63. A Life of Her Own

63. A Life of Her Own

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

A Life of Her Own

Don’t wait for a light to appear at the end of the tunnel. Stride down there and light the bloody thing yourself.

~Sara Henderson

The knocking at the front door seemed insistent. My mom hurried to answer, only to encounter Merle, the man next door. “Mary,” he said, “Bill’s fallen out back!”

Mom stood confused, but then understanding dawned: Merle was speaking about my dad. As Mom ran through the house, Merle dialed 9-1-1, but it was already too late. Dad had gone out to garden early that morning and now lay stricken on the ground, dying of a massive heart attack right in the middle of his back yard.

Mom, needless to say, was devastated. Her life with Dad had been her whole world. Always a bit shy, she was used to letting Dad take the lead. But with Dad gone, everything changed. For the first time ever, Mom faced living alone, a situation compounded by the fact that my two younger sisters and I resided with our families in cities hours away.

I worried so much about Mom in those early days. And while I spent weeks with her after Dad’s funeral, the time came when I had to go home. My heart broke as I started the four-hour drive. I was still grieving Dad, of course, but I also just couldn’t banish the image of Mom standing there all by herself, waving goodbye to me from the front doorway of her home, her lovely white hair touched by the morning sun. I cried for miles.

A few years after Dad’s passing, Mom decided to relocate to the city where I live. I was delighted with her decision, but it concerned me too. She had lived in her hometown her entire life. How would she fare in a different place, a larger city, where she knew no one but my family and me? Yet we didn’t see she had much choice. An ice storm that winter had proved that to me when it left Mom’s house without power for almost two weeks. As my husband and I traveled through the storm to pick her up that January to bring her home with us for the duration of the power outage, I knew the time for change had surely come. Though Mom was in fairly good health, she was beginning to need more help than my sisters and I could provide remotely.

It took months to accomplish the move, but we finally got Mom settled into a new home five minutes away from me. The home was just what she needed, perfect in size, and close enough that if she had any problems, I could be there in a flash. At first, she depended on me to take her places, but as she began to learn the area roads, she started venturing out on her own. She was trying so hard to be independent, but I knew she was lonely. “If I could just make one friend,” she told me many times, “I’d be happy.”

“I’m praying for that, Mom,” I said.

“I am too.”

And then one day when I called to check in, she was out of breath as she answered the phone. “Everything okay?” I asked.

She laughed a bit sheepishly, as if I’d caught her in some grand misdeed. It was odd to discover that somehow, over time, Mom’s and my positions had switched. Here was the woman who had made me, in seventh grade, call the boy I’d secretly asked to the sweetheart dance and tell him that I couldn’t in fact go with him to the dance because I wasn’t yet allowed to date. As a girl, I just knew my mother had the proverbial eyes in the back of her head! She’d always seemed one step ahead of me, but now I was the one watching out for her, making sure she was safe and well. “I was actually just looking out my front window,” Mom said. “I’m not trying to be a nosy neighbor . . . you know I’d never spy, but . . .”

She went on to tell me about the woman living across the road, little more than a hundred feet away. Mom would see her every day walking out to her mailbox. “She looks so nice,” Mom added. “I have the feeling we could be friends.”

“Why don’t you go introduce yourself?” I nudged.

Mom hesitated, but only for a moment. “Maybe I will . . . someday.”

I knew that would be the hard part for her — working up enough courage to turn “someday” into “today” and “I will” into “I did.” It’s such a simple thing, really, but stepping outside our comfort zone can sometimes feel like such a big deal. My dad used to say that if something is worth having, it’s worth working hard to attain, and that sometimes, to get started with anything new, including friendship, “You’ve got to dust off your britches and just go for it.”

Mom ultimately did just that. She summoned up her courage, put one foot in front of the other, strode across the road, and murmured that most wondrous of words: “Hello.”

“Guess what?” she said to me the next morning, her excitement bubbling over the phone line. “I did it! I walked over yesterday and met her.”

“Oh, Mom, that’s great!”

“Her name is Carol. She’s widowed too.”

From that time on, Mom and Carol became fast friends. They now regularly go out to eat, take in plays, and see movies. They’ve joined a women’s club and travel together on field trips. Mom and I recently met Carol’s son, and as he shook Mom’s hand, he said to her, “Thank you for being my mother’s friend.”

His words stunned us. All along, Mom and I had believed that Carol was a gift from on high, never considering that Carol and her family might also feel the same way about Mom.

“Oh goodness, Carol,” said Mom, “thank you for being my friend too.

As the two women beamed at each other and hugged, I knew without doubt that this was a sacred connection. Mom and Carol’s friendship had been cosmically crafted. Their paths were destined to cross.

I’ve heard it said that God can envision greater things for us than we can envision for ourselves, and I know that’s true. With a little faith, a little nurturing, and a little courage, Mom has not only persevered, she’s blossomed. She has not only made a dear friend, she has become a dear friend as well. Mom has overcome a challenge that rocked her very foundation, and in so doing, she has been transformed. She has taken what could have been a lonely, fearful existence and fashioned a life of her own.

~Theresa Sanders

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