64: The Last Gift

64: The Last Gift

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Messages from Heaven

The Last Gift

A friend is a hand that is always holding yours, no matter how close or far apart you may be. A friend is someone who is always there and will always, always care. A friend is a feeling of forever in the heart.

~Author Unknown

The elementary school library was crawling with little ones, grabbing books and crowding around the table where we worked. We were the adult volunteers, moms mostly, helping at the book fair. I sat next to a pretty mom with blond hair, a foreign accent, and an infectious smile. Her name was Lone, she said, from Denmark. I had to ask her several times how to say her name because here in Georgia, we don’t come across too many Danish folks. A year later, Lone and her family moved a few houses down from me, and despite the difference in cultures, we became fast friends. It was hard not to be friends with Lone; she was funny, and smart, and she’d do just about anything for you.

She was the person I could call, day or night, when I was in a bind. It didn’t matter what I needed: butter or milk for a recipe, tin foil for a school project, hair-braiding for my daughter, or sewing up a Halloween costume. Lone was one talented and generous friend, always happy to help. But it was her plant assistance that I especially relied upon.

You would think, coming from Denmark, that Lone’s knowledge of plants would be limited to cold-weather varieties. But she knew everything about plants, what would thrive, what would wither, how and when to transplant, even Latin names! It was awesome to behold, to see Lone’s yard and all her overflowing pots. She single-handedly turned my black thumb into a green thumb. We often went on plant-shopping expeditions, looking for the best deals. “Put that back and get this,” she’d say. And I would. She had a knack for finding jewels among the dirt.

It was plants that brought her to my house one early October afternoon. I had a bed full of salvia and called to see if she’d like some of the plants I’d thinned out. She was in a hurry, but dashed down, and as usual, we started talking. We laughed, we talked some more, just an ordinary afternoon.

But a few weeks later, when her husband showed up at our door, asking to speak with my husband and me, I knew that the situation was anything but ordinary. That’s when I found out that Lone was desperately ill.

She hadn’t been feeling very well, said her husband. Though she’d never mentioned a word to me, not that afternoon or ever. Finally, she’d been in so much pain that she’d gone to the hospital. She was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and there was little the doctors could do. She would try whatever treatment was available, he said, but the situation looked grim. For the present, she didn’t want to see anyone. She had asked her husband to let me know.

“Can I call?” I asked, in tears.

“Not now,” he said. She’d call when she felt better. November came and went. I brought food and cards, but Lone never felt well enough to see me. She never called. And a week before Christmas, on a bitterly cold night, she died. One of her daughters called and asked me to come down. There, at last, I saw my friend of fifteen years. But of course, she’d already gone.

It was a shock to lose Lone. And worse, I never had a chance to say goodbye, to tell her what a wonderful friend she’d been to me, to thank her for her kindness and generosity, to let her know how honored I’d been to call her friend. I knew she’d read my cards, where I’d tried to express those feelings, but I’m not very good at that sort of thing. I ached with the pang of words gone unsaid.

The family took her body back to Denmark for burial; a small memorial service was held for her here. The weeks passed, and like the snow we had here in Georgia, my acute grief began to melt, too.

And then the weather warmed and the spring rains fell and I looked out to the yard where green grass poked through the dead leaves and suddenly I missed Lone so! We used to check with each other on the progress of our plants in the spring, as if our hostas were engaged in some kind of growth competition. But this year, I could barely bring myself to go outside. Spring had returned in all its glory but it seemed bleak without Lone by my side.

Then one morning, I awoke close to tears. I immediately went downstairs to tell my husband about a dream. Though even then, I knew what I’d experienced had been more than a dream.

I’d seen Lone at a crowded train station, her figure shadowy and distant. I couldn’t believe my good fortune! There she was, if I could just catch up to her. But as I looked around, I began to realize that perhaps I was the only one who could see my friend. People rushed about around her, oblivious to her, all running to make their train. I knew she’d died, yes, I remembered that as I watched her thread through men and women. But still, here was my opportunity and I was determined to speak to her. I saw her duck into a shop and browse through overcoats, and it occurred to me that Lone was being her practical self. It’s so very cold in Denmark! I crossed over to the other side of the tracks and walked into the shop.

“Lone!” I cried.

She turned and looked at me, with that infectious smile I knew so well. I ran to her and wrapped my arms around her.

“I love you so much!” I blurted, and I started to cry.

Now, I’m not a terribly demonstrative person. Neither was Lone. The truth is, we’d never say that to each other, in words. But in this dream, no, in this visit, I could say what was in my heart: “I love you so much!”

She hugged me, too, then looked at me with such understanding and a little half-smile.

“I know,” she said.

That’s when I awoke, and rushed to find my husband. I broke down and sobbed as I recounted what I’d shared with Lone. My husband didn’t understand, didn’t know quite what to do. He thought I was upset, but in truth, I was overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. Because that visit was just so typical of my friend.

I’m absolutely certain that Lone knew how desperately I needed to speak those words. And she came back to me, for only a brief moment, so that I could move on. You see, she couldn’t go without helping me, one last time.

~Cathy C. Hall

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