Kindness of Strangers
In December, my grandfather was in Walter Reed for hip replacement surgery after a fall. It was cold out, and since I took turns spending the night at the hospital with my mother and sister, I developed standard hospital attire: long socks, shelf bra cami, and long-sleeved t-shirt, all under thick sweatpants and oversized sweatshirt: as close to pajamas as I could possibly get and still leave the house.
The family lounge was down the hall from my grandfather’s hospital room, and it was freezing in there. Still, I would go in often to lie down along the couch and stretch out. I worried so much during this time, my normal level of anxiety ramped up and relentless. Even after his surgery was successful, even after doctors expressed amazement at how well he was doing, and even after he began to show progress in a couple of days that for many others takes weeks or months, I worried, and I thought about him and my family and a lot about myself.
Once, I was in the cold lounge, wearing my sweats, my head on my bag, trying to read a little. (Thank you, Lauren Graham, for writing the most perfect book to read while you’re worried and afraid sitting around a hospital.)
Across the room, several people were gathered and, from their talk, I knew someone had just died. A woman – the wife of the deceased, I gathered from these overheard conversations – was calling people and giving them the news, while three or four others drifted in and out, hugged her, fetched her drinks. She seemed calm. How do people go on when someone they love dies? At the time, it seemed inconceivable.
I never caught whether his death was sudden or unexpected, whether it was from a long illness or something traumatic, but I did piece together that her husband had died shortly after she had left the room. One of the family members rushed into the hallway to tell her he had passed, and she came back in. “He didn’t want you to see,” they told her. “He knew you had left and that’s when he went.”
I marveled at how composed she was, and by comparison how together I did not feel, even though my grandfather was alive, and doing well, only a few rooms away.
Eventually I dozed and only woke when I felt someone putting a blanket on me. She wasn’t gentle, exactly. She wasn’t tucking me in or lovingly covering me up. But she was cold in the room and must have seen me lying there and knew I would be cold too. So this woman whose husband had just died got a blanket for me whose grandfather was still alive. And while I was sleeping, she put it on me.