The Great co-housing adventure begins!

images[6](Or, as Max says in “Where the Wild Things Are”, “Let the show begin!”)

Well, it’s almost begun. Angie, my co-houser hasn’t arrived yet, but all her things are here. (Well, except the clothes and things she needs for the next few weeks.)

Life is an adventure!Here’s some of the background to this adventure.

Angie and I have been friends for forty years. More than friends, she’s part of my family. We have cared for each other, slept on the floor at each other’s homes when we’ve been homeless. She’s the person I have phoned in the middle of the night, after I have phoned for an ambulance. Over the years we have  guarded each other’s back, when trouble was stalking.

We’re often single. Careers and security have not been our primary aims. So we haven’t reached middle age, financially secure and affluent. ( Most of the time we realise how  very secure and how richly abundant we are in so many other ways.) For many reasons we have chosen to buy a home together.

There are so many reasons. I am passionate about the necessity to create community and build a safe and loving space where we can belong and have that absolute sense of trust. I love the Wendell Berry poem which says “home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in.”

to give my presence, my aim

to give my presence, my aim

I want home to be that place of unconditional love, total trust and safety…the place where I know I can be completely vulnerable… and I’m not thinking only of these four walls here and of Angie and myself. I am committed to building a larger community and helping to create such a space for others.

With Angie here, I can relax. There’s someone else to share all the jobs.  There’s someone who loves  and supports me through thick and thin. There’s someone who will give me space and silence and solitude whenever I need it. There’s someone to provide that rare and special feedback that will enable us each to grow and blunt our sharp edges, to point out when we  have been less than the best we can be.  There’s someone to laugh and play with, to have fun. So much, so much to be so very grateful for.

The garden will be started- finally! The house will be painted. (I HATE THE COLOURS!) Together we will practise living frugally and sustainably and we’ll be better at it, because we’ll  have each other to prop up our resolve when we fall into lust and wanting. (We both love things- books, paintings, beautiful objects… and I adore clothes. I fall into lust and wanting very easily.) We have more than enough.

(And you thought this was going to be easy, Angela!)

Life in the moment!

Life in the moment!

I said to Ange the other day: “Thank God you will finally be here!!! We can paint and garden and start a market stall and go to the gym regularly and get fit and have picnics at the beach and invite people for meals and sort out boxes of stuff and get started on that photographic project and you can begin building and making and maybe we’ll have some hens and we’ll sit about and read and have a glass of wine together and cups of tea and…(I stopped for a breath)”.

Angie: “I’ve been looking forward to resting and doing nothing much for a while!”

(Silly girl!)

Love Letters straight from the Heart.

Remember letters? You wrote to someone on paper, put it in an envelope, addressed, stamped  and posted it.

A bundle of friends.

A bundle of friends.

Remember the feeling when you get a letter? Remember the feeling of anticipation, trying to guess who it may be from if you don’t recognize the writing. How long since you wrote a letter or since someone wrote a letter to you?

I don’t mean emails. I love emails. They’re quick, can be brief, are great for making arrangements and for staying in touch with a lot of people.

So far, I haven’t used Facebook much, but I can see how  useful it is for sharing stuff with lots of people.

But real letters, think about them for a moment. Think about letters you’ve received that mattered to you. Do you have a bundle of kept letters? If you’re young, you may never have received one. Do you still get birthday cards in the mail or is an email good enough?

Treasured letters.

Treasured letters.

I have a letter from my grandmother so old the paper is worn away in some of its folds. There’s a note my father sent me when I was seventeen and had just left home. A box of cards from  people I have never met sent to me in hospital, a very ill girl far away from home. They gave me the courage to keep going.  Do I keep emails?

Well yes, sometimes I do, but…do I re-read them? Do I hold them in my hand and treasure them? Do they bring back memories of that person as I see her beloved handwriting? Do I remember the moment I found them in the letter box?

There’s discussion here in Australia about ending a daily mail delivery. I had been thinking about letters, prompted by the rarity of my receiving any before this discussion began. Somehow it now seems more urgent. One of my friends is diligent about sending cards and my mother was known and appreciated for sending notes to her friends to let them know she was thinking of them. I’m slack at sending birthday cards- first I have to find one I like, then I resist the cost.. often I end up with a card I haven’t managed to post. I have several August birthdays I meant to…

If I like getting a letter, won’t other people enjoy it too?

Letters provide us with history. They fill in the detail. Cronechronicler is blogging the letters she sent her small sons while she and their father were abroad. Fortunately she had kept them. I have a letter my mother had kept for more than fifty years- I wrote it to her when she was away in hospital and I was twelve. I don’t remember writing it and that twelve year old self is a distant echo. You can imagine my feelings when I found it, after her death. I was so glad that twelve year old had written it.

Maybe they're full of letters!

Maybe they’re full of letters!

While I’ve been pondering getting mail and writing letters and as we Australians may lose our regular mail delivery, I discovered a movement to send a letter to a stranger through a TED talk (God bless TED!). Hannah Bencher, whose mother wrote regularly to her, became depressed after college, so she did what came naturally- she wrote love letters to strangers and left them wherever she went. She blogged about this and promised “if you ask me for a hand-written letter, I will write you one.” Overnight she was inundated with requests. As she says “her inbox morphed into this harbor of heartbreak”.

This simple beginning is now a global initiative- “The world  needs more love letters.”  Her talk is moving and inspiring and the stories she tells will warm your  heart. I am determined to take paper and pen and write! I have bought some sheets of beautiful paper, I have stacks of cards…maybe my neighbour would like a letter in her box? In the meantime, I have those August birthdays. It’s not too late to write.

 

 

 

 

 

Life with a stoma.

I live with a stoma and ileostomy. This means the end of my small intestine (ileum) is drawn out to my skin to form a stoma. I then stick a base plate to my skin and attach a pouch to that. The remains of my digestion- which for you passes into the large intestine for further digestion, empties through the stoma into the pouch. Literally, the facts of life for me.

I’d had ulcerative colitis, hence my long hospital stay and  life-threatening, traumatic emergencies.

Finally, to live or die meant emergency surgery and a body changed forever.

For more than forty years I have lived because of this.  Lived in gratitude, but lived in isolation, never knowing another person with an ileostomy. It’s what we do, isn’t it? We pick up the pieces and carry on. I have never thought about this or realized how lonely it’s been, until last year when I found my best friend from childhood again, and she too, lives with a stoma and an ileostomy. What are the chances of such a coincidence? And how wonderful that I found her!

We compared notes. What appliances do you use? and do you find that works best? What do you do when you’re in a room, full of people, everything’s quiet then your stoma starts gurgling and spluttering? And clothes! Can you wear something that’s close fitting across your stomach?  I always like to have a top that’s loose, do you?

So many questions, and so many more to come. I wish I’d had someone to talk to when I was younger, single and had met a potential lover. When do you raise the fact of a re-arranged digestive system and the additions to one’s tummy?  I wonder what other people do? How do you know the moment to call the ambulance when suffering a bowel obstruction?

We have only just begun this conversation. There’s so much I want to ask her about, so many experiences to share that only a fellow ostomate can share.

Here I need to acknowledge my friends, my friends who listen to me day and night, who meet me with compassion, love, tenderness, empathy and endless acceptance and support. I could not ask for more.

Then, just the other day, a friend who needed a catheter and drainage bag for a few days said to me (we were talking about showering) that he now began to understand a little of what I lived with every day. An insight for him and validation I hadn’t had before for me. Sometimes you don’t realize you lack something until you get it.

I was having a cup of tea with another dear friend when out of the blue she asked me about the details of stomas and pouches and all. Like, how does it stay on? Why doesn’t your skin become infected? What do you use? Show me. Show me the pouch. Show me where it is. Can I touch it? What do you need to do every day? What’s it like? Do you ever forget it’s there?

She listened. She listened with her full attention, no judgement, no revulsion, just full attention. Finally, she sat back and looked at me, then spoke.

“Kathryn, it’s a miracle.”

Other people have mixed responses, but there was nothing here but clear insight:  “It’s a miracle.”

And it is. I live with a miracle.

I offer this to others who live with a stoma: colostomy, ileostomy or urostomy in the hope that it may offer some validation of your daily existence. And in the hope that this post may begin a supportive community. Talk to me!