I was hoping to have better news for the blog, but another important woman in my life passed away this past week. Helen Milliken was the mother of my unofficial ex-step-father, which is really an inadequate term for Bill, who remains a close friend of the family. My family is obviously complicated, but suffice to say, Helen was like another grandmother to me growing up. We spent a lot of time with her and her husband, Bill Sr., at their cottage on Mackinac Island, which is a sacred place. In my memory she is perfectly perserved on a sunny autumn afternoon on the deck, gardening in a wide-brimmed hat, tandem bicycling, and calling her scottish terriers to "din-din." She loved animals, had fluffy hair, and knobby fingers. She was very elegant.
The funny thing is that since my mom and Bill split, I haven't seen or spoken to Helen or her husband. And I don't know why. When I heard Helen was not long for this world, I wanted to write, but I didn't know how to get over the fact that we had been so close, and then hadn't spoken in a decade. I had been hurt--I felt like they wanted nothing to do with me, and though I know that probably isn't true, those feelings prevented me from writing when I had the chance. I couldn't write and ignore those feelings, and it felt inappropriate to demand answers from a person struggling with cancer. I don't know how to reconcile all of this, except to say that she was loved, and that I am very proud of the political work that she did when she was first lady of Michigan.
Here is a great article about her and the ill-fated ERA:
She also supported the arts through her work with Art Train and supported environmental and preservation initiatives. All of these high-minded values are uphill battles, and as some of the rhetoric from this recent election reveals, her work is far from over. May we all live as conscientiously.