The Kindness of a Stranger


“Kind words can be short and easy to speak, but their echoes are truly endless.”               ~ Mother Theresa

The reality of my mother in law’s condition smacks me in the face every time we visit Florida. Separated by over 700 miles in Tennessee, I can put the starkness of our family’s loss out of my mind most of the year. She is truly my “other mother”. I am the daughter she never had.

Visiting makes me cry. The big ugly cry. Until you can’t breath out of your nose cry.

It would be easier if her house wasn’t a time capsule of her last minutes in it before the move to the nursing home. A pair of shorts hanging on a hook behind the bathroom door. The make-up on the counter ready-to-use. Clothes with tags still on them behind the bedroom door. It’s been three years……..

I spend as much time with her as I can when we come down for our summer “vacation.” I fill her in on family news, talk about old times, and find out her immediate needs even thought she can’t really answer me. I do what I hope someone will do for me in the future. Just be there. Just love her.

On special occasions, my father in law arranges for a cab, one equipped for wheelchairs, to transport her from the nursing home to the house about thirty minutes away.

There’s precious few hours. I think maybe being home will help her, jog her mind, but she seems anxious and ready to leave too soon. “Is there anything you would like to see in the house?” I ask. No……… nothing. I see a few pictures across the room and bring them over. One is an 80’s photo of her husband. What? You want to take that with you? Yes, she does.

Three hours later the cab arrives driven by a big bear of a black man. He rolls her out and my father in law gets in the front to ride back with them. I look inside to see her. She’s clutching the plastic bag from the nursing home that now contains the treasured photo.

Bye! I love you! I call to her and wave.

As the driver walks around to close the back hatch, my face crumples. He sees me and comes closer. My face falls into his chest and I stand with this kind stranger and cry with his strong arm on my shoulders. He says, I know. You have no idea how well I know. And he holds me and I try to stop the sobs that rise up and break through the surface of my soul.

Look, you can’t let the kids see you cry, he says. I step away and wipe my eyes. Look, I’m a funny monkey! And he starts jumping around, making noises, acting silly.

Thank you, I manage weakly and smile.

They drive off. I am touched by the kindness of a stranger. A stranger with a broken heart that doesn’t let his kids see him cry. I know without a doubt he spoke to me what he tells himself.

So, it’s important to love your family and your friends, but it might even surpass it all to love a stranger with kindness.