On the day my father died, I drove to work on that crisp October morning with my mind fixated on the pumpkin spice coffee I was going to treat myself to on the way. “Maybe a muffin, too,” I thought. Why not?
I bustled into the office where I was subbing as a school nurse and I placed the coffee and pastry bag on my desk as I hung up my purse and sweater. I had just settled into my seat and was about to take a sip of Fall flavored nectar when my phone buzzed in my pocket.
It was my mother, calling to say that my father was on route to the hospital.
“He’s had a bad night,” she said. I remember feeling like my legs were suddenly made of cement and I looked at the coffee, now slowly cooling next to my laptop.
It was as if life started moving in slow motion and everyone around me was talking underwater.
As I tried to process what my mother was saying, I wondered how I’d get in touch with my husband, who was on an airplane headed to a city that was thousands of miles away.
I wondered who would pick up the stack of papers that drifted from my hands when my mother called a second time to tell me things didn’t look good.
I wondered who would help me tell my kids that their grandfather had died. I kept waiting for an adult to show up, someone who knew what to do in an emergency.
And, later that day, when the word came that my father had passed away, I wondered what became of my abandoned cup of pumpkin coffee.
The rest of the day passed in a blur of helpful friends and a mother in law who dropped everything to help me and the Fruit Loops catch a flight. There was laundry to wash, flights to book, family to notify. I don’t know or remember how any of it got done but I do know that I arrived to my parents’ house somehow with everything I needed to bury my father.
In the following days, the doorbell never stopped ringing.
Lasagnas that could feed 15 in one sitting.
In the span of 48 hours, we’d run out of freezer space, fruit flies were starting to invade the air, and the house smelled like a funeral home.
And that was just the first two days.
The flowers, fruit, and casseroles kept coming at a rate we couldn’t manage.
It was exhausting, overwhelming, and depressing, particularly when the time came to throw the wilted flowers away. We were grateful to be remembered in such thoughtful ways but, frankly, none of us wanted to do anything other than drink wine and eat Oreos. None of us could stomach real food, much less plow through a Tex Mex casserole.
Chucking one flower arrangement after another into the garbage not only felt like a waste but it felt like a funeral all over again. Seeing those bereavement arrangements at the curb was a second, more final goodbye.
In the aftermath of my father’s death, I joined a club I didn’t know existed: the “I’ve Lost A Parent” Club. Once I became a card carrying member of the worst club ever, I realized that membership means you become a better friend in crisis. Not in a sanctimonious way, I promise. In a “I want to spare you the agony of throwing away 40 flower arrangements” kind of way.
A few months ago, I stumbled upon the website Beyond Flowers and Food quite by happenstance. A close friend’s mother had passed away and my extended family and I wanted to send something meaningful to her, especially since she lived several states away.
This friend had gone the extra mile for me when my dad died: she arranged to have a continental breakfast delivered to our door on the morning of my father’s funeral. Yes, it was food and no, it was not lasagna. Her note simply said, “Don’t forget to eat breakfast today. You’ll need something in your stomachs.” I’ve never forgotten that simple kindness.
When her mother passed away, I wasn’t in a position to drop everything and do my friend’s laundry or help her pack for her trip home. But I wanted to do the next best thing, something that would let her know I was supporting her from afar.
A few months after my father passed away, a friend sent me a stained glass angel in the shade of blue for my father’s birth stone. When I opened the box, she sent me a note that said that she’d hope her small token would feel like my dad was with me every day. A guardian, if you will.
The first item I laid eyes upon when I landed on the Beyond Flowers and Food site made me realize my dad had a hand in helping me find the perfect gift and that there are no coincidences in life: it was their best seller, A Guardian Angel.
And, as I read the “About” section of the Beyond Flowers and Food, site, I realized that the owners seemed to know innately that food isn’t always the best gesture when it comes to an immediate crisis.
It was as if I’d finally found people who understood what it’s like to scrape an entire lasagna, uneaten, into the garbage.
They understood the mental toll it takes to run out of ways to eat fruit basket oranges without being sick.
And, they understood that the smell of bereavement flowers in a home is not at all comforting.
They understand because the owners, Katie and Beth, I came to find out, lost their mother around the time I lost my father.
Beyond Flowers and Food is clearly a labor of love that has emerged as a bright light during the dark days of their grieving.
I finally decided on Tiffany style stained glass window hanging with dragonflies for my friend. Dragonflies are a sign of ability to overcome in times of hardship and I immediately envisioned this pretty piece making her smile every day. (It was a tough choice between this and the copper memory candle, for sure).
What I love most about the website is what I learned when I went to complete my purchase:
Shipping is free. Always. They do the shopping, the gift wrapping, and the standing at the post office during the time you want to be supporting your friend or loved one.
They send the gift of your choice in a simple, elegant white box with a hand written note expressing your deepest sympathy.
Packages start at under $30, too, which means their gifts are more economical than the flowers your loved one will eventually have to throw away.
They have carefully curated a list of Grief, Get Well, and Uplifting Gifts so that you don’t find yourself scrambling when your friend calls to tell you that today has officially become the worst day of her life.
And the best part?
There’s not a single lasagna available for purchase on the Beyond Flowers and Food website.
There truly are angels who walk among us during periods of stress and anxiety.
Those angels are the ones who show up to do your laundry without judging you for the size of the pile, they are the ones who make inappropriate funeral jokes when you need them the most, and they are the ones who send gifts that don’t include four pounds of mozzarella.
Beth and Katie and the Beyond Flowers and Food team are redefining how we help each other through the toughest moments in our lives.
And they are doing it, one personally wrapped angel at a time.
In a perfect world, we’d never have to send gifts in support of a lost loved one, a cancer journey, or a shittastic week at work, but the fact is, at some point we are all going to need to send a meaningful gift. While you may not need that gift right now, please consider following Beyond Food and Flowers on social media. You can find them on Facebook and Instagram. And tell them I sent you to say hi…they’ll love that, I promise.
This post was sponsored by Beyond Flowers and Food. Though I was compensated for this post, as always, I would never endorse a product or service that I’m not completely in love with or that I wouldn’t be willing to use myself.
The opinions expressed are all mine, too. As well as the typos. Ahem.