The Prequel to Heaven

“Grandma Beth died,” my husband informed me. She was the widowed mother of a relative – I had never met her – but one of her cookie recipes was a staple in my kitchen.

“Oh no, what happened?”

“It was all very unexpected. The crazy part is when her daughter found her, they say she had been dead on the kitchen floor for almost four days.”

I blinked. Holy cow. That’s how I’m supposed to go. Statisticlly, someday I’ll be a childless widow who will be found when the neighbors complain about the smell of my decomposing corpse. But this woman? I couldn’t wrap my brain around it. She lived in the same town her entire life, birthed five kids (one of which still lived in town), had a score of grandchildren, friendships, and connections – and yet she died alone and no one knew for days. Not to say having someone there could have prevented her death – but I wish her story didn’t end like that. I thought those things only happened to us introverts without kids type.

Sometimes death comes without warning and you don’t have time to assemble your nearest and dearest around you as you cross over to the other side. 

Since getting our living will and last testament notarized earlier this year, I’m much more aware of death – perhaps more so than when I worked in the ER. It’s personal now and not just something that happens to other people or something to worry about someday. It could happen tomorrow. It could happen 65 years from now. I’m prepared either way.

My friend Ruth and I joked that we’d move in together when we were old ladies, á la Golden Girls. With my older husband and her single status, who would care for us and watch out for us in our twilight years? Neither of us have children.

It’s no longer a joke. It’s a jump plan. 

When the days come where living alone is too difficult to navigate, we’re becoming the Golden Girls and taking care of each other by living under the same roof. Even if Ruth marries and has kids and my husband lives to see 100, there will be room in my home and life to care for friends. All the Golden Girls had kids, yet they still needed each other in the day to day. The ability to live in community is so important and I don’t think that changes as we age. If anything, it exacerbates the need for connection. The ability to check in and and care for friends is paramount. Who knows what kind of world we’ll be living in when our hair is silver; I’ve already decided how I am going to live, come what may.

A lot of it will probably consist of sitting on the back porch sipping tea, musing over a Bible verse that has been read 1,000 times over the course of our lives, but today it has a new meaning. We’ll celebrate holidays and birthdays – we’ll be that house that is always open to anyone who needs a family.

I’ve already started living into these rhythms. We’ve hosted all sorts of people throughout the years – from a wayward Kiwi making her way back home to a sweet German tourist to a gay pastor to hurricane refugees without shelter – not to mention last year, my house seemed to be the spot for friends to process a divorce; I was happy to share my space for healing.

My guest room is always ready. You never know who the Lord will send your way in a moment’s notice.

Someday, my doors will propped open for friends who are recast as family when our lives wane into the sunset years. Instead of coming over for the afternoon, they may become permanent fixtures as we figure out this growing older thing together.

God willing, no one in my circle will die alone.

I won’t have kids, grandkids, or great-grandkids. I’ll have to rely on my friends to support me as well. We’re all in this together: might as well set out another chair and deal you in when you’re ready.

The Old Ways

Last weekend, something mechanical died in our refrigerator. The door was warm to the touch and the ice/water dispenser suddenly stopped working. We worried about an electrical fire, so we bought a new fridge – to be delivered in a week – and unplugged it when we weren’t home or sleeping. Two days later, I couldn’t plug it in without blowing the kitchen circuit. This fridge was over 20 years old and original to the house. It survived the original smoking owners in the late 90’s (it’s white but the handles are yellowed with nicotine) and the previous owners, who ran quite the heroin business, destroyed it on an aesthetic and biohazard level (how do you scuff and scrape the inside of a fridge and not clean it when its obviously filthy?!). It was ugly, but it functioned. 

Our new fridge is smaller and doesn’t have the ice maker or water dispenser. I will miss that, but then again, this fridge fits in better with our simple, minimalistic if you will, lifestyle. 

The old fridge didn’t have a filter on the waterline and God only knows what was growing in those lines undectected. I always thought the ice tasted weird. Now we’re moving forward with a Brita pitcher and ice cube trays. It will be cleaner with no more atrohpied ice cubes or questionable water. I’m more aware of my surroundings when I have to do something about them. I don’t see it as a burden, I see it as living purposely. Just like following after Christ.

One of my favorite bloggers, Lore Ferguson Wilbert, once wrote about the joy of pitting cherries by hand, even though it took ages and buying them prepared could save time for something else. She says,

“….but when everything exists to make our lives easier, faster, more automated, and less work, well, what else is there to do but commentate? We become merely observers of life and not partakers in it.”

Lore Ferguson Wilbert

There is something calming to me about slowing down and working with my hands, becoming a part of the work that needs to be done. Whether it’s weeding the garden, mowing my lawn with a cutreel, watering my plants via watering can, or evening putting away the dishes, I’m taking the time to become a part my environment and be still without rushing to the next thing. I am partaking in my garden, not merely observing it. When I tell people I make bread, their eyes light up, “Oh, you have a bread machine?” No, I kneed, prove for an hour, knock it back, then wait another hour before baking for another hour. They always look befuddled. Who has the time for such things? I can only think, “Who has the money for a bread machine and the space to store it?”

The old ways are dying. We live in a very automated age and I think it bleeds over into our churches and everyday lives, where we expect things that should to take time, to act like an HVAC system: a touch of a button changes things to your comfort level and the troubleshooting manual or repair person will get your system working again. Grief, doubts, job frustration, marriage problems, singleness – we expect a quick fix because everything else in life has two day shipping or can be deduced after a few queries in a search engine. But it doesn’t work that way. God designed life not to work that way.

I recently discovered the joys of a french press coffee maker. I’ve abandoned my screen filtered drip coffee maker entirely. Yes, it takes more effort on my part, but the taste is worth it. I have this coffee ritual now: boil the water in the kettle, pour it onto my coffee grounds, stir, then wait four minutes before pressing the grounds, releasing all the flavor and oils. Of course, I add my natural creamer with sugar and the result is pure heaven. I’d rather have a good cuppa that takes a few extra minutes than a fast meh one. Also, my old coffee maker is in desperate need of a vinegar bath; something is probably growing in the moist dark inner parts. I can soak every part of the french press.

Faster isn’t always better. Sometimes the slow old ways remind us to slow down and take in life.

Just like I made time for Jesus, I am also making ice cubes and refilling a filtered pitcher of water for my family. And now, coffee takes a few more pouring and stirring steps. It’s part of life here at the Dovecote, and I am proud to be a part of it.