The Kindness of Strangers

Last Monday night I attended a board meeting for the community theater I work with, and one of the board members offered her condolences on my mother’s death.  “You have the best friends!” she exclaimed, having expressed her sympathy at the loss of my “sweet Mama.” Although I don’t know this woman too well, we are connected on Facebook and she has seen the many thoughtful comments on my recent posts. 

“You’re so right,” I agreed wholeheartedly. “I certainly do!"

And it’s true - you have no idea how much it means to get the visits, the cards, the phone calls, (and yes, the social media comments) until you have this kind of experience. It’s been a gift and a godsend, and has given me so much comfort.

As have the generous offers of help, offers I know are sincere.

I need help, that’s for sure. I need help getting my mother’s house ready to sell. I need help doing all the paperwork, collecting the last bits of information for her taxes, canceling the utilities. I’ve been through this process before, but I haven’t been through it when most days I feel like the walking wounded, a trail of tears and heartache following behind me every step of the way.

But as well meaning and sincere as I know all these offers are, It is SO hard for me to accept help. Partly because I want to be in control of this situation, out of a sense of duty or obligation; but I also don’t want to put people out, to bother them, either with physical labor, with time spent away from their own activities, or just with listening to my fragmented tales of woe. 

And, most importantly,  I realize I don’t want to give up one shred of connection with my mother. I don’t want to relinquish any of the remaining bits and pieces of her life, even if it’s just the task of sorting what goes in the trash and what might have value to someone else.

Yesterday I was bemoaning the idea of canceling her phone service, thinking of all the times I’ve called that number in the last 47 years. “I don’t know how I can ever do it,” I sobbed. My husband, wanting to be helpful, immediately offered his support. “Give me the information,” he said. “I’ll do it."

“NO!” I almost shouted. “I have to to do it! It has to be me!"

But it doesn’t really have to be me. Intellectually I know that. Emotionally, I know I’m trying to hang onto her in any way I possibly can, even if it causes me more pain.

Give yourself time, people advise me. Time will help. That’s hard for me to believe, when this week it seems like every subsequent day has been worse. More crying, more loneliness, more difficulty concentrating (I walked out of the hair salon this afternoon without paying).

My mother had such compassionate and generous caregivers when she was in the hospital and hospice. I was immensely grateful for the kindness of those strangers, and will always remember how much they eased that horrible road we were traveling. During those weeks, I remember telling myself: “See, it’s alright to let people help you."

My mother often said that she never wanted to be a “burden" to me, or to anyone in her family, and I was never very successful in convincing her that we were honored and pleased to help her when she needed it. But carrying a burden - whether of illness, grief, or other incapacity - is a need in and of itself. A burden, by definition, is something too heavy to carry on its own. 

What a priceless gift to have people in your life who are kind enough to share the load.