Q&A with Holly
Erik: Thinking back to September of last year, your team had only been at one project before this, so I’m curious what you had envisioned the upcoming project with Holding Space looking like based on the information you were given.
Holly: I was thinking about this earlier today – I was thinking that all we really knew was that there was this space that we were beautifying that housed people who are dying and I didn’t anticipate it being in a home. I thought there would be two spaces: people who ran the nonprofit living in one space and people who were dying living in another. So my perception of the project was that we would be working in a separate location from where we were staying, not realizing that they were all tied together.
Erik: Due to some miscommunication with AmeriCorps HQ, River 4 – your team – showed up a full day earlier than expected around 9pm. Do you remember your first impressions that night from your arrival, seeing the place for the first time, the introduction, and the tour of the house you received?
Holly: Yeah I remember it very well! I remember driving up the driveway and thinking that the apartment complexes on the left side of the driveway were the apartment complexes for the terminally ill and dying and I remember the parking lot was really, really, really, small…
Erik: What were you driving?
Holly: …I was driving a 15 passenger van… and everybody that was living at the house Erik, and Gabriel, and Millie, and Millie‘s partner [Colin] were all just standing there, watching me while I tried to back in our 15 passenger van into this tiny little parking lot and I was so embarrassed and nervous. So once we got out of the van, I don’t really remember what I expected, but I remember being surprised that there was just like these four random people. We got a tour of the house and I remember Erik was being really funny and everyone was so tired – like our whole team was so tired – that no one understood that Erik was trying to be funny and welcoming. We were all just like, “This guy is WEIRD!” So I just remember being really surprised a lot on that first night because everything was really unexpected and also like, we didn’t know what to expect. But I remember thinking that the house is gonna be a really great space for us to be.
Erik: Fairly early on during your service here, you and another team member asked if y’all could return here once your AmeriCorps year was over. We said, “Absolutely!” Now here you are! Two questions:
What about your experience here or this project prompted a desire to return;
and two, did you imagine that, a year later, you would actually be sitting here as a housemate?
Holly: I felt like there’s so much potential here. I really appreciated everything I was learning from you and Gabriel, and all the opportunities that you’d exposed us to. I remember most distinctly the thing that I realized made me want to come back was hearing one of you talking about your holistic view of what that care would look like and I remember you talking about the garden and how like you’d bring in this food that would be organic and healthy and nutritious into the home and then have this community where you could prepare the food together if you so chose. There was this very holistic idea of what care looks like. And I think I don’t know very much about Holding Space for Living and Dying but I just remember feeling like it was a really positive space to be and that there’s a lot of things that I value that already existed and a lot of my values that I wanted to expand on that I felt like I could do while living here. ‘Did I think it would actually be happening?’ I think I kind of decided in October that I was going to make it happen. I don’t know if I knew what capacity it would be in but I think I knew I wanted to come back.
Erik: I know that you have lived in shared housing before. What takeaways do you bring to this household from those experiences?
Holly: I think I’m going to reframe it to: one of the things about living here that I appreciate that maybe was lacking in my other experiences is that you call it being an “active housemate.” In a lot of my previous shared living situations before, it was either by convenience or not always by choice. I lived with 10 people for 10 months and that was my choice but we weren’t always active. Some people contributed more than others. I really like the idea of being an active housemate and participating in the community. I lived with an older couple before and they set the same standard of, ‘This is our home,’ but they really wanted me to be a part of that, so I had a chore list and I had my contributions to their household. And then with my roommates before that it was very much just like, ‘We’re all here and this is our space,’ but we didn’t talk about or set a standard for what that engagement looked like. What I like most about this is that it is active engagement.
Erik: Shared housing isn’t for everyone, and this household involves yet another layer of complexity with our mission to hold space for folks facing the end of life. What apprehensions do you have about sharing housing with a new group of near-strangers in general? How about the end-of-life piece?
Holly: I’m more apprehensive – or I was, before moving here – more apprehensive about the new group of near strangers piece than the end-of-life piece. I think it kind of hit me maybe a month before I was supposed to drive out here that I was like, “Oh my gosh – yeah, I spent three weeks here but I don’t actually really know these people.” So I think I was just kind of nervous about how I was going to fit into all of it; How I could move into somebody else’s space and also make it my own was something that I was kind of apprehensive about. The end-of-life piece – it’s funny, I was actually talking to Millie about this – it’s like we’re both kind of feeling excited – it seems inappropriate to say that, but I think that’s part of what your whole mission is – to make end of life comfortable and safe and I really would like to be a part of that for somebody. My grandpa died 10 years ago now, but at the time he was in and out of hospitals and my grandma was driving back and forth really late at night and then really early in the morning. She wasn’t sleeping because she was commuting and he was in a space that wasn’t his own. That always just made me sad that their relationship of 50 years ended the way it did, in a really cold and stressful environment and so I’m excited about the opportunity to be a part of something that removes some of those discomforts for people.
Erik: It’s interesting because Millie moved in here three years ago excited about participating in this venture, and then Covid hit and we haven’t had anyone dying here to play that out, and it may be that it doesn’t happen while you’re here. It takes a very specific person who’s interested in living and dying in this shared housing environment, and because we’re not building this as a business it doesn’t necessarily matter, financially speaking, if we don’t have anyone dying here. So I’m curious if that would be a disappointment to you, and also I’m curious what it is that you’re looking forward to about this experience.
Holly: I think disappointment is too strong of a word. I think it’s something that if it does happen, that I’d be really excited to be a part of. But if it doesn’t, I’m equally as excited to just be a part of this community that you have built – and that already exists. I’m looking forward to getting to know everyone better, because even though I feel very comfortable here already, I do recognize that I’m new and we don’t know each other that well. And one of the reasons I wanted to come back last year was to be a part of the community that you’d exposed us to, but it was challenging to do in the environment that AmeriCorps staged for us, so I was excited to come back on my own and be able to navigate that independently of my team.
Erik: Yeah, so even though you’ve been here for a little over a month, when you first got here you had had a Covid exposure so you had to spend 10 days in isolation on the opposite side of the house all by yourself. What was that experience like?
Holly: Well I came into this experience with community in mind and so I think I sat on the couch in the sunroom every day for 10 days just kind of being frustrated that this whole experience about community was starting an isolation.
Erik: I remember texting you and asking how you were feeling, and all you replied with was, “Lonely.”
Holly: Yeah, it wasn’t what I expected, but life never is, so…
Erik: Well, you got out of it, and it wasn’t terrible. I look forward to this year ahead, and thanks for taking time out to do this interview!
Holly: Thanks for having me!