From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Her Spirit Lives On

When you extend yourself in kindness and spirit, one to another, that comes back to you.

Oprah Winfrey

Our family was hit hard by the news of Mom’s diagnosis. Always a paragon of health, Mom lived a textbook life. At the age of eighty, she still had the figure, skin and energy of a much younger woman. Her physical well-being was equally matched by her youthful outlook, serenity and spirituality. Mom was a doll in every sense of the word.

She died of liver cancer on November 17, 1992. Mom’s passing left us feeling devastated and alone. We felt the overpowering emptiness of our first holiday without a vital member of the family who had always been there to share in the festivities.

Our college- and high-school–aged children were home for Thanksgiving, as well as my sister. We tried to mask the gloom that was in our hearts, but the sadness remained as our memories of Mom continued to surface.

During all of our family dinners, Mom always offered to be the “cleanup” person. She worked right along beside me as I cooked the feast, joyfully peeling potatoes, washing the dishes and wiping up spills with a smile and a song. When dinner was over, Mom would swirl into the kitchen and begin scraping plates. With a spirited laugh, she would glance over at me, raise her right eyebrow, and say, “Just sit and rest, dear. I’ll put this mess in order.”

As Christmas approached, I wondered how we would manage that holiday—one of Mom’s favorites. While Dad was still alive, the two of them always spent Christmas Eve with us, and after he passed away, Mom continued the tradition. She delighted in watching her beloved grandchildren squeal with delight as they opened each present from Santa on Christmas morning.

On impulse, I grabbed the phone and called our local soup kitchen. “Could you use some volunteers to help prepare and serve the noon meal on Christmas morning?” I asked.

The secretary sighed, sounding relieved and a bit flustered. “Oh my . . . Yes! Every other holiday of the year is no problem, but Christmas is especially tough to fill. Can you come at 8:00 A.M.?” She signed us up as I eagerly volunteered the five of us.

When I sheepishly told my family what I had done, they were in total agreement. They weren’t relishing that first Christmas morn without Grandma either. That year, we started a new tradition—opening our presents on Christmas Eve and rising bright and early on Christmas morning to head for the soup kitchen.

After being officially welcomed by the regulars and chefs, we donned our aprons and began peeling potatoes, washing pans and wiping up spills. Later, as we served a wonderful banquet of turkey and all the trimmings to the needy, I thanked God for my blessings—a wonderful husband and children, and our comfortable life together.

As we wiped off tables, scraped plates and restored the kitchen to order, I realized that there could be no better tribute to my mother than what we were doing. Mother’s idea of a joyful way to celebrate the holidays was doing the same menial chores, year after year, with love and enthusiasm for the family she held so dear.

Although we continued to volunteer at the soup kitchen for several more years, until the children moved away, it never held as much meaning as that first Christmas morning. That year, we masked our heartache by serving others in a kitchen—a place where Mom’s love and generosity lives on.

Santina Lonergan

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