Listening and Sharing Across the CounterMarch 16, 2017
He was not a regular customer. He’d probably stop in only two or three times a year. I didn’t think that unusual because it was obvious he didn’t have much need to buy anything and I felt he probably had to struggle to make ends meet. He was retired, lived with his wife in a small house out in the woods about 12 miles from Vergas and came in to our town only occasionally. I enjoyed his infrequent stops at my store, even though it was mainly a visit, because he was so courteous and impressed me as being kind. Also, he had an outlook on life that I found refreshing. He accepted his fate in life as God’s wish; he had faith that it would all work out.
His wife couldn’t get around much anymore but that gave her a chance to read. His car wouldn’t always work but look at the gas he saved. The roof on his house was leaking because of all the rain but the garden he planted needed it badly. He seemed to be able to put a good spin on anything that happened. “It is God’s way you know, Mr. Hanson.”
So when he came in the store this particular morning I was not quite prepared when he leaned across the counter and confided that his wife had been taken to the hospital last night. She had fallen and he couldn’t lift her up so he had to call an ambulance. But they were lucky it happened in the daytime because the ambulance had no trouble finding their place. Lucky she didn’t break any bones when she fell. Good thing it wasn’t in the wintertime. Also she knew some people at the hospital so she’d find it easy to adjust to the change.
He was going now to visit her and wanted to let me know. I had never met her or talked to her but I felt privileged he felt I might understand – that he had felt comfortable in picking me as his confidant – that he had chosen me to share his grief. I didn’t say much, mostly listened, and when he left it took me some time to return to my normal “behind-the-counter” routine.
A week or so had passed by when I saw him drive up front one morning and enter the store. I wouldn’t have been surprised if had not come back for a couple months although I must confess he had been on my mind almost daily. As he approached the counter I was about to ask him how his wife was doing but before I could say a word he looked at me through watery eyes and simply said “she died.”
He went on to say that she had quickly taken a turn for the worse. She had lost her voice but that had actually been a blessing because she would never want to be known as one who complained. He had been there that last day and how wonderful it was that they could hold hands those last hours and it was good that it lasted only a week because it ws God’s will that she not linger.
I listened. It was almost hypnotic those few minutes he unburdened himself to me. But then I got the sense he had not been burdened- he accepted her death and let me know that life would go on.
I told him how sorry I was and it was then I noticed the 8×10 picture in it’s dime store frame he was clutching against that old plaid shirt. He turned it around to show me and I was almost startled at how beautiful the young woman behind the glass was. He explained it was her picture as his bride almost 50 years ago. I remarked at her beauty and his voice cracked as he told me she was beautiful in many other ways. They had had no children but the good Lord had provided them with blessings beyond measure. That’s the way it was meant to be you know.
I want you to understand this was all happening across the counter. A customer I saw only occasionally was sharing his private grief with me but it didn’t seem like grief. I felt honored.
The tears were welling up in his eyes as well as mine and I started to ask about his funeral plans. “Oh she’s in the back seat of the car out front,” he said, and pointed ot an old Chevrolet parked against the curb. He went on to explain that at first he had planned to spread her ashes in the woods by the home they had shared these past years, but now he decided to bury the urn at the foot of his mothers grave out in North Dakota. He had got to thinking he’d have to move away from here and it would be nice to know his mother would be looking out for her. “It’s the way God would want it you know Mr. Hanson.” He shook my hand hard and headed for the door.
I realized then there had not been another customer in the store while he had been there. I had felt a closeness I could not explain. He had probably come in for assurance but I was the one who felt reassured.
When he got to the end of the blocked he turned and headed West. I felt sure they would get there by sundown.