My mother died last week.
She was 85 years old and frail.
We’d watched her slowly diminish over recent years, like a flame tapering ever smaller.
On her last day, that flame barely flickered at all until at the very end it gently extinguished itself.
It was peaceful and natural, and she was surrounded by those who loved her. One of the nurses who was present told me it was a “good death”.
I spent her last day with her, sitting on her bed or beside her, telling her she wasn’t alone, that we were there and that we wouldn’t leave until she was gone. She wouldn’t have to make that transition alone.
At one point, I was alone with her for several hours, speaking to her, praying for her, reciting Scripture and singing hymns. During that time a nurse’s aid knocked on the door and entered reverently.
She whispered that she was finishing her shift and wanted to say goodbye. Everyone knew my mother wouldn’t make it through the night.
I’d met her before and seen her often on my visits to my mother’s nursing home. She’d delivered my mother’s meals or cleaned her bathroom. Her name was Naomi.
She sat on my mother’s bed and took her head in her hands and kissed her gently on her cheek. My mother’s eyes were open but she hadn’t been fully conscious for some hours.
“Goodbye, Betty,” Naomi said tenderly, looking into my mother’s glazed eyes. “We had so many laughs, didn’t we, dear? I’ll miss you. I love you.”
This very intentional act of compassion undid me. I began to cry. I feel like crying now as I type this.
To me, Naomi had just been the cleaner. And here she was telling my mother that she loved her.
Through my tears and my breaking voice, I said softly, “Thank you for your kindness to my mother.”
Naomi came around to my side of the bed and hugged me. She kissed me on the side of my face.
I sobbed. She held me. And then she left. I suppose I’ll never see her again.
It was a beautiful, deeply touching moment. An act of kindness by a near stranger.
You know there’s that line in the Bible about showing hospitality to others on the off chance they might be an angel? Naomi’s kindness was kind of angelic. Except she wasn’t the angel. She was the lady who cleaned my mother’s toilet. She had showed hospitality to me as if I might have been an angel.
If we give thanks this year, let it be for the kindness of strangers. Let it be for the myriad ways that ordinary people lavish kindness and hospitality, mercy and goodness, on others, deserving or otherwise.
And let it be that we find fresh resolve to be those kinds of people ourselves. The kind that tell other people’s dying mothers that they love them.
Most of us are acutely aware of our own struggles. In fact, we are preoccupied with our own problems. We only sympathize with ourselves or with those close to us because we see our own difficulties so clearly. We see the fingerprints of God in the kindness of strangers. We see just a glimpse of the creatures we were intended by God to be in the first place. And we’re reminded of how far short we so routinely fall from that intention.
And so, at the risk of quoting a fridge magnet, I can’t put the words of Ian MacLaren out of my mind: “Let us be kind to one another, for most of us are fighting a hard battle.”
13 thoughts on “Give thanks for the kindness of strangers”
I’ve got tears myself reading this. Earlier this week a colleague somberly told me she wanted a coffee. She had been my line manager at Uni but had been promoted extensively and it worried me a but as I can be a bit combative/blunt and she is my ears if I go too far. What she told me surprised me…she was getting married (she had been through a terrible marriage) and I am the first to be told after family. Why me I asked. Because you have been a big brother to me (I am 15 years older). I never realised and she had supported me through some pretty dark days so I felt i had done nothing.
It is surprising that being ourselves impacts people. And oh, she said at the end with a smile, my fiance is a Christian (she is Moslem) and I will be becoming part of your family.
A privilege for you, no doubt. We often have no idea how our acts of kindness will affect others.
Thank you for sharing your vulnerability. It bought one of those waves of grief to me and I lost my mother 6 years ago this month. I wish you the peace that will come in time. But may you never become so comfortable that you forget how you felt as you wrote these words.
Peace to you, my friend.
Thanks Mike – a beautiful reminder. I teared up reading this at my desk and I’m sure others in our small office are wondering why I’m crying whilst (supposedly) writing a new code of conduct!
I wish you God’s deepest peace in this time of grief.
Heartfelt sympathy for your loss Mike. Thanks for your words. What an amazing woman, spreading grace, love and kindness as she goes about a task almost nobody wants to do, with dignity and honour. May peace and hope flood your heart during this season.
MF, thank you for sharing your most intimate hours with your mom. Deeply meaningful…
You continue to inspire me in ways you’ll never know friend.
Dear Mike, our thoughts and prayers continue to be with you from Berlin. Thank you for sharing this most intimate experience.
Lord we seek your eyes to see and heart to act!
So lovely to hear from my Berlin friends. Thank you for making contact.
Beautiful. Thank you for sharing your experience Mike.
A very heartfelt and moving account of the impact of ‘simple love’ that breaks through the overcast sky of grief like a ray of pure light that, for a moment, brings God in.
The ‘surprise of love’, where the crack in our perceptions and expectations lets the light in (to misquote Leonard Cohen).
Thanks for this account of person-to-person sincere love and compassion Michael.
I recall this powerful quote by Francis Schaffer “We must not only be True. We must be Beautiful.”. And that’s how I see what you do by having a conversation with the spiritually famished like myself. Taking that which is true . . . and releasing the beauty that is within. That beauty that is Jesus.. . . . And that done in love as J I Packer says “The measure of all love is its giving. The measure of the love of God is the cross of Christ”
I am in awe of how you weave that tapestry of all that is the gospel stripped of the show that so often ensnares us all. By simply placing the cross at the centre of all that you are and all that you do, you release the beauty of God.
Naturally, one needs to consider their progress from affliction . . . As I sit here today, I rather think you would see that as does Edith Schaeffer when she wrote, “we may make the mistake of thinking we will graduate from a tribulation, as time goes on, and go straight up to hope with no further dips into troubles. It seems to me that if there is noticeable progress to us as we grow, it would be the speed of which we would move into patience, further growth of character and hope.”
So thank you …. Thank you for the dialogue and the journey into all that is beautiful.