By Mollie Smith Waters
In March 2010, my step-father passed away. He was my hero. He married my mom when I was four, and he never treated me like a step-child. I was his daughter, and he was my dad.
Daddy had been sick for a while before his death. He was a bad diabetic, and ten years earlier, he had open heart surgery. Nearly 30 years of smoking had not helped his health either. He had many ups and downs over the years, but three weeks before his eventual death is when things really started going downhill.
Daddy spent a week in our local hospital before being transferred to Montgomery. He was in a regular room for a few days, then taken to CCU where our visiting hours were extremely limited. That didn’t matter. At no point in those three weeks was he ever alone in the hospital. Even though we could only go in to see him for 30 minutes four times a day, at least one member of the family was in the waiting area around the clock for the duration of his time there.
While we were in the waiting area for those two weeks, we met other families who had members in the CCU. We got particularly close to one family whose father had been brought in the day after Daddy went into CCU. The man had been working at Lowe’s when he had a heart attack. He never regained consciousness. He died the day before Daddy did, but his family, like ours, always had someone in the waiting area. Other families came and went, but most left without their loved one.
About a week before Daddy died, the doctors decided they needed to perform surgery to see what was causing Daddy’s problems. They put him under and found a blockage in a vein leading to his heart. We were given the option of bringing Daddy out from under sedation or leaving him sedated in the hopes he would improve enough to do the needed surgery. The doctor said without the surgery, Daddy would certainly die, but we could take him home and make him comfortable. Daddy was only 66; we knew he would want the opportunity to have the problem fixed and continue to be with us, so he remained sedated.
As the week progressed, we did not give up hope. We knew it was just a matter of time before he would get well enough to have the surgery, then we could take him home. It was not to be. Slowly, his systems began to shut down. The Thursday before Daddy died on Sunday, the heart doctor told us to prepare for the inevitable. The other doctors still held out hope, which encouraged the rest of the family. It did not encourage me.
When the heart doctor told us to prepare ourselves, I knew he was right. I knew we would be another family leaving the CCU without our loved one. After the heart doctor left us, I walked away from my family, who was still in the waiting area. I did not want to rob them of their hope, even though I no longer had any.
I walked into a corridor where I thought no one could really see me, and I started to cry. I have never been one to grieve in public, so I thought I had found a spot where I could cry alone to my heart’s content.
Standing there crying, knowing my father was going to die, was one of the lowest points of my life. That’s when I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around, and there was a lady standing in front of me. I did not know her. She was not someone who had been with us in the waiting area. She was a complete stranger to me.
She looked at me, saw my obvious grief, and said, “I don’t know you, but I can see you need a hug.” As I allowed myself to be folded into her welcoming arms, I didn’t say a word. She just held on tight as I cried. After a few minutes, I pulled away, told her “Thank you,” and she walked away. I never saw her in the hospital again after that. I have never seen her since.
I have often thought of the stranger who gave me the hug. Sometimes I have even wondered if she was a real person or an angel in disguise sent to me in my time of need to let me know everything was going to be okay. I don’t know the answer. I often struggle with my faith, but I don’t struggle with the thought there is good in humanity. Even though the media only seems to report the worst in us, there are still good people out there performing random acts of kindness like the one this stranger did for me.
Since that hug, I have tried to be kinder to others. Sometimes I am successful, other times not so much. Even if all I can muster is a smile for someone, who knows, that may be just what the person needs. It only takes a moment to be nice, and it doesn’t cost us anything extra.
I’ll probably never again see the lady who hugged me. I’m not sure I’d even recognize her if I did, but I don’t think that’s the point. The lady saw me in a time of distress, and she gave me all she could: a hug. She didn’t tell me it was going to be okay; she didn’t even ask me what was wrong. She saw a person in need, and she gave what she had. Sometimes, a hug is all we really need anyhow.
*Mollie Smith Waters, a frequent contributor to Porchscene, teaches composition, literature, theater, and speech at Lurleen B Wallace Community College in Greenville, Alabama.
Black and White photo from http://kulturtava.tumblr.com/post/107811369542 via Pinterest