My mom died in a nursing home seven years ago this week. She spent the last 10 months of her life there following a stroke. Mary was buried next to her mom, Ann, on a cold Cleveland day during a 13-inch snowfall.
Let me tell you, there was a lot of talk about hot chocolate that day.
My mom always found ways to give something to others. Even after multiple sclerosis confined her to a wheelchair for the last 15 years of her life, she invented ways to come up with gifts.
She took a ceramics class in her apartment building and made Christmas ornaments for family and friends every year. After she died, I got the foot-tall, red-nosed reindeer that she made. It stood next to the tree in her apartment every year. Just touching it makes me feel her touch in some ways.
After her stroke, she was very limited. The right side of her body didn’t work at all. She was bedridden those last 10 months. Still, she was looking for ways to give while flat on her back.
She came up with one creative way. When the attendants at her nursing home came around and asked what she wanted for each meal, she ordered a cup of coffee — her favorite –and a packet of hot chocolate to go with with it.
Here’s the thing: She didn’t like hot chocolate. Not at all. 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, huh? Even confined to a bed, she found a way to give.
And to give abundantly. To the point where you realize 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.
When the funeral was over, the hot chocolate remained.
The following Christmas, a friend who knew my mom had an idea for the dozens of remaining packets. Her 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 pack — that’s a photo of it at the top of this blog. The packet rests on a shelf where I see it every day. It reminds me of all that my mom gave to me, and all of 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 may 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.