It was a tender time. Our 86-year-old mother had fallen ill and was hospitalized. Family members who lived nearby were keeping vigil at the hospital, consulting with doctors and caring for Mom’s basic needs, at points even helping her to eat.
Those who lived further away were being regularly updated. All of us were praying. When a little space cleared in my schedule, I made arrangements to trek halfway across the continent to sit by my mother, to see for myself what was happening, and to offer support.
That’s when the kindnesses occurred. First, my sister Beckie emailed to ask what kinds of breakfast foods she should have on hand for me. A small act, a simple question, yet it represented thoughtful care towards a weary, anxious traveller. The gesture brought tears to my eyes. When I arrived and saw the items my sister had laid in store, I felt warmed and cared for.
A few days later, my sister Amy asked me, “How are you doing processing all this?” “All this” meant our mother’s illness and, as it turned out, her near death. It also meant an abrupt move for our mother from her three-bedroom home into permanent nursing care.
Certainly our mother, at the centre of the crisis, felt the change most keenly. Yet other family members were affected as well. After all, our mother had provided a warm and welcoming home for her family and guests for nearly 70 years. Mother’s move to nursing care signalled the end of a treasured era.
We recognized that she needed additional support. I wished she had made the transition a few years earlier. Still, when the time came I lamented with my mother the loss of her home and independence even as I was thankful that skilled nursing care was available. Sorting through the mix of worry, hope, sadness and relief took some time. My sister’s kindhearted query about my well-being opened up a gracious space for me to voice, and begin to come to terms with, the many feelings inside.
Writing some six months after the two kindnesses were extended to me, I am grateful still for the sensitive tending I received. Our families, communities and churches are stronger by such acts of caring. They are the living out of the Golden Rule, to do to others as you would have them do to you. They are the enfleshment of Paul’s injunctions to the Philippians to “look not to your own interests, but to the interests of each other” (2:4). They are marks of the church, for we have cove-nanted with each other “to support each other in joy and sorrow, and in all things to work for the common good” (Hymnal: A Worship Book, No. 777).
Such kindnesses are what healthy families and communities do for each other. It isn’t just one person who looks out for the others, who is quick to extend a hand and offer care—although we all know some people who seem more naturally wired for kindness. It’s that everyone has a way of seeing and responding to the needs of others. The giver today may be the receiver tomorrow. The one who is enveloped in support in one season may be the one who reaches out in another. Tender times—when a mother moves into nursing care, when a heart is broken, when a crisis erupts, when a loss ensues—call for kindnesses. Blessed are we to give and receive.
Melissa Miller (firstname.lastname@example.org) has a passion for helping people develop healthy, vibrant relationships with God, self and others.
See also: “Moments of kindness.”