Department Store Angel

Department Store Angel

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Department Store Angel

If the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear as it is, infinite.

William Blake

I called my eighty-nine-year-old mother early one Friday morning in October to invite her to lunch. Before accepting the invitation, she had to check her calendar to see what activities the retirement home was offering that day. She didn’t like to miss anything, whether it was an exercise class, bingo game, a tea with the other residents, a birthday celebration, or any other social activity. She said yes, she would be free from 1:00 to 2:30, but she would like to be home in time to attend the style show. I told her I would pick her up at 1:00 and would have her back by 2:30.

Since my husband and I were leaving the next morning for a week of relaxation in San Diego, I needed to purchase a few last-minute items for the trip, so before picking up my mother I headed to the mall.

I was irritated with myself, knowing I was already feeling rushed and overwhelmed with all that needed to be done for the trip, and then complicating the day even more by making a lunch date with my mother. I had even taken the day off from work so that I could have more time to get ready. There was just too much to do. Maybe I shouldn’t have made the lunch plans. Taking the time out for lunch would only interfere with my shopping. I was running late and now I would only have one hour to shop before picking up my mother. I knew though, that if I had not called her, I would have felt guilty about leaving for a week in California without seeing her.

As I was walking through a department store I noticed they were having a sale on the black suede, high-top Easy Spirit shoes that I had been looking at for a couple weeks. I took the first chair in a row of about eight, quickly tried them on and decided to purchase them.

“Those looked nice on you. Are they comfortable?”

I looked down the row of chairs, and in the very last one sat a lady about seventy years old. She was just sitting there, looking pretty in her pink blouse, floral skirt, pearl necklace and very sweet smile. She wasn’t trying on shoes and it was obvious she was not an employee.

I answered, “Yes, and they are very comfortable.”

“Do you think they would be too winter-looking for California?”

“It’s funny you should say that,” I replied in a surprised tone of voice, “because I’m leaving for California tomorrow morning.”

“You are?” she said. “Well, I’m leaving for California on Monday morning to live in San Diego, even though I’ve never been to California before.”

In a sad voice she proceeded to tell me that her husband passed away earlier that year. They had lived in Cincinnati and in the same house their entire married life. They had one son, and he and his family lived in San Diego. With his encouragement and help, she sold her house along with many of her furnishings, and her most cherished possessions were being delivered to the retirement home in San Diego that her son had chosen. “Oh, that’s nice,” I said. “You’ll live closer to your son and you can see more of him.”

Her voice broke as she said, “But I’m afraid. I’ve never lived anywhere but Cincinnati, and not only am I giving up my home and so many of my belongings, but I’m leaving my friends, too.” As she continued her story, she rose from her chair and moved closer to me. We sat down side by side, and I put my shoe box and purse down on the floor.

After listening for a few moments I said, “You know, my eighty-nine-year-old mother lives in a retirement home and she, too, was very apprehensive about making such a big move four years ago.” I then told her that my mother and father were married fifty-five years before he passed away. My mother was a homemaker and mother of nine children, so her whole life revolved around her family. There was not much time for social activities other than the times she volunteered to help at church functions. Her life was her family, so when the time came for her to make the decision to sell her home, she was afraid, too.

When she decided on a retirement home, my sisters and I searched for the one closest to us and helped her with the move. Of course, we were concerned whether she would like that lifestyle. Well, she has enjoyed it from the day she moved in! She is socializing more than she ever has, and the home offers more activities than she can keep up with. The nice part is that they offer so many things, but it is ultimately her choice whether or not to participate in the particular activity offered. I laughed as I told the lady how my mother was involved in so much that she had to check her calendar and squeeze me into her busy schedule for a luncheon date.

This stranger and I talked as if we were friends who had known each other for a long time. After a few minutes we stood up to say good-bye. She thanked me and said she felt much better. I was hesitant to say what I said next, but since I already felt a special kinship with her and sensed a deep spirituality about this lady, I felt it was okay. I turned to her and said, “I believe that God puts certain people in our lives, even if it is for a brief encounter like this, to help us through a difficult time. I don’t think this is just a coincidental meeting. I believe it’s his way of saying ‘It’s okay, I’m with you.’

“And I believe he sent us to each other today. You see, I was feeling overwhelmed with so much to do today, and somewhat irritated that I got myself in a situation that left me with little time to myself. This sharing with you has helped me to appreciate how happy and content my mother is with her new lifestyle, and it makes me more aware of how fortunate I am to still have her with me.”

“Oh,” she said, “your mother is so lucky to have you for a daughter. I can see that you love her.”

“Yes, and your son loves you so much that he wants you to be closer to him. I’m sure he has chosen a very nice retirement home, and being the pleasant person you are, you won’t have any trouble fitting in and making new friends. Besides, San Diego is a beautiful city and you will love the weather.”

We stood up and facing each other, held each other’s hands. “Can I give you a hug for good luck?” I asked. She smiled and nodded. There was a special gentleness in the hug, as if we had known each other a long time. I said, “I’m definitely buying these shoes today, and every time I put them on, I will think of you and say a prayer that all is going well for you.” I was at that moment touched by the beauty and warmth about her. Her face seemed to glow.

I bent down to pick up my shoe box and purse. When I stood up, she was gone. How could she disappear so quickly? I looked all around and even walked through the store, hoping to catch one more glimpse of her. But she was nowhere in sight. There are moments in life when we truly sense God’s presence, and this was one of those times. I had this feeling that I had been talking with an angel.

I looked at my watch and noticed it was already time to pick up my mother. As I was driving toward my mother’s home, deep in thought about this strange yet wonderful encounter, I passed a nursing home with a sign in the yard that read, “The way to feel better about yourself is to make someone else feel better.”

I pulled into the guest parking spot at my mother’s home, feeling suddenly relaxed. I just knew that my mother and I were going to have a most enjoyable afternoon.

Priscilla Stenger

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