12 August, 2019

Building a community around us

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.


  1. I'm so sorry for the loss of your cousin, and I'm so glad that you could help be that community for her at the end. This is something Bryce and I talk about a lot, actually -- that we need to make sure that as we get older that we have people who can rally for us if we're ailing (and also for happy things), or for one of us if the other is gone. Cultivating relationships with younger people is sort of on our minds, but not just for that reason (which makes it seem weirdly sinister and self-serving). Having a "village" of sorts is important, and it's hard when it's possible to be friends with people all over the place. I have a coworker who is also childfree not by choice, and she said that she wants to get a bunch of people together to have a sort of retirement village with -- other people without kids who can lean on each other, and all live in a condo thing or a tiny house village or something like that. It doesn't sound like a bad idea to me!

  2. I am so sorry about your cousin. I love this post because it's such an important reminder that family is important, our relationships are important, and both are worth cherishing.

  3. Abiding with you as you grieve the loss of your cousin. I love that she felt so joyously connected to you all!

    I'm nodding on what you say about Internet friends. Having/being one is wonderful, but it's got built-in limitations of space and time. It's a good plan to intentionally build an in-person community.

  4. I am sorry for the loss of your cousin. Watching my friend go though her cancer journey, and now at the end of her life, she has had a huge village they built through their daughter’s school and their church, and it has made me think about my own village.
    I used to have one, but as we moved on from that community, we have sort of isolate ourselves in a way, and we certainly have people but it’s all spread out and it’s not quite the same. It definitely gives one a lot to think about.

  5. dear Mali,
    I am sorry for the loss of your cousin.
    And yes- I agree with your sentence: "I need both." So do I!
    sending lots of love from sLOVEnia,

  6. I am sorry about your cousin. Bless you all for rallying around her like that during her illness. We can only hope people will do the same for us, right? This is something I need to work on too...!