When someone dies, you notice new things about the space they filled in the world, because you keep noticing the shape of the hole that’s left behind.
When Jeff and his sisters were young, their parents carved out odd-shaped schedules to have time with them during the week. As the kids got older, their father filled his schedule back up with work, but Suzie kept working part-time.
Sometimes she filled the extra time with knitting and watching costume dramas, but when needs arose she had time to help. When her daughter was studying for medical school, Suzie was ready with the flashcards. When the neighbors needed catsitting, she took care of it. When I got so sick at work I couldn’t walk to the subway, she was there to pick me up. She was the best hospital visitor: calm, reassuring, knitting quietly if you didn’t feel like talking.
Most of the rest of us in the family have filled our lives very full with work, school, parenting, and projects. Now we’re noticing some of the hundreds of tasks she quietly took care of.
Early feminists loved to hate the “Angel in the House” ideal of womanhood: docile, endlessly patient. Suzie wasn’t a doormat, and was always active in her profession and in political campaigning. But she was an exceptional homemaker and, in many ways, the glue holding the family together. Much of that was because she had time for the unexpected things that come up.
In thinking how to use time, my first preference is still that people remember that their time and money can go a long way to helping people in great need. But if you’re not going to do that, I think Suzie’s method was a lot smarter than the default of working full-time and having more money but less time. Having capable people with bandwidth is really valuable to a family and to a community.