The first clue was the toothbrushes.
In my bathroom one morning I saw five extra ones, neatly slotted into the holders, making themselves at home. I smiled.
Jill is one of my dearest friends, and the past few months have been a braided twine of love and loss. As her widowed father neared the end of his life, she came from her home in Holland to help care for him. She had no return flight booked; such is the nature of stubborn diseases and more stubborn men.
Instead the Wilkinson siblings embraced the contracted time they all had together, and I got to see more of my friend at the same time that her own family in Holland was understanding her absence while wishing for her return. She bore her emotional tug-of-war well.
My home, despite being mid-renovation, was one of her few outlets as she handed off duties with the others. We’d perch on the edge of a cluttered couch or an unfinished deck, skirting paint cans and ladders and even just sip wine in bed when that was the only room untouched. Back and forth we’d go, recognizing that food is love but the soul also needs sustenance. We’re both orphans now, though I have more experience at it. There’s no joy in that; I hurt for my friend.
As her father left the room quietly one night in April, Jill prepared to return to her life, to reconnect with children who’d camouflaged their own needs for weeks in messages of love and support, and a husband who’d held the fort half a world away. Plans were made for all of them to return, for family from all corners to unite last week for a final farewell.
As local houses were allotted various chapters of a sprawling family, Jill sent me a note.
“Hey! Can we stay with you?”
I didn’t hesitate for a second. My house was out from under the chaos, and this was a perfect chance to get to know her family better after having had their mother all to myself. I wanted them to feel welcome, I wanted them to be comfortable and I wanted them to feel at home.
Notes flew as I forced her to give me a shopping list. Teenagers may not know what they want to eat, but my now-empty fridge would never do.
“Just breakfast stuff, even,” I demanded.
I stacked towels and made up beds and told the girls they could borrow my shoes. I vacuumed out a car, handed them the keys and went about my day.
I’d smell coffee before I got up, the time change meaning I would never be the first one down to the kitchen. Her oldest, Jeroen, smiled at me the first morning from around a spoonful of Frosted Mini-Wheats. He’s Ari’s age and when they finally met, sure enough, I spied them deep in conversation.
I adored having teenaged girls in the house again, Kendra and Noa somehow making a couple of suitcases unpack into acres of clothes.
Noa shyly dangled a pair of heels from her hand one day, asking if she could borrow them. My heart smiled; she made my day and she’ll never know it.
Kendra chopped peppers alongside me one night as I told her to get outside with the others.
“Mom said I have to help,” she said simply.
The house was a hive, a whirlwind, for most of a week. I wanted my guests to feel like family, not guests. And when I spied the toothbrushes casually, automatically, in the family holders, I knew we were there.
Her kids have an open invitation here in Canada.
Life, as always, is just a bittersweet Lost and Found.