100: In Lieu of Flowers

100: In Lieu of Flowers

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: My Amazing Mom

In Lieu of Flowers

There are few things that are more beautifully infectious than true kindness. It spreads like a magnificent wildfire.

~Keith Wynn

My cell phone vibrated on the oak dresser next to my bed. Why was someone calling so early in the morning? Squeezing my eyes shut, I inhaled a whiff of cinnamon and remembered my mom’s favorite potpourri nestled in a glass jar next to my phone. I’d knelt next to my mom when she took her last breath only two days earlier. I couldn’t listen to one more statement of sympathy followed by a list of the countless ways the random caller missed my mom. I pressed my face into my pillow and groaned. “I can’t do this, Lord. Give me a little help here.”

After a few moments of silence, the relentless caller struck again. I wanted to reach for the phone and turn off the ringer. Instead, I picked it up. I felt guilty when I heard the voice of another woman who missed my mama.

Doctors had diagnosed my mom with leukemia only ten months ago. We rejoiced when we found her a one-hundred-percent match for a bone-marrow transplant. When the transplant failed, my mom refused more treatment, saying, “I’m at peace. God’s will be done. I don’t want to suffer anymore. No more hospitals. No more pain.”

She’d been healthy her whole life. She’d been a kind person her whole life. And now I had to sum up her sixty-six years in an obituary.

The morning call was a reminder that stabbed me in the heart with one more reason my mother would be missed. In lieu of flowers, our family decided to honor my mom by carrying on her yearly tradition of providing new winter coats, hats, and gloves for students in need. My job was to add the request at the end of her obituary.

I curled into a fetal position and pressed the phone to my ear. Help me, Lord. Arranging a funeral left no time for being a big wimp. Grief mingled with joy as I nodded my approval to the fundraiser organizer. Gratitude streaked my cheeks. “It’s exactly what Mom would want.”

With my smile widening, I hung up the phone. School district employees would team up with the staff from the elementary school where my mom had served as a teacher’s aide for over thirty years. They would help spread the word and decorate two large collection barrels to be placed at the funeral home. A few of the shattered pieces of my heart had been set properly back in place, making it feel a little less broken. My mother’s legacy of kindness would be honored as we grieved our loss and celebrated her life. The children she faithfully loved and cared for would be warm this winter. Alone, she would have been able to afford to help two or three students a year. Surely, we could collect more than two or three new coats.

I arrived early on the day of the service. Two decorated containers stood ready to receive our gifts, one already stuffed to the brim with colorful, brand-spanking-new coats, gloves, and hats. The ladies who worked at the school already packed the kitchen, helping prepare the food for the repast. I admired a pink, puffy coat with a fur-lined hood. There were definitely over twenty coats already collected.

The next few hours whisked me into a whirl of condolences. We hosted a handful of family members, outnumbered by Mom’s co-workers, neighbors, and community acquaintances. I greeted friends from her past, friends she’d known for decades, and friends she’d encouraged since she started battling cancer.

A few people shared how much her handwritten cards and hospitality meant to them. Others told me how she provided meals when they were sick or recovering from surgery. Some of Mom’s old students, now adults, remembered the small candies she’d used to reward them for meeting goals and making good choices. Co-workers raved about how she decorated the teachers’ lounge and spoiled them with treats and vegetables from her garden. Almost all recounted how my mom generously offered timely words of encouragement and prayers, how she listened and made people feel less alone, less invisible.

After the service, one of my mom’s co-workers said the teachers wanted to collect coats the following year, too. I thanked her for everything they’d done to make the week easier for our family. When she walked away, I thanked God for that moment and the woman I now consider my friend.

My mom made a difference with her genuine kindness, offered through simple words and ordinary actions. The standing-room-only Celebration of Life service and the hundreds of new coats, gloves, and hats donated that day and the following school year evidenced her impact. One woman lived to give, still inspiring others to follow her lead . . . in lieu of flowers.

~Xochitl E. Dixon

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