The morning after my mother died, the doorbell rang; flowers were sitting on my doorstep.
And again a few hours later, there was another bright, beautiful bouquet at my door.
Later that day, the phone rang: How are you doing? Have you eaten? I am bringing dinner.
I am not surprised that my friends tried to rescue me. For many years, I had tried to do the same. I’d sent flowers and notecards; attended wakes and funerals; made charitable contributions.
But it had always seemed pointless; do you really assuage grief with your “sympathy”? How could a store-bought card could begin to offer solace in the face of profound sorrow and loss.
I was wrong.
I had never expected my friends’ efforts would mean so much; I was astounded that the trappings of the “grief industry” could actually lessen my pain.
To this day, I take tremendous comfort from the gestures to honor my Mother.
Friends called: You don’t have to get back to me. I just want to know I am here for you.
Friends sent cards; prayer cards, Mass cards, and an avalanche of condolence cards appeared in my mailbox.
You know the cards; they have poems and flowers and sunsets…the cards you reluctantly peruse in the store; the cards that don’t begin to say what you would say if you only knew what to say.
I studied each word as though it held the secret to the universe.
Part of me thought I was nuts. And part of me lingered over every poem; every flower; every sunset.
Friends got on airplanes. Friends got in their cars. As I crossed the church parking lot, I greeted people from every chapter of our lives. I will never forget those faces; childhood friends, cousins from other cities, business colleagues who drove hours to be with us.
At the same time, faraway friends sent emails and texts.
I wasn’t the only one holding my heart.
“’In lieu of flowers,” we requested contributions to a high school scholarship in our parents’ names. But a group of childhood friends sent a bouquet to the church, providing a sweet adornment on the altar.
Sometimes people just know what to do. And some of those friends contributed to the scholarship as well.
The scholarship; a young woman is getting a great education. A young woman knows my parents’ names. School officials sent updates about new contributions, and shared that they were deeply moved by the outpouring of support.
I was startled by one of the names on the very first list; a friend of a friend whom I had met only twice. I called her: Well, you know darlin’, in the South when we hear someone is in trouble, we grab our checkbooks.
“Someone in trouble”… that was me.
But I should not give the impression that all of this support just flowed in my direction. It is true that my friends knew what to do. It is also true that I asked for their help.
I reached out to everyone. I sent emails about the funeral and snail mail notes to her Christmas card friends. I wrote her obituary for the newspaper. I used Facebook to share photos and prayers and Jackson Browne’s For A Dancer.
And when people said: is there anything I can do, I probably surprised them. Yes, I said, there is a scholarship!
One year later, on the first anniversary of my Mother’s death, I received a copy of the high school Annual Report.
And there she was: my Mother’s name, followed by name after name after name after name…
Sometimes you get what you need.