29. A Novel Experience

29. A Novel Experience

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Happily Ever After

A Novel Experience

We must be willing to get rid of the life we’ve planned,
so as to have the life that is waiting for us.

~Joseph Campbell

After I boarded the plane in Atlanta for the flight to Spokane, I eagerly opened a highly recommended novel. I anticipated seven relaxing hours of good reading. Just as the attendants were closing the doors for takeoff, a late passenger rushed on, breathlessly looking for her seat. Before I finished thinking, I hope it’s not the empty seat next to me, the tiny bundle of energy plopped down right beside me and exclaimed, “Gracious, I thought I could never make this flight!” I closed my book and didn’t open it again for the rest of the flight.

Her name was Thelma. She was from New York and was dressed stylishly. Her enthusiastic explanation of her life’s work at a children’s center in upstate New York captivated me. I could feel Thelma’s dedication as she shared one story after another about the children. Her delightful sense of humor shone through as she described her all-out efforts to fill the role of surrogate grandmother to the many hurting children.

Thelma also told me of her daughter’s recent tragic death from breast cancer and that she was flying to Spokane for a reunion with her son-in-law and his family. She was eager to meet and hold a new great-grandson and to see the lovely new home of her son-in-law on Lake Pend’Oreille, Idaho.

Thelma was obviously coming to terms with her daughter’s death. She emphasized that her daughter had not wanted her to mourn but to continue her worthwhile work of helping children without parents. I silently prayed, “If I am ever faced with losing a child, let me handle it with her kind of courage, grace and dignity.”

I confided in Thelma that my trip to Spokane was one of compassion. Our youngest daughter, Debbie, had just divorced after twenty-two years of marriage and needed a “Mom fix.” Debbie and I had talked endlessly by telephone, and mother’s intuition told me she needed loving arms to hold her, along with words of encouragement.

As the plane landed, Thelma and I were astounded that the flight had passed so quickly. We exchanged addresses, promising to write. At the gate we each walked into the arms of waiting loved ones and turned to wave goodbye to each other.

My daughter and I had a wonderful visit. We shopped for items Debbie needed in her new apartment. We talked long into the nights, discussing her plans for the future. Debbie had decided to continue her photography business but needed my reassurance. I agreed that she had made a sound decision. Debbie’s two children were in college, and it seemed for the first time in many years my daughter had the complete freedom to think and plan for herself. She held fast to the hope for renewed happiness. Winging my way back to Atlanta, I was confident that Debbie would be just fine in her new life. I knew that a loving man who would appreciate her qualities was somewhere in her future.

Months later a ringing telephone hurried me into the kitchen, and a breathless voice said, “Hi, Mom! I have some exciting news for you. I’ve been dating a man who is great fun and loves to dance. His name is Don. And he’s asked me to marry him. He’s a widower with four grown children, a darling little grandson, and he has a beautiful new home on Lake Pend’Oreille, Idaho.”

Flashing lights went off in my memory! I asked Debbie, “Would it be possible to call Don and ask him if he has a mother-in-law named Thelma, from New York?” I knew the answer before her return call.

Thelma’s son-in-law Don and my daughter Debbie were married at the lovely home on Lake Pend’Oreille on March 7, 1993. Thelma carried on with her life after her daughter’s death, and by her example she encouraged Don to go on living as well. The results? Debbie has a wonderful husband — every mother’s dream for her daughter.

As for the bestselling novel I planned to read on that milestone flight from Atlanta to Spokane? Well, I eventually read it, and it was okay. But that opportune meeting with Thelma was just the beginning of a beautiful, unfolding story of life, love and family — much better than a book!


~Phyllis S. Heinel
Chicken Soup for the Golden Soul

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