The next day I was thinking about my first dramatic lesson in unexpected healing. Twenty five years ago my father, at the tender age of seventy-two, died of pancreatic cancer. One of his employees was a somewhat uninspired property manager for Dad. I didn’t dislike him, but I didn’t care for him much. A jokester and a little lazy, I didn’t spend much time with him. I hadn’t seen him in two or three years prior to Dad’s death.
When Dad died, my Mom asked me to give a brief talk at Dad’s wake. I was a little nervous, as I can occasionally be a bit of a crybaby; it would have been humiliating to break up in front of a large group of people. Nevertheless, with too little preparation and a deep prayer for calm, I persevered. The talk was enthusiastically received, but I was spent. Everyone wanted to talk to me afterwards, but I wanted some time to myself. As the mortuary was huge, I decided to disappear down the maze of hallways, deep inside the building. I put my back against the wall and slid down to sit in the hallway. To my disappointment, I heard someone coming down the hall. Dad’s employee appeared and wanted to talk, but I wasn’t in the mood, so I said I was sorry to be abrupt, but he needed to go. He said he has something he needed to tell me about my Dad, and would be brief. I reluctantly agreed.
He said, “As you know, your Dad subdivided some land into lots and sold them for people to build their own houses on. He called me on a Thursday night and told me he was coming into town Friday at nine a.m. and to be ready. When he arrived I got into his car and he asked me where the Browns had built their house. I guided him a couple of blocks and showed him. He pulled up to the curb and told me I could stay in the car or go with him, it was going to be brief. Of course I went; I wanted to see what he was doing. He rang the bell and a little old lady answered. Your Dad re-introduced himself and asked if he could talk with her and Mr. Brown. She served us a cup of coffee while she got her husband. When he came in he was pleased to see your Dad. He told him they had always been grateful at the nice lot and good price he had given them. Your Dad stood up and said, ‘I went down to the title company yesterday and discovered that they had not given you the discount you were supposed to get for paying cash, so I brought you this.’ He reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a check for $7,500.
“They assured your Dad they were fine with the deal as it was, but he insisted, ‘This is not my money, it is yours. I’m just sorry you didn’t get it as you should have.’
“Mrs. Brown was crying, saying as they were on a fixed income, the money was a godsend for them. Mr. Brown was close to tears and shook your father’s hand so long, your Dad had to gently take his arm and pull his hand loose. Your Dad didn’t say anything on the way back to my house. When I got out, he told me he’d be back on Monday, and we had some work to do. Then he drove off.
I just thought you needed to know that.”
With that, he said, “I loved your Father too” and left. I never saw him again.
In light of the sadness and difficulties that followed my Dad’s death, I am positive that the extreme kindness shown to me that evening helped speed up my healing. I have since incorporated this in my own therapeutic assistance I offer people in my profession. If I didn’t have the opportunity to know the person who has died, I ask to be treated to stories about them. I would like to get to know them, even at a distance. I benefit by understanding a person’s depth of their loss, and help them in sharing significant memories.
So, to people who have helped heal me with your extreme kindness, I thank you with all my heart. You have taught me much.
John S. Sommer
Licensed Clinical Social Worker