October 5, 2006
The Kindness of Strangers
Almost three months ago, I learned that my father was seriously ill. As the situation evolved, he went into a skilled nursing facility and then we transferred him across country into an assisted living facility closer to my sister and her family. In the process, we had to close his home, make decisions about the disposition of all his possessions, deal with a million business details, and close up his life of almost 50 years in Dallas.
But what I want to reflect on tonight (my last night before returning home) is the kindness of strangers. There is no way we could have completed this process without help from many people: family, friends, acquaintances, professionals and service workers, and people we never knew until this set of crises occurred. As the mystics have said â€¦ hidden in plain sight.
Here are just a few examples:
** the salesman from carmax who bought my fatherâ€™s car and then offered to drive me home (15 miles), since I wouldnâ€™t have a car once I left it there â€¦ and then when the deal ran into a snag (odometer problem), he personally made sure that it got taken care of while I was flying to Boston and back on a marathon weekend.
** the social worker from the health unit of the retirement community who offered to drive us, oxygen, suitcases, wheelchair, and all, to the airport last Saturday morning at 8 a.m. in her van.
** the man 2 doors down from my father in the health unit, who, despite his own infirmities, stopped by my fatherâ€™s room three times a day to make sure he went for meals and waited for him if he wasnâ€™t ready.
** my colleague in the department who, when I grabbed her in the hall (as she was running to a meeting) to ask for the name of a travel agent, was able to provide a referral on the spot that helped me work out complex logistics (including oxygen) with as little stress as possible
** the flight attendant who helped my father make his way to the rest room in first class rather than making him walk all the way to the back of the plane like everyone else
** the accountant who put her own work aside several times on very short notice in order to come to my fatherâ€™s hospital room to notarize documents
** the residential coordinator at my fatherâ€™s community who calmed our anxities about all the logistics involved in leaving and made the process as simple as possible
** the estate sale lady who, along with her mother, lovingly wrapped many of my parentsâ€™ possessions that were not earmarked for shipping across country and prepared them for sale; she made sure that nothing went to waste â€“ even partially used containers of cleaning solution
** the consignment store owner who, when told that I couldnâ€™t possibly take photographs of everything and bring them to him, volunteered to come to the house and look at furniture and household goods that would not be going on the moving van
** the nurse's aide from India who called my dad "honey" and made him feel special when he was at his weakest
** my fatherâ€™s friends and neighbors who urged him to get medical care (even though he didnâ€™t) and then stopped by his hospital room periodically in order to check in and make sure he was OK
** the nurseâ€™s aides at Dadâ€™s new facility in NH who cheerily stop by his room at multiple, random times during the day to make sure all is well
** the neighbor who lovingly accepted my motherâ€™s Christmas cactus â€“ I just couldnâ€™t put it in the trash
** my colleagues and students at the U and my sisterâ€™s colleagues at the hospital, as well as the members of our immediate families, who have doubtless covered for countless meetings and tasks we were not able to attend to during these crises
** all the friends, family, and colleagues who sent e-mails and phone calls with energy and prayers
To the many, many people who helped make it possible for this venture to succeed â€¦ you all have my most heartfelt thanks. Thereâ€™s a lot of goodness out there â€“ itâ€™s palpable and very real. Iâ€™m sure there are many people and events Iâ€™m not even aware of who helped us along. All I can say is that Iâ€™ll try to do the same for others in the future.