What to do when the gifts are too generous
“Mom, people want to help,” admonished our daughter, Summer, visiting from New Jersey. “And they want to do it in meaningful ways.”
Three years ago, as my husband was dying of cancer in the hospital bed in our living room, the women from our church called to see if they could arrange meals. “Thank you so much, but it’s not needed,” was my automatic reply. “It’s just Summer and me, and we don’t eat much.”
Summer called back because she knew these women. “We’d love to have meals. But, please, small portions, and every other day.”
The Daughter-Lecture-Series actually started about the time Gary’s cancer was picking up speed. Back then, a generous family member had offered to pay Gary’s salary so he could quit his job. Oh, wow, thank you, but we couldn’t let you do that, we said. Perhaps because it was too generous, or we were too proud, or it wasn’t comfortable being on the receiving end of such a large gift.
I told Summer about it later, and she laughed. “Why did you just laugh?” I wanted to know. Because that had been my reaction and I couldn’t quite explain it.
“I don’t know,” she said. “Maybe because it’s so absurd. I mean, who offers to pay someone’s salary so they can quit work?!”
Summer called back the next evening. Apparently our adult children and children-in-law had taken a vote. It was unanimous. They decided we should accept the offer. Summer reminded us that we’d been praying for Gary to take an early retirement. “So you get this offer and you turn it down. Now what? You’re going to keep praying that Dad can quit work, right?”
And so we accepted this startling, over-the-top gift, which allowed Gary to resign his job and apply for disability.
“Not only do you need to accept help,” the lectures from Daughter Summer continued, “but you need to ask for help.”
A slow leak sprung in one of our tires. Unable to leave Gary for very long—unsteady on his feet and quick to escape his hospital bed—I sent out a request on Facebook: “Does anyone have time to take our car in for tire repair?” Before the end of the day, the vehicle had been picked up and returned with the repair job done. And the girlfriend who did this seemed so pleased to be able to help.
Our toilet clogged. I tried using the plunger to no avail, and then sent out email. A friend and his wife showed up with more plumbing equipment than an amateur plumber ought to own. And just like that, our toilet was unclogged.
About that same time, the Porch Fairy began leaving Chai tea on our front porch every morning. When Summer arrived to stand watch with me, the Porch Fairy added Americano coffee to the daily delivery. Two hot designer beverages left on our front porch. Every morning at 7:30. Even in snow and ice. Against our counsel. Every morning. For several weeks.
Because of the Porch Fairy’s whimsical initiative, our front porch saw quite a bit of activity: soup in Mason jars, scented candles, pumpkin bread and pumpkin pie, mismatched socks, bamboo knitting needles with soft yarn in lovely autumn colors, bouquets of flowers and bouquets of brilliant leaves.
It was the season of graciously and humbly learning to say: Yes, thank you. And with each generous gift, each acceptance of assistance, each ask for help, God was reminding me I couldn’t carry this load alone; I needed this fiercely supportive team of friends and family and co-workers and cancer community members.
Throughout those last weeks of Gary’s life, there were no small gifts. Everything was massively considerate, selfless, holy. The sum total of the compassion that arrived on our doorstep – whether it made it past the front porch or not – was colossal.
And every offering carried this powerful message: It grieves my heart to know your beloved is dying, and if this gift can let you know in some way that you are loved, well, then …
After Gary’s Celebration of Life service, Summer commented on how glad she was to be present with me as her dad was slipping away. “I saw community in action,” she said. “And when you experience that, it changes you. You can’t pay it back but you can pay it forward.”
Some of the best advice I ever received came from my very wise daughter: “People want to be part of your story, Mom. They want to help in meaningful ways. You need to let them.”
P.S. If you know of someone who needs to learn how to accept help and support, please share, tweet or pin!