It goes without saying that the most precious gift to come my way this year is our grandson, a strong and healthy boy with lungs to match and a smile that melts our hearts. But there were countless other blessings as well for which I am most grateful.
One in particular came in the form of an unexpected gift. In the fall, a very dear friend of mine lost her elderly mother. She had been chronically ill for quite some time so it was not a surprise when things took a turn for the worse. Nonetheless, it is always a shock to lose your mother and my friend was quite sideswiped by how intensely she felt her loss.
True to form, however, she and her sisters did what their mother would have wanted them to do under the circumstances. They got organized, rolled up their sleeves and got to work. There were phone calls to make, cards to send out, and an entire apartment to empty. Time for grieving would come soon enough.
I first met my friend’s mother some 25 years ago when she would come to our city to visit her daughter. My friend would pick her up at the train station and then give her free reign in the kitchen where she always took all the cupboards apart so she could wash down and then re-paper the shelves. It drove my friend nuts but she never complained because she knew it was a gift from the heart, something that made her mother feel useful.
Every time she came I would make it a point to go and say hello to her, partly because she was a very nice woman and I enjoyed talking to her but also because my friend objected strenuously to her smoking in the house. This meant she was often banished to the garden where she would sit alone puffing away, much to her daughter’s displeasure. It was her only vice, as she once told me, one she was never able to give it up, not even when her health went into serious decline. As an ex-smoker myself, I was not as offended by her bad habit as my friend was so I would sit with her on the porch and we would have these brief little chats about motherhood, about recipes, her grandchildren and above all, my friendship with her daughter, a full ashtray on the table between us.
I was genuinely saddened when poor health prevented her from further visits a few years ago, sadder still when I heard that she had passed away. I was happy however, to note that all of her daughters had managed to spend quality time with her at the end and that they had had the opportunity to say their good-byes. Her courage was extraordinary for she did not want to linger and go piecemeal once she learned of her final prognosis. Upon hearing it she made sure that her ending would be dignified and on her own terms. This was a great comfort, even to me.
A few weeks ago my friend came to visit me with a little bag. Imagine my surprise and genuine delight when I opened it and discovered a beautiful china tea cup that had once belonged to her mother. What an honour to be given something that she had treasured throughout her life. A gift like that is immeasurable in value because you then hold a piece of that person’s history in your hands. It connects you forever to that person and to those she loved. In my case, it has added a new dimension to the bond with my friend because by entrusting me with this cup, she is telling me that I have a lasting place in her heart. There is no better gift than that.