Credit: via author

Last year, I lost my lifelong hero, my Gram. To others, this was a long time coming. She was in her 80s and declining rapidly with many health ailments, including congestive heart failure. Having overcome tragedy, tuberculosis, and the loss of her one true love some 25 years ago, it’s easy to assume she lived a long, full life that came to an end naturally.

But I lost a big piece of me. In my formative years, she was the go-to for everything from break-ups to a burst appendix. She ordered me to follow my dreams and picked up the pieces when they didn’t always come to fruition. She was my cheering section and my Band-aid. I still clearly remember her placing a shoehorn against my heel to put my shoes on before school and all the days she made me waffles and brought them to me in bed on a collapsible metal tray. I feel these memories in my bones because I didn’t realize then, I would never again feel as loved and as special as she made me feel. She gave me confidence by emphasizing the beauty within while empowering me by “investing” in my every creative whim, one quarter at a time. She truly was one of a kind, in the best of ways.

Losing this woman, my second mother, was the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with since the passing of my biological father. Healing has been slow, if not altogether paused, at times. There are many moments in the day when things feel okay and then it hits me that she’s gone and I can’t breathe all over again. Recently, I took a brief getaway towards the coast to help find some kind of peace.

With all the voices in my head, I needed serenity. In that time spent by the ocean, I listened to the waves, thinking of all the memories we shared, and how lucky I am to have had her in my life. A couple of weeks after, I ran my best marathon time yet. All 26.2 miles, it kind of felt like she was with me. It wasn’t until my return home from that race did I discover why.

Nudged between my screen door was a memento from someone knew all about the struggles I’ve endured and left this offering. The words “Don’t ever think I’ve gone away, I’m right beside you every day. My beloved Gram 1928-2015” stared up at me from a wooden plaque as tears flooded my face.

I was overcome with so many emotions, I didn’t know how to process them all. Who left this? And how did they know it’s exactly what I needed to see right in that moment? It was kismet. I still don’t know who anonymously left such a meaningful gift, but I hope they know that to me, this was more than a random act of kindness. This is a symbol of the missing piece I lost when Gram passed.

When I was little, the kindness of one stranger changed the way I thought about giving when my hard-working, single mother took me out for lunch one cold, December day. When the bill came, she embarrassingly counted change from her pocketbook for a few minutes before someone paid our bill in secret. I wasn’t old enough then to understand the shame she had in not having enough or how monumental that act of kindness really was, but the memory, and sentiment, stayed with me. Now as an adult, witness to moments like this every now and then, I use that memory as a reminder. We don’t know what battles others face behind closed doors. So if you’re able, brighten someone else’s day. It may be a small gesture to you, but to them (us), it’s everything.

For that, kind stranger, I’m forever grateful.