FEBRUARY 4TH is auspicious.
It’s the eve before the Year of the Pig begins on the Chinese calendar. And it’s also the day my father passed, a year ago. For my mother Eleanor, it’s day one of a round of chemotherapy and radiation to kill the cancer that’s survived since her November surgery.
I’m down at the Ontario farmhouse to be with her.
It’s bittersweet, watching all the people who love Eleanor gather by her side. And it’s quite the crowd that’s congregated — family members, neighbours, her peers, men and women well into their 70s & 80s — dropping in for tea to see how she’s doing, offering a ride if need be to London and the cancer treatment centre.
A HIDDEN SOCIETY OF YOUNGER WOMEN
What’s surprising, astounding really, and so utterly heartening is the cadre of younger women—some, generations younger—weaving in & out of my mother’s life.
They think nothing of it: picking up groceries, prescriptions, nutritional boosters, yarn for knitting, healing balms for Eleanor’s swollen lips, special creams to calm her angry skin.
Recognizing the limits of Eleanor’s much-diminished stomach, the women arrive bearing mason jars of glistening chicken soup, luscious butter tarts, warm trays of hand-made lasagna, plump grapes, fresh bread.
They spend time talking with Eleanor as she rocks back-and-forth in a very warm kitchen, call it hot (as older people tend to prefer). They touch her, hold hands, brush her hair. Pleasure in each other’s company playing a hand or two of cribbage, or better yet, finding a foursome to play Eleanor’s favourite card game, euchre. The women greet her with a hug, say good-bye with a hug. Praying with her. Praying for her.
When the younger women arrive, a positive space opens that’s ineffable to completely describe, but let me try: a space for honouring, caring, empathy, listening, sadness, joy, laughter, shedding tears, sharing fears, emotional intimacy, touch.
There’s none of it. Not a whiff.
Anger is noticeably absent, too.
These young women — God bless them! — quietly bear witness to my mother’s journey. And by their very physical presence in her life, they support:
Eleanor’s widowhood & her sorrow.
Eleanor’s independence: after nearly 60 years of marriage, she lives alone.
Eleanor’s choices: for now, she’s chosen to do battle with cancer.
Her body’s graceful aging: Eleanor’s boundless energy is dissipating, and she’s okay with that. She’s even letting her golden hair go white.
Eleanor’s spirit. The twinkle in her eyes. Her will. Her faith.
A FORGOTTEN STEP
Today, there is a women’s movement that’s quick to rise, march in the streets, yell & holler to achieve social change (admittedly long overdue). But we — as women — have forgotten something important in the #metoo era.
I’ve seen the power of women — women generations apart — sitting quietly with each other. To bear witness. Respecting each other’s choices. Learning. Moving along with love in their heart, and speaking of anger as a cautionary tale.
Yes, there’s something important in all of this. I can feel it. And I’ll be posting photos of Eleanor’s Secret Army on Instagram.
Follow me at dkennedyglans to see the photography; better yet, please post your own photos with this hashtag: #EleanorsArmy
Donna Kennedy-Glans, February 4th 2019