It only made sense. We were directly south and could easily stop by to visit Phyl on our way home. Phyl, as I have mentioned in an earlier post, is a very dear and very old (literally) friend from our days living in Quebec. Over the last couple of years she has had health problems that have led to her being house-bound. Even so her spirits are always up and our calls to her always delightful. When living in Quebec we had a tradition of going for pizza together once a month and for a wee tiny, little old woman she could pack away pizza at a staggering rate.
We called and arranged to drop by around lunch, pizza in hand. She said that she'd be there waiting for us. We hadn't seen her for a couple of years so we prepared ourselves for the visit but arrived to find Phyl, Phyl. Her physical world had shrunk but her intellectual world was still broad. A long time listener to CBC radio she was up to date on world events and world politics. She still had a cutting wit. And like all old people she had a long history from which she could pull stories. A couple of new ones were slipped into the mix on this trip. It was good to see her.
But as we drove away I knew I'd be blogging about the visit but I didn't know which blog to write or how to really feel about our time together. So, I'm going to do a series of bloggettes (is that a word) to capture my visit and the resulting confusion.
One - Anger
Phyl spent almost all of her life as a member of a several communities but primarily of the church community. She never had children but she was Sunday School teacher to many in the church and was indeed one of the matriarchs of the church family. It was at church that we met Phyl and at the time marvelled at the way the church built community. We were proud to be part of that heritage.
Especially me. I have always believed in community. I have always believed that the community had heart and that the community was a place of bounteous blessing. We call our movement the 'community living' movement because we believe that all belong to the community and that the community belongs to all. Over the years I have come to doubt 'community' to doubt that there was a heart at the center of the city.
Today, my doubt was confirmed. After a lifetime of service to her community. Phyl is alone. She could not update us on the comings and goings of the church. No one visits her. No one calls. The minister has only dropped by once, years ago. She feels abandoned by the community that she had nurtured.
Phyl is a soft spoken woman, a woman for whom gentleness is second nature. But there was anger in her voice when talking about her isolation from the community that she had built. On our way out of town I couldn't even look up at the building that we had worshiped at for ten years. We drove by, silently.
Two - Pride
We had the pizza in Phyl's kitchen. Joe hauled my wheelchair up and Phyl moved her walker out of the way so that we could all gather around her table. As we ate her lovely cat, Lady, hopped up onto a cushion that was set for her on a TV table near the door. She watched us eat. She watched over Phyl. The whole place was set up for Phyl to be at home. She recounted to us the history of moving from hospital to hospital to hospital to home.
She was so glad to be at home. The sign on the door still says Fred and Phyl and there are memories of Fred all over the house. Though he's been gone many years now, oddly there was a sense that they still lived together in the home they made. She told us how she likes to sit in the front room with the sun streaming through the window and watch the comings and goings of the neighbourhood.
The tone of her voice shifted as she spoke of the people who came to care for her. Those who came in the morning, those who checked on her at night. Those who shovelled her drive and those who made sure she got her mail and her meds. She was so grateful to those people. Not just because they made it possible for her to be in her home, but because they were so kind to her. They called her, checked up on her, made sure she had both assistance and company. We are called care providers but we are not really paid to care, we are paid to show up, caring is at our own discretion.
She knows that she would not be able to be in her home with her cat and her memories of Fred without these people. But it's more than that. They have increased the quality of her life. When one community failed her another took over. True they are paid to serve, but serve they do. She feels their care. Is thankful for it.
It's nice to be reminded of the heritage that human services creates for itself and for those in care. It's nice to be reminded that we enrich the lives of those we serve as we enrich our own lives. It's a good way to live. A good way to make a living.
Three - Family
I am reminded of sitting in Grandma's kitchen when I'm with Phyl. I'm reminded of the simple times of sitting together just chatting, catching up. I'm reminded of the power of laughter and the power of simply loving someone else.
Fred and Phyl never had children. I've never asked why. I know they married late. Both believing that they'd live their lives alone. I know that they were surprised at their love and their life together. But that's all I know. I would never ask.
But Phyl knows that Joe and I feel strongly for her. That we call her on all the holidays and on random days in between because we want to, not because we have to. There is no word for what we are to each other - the closest is 'family'.
I hear so much about 'family values' - well, I value family too. Even if the family is related by heart rather than by blood. Our relationship is truly reciprocal because our relationship isn't required or beholden. She is family because I love her. I am family because she loves me.
I truly think it's that simple.
* * *
There, a visit to Phyl and my mind full of thoughts about her, about life and about community. In many ways she gives me such hope as she shuffles around her small world she reminds me that physical space does not need to confine us - our minds have the capacity to travel even when we no longer can. In many ways her life frightens me, the lack of responsibility that others feel for her - the smallness of the hearts of others to even drop by on a wonderful old woman - and I wonder how shallow the waters of community run. In many ways Phyl teaches me that love still embraces her - as she says grace over the pizza you know that she believes and that her faith, if not in others in God, has never deserted her. So she will never, really, be alone.