The woman who could not stop crying
Someone is grieving, and most of us do not know what to say or do. Years of being involved with hospice have taught me many valuable lessons. The following story originally appeared in the News-Times April 23, 2010, and then was published in Chicken Soup For the Soul (Grieving and Recovery). It’s an almost unbelievable story, but it truly happened.
Part One. Early on a Saturday morning (during the few years we returned to L.A. to bond with our grandkids) I was on my way to run errands. Up ahead on the street in our quiet neighborhood, I could see red lights flashing and a crowd of people standing on one side of the street. I slowed down, like most of us do, to check out the scene.
To my horror, I saw a yellow tarp covering what had to be a body on the sidewalk. All around the body were several scattered broken bicycles. Having been an avid cyclist most of my life, I simply had to pull around a corner, park my car and walk back to join the crowd of people who were quietly standing and staring.
"What happened?” I asked a woman. She filled me in on what few details she knew.
“There was this group of bicyclists,” she said, “Somebody had a flat tire, and they were all up on the sidewalk while one guy fixed the tire.”
She pointed at the covered body on the sidewalk and said, “A kid in a big truck came around the corner too fast, lost control and plowed into all the bicyclists. Most of them have been taken away in ambulances, but that poor young man is dead.”
I sat down on the curb. It seemed eerily quiet. The police were still marking the area with yellow tape and talking to the young driver of the truck. The truck itself had ended up on someone’s lawn.
I never ran my errands. I could not leave and must have sat on that curb for over an hour. Eventually I just went home, my heart aching for that young man and whoever loved him. It would be months before I would realize why I “happened” on that scene and why I could not tear myself away.
Part Two (three months later). My granddaughter, Autumn, was working at a job after school, and one day she called me saying she had a huge favor to ask.
“You have to help,” she pleaded. “I work with this woman whose son died a few months ago in some bike accident. She works for awhile, then goes to the back and cries her heart out. You know how to help people, and you have to do this.”
Click went my brain. The bike accident. The young man under that yellow tarp. The son of this woman where Autumn worked. I told Autumn I really had to think this through. Could I help without being intrusive? This woman did not know me, and I didn’t know her or her son.
I went into what I call my “Quiet Zone” and came up with a plan, having no idea if it would work. I told Autumn to gently tell this woman that her grandma (me) did a lot of hospice stuff, and to explain hospice because this woman was from another culture and maybe didn’t know all that hospice does. Autumn was to give Saheema (not her real name) my phone number because maybe I could help with her grief.
I was honestly surprised when Saheema called and yes, she was crying on the phone. My intuition told me to see her on neutral ground – not my house and not her home.
I asked Saheema if she would meet me in a park. I described the park and a quiet place where we could sit at a picnic table and talk. The only time she could meet me was 7 a.m. Fine with me. Here’s a tool you might use one day. I suggested Saheema bring family photo albums with pictures of her son.
I got to the park first, with a big thermos of tea and two cups. I waited 10 minutes, thinking she wasn’t going to show up. Then I saw her walking slowly and tentatively toward me, carrying several photo albums.
Yes, she was crying. I got up and helped her put all the albums on the table. Before we sat down, I opened my arms, and she came to me for a hug. Neither one of us said a word for at least five minutes. I just held her, this tiny woman, with a heavy accent, from a far-away country, who could not stop crying. I’d brought plenty of tissues, but noticed Saheema used colorful real handkerchiefs.
We spent an hour together, drinking hot tea, and looking at pictures. As she slowly turned each page, naming the faces of her large and extended family, we lingered a long time on every picture of her son. Pictures of him as an infant, then as he grew up, school sports, college graduation. Her son was clearly the shining star in her family and particularly in her life. He was tall, dark and movie-star handsome.
By the time we closed the page of the last album, Saheema was no longer crying. She actually smiled a few times and just dabbed at her eyes. We never spoke of my hospice life, or even an “after life.” We were just two women who knew what grief feels like, two women from different cultures whose paths just happened to cross.
I’d like to believe that Saheema began to heal that day. A lovely letter arrived from her about a week later saying “Thank you for helping me and being interested in my family and my dear son.”
I guess the best part was when Autumn told me Saheema was no longer going to the back room to cry.
I hope something in this very human story may help you to help someone who is grieving.
Bobbie Lippman is a professional writer who lives in Seal Rock with her husband, Burt, their dog, Charley, and a shelter cat named Lap Sitter. Bobbie can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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