It was an impulse to stop by Carol’s house on our walk back from the Coffee Café Sunday morning. She had left a message on my voicemail over a month ago to try and coordinate a visit for our children while we could catch up as well. But our kids were at a different school now so our paths wouldn’t cross on a daily basis as easily as before. And she had been so nice to me seven months ago when my mother-in-law had unexpectedly died.
Carol had quickly come to my aid and taken care of Samantha when Eddie needed me to get to Henry Mayo. She was gracious and warm to my sister-in-law the first time they met when we came back much later to pick Samantha up. She seemed to know just what to say; though now, for the life of me I simply cannot remember what those exact words were that we found so comforting. She offered to help again anytime with Samantha or with anything else. Her words were the opposite of hollow to me– they were full. Carol was also, I remember, the first to send flowers. We were proud to bring them to the gravesite.
So, a little ashamed for not calling sooner, I found myself rapping on their front door a few minutes after 9am. Her son answered the door; a moment later Carol’s face peeked out over his. They were a little disheveled, clothing a bit askew and spoke to us in a whisper.
“Not a great time…we just lost my mother-in-law last night…but maybe, oh what the heck, please come on in.” The door opened wide for us to step inside. I had that feeling that you get when you simply don’t know what to say. But it lasted for just a moment. Soon her husband came downstairs and joined us in the kitchen and we sat around as they told me whatever they were up to telling me. They made coffee; I tried to say the right things.
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A few minutes later I had their son with my daughter heading back to my house for a play date. Carol and her husband had to get themselves ready to drive into Culver City and meet up with other relatives for the arrangements. Even though I had gone there with the intention of having a play date somehow this felt different. It felt better.
Later, on the phone it was Carol, or myself, that remembered. It was a mirror of what had occurred only a few short months ago. We were both on autopilot helping our spouses and families and ourselves get through an extremely trying time. It wasn’t until this happened that I realized that what Carol had done for me was something exceptional and giving. She helped me when she didn’t have to. I had to wonder now how many times she had done this for others. And what I hoped I had learned from knowing her.
I offered to help with the kids after school. We could meet at the ice cream store like we had last year. Or play at the park. Or have a play date any day next week that she may need to get things done. And, yes, I have to remember to send flowers!
In the book “Blonde” by Joyce Carol Oates the opening scene depicts Death as a teenaged bicycle messenger. It is not until the end of the book that the character is explained and the story has come full circle. (The book is well written but otherwise forgettable.) But now I see that that character knocking on the door can be…a well-intentioned friend. Or at least someone that is learning how to be one.