This past winter, my kids and I decided to start a weekly tradition of helping out with the local Meals on Wheels chapter. At the start of the pandemic, we, as a family, had decided to try to find some ways to put some good into the world and the idea of spending an hour delivering meals was an easy hit. And it allowed my kids and I to get out of the house a little bit during these long periods of being stuck at home hoping the world would get a little less crazy.
It felt like a light and breezy form of volunteer work, until I started reading through all of the orientation paperwork and suddenly realized that when working with people who have aged into the Meals on Wheels program, there’s a very certain possibility that at some point you will have to deal directly with death. The documentation outlined situations such as what to do when someone doesn’t answer the door and how, if all other attempts to reach them don’t work, you should try the door and check in to make sure they aren’t, well, dead. I’ll be honest in telling you this was the moment in which I seriously considered backing out of this volunteering opportunity. I didn’t. And I’m glad I didn’t.
As of this point, we haven’t seen any dead bodies, but we did lose someone who was easily my family’s favorite food recipient. He became the highlight of the weekly trip on our first deliveries and was always the one my kids would ask about on the weeks they weren’t able to help out. He was always so eager to talk to us and was always prepared with a kooky anecdote to share. And he doted on my children because of their willingness to do good. I’m not going to lie, he was my favorite as well. There have been more than a couple days where I would be in the midst of a crap attitude when having him answer the door would immediately brighten my spirits.
He was a painter. And he had beautiful paintings, including the one featured in this post. He gifted that one to my kids one week, telling them how he wanted to give them a painting of butterflies because of how he saw them as being as pleasant of a surprise to his day as he did when seeing butterflies out his window.
He was a truly special person and gave us a lot to look forward to during this year of uncertainty.
A few weeks ago, however, when I stopped by to drop off the food for him and his wife, he wasn’t nearly as talkative. Where he usually had at least a five minute conversation prepped for us, that week he exchanged only the most basic of pleasantries before saying goodbye and disappearing inside his house. I had feared I had disappointed him the previous week with my non-committal response to how he and I should sit down and talk someday. It wasn’t that I wasn’t interested, just that it had taken me off guard and I gave a crappy response about how we were already talking, as opposed to the words I immediately wished I had said which was “I’d love that”.
This brief, out of character, conversation I had with the man would be the last. The following week a woman would answer the door to take his food, a woman I would later realize to be his daughter. I wanted to ask about my friend, but simply didn’t know how to do so, noting there were numerous cars in the area around his driveway and just assuming he was too busy to come to the door.
The following week he cancelled his delivery, there being a note on my clipboard about how his daughter had said he was sick.
It was at that point I started checking the obituaries, fearing for the worse. It wouldn’t be until the following week, when I noticed his name was off the sheet entirely, that I knew I would never have these wonderful little chats again.
My kids responded to the news quietly, not really knowing what to say, but the way their bodies slumped told me everything. They were sad, but they didn’t even know how to be sad about this man they had only gotten to know through brief five minutes conversations.
I didn’t know him well, but it didn’t take much to see that this was a man who simply wanted to have people to talk to. He obviously loved people. And I would assume he was very much loved back by the simple joy he was able to bring into our lives.
I just hope that we were able to bring a little bit into his.
Here we thought we were going out to put some good into the world, but it turned out the world was actually just using this to put some good into us. We might be sad now, but that’s only because of how happy his very presence in our lives made us.
Just like a butterfly.