women's Crisis Center resale shop. If we had time, maybe we could take some of the smaller stuff to my house in our cars. Then we'd have lunch, and discuss a time when their teenage sons might be available to move the larger things.
Every one of them who was in town showed up at the appointed hour, and pitched in with organization and discernment that was far beyond my capacity. They knew what to do when I didn't and they did it. Before I really knew what had happened, my van was full of the resale bags and boxes, and their cars were packed to the brim with keeper things. We dropped those at my house, delivered to the resale store, then rendezvoused for lunch.
Cue the cloudburst.
While we waited for our food, they announced that they'd decided they were going to take care of the rest of it that afternoon. Without my help. They realized, they told me, that I'd reached my capacity and they took away the keys to my sister's apartment. After lunch, they came to my house and commandeered my van.
About an hour later, four chosen sisters, two of their husbands, and five assorted teenage sons and their friends descended upon me with everything in tow. Everything. Some went into the garage, some into the house. My van was packed with boxes of books I plan to sell a few towns away. I stood in my bare feet with my drawn, sad face and watched true friendship in action.
This post goes out to you, my friends. My birth family may be gone, but your love and support hold me close in ways it never did.