Of course I’ve been caring for my other two grandchildren on radiation days, but I’d wondered how else I could help. A pan of lasagna, picking up milk a couple of times; it seemed so little in the scheme of things when Elizabeth and Ben are dealing with a life-threatening illness with their child.
There were others bringing food, thank goodness, because my single pan of lasagna had just about exhausted my repertoire of delicious dishes. It was Elizabeth herself who had given me an idea of what else I could do.
“When someone asks me what they can do to help, I can’t think. I don’t want to think. Their question is almost too much for me. I just want them to do, and not ask,” she’d commented once after a particularly long day in Iowa City.
Troops of neighbors, strangers and friends came almost daily to deliver food, without being asked. Food for her family. One less thing for Elizabeth to worry about when she got home each day.
It is hard to go into someone else’s home and know what to do. I wasn’t sure what she did with her clean laundry, or where she kept her mirror and glass cleaner, how to run her dishwasher, or where the children’s clothing was stored. I was hesitant to disturb her system of organization.
I’d been sweeping floors, vacuuming, picking up toys and cleaning off counters for days when a friend called and offered her young daughter for some deep cleaning. I hesitated at first; Would Elizabeth mind having someone else come to her home to clean? I instinctively knew she wouldn’t mind this young girl; she was growing up in a home with young children and animals. She would understand the toys strewn about and the dog food that escaped the dog’s dish.
And then an idea germinated inside my head and started growing. What if, instead of simply cleaning, we also organized? What would make things easier for Elizabeth? She didn’t have time to sort toys or come up with new ways to organize like the rest of us yearn to do with the start of a new year. Their family hadn’t even celebrated Christmas until a week after the 25th since Jacob had been in the hospital over the holiday. The Christmas toys and gifts hadn’t yet been put away and people had sent other toys in their quest to help the family and show support.
“The toys. We are going to tackle the toys.” I told this young girl when her mother delivered both her and bags of groceries to Elizabeth’s house one Friday, unbeknownst to Elizabeth. We were going to surprise her with our magical powers of organization. My sister donated to the cause with several empty bins and containers. But before we could get started on the playroom, we needed to clean out the kitchen cupboards to find room for the staples her mother had purchased, without being asked. “Everyone needs toilet paper,” she’d announced when carrying in a 24-pack.
This young girl knew how to clean and was a whiz at organization. She didn’t need to be told what to do, or how to do it. She had been raised for this; She was cleaning for the Lord, her mother told her as she stood at home and did dishes. Someday she would be able to clean for others for special blessings. That Friday she was not only cleaning for a young mother whose child had cancer, she was doing God’s work. She also gave me a companion and unknowingly entertained me with a beautiful voice that traveled up the stairway as she sang and washed dishes (by hand., no dishwasher for her) and I sorted in the toy room.
Four hours whizzed by and we were both surprised when Elizabeth arrived home and caught this lovely girl on her couch folding her laundry and her mother upstairs vacuuming a newly-organized playroom. I glanced at my daughter’s face for any anger or dismay at our audacity for cleaning and organizing, but instead saw only relief. One less thing for her to worry about, one less thing for her to do.
She laughed one day when, alone and without my young helpmate, I’d washed all the bedding and used several extra dryer sheets from my own home to dry them, then made the beds with the fresh-smelling linens and folded down the blankets in a welcoming gesture. “What do you think this is, a hotel? Where is my mint on the pillow?” she joked, and my heart was gladdened to hear the lightness in her tone. I was making a difference in my work at her home each day, helping her in some way.
I’d wanted to pay this young girl something for her work that day. She’d been a tremendous help to me, and to Elizabeth. When I offered, she seemed almost shocked. “I can’t take money. It will take away the special blessings.”
I wasn’t sure it worked that way. Would taking payment for the work then tarnish the good deed? I know I would be horrified to take any money from my daughter for my help. The payment for my work is in knowing that I have helped my own child, that I have somehow lifted some of her burden, but this young girl was not a relative. She barely knew Elizabeth. Yet her mother had insisted she’d wanted to help, that she enjoyed it last Friday and looked forward to doing it again.
“What about stationery, books, or a journal?” I’d asked her the week before. “Can I give you something like that?” And she smiled and nodded. I know this girl. She loves writing and reading.
She’d graciously accepted my gifts of a new recipe box, paperback books, a pretty notepad and a lovely journal yesterday morning when I picked her up for a second day of helping, but she hadn’t known if I’d actually give her anything more than praise for a job well done.
When we got inside the house, she pulled a brand new can opener out of her pocket. “I noticed their can opener didn’t work very well,” she said. From a bag I’d carried in, I pulled out a white wire rack. “I noticed they could use something like this in their cupboards for dishes.” We smiled in unison; we’d both been thinking of them and how we could make things easier. For the next five hours we proceeded to clean and organize the kitchen cupboards, the bathroom and the laundry room. And somewhere in the busy mix of playing with Jo-Jo, changing diapers, doing laundry and cleaning, I found myself smiling, and wanting to sing my own song of thankfulness. I’d learned a valuable lesson from my young companion.
In doing for someone else, it was I who was blessed.