Last week I attended the funeral of a cousin. J had been an important part of my childhood, as her family used to visit us on the farm and stay with us, and we used to visit them regularly too. We were close in age, so I knew her quite well. But not so much in recent years. I last saw her at my mother's funeral, three years ago. We had exchanged Christmas cards intermittently, but last year I never sent any, and never received one from her. So when I discovered just a few weeks ago that she was seriously ill in hospital, being assessed for a kidney transplant, it was a shock.
As part of the assessment, they needed to determine that she would have support around her both before and for three months after the transplant. She would need to stay in Auckland, at the other end of the country from where she lives, for monitoring. Whilst our health service would pay for this, and would pay also for the transport costs of support people, they were concerned she had no partner or children or parents who could help. One of her brothers told us that she wasn't dejected.
"I have cousins!" she declared enthusiastically.
Yes, she did. My sisters and I all agreed to help out as we could, and we learned that it only took a matter of days to get enough volunteers to completely cover the months of support she would need.
Sadly though, her condition deteriorated rapidly, and she wasn't eligible for the transplant. She was sent home, and lasted only days when she returned to the town where she has lived most of her adult life. Despite the fact that she had no siblings or cousins living in the same town, and that she'd never married or had children, she still had a community of support around her. She had people who loved her, who were caring for her, and who gathered around when she needed them, and afterwards, when she didn't. It made me happy to see these people at the funeral, to learn that her life there was full of love and friendship.
It was also an excellent reminder to me that I need to work harder to build a community. This year I haven't seen friends quite as often as I would normally. And the fact I don't work in an office means I have less contact with people than I would like. I need to do more to meet more people, and to develop my own community of support. Because as much as I love my internet friends, I can't come and help you when you're sick, and you can't do the same. I need both. And I need to do something about it.