Five months ago, my husband passed away; March 27th, the day before his birthday.
How am I doing? How are we doing?
I’m keeping busy. I have workshops and speaking engagements lined up through mid-November. I’m writing again, thank goodness. I wasn’t sure I would survive that brief, but scary, interlude when I could not write anything more than my couponing column and blog postngs. I have a clear purpose in my current writing project: to study God’s word and glorify his name. My children seem to be functioning well, with brief moments of sadness interspersed with their daily activities. Wthout any formal grief counseling, my youngest, Abby, is doing better. Perhaps it is true that as humans, we are designed to withstand the inevitable losses in our life.
But grief is kind of messy. We never know when it is going to hit, or how.
The other day I went to get my bike out of the garage and spotted a little note taped to the handle bar. “I fixed your front brakes. Be careful when you first use them.” A lump formed in my throat. This was something David had always done for me; keep my tires filled, and my brakes working; always concerned for my safety when riding my bike. He was also my companion for the majority of the bike rides. I am ashamed to admit that for three months following his death, I rode my bike with nearly flat tires. My son Matt made sure to fill the tires before he moved out of the house. It was my oldest son, Dan, who had checked the brakes and fixed them, leaving the note for me. He also mowed the lawn and used his Dad’s weed-eater to trim around the yard that same day.
I cried for most of my bike ride. It was something his Dad would want him to do; take care of his mother. I sat down on the front porch steps when I got back from my bike ride, and there was Dan striding across the street.
“You made me sad,” I said, and he looked horrified.
“Because of the note on the bike. You took care of me. Your dad used to do that. I miss that, and it makes me sad. Thank you for doing that, and mowing the lawn too.”
“It made me sad, too, the whole time I was doing it; using his mower, using his weed-eater, using his air-pump…” his voice trailed off.
We are still sad. We miss David. But I’m also happy. Happy to have a son who cares about me.
On Saturday my sister and niece took me with them to a thrift store dollar sale. “I’ll get your Mom to laugh,” I heard my sister Pat say to my son Dan when she came to pick me up.
And she did. I had fun. I enjoyed getting to know my great-niece, Emily a lttle better, too, and was surprised and delighted to discover her interest in art.
But I also cried. At the checkout, I noticed a woman putting hangers on racks, setting a vase on a shelf, and doing other things that led me to believe she worked at the store. There in her cart was a big plastic bag full of Littlest Pet Shop toys.
“Will you be putting those out?” I asked her, pointing to the bag in the cart.
“No,” she smiled. “I’m buying those.”
I felt foolish. “I’m sorry, I thought you worked here. I have two girls who love Littlest Pet Shop toys.”
“You can have them.”
“No, that’s alright. You found them. They’re yours.”
She insisted I take them, and tears sprang to my eyes as she handed them to me. A now-familar lump formed in my throat. She was a stranger. She couldn’t have known that I wanted to bring something fun home to my fatherless nine-year old.
The woman watched as I paid $1 for the bag of toys. “Thank you” hardly seemed sufficient.
“Their dad died in March,” I mumbled past the lump, not meeting her eyes. “Thank you.” She touched my shoulder lightly and I could hardly bear her kindness. I hurried to the vehicle and angerly swept some stray tears away from my eyes. What was the matter with me, that I couldn’t accept a kindness without crying? I was amazed by the kindness of a stranger. An older couple walked past on the sidewalk, holding hands and each carrying a bag from the sale. David and I used to go to sales together. More tears escaped. I busied myself with the writing I’d told my sister I would be doing while I waited.
I’ve been thinking about the kindness of my son in caring about my safety and then the kindness of a stranger, waiting in line at a Goodwill store. I’ve reflected on the kindness of another widow who gave me a beautiful table for no other reason than I wanted it. The woman who handed my brother a carefully-folded hundred-dollar bill at the benefit garage sale he held this past weekend to raise money for my nephew’s upcoming cancer surgery. The man who donated a good portion of his Star Wars collection to my grandson while he underwent chemotherapy and a stem cell transplant in the hospital. The friend who takes me out for lunch every month. The sister who invites me out shopping so she can see me smile.
Next time I am tempted to do something nice, I won’t hesitate. I’ll just do it.
And if an act of kindness results in a few tears, I’ll remember this; those might be tears of joy.