My mom died in a nursing home five years ago this week. She spent the last 10 months of her life there following a severe stroke. Mary was buried next to her mom, Ann, at the top of a gently rising hill in a cemetery during a 13-inch snowfall in Cleveland.
There was a lot of talk about hot chocolate that day.
My mom always found ways to give something to others. Multiple sclerosis forced her to use a wheelchair, but she still figured out ways to give gifts. She took a ceramics class in her apartment building and made Christmas ornaments for family and friends. Some of them hang on our tree even now. A red-nosed reindeer that she made stands in our living room each December.
After her stroke, she was very limited. One side of her body didn’t work at all. She was bedridden those last 10 months. Still, she found a way to give. When the attendants at her nursing home came around and asked what she wanted for each meal, she ordered a packet of hot chocolate with it.
She didn’t like hot chocolate. Never drank it. But she saw an opportunity to come up with a gift. She saved the packets of hot chocolate and gave them to my sister Joanne, who has two boys. They would get the gift of hot chocolate from her.
What a remarkable gesture, eh? Even confined to a bed, she found a way to give.
And to give abundantly.
Yes, there is such a thing as too much of a good thing. My sister’s stash of hot chocolate soon overflowed and overwhelmed her pantry. Do the math: Three packets a day, 30 days a month, 10 months in a nursing home. Nobody can drink that much hot chocolate. Joanne started farming out the packets to the rest of the family. Soon, we all had our own little stash of the packets.
During her funeral, we joked with the pallbearers that if the casket felt a little heavier on one end, it’s because we gave some of the hot chocolate back. Those who knew about the trove of cocoa got a laugh.
The following Christmas, a dear friend had cut my mom’s hair when she came to visit, had an idea for the many remaining packets. Kathy’s children were in an outdoor nativity scene at their school. The weather had turned cold. The school was looking for a lot of hot chocolate to keep the children and their families warm.
My sister shipped me the remainder of her stash, and I merged it with mine and gave it away. I kept one packet. It rests on a shelf where I see it every day and am reminded of all that my mom has given to me and all the love and inspiration she continues to send my way.
It’s also a daily reminder that no matter how limited we may feel or how little we think we have, we can always find some ways to give. We just have to be a little creative.
And we can always give a lot. More than we might imagine. So much so that others will receive our gift and have an abundance to share, too.
There’s always plenty of hot chocolate to go around.
Joe Kay is a professional writer living in the Midwest.
Photo: Peter O’Toole/Shutterstock