82: Small Blessings

82: Small Blessings

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Joy of Less

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Small Blessings

Sometimes the hardest part isn’t letting go but rather learning to start over.

~Nicole Sobon

I was having my third cup of coffee and trying to force a piece of toast down my throat when I heard a light tapping at my front door. Sighing heavily, I rose to my feet. I didn’t want to see anyone. I just wanted to marinate in my grief. Nobody could understand my misery anyway. Losing my husband, Wayne, was bad enough. The fact that we had just heavily mortgaged the house so he could pursue his dream of starting a business made his death even more unbearable.

I opened the door and tried to smile at my neighbor Mary who lived half a mile down the road. I knew her from my evening walks. When I passed her tiny house she was almost always tending her rose garden or the numerous flowerbeds in her small yard. Over the years we had gotten into the habit of exchanging a few words. Mary always looked like she was ready to burst into laughter, with her perpetual wide smile and sparkling eyes. Even though she lived alone in her small cottage she seemed more content than anyone I had ever known. This morning, though, her smile wasn’t quite as bright and some of the shine had left her eyes. In her oven-mitted hands she held a steaming pot. “I know you aren’t eating right,” she said, coming into the house as I stepped aside. “I lost twenty-five pounds when my Bill died.” She ran her eyes over my body. “At the rate you’re going you might top that.”

She followed me into the kitchen and put the pot on the stove. She turned to face me with hands on her hips and a no-nonsense look on her face. “Where are your bowls?” she said. “We’re going to have some soup.”

“I just ate,” I said, shaking my head. The soup smelled delicious but I had no desire for food.

Mary scowled at the half eaten piece of toast and cold cup of coffee on the table. “Are you going to get the bowls out or do I have to scrounge around in your cabinets and find them myself?”

I got the bowls and spoons and poured us some tea. “I know you mean well,” I said. “But I have lost my appetite since Wayne died.”

“I know,” she said, giving me a sympathetic pat on the shoulder. “But we’re going to find it. Soup is the best thing in the world for perking up a poor appetite.”

To my surprise, after a few bites I realized that I was actually feeling hunger again. “How did you know this would work?” I asked Mary, as she filled my bowl up again.

Her big grin was back. “A kind person did this for me when Bill died. I think eating with someone is the trick more than the soup is.”

After we ate I told her of my predicament. “I don’t know what I am going to do. I can’t even make the mortgage payment on the house, not to mention the utilities and everything else.”

Mary glanced around the room. “Honey, you really don’t need this big house with all the upkeep.”

I shook my head. “This is the home that Wayne and I made together. I expected to spend the rest of my life here. I don’t want to lose it.”

“You aren’t going to lose it,” she said. “You’re going to give it up.”

I looked up at her, shocked. “What do you mean?”

“Have you seen the big house with the huge lawn that is next to my cottage? Well, that used to be our home. When Bill died I tried for a while to hold onto it. But I was stressed out from trying to meet all the bills and keep up the place. I even told myself that Bill would be devastated if he knew I ever let the place go. Then I came to my senses. He would have been upset if he knew how hard it was on me to hold onto something that was draining my life of all joy. I woke up every day troubled and went to sleep every night troubled. I knew I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life like that. I sat down one evening and asked myself what made me happiest in life. It came down to having peace of mind, a lifestyle I could maintain without stress, and my flowers. So I sold the big house and kept the guest cottage for myself. Without Bill the large house didn’t really feel like home anyway. But the cottage does.” She reached over and took my hand. “This house has become a burden that you have to let go. Find a smaller place and make it a home. Your home. Your life with Wayne is over but your life isn’t over.”

I rejected her advice at first, but at odd times her words would come back to me. The more often they invaded my thoughts the more sense they made. When I signed the final papers after the house was sold I didn’t feel the pain I expected to feel. I was relieved to pass the responsibility for the house on to the beaming young couple who bought it.

I love my new home. Built in the thirties and located in a lovely old neighborhood, it is small but loaded with character. Mary and I have gone from being casual neighbors to very good friends. She is helping me put in some flowerbeds. I think there might even be room for a few rose bushes. Giving up the home I made with Wayne and making another home for myself was the best thing I could have done. Bigger isn’t always better. Peace of mind and living stress free is better by far. I am learning every day how right Mary was.

~Elizabeth A. Atwater

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