From Chicken Soup for the Volunteer's Soul

Thanks, Mom

While undergoing treatment in 1991 for throat cancer, my mother had to have a tube inserted into her trachea in order to breathe. Instead of breathing through healthy, moist nasal passages, which filter and warm the air, Mom’s tracheotomy was exposed to the cold, dry air of winter, causing her secretions to dry up and her breathing to become blocked. She was instructed to keep the area moist at all times.

One day Mom suddenly began clawing at her neck and chest. She couldn’t breathe. Her hardened secretions caused a blockage in her chest. Although emergency help was summoned, she lost consciousness. Mom remained in a coma until she was taken off of life support a few days later.

The sudden death of a loved one is a devastating event. Questions of “why” are natural. I felt cheated, especially since I had given my mother her first grandchild only seven months before. I prayed constantly, asking God, Why did this have to happen? What do you want me to learn from all this?

Three years and another child later, I managed to keep myself busy with my kids and volunteer efforts. One of my favorite projects was delivering Meals on Wheels to shut-ins with another mom from the Junior Woman’s Club. We had a smooth system—one mom stayed in the car with the kids and organized the meals for each delivery, while the other packed up the food from the coolers and brought it to the house.

January 1994 brought record snowfalls, and much of the snow was too frozen to be cleared away. Normally I curled up like a cat indoors during cold winter weather, but that day I looked forward to delivering meals.

As I prepared to leave, my partner called and told me she couldn’t go with me because her child was sick. “Call them and tell them they need to find a substitute driver,” she urged. “No,” I responded, “I’ll be okay.”

When I arrived at the church kitchen, I faced my first dilemma. The parking lot was covered with ice, and I would have to bring my children downstairs with me to pick up the food, instead of having them wait in the car with my driving partner.

As I escorted my children, one at a time, we made it in safely. Then the second dilemma occurred. How do I get two children, one who can’t walk yet, and two heavy coolers up the stairs, across the icy parking lot and into the car?

Within seconds I said, “C’mon, Karen. I’ll hold Maggie, and you can push the cooler while I pull. You’re the caboose, okay?” It took fifteen minutes, but we made it up the steps. After skating across the parking lot, I strapped each child into the car and loaded the coolers. As I finally slid behind the wheel, I let out a long, shuddering sigh of relief.

On the way to our first stop, I explained to Karen what the Meals on Wheels program was about. “These are people who can’t get out and enjoy a good, hot meal at lunch time.” As we pulled into the first driveway, a new house on our route, Karen asked, “Can I come in?”

Who will watch the children while I deliver the meal? I decided to leave them in the warm car, in sight of the door, and decline any invitations to come in. It was enjoyable visiting the folks, but I had to make it speedy. “No, Sweetie,” I said, “you get to guard the food, okay?”

“Okay, Mommy.”

Going as fast as I could, being careful not to slip on the ice, I knocked on the old wooden door. When the woman opened the door, I almost dropped the food. I couldn’t believe my eyes.

“Come in,” the woman croaked hoarsely as she held her hand over the tube in her throat.

At first, I stared at her, shaking my head in an attempt to clear my vision. “How are you today?” I asked cheerfully. I quickly looked away, avoiding eye contact. I didn’t want her to see my tears.

“Well, I’m okay, but this weather doesn’t help my throat. I wish I knew what to do for this old tube.” Fumbling in her robe pocket for a handkerchief, she coughed—an all-too-familiar sandpaper-like cough.

“I know exactly what to do,” I said. “Fill the teakettle with water and simmer it on your stove. Keep it going and keep breathing in the steam. Open the collar of your robe and let the moisture in about every five or ten minutes while you’re awake.”

Looking astonished, the woman inquired, “Do you think that will help?”

Tearfully I said, “Believe me . . . it will help you.” Then I explained that my children were alone and waiting in the car for me.

“Wait!” she bellowed coarsely. With her free hand, she reached into a basket on the table and pulled out a small package of cookies. “Give these to your children. They’re so good to let their Mommy do this work. I bet their grandma is real proud of them.”

My face lit up. “Yes, she is.”

I made my way back to the car and showed Karen the cookies. She was delighted with the gift, and I felt grateful for the encounter. My prayers had been answered.

Liz Murad

[EDITORS’ NOTE: For information on Meals-On-Wheels Association of America, contact 1414 Prince Street, Suite 302, Alexandria, VA 22314; Web site:]

“It’s my latest and greatest invention!

I call it ‘meals on wheels.’”

Reprinted by permission of Bob Zahn.

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