Reflections on Mother’s Day – By Stuart Segall
I have a Mother’s Day story that I would like to share with you.
I was at my office at the end of the day on Saturday, May 7th, 2022. I usually come by at that time to feed the squirrels and birds around my office. My clients enjoy spending a few minutes watching all the activity.
I was getting ready to leave while there was still light outside. As I got to my car, I looked behind the gated area where the dumpster is for the office and could see someone moving around behind the fence.
I like to gather flowers during the week from several florists who support my little service of bringing flowers to widows and shut-ins at retirement and care homes in the area. Many of the people I give the flower to are truly alone.
I had just sorted all the bad flowers and put them behind the dumpster so that they would compost rather than take up space in the landfill. I went to check who was behind this area and there, to my surprise, was an elderly lady. She had to be in her middle 80s. She was thin, her clothes soiled and there was a long journey of life on her delicate, frail face.
I asked her in a friendly tone, “what is going on?”
She answered me by telling me that she was on her way home to the little homeless camp out by the river where she has lived for some time. She reminded me that it was Mother’s Day tomorrow and she had found, much to her delight, this pile of discarded flowers.
She had gathered a good number for a bouquet when she said, “Is it okay if I keep them?” I looked a little puzzled because if you saw what she had gathered, it was a pretty sad little gathering. When I paused, she then asked if I was displeased with her. I assured her I was not, but I just felt bad that the flowers were so pathetic.
I asked her when the last time was that someone gave her fresh flowers. She told me she had been homeless for about 12 years and she thought the last time was when her husband died, 15–17 years before.
She expressed how after her husband died, her mental health spiraled. She said she was having a pretty good day, but that there were days that she knew she was out of my mind.
Then I asked her if I could help her get into a shelter. I do a fair amount of work with three of the major shelters in my county and they owe me a few favors. I told her even though they were full I was confident that if she would let me help her, I could get her into one of them.
She said to me in a frightened voice, “Oh please don’t do that, please, I don’t want to be put anywhere. I can just put your flowers back and walk away, but please don’t.”
I asked her why she was opposed and she said that she had been in and out of a variety of shelter situations. In her experience, she had been emotionally and physically abused by other shelter occupants and felt that being alone in peace where she could sleep and not worry about having all of her personal items stolen meant more to her than being in a shelter.
This frail lady explained to me “sometimes when a lion is old, starving, ill and cold, it still does not want to be put into a cage so it can be fed.” The analogy was sobering but clear.
Since she was not threatening to harm herself or others, all I could do was to make the offer and then respect her wishes. She told me she had a pretty good-sized tent and that she was okay. I gave her my card and asked her to think about it some more. I told her one of these days her body would fail her, and she would need help. I encouraged her not to wait until that happened, when she might be stuck alone.
Once again, she told me she was going to leave and get back to her place on the outskirts of town where she lived. She did not want a ride. I asked her to wait for a minute while I went back inside my car. I had something for her. I gathered some of my best flowers of different varieties and made a pretty arrangement for her.
Her reaction was as if she had won the lottery. She asked if she could hug me and at the same time she was asking she was already hugging me. At first, her tiny, bony body was stiff as she hugged me. Then, she just melted into me like butter. She cried and sobbed, and I cried and sobbed too.
After minutes of clinging to me, I gently told her I had to get going. She literally looked like an elderly Ukrainian woman who was coming out of a bombed-out building. It was obvious it had been a long time since she had clean clothes or a bath. I gave her a little money to have a meal, or for whatever she needed – for whatever she wanted to use it for on Mother’s Day.
She thanked me profusely and told me that the hug meant more to her than the money or the flowers. She let me know she had not been hugged for about as long as the time she’d been given flowers. I reminded her that she had my card, and whether it was for shelter or just another hug, she knew where to find me.
For one last time, I looked into her old and tired steel-blue eyes and we said a tender goodbye. She said it was the best Mother’s Day she’d had in many, many years.
I came so close to missing her. It was my peripheral vision that caught her as I was going to my car, and even then, I was not sure if I saw correctly. I was grateful that I did not miss this opportunity.
So, I share this with you to remind you that “sure you can’t save them all,” but my-oh-my can you make a difference for some.
Most of all, it also reminded me of the urgency of “thy kingdom come,” but at the same time, not to use that as an excuse to not help those that we can now:
“When you have done it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done it unto me.”
Stuart Segall lives about an hour north of Seattle. He has spent most of his adult life counseling, encouraging, inspiring and uplifting others. Also, this is Mental Health Awareness Month, which is celebrated in May.