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House! Home!! Homa!!!

These blogs continue to give voice to Gay’s life while they explore the parallels and differences between us as sisters and women navigating our lives. The last few months (October 2021 – February 2022) have been filled with complicated emotions and, as is often the case, that experience is now the inspiration for a GW Story Blog. I’ve been moving from the house Steve and I built in Dexter, Michigan, to create a family centered home with Gay, to my new home in Lansing, Michigan for just me and my cats, Cloud and Goblin. And as I create a new HOME, I bring Gay with me because my life is forever linked to all that Gay meant to me and taught me about living. This blog was inspired as my parents and I talk about going "HOMA", traveling between our houses as we settle in to our new and different lives. It's one of the small ways we keep the joy Gay brought to our lives with us each day.

Gay and I grew up in several houses before my parents bought the farmhouse where my grandmother, Rose, was born and lived with her family. The house, barn, and surrounding fields on Albain Rd. in Ida, Michigan, was our HOME for 26 years. We lived close to family with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins all within proximity. Because the world was not an accessible place for Gay in the 1970s-80s, that farmhouse was the center of our little universe where we had

most family events (e.g., pool parties, hayrides, graduation parties, holidays). We rarely traveled for vacations. Our parents filled the world with horses, a pool, gardens, and church involvement and Gay and I both loved and engaged in every single one of those things based on our own desires and abilities. HOME was really the center of our universe with SCHOOL being a close second. As a family our world was structured around Gay’s needs, which made our family deeply connected through the daily tasks of our lives including when we showered, how and when we ate dinner, and what our house was like after Gay went to bed. (When I think of that house, I often think of Miranda Lambert’s song, The House that Built Me.)

As the years unfolded, I went to college in Ann Arbor, creating new spaces to live in every year as I worked my way through my undergraduate and master's degree

I came back to that farmhouse (HOME) and all the love woven throughout it, every college summer and after my first marriage ended. Then, in 1998 everything began to shift. My parents were planning for a retirement home in Garden, MI after buying a small piece of property on lake Michigan.

They were also looking for an apartment for Gay to encourage her continued path towards independence, and to provide some relief for my parents after 30 years of caring for Gay’s every need, every day. I met Steve during that time and started planning a move to Maryland to build a life and HOME with Steve, Kerri, and Brennan. It was an exciting and challenging time as our close-knit family moved sixteen hours apart. My parents and I have wonderful memories from those fourteen years, and although our experiences were quite different there were strong strands of connection and similarities in what Gay and I enjoyed during that time.

Gay loved living in “town” in Manistique, a small town where everyone knew her. She was able to bowl, swim, go to church, and go out for pizza. I loved living in an urban area, close to D.C. and Baltimore, and living in another vibrant college town. Gay and I both grew in our love for open water. Gay relished the views of lake Michigan, sitting on the deck at my parents’ home for hours, or walking with her caregivers on the boardwalk by the local lighthouse. I loved visiting the ocean, exploring the Solomon Islands with Bren, Richard, and Steve, taking sailboat rides in the Annapolis Bay with Steve alone or with family, and seeing the ponies on Assateague Island with my colleague, Donna. We also both enjoyed being “OUTSIDE”, as Gay would say. Gay loved tooling around in her red hurricane on the gravel road outside my parents’ home and I learned to play golf, spending hours outside walking and enjoying trees, flowers, and wildlife while de-stressing from busy days.

In 2015, when we built the home in Dexter, which we fondly called the BIG HOUSE, it didn’t have the water nearby, but still offered beautiful, peaceful views, starry skies, and places to WALKA, OUTSIDE. Life was always as it had been for Gay, for my parents, and for me, challenging, often frustrating, and tense as we both hung on to our independence while living together. It wasn’t easy for Gay to have her BRAT (my nickname) younger sister, taking care of her and there were days I felt trapped by the inadequacy of the mental health system which filled my days with worry for Gay’s safety and piles of administrative red tape to make sure she was safe and comfortable. And for Gay, HOME was always with my parents, no matter where she lived. And she knew Saturdays she would get to go HOMA, to be with Mom and Dad for the night, go to church and read books in her room. About Thursday of each week she would start asking “Momma?Daddy?HOMA?”. Those repetitious requests were both annoying and endearing at the same time.

For Gay, as it is for most of us, HOME was of the heart, manifested in the physical things that surround you in a house. And in each house, Gay had different things she loved. In her apartment she loved snooping on the people coming and going since she had a window overlooking the front entrance. With her caregivers at that time, she would visit other members of the apartment building in the common room, sometime playing pool or cards with assistance. At my parents’ house in Manistique, she loved the expansive deck and watching wildlife out of her bedroom window. In the Dexter house, she loved watching to see if JoJo, our neighbor who was also mobile by wheelchair, was home or getting off the school bus. She loved going for walks in the community, or on the trail in downtown Dexter, and would sit for hours on the back deck with me, her caregivers, or family, watching the birds or roasting marshmallows in the chiminea. We also both enjoyed decorating the house for each season of the year. Gay would help me by carrying things on her lap to different spaces (with great enthusiasm and glee) and putting batteries in the candle lights that we programmed to come on like “magic” every evening.

In the last 6 months of Gay’s life, I realized that we had brought everything that “HOME” meant into that house in Dexter: joy, sadness, laughter, hard times, good times, filled with family, friends, and love. As difficult as life was those last few years, what a privilege to spend a Tuesday night eating dinner together alone as sisters and watching our favorite shows, finding peace together from a world that demanded a lot from both of us. How wonderful to sit on the deck together, feel the breeze and the sunshine on our faces, and hear the birds…to free those beautiful butterflies to the trees and milkweed pods just outside of

our yard. What an honor and privilege to give someone comfort, safety, and peace during the final days of their life. I am so grateful for being able to hold Gay every day through her transfers, and bedtime, to lie next to her as she was struggling while leaving this world and to do it with our parents, family, caregivers, and friends there with us. It made it hard to leave that house in Dexter, because every smell, sight, every song played, and every sound was related to a memory of that time together as a family. But Gay taught me that memories and “HOME” go with us wherever we go. I intentionally brought Gay with me into this new house in Lansing through pictures, decorations, and the vivid memories, about which I write. They ensure that Gay, and all that she taught me about life, love, and what is most important in this world, is always at “HOMA” with me.


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