I almost missed this week’s newspaper. We have been in Louisiana all week, and I have fallen way behind in my writing. Thankfully, I can write quickly once I receive a gentle reminder that a deadline is looming.
We made the four-hour drive to West Monroe in just over three hours last Sunday when we received a call that David’s mother was in the hospital. Betty had suffered with various lung issues for several years, so when she contracted pneumonia, it was critical. The family gathered and stood vigil, at her bedside when we were allowed into the ICU, and in the waiting room or by the phone when visiting hours were over.
The phone rang a lot. Sometimes it was the doctor giving us an update, and sometimes it was a friend. I overheard my sister-in-law Debra talking to one friend who wanted to know what she could do to help.
“A casserole would be nice. David and Linda are staying at Mom’s house, and since she’s been staying with me for a while, her refrigerator and pantry are pretty bare.”
That was all it took. By the time we pulled into the driveway a couple of hours later, the church ladies were arriving. We received not only a casserole, but also green beans, Jell-O, fruit and veggie trays, cakes, pies, breakfast food, and all types of paper products. In addition, another friend who had just heard the news arrived with fried chicken, potato salad, and baked beans.
The abundance, which at first had seemed like too much of a good thing, was greatly appreciated as the vigil continued through the week. Then, Thursday morning, shortly after midnight, Betty simply stopped breathing. The family gathered in Betty’s living room over coffee, cake, and other leftovers to comfort each other and to discuss the next steps.
On Friday, we celebrated Betty’s life with an afternoon memorial service. As we prepared to pay tribute to a life well lived, more church ladies arrived with more food. Relieved of the responsibility of seeing to the basic needs, we were free to begin the long process of saying good-bye.
I’ve written before about being a church lady, but this was one of my first experiences of being on the receiving end of their ministry. When my parents passed away, the funeral services were not held locally, so the family gathered in restaurants before or after the services. It was amazing to feel the love that came with the more personal offerings.
The phones are quieter now, and most of the condolence visits have been made—but there’s still food in the refrigerator. Last night David and I sat in front of the TV with his aunt and his sister, listening to the football game with one ear, but mostly sharing memories and old photos. From time to time one of us would go to the kitchen and return with a brownie, a handful of grapes, or just one more piece of ham.
“I don’t know why I’m still eating,” said Aunt Jerry. “I’m not really hungry.”
We all knew why we were eating, though—and so did the church ladies (and men). When a loved one dies, it leaves an emptiness in our hearts and lives. The food doesn’t really fill it, but it reminds us of happier times. It also reminds us that in times of trouble, we are not alone. Those we love will always be there to offer a hug, a shoulder – and a casserole.