Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Random Act of Christmas Kindness: Day One

Yesterday afternoon, as I ran errands around town, I stopped at a Bed, Bath, and Beyond to pick up a few items. As I waited in line to pay, I noticed a middle-aged woman standing at the nearby Customer Service desk, and she was angry.

Her face was contorted into a sneer, and she was yelling at two of the staff members about the return she was trying to make. As she yelled on and on, people were starting to stop and take notice.

The manager was simply and quietly telling her that he would have to credit her return to her American Express card.

"BUT I WANT STORE CREDIT!!!!" she yelled.

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I have to credit your original form of payment, and that is your American Express," he calmly stated.

"BUT I'M GOING TO SPEND MY MONEY HERE ANYWAY!!! WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE?! GIVE ME STORE CREDIT!!!"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but those are the rules."

"GET ME A MANAGER! YOU ARE STUPID AND MEAN, AND I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU!"

"Ma'am? I am the manager."

"WELL...THEN...I WANT SOMEONE HIGHER UP THAN YOU! GET ME SOMEONE HIGHER UP!!!"

Really, lady? You want higher up than the store manager, who is simply following the rules and doing so in a patient and kind manner? Perhaps we should call God. God is higher up than the manager, and, you know, He's probably just sitting in heaven, twiddling His thumbs and waiting for a Bed, Bath, and Beyond emergency. World peace, schmorld peace.

On and on it went. She yelled. He stayed calm. She berated him. He smiled. She swung her arms around and threw her body into the argument. He seemed nonplussed.

My jaw dropped, and I looked around at a few of the other customers who seemed equally surprised at the scene that was unfolding. This woman just called this man, a total stranger, "stupid and mean", for no apparent reason, and he just stood there calmly. He leaned forward, smiled and said, "Please. There is no reason to get so upset. I am more than happy to help you, but if you aren't happy speaking with me, then I will find someone who can help you." Which he did. Just like that.

The manager then walked over to an open register, punched a few keys, and, as I happened to be next in line, motioned for me to come over and cash out. He smiled at me as if the last 10 minutes of his life had not just happened, and said with a grin, "Hey sweetie! Whatcha got there in that shopping cart? Let's get you all cashed out!"

I was amazed.

Here was a person who embodied positivity and resilience, and he was scanning my items and chatting with me happily. I would not have blamed him if he checked me out in grumpy silence, and needed a few moments to compose himself.

I thought of the Random Acts of Christmas Kindness (RACK) blog entry that I had written earlier in the day, and then I thought of all of the people I encounter in my day who are kind and happy while doing their jobs. I thought of the waiters and waitresses who work long exhausting shifts, for little pay, but smile and do their jobs impeccably. I thought of the the friendly cashier at the grocery store that we frequent, and how, when she sees my children, she smiles and offers them stickers. I thought of the teachers of my children, and how they have shown patience in spades.

You know these people too. The positive people. The people who make the world just a bit brighter because they not only do their job, but do it with a joyful heart.

I hadn't decided what my first RACK was going to be, but after the scene at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, I knew what it was going to be.

I decided to write a Thank You note.

But not just any Thank You note.

I had been meaning to send a Thank You note to the staff of the assisted living facility where my dear mother-in-law had lived from December, 2011 up until her passing on July 23, 2012, but of course, I let time slip away from me, and the letter was never written.

To say that this staff was wonderful and kind and caring is an understatement. But of course, I thought, "Oh well, I didn't write the letter, and I'm sure they know they're awesome. Life goes on."

But sometimes it takes a screaming, irate woman at the Bed, Bath and Beyond to make you realize that it is time to properly thank the people who not only do their jobs, but do them awesomely and happily and so very well. Sometimes people just need to hear, "I saw what you did, and it touched my life. Thank You."

I wrote the following letter last night, printed it out, put it in a stamped envelope, and dropped it in my mailbox. RACK #1 completed.

And it felt good.

November 26, 2012

To the Wonderful Staff of [name of assisted living facility]

I apologize that this letter has taken me so long to write, but I truly feel that some things are better late than never, because I knew that at some point this letter had to be written.

My dear mother-in-law, Nancy, moved to your assisted living facility last December, shortly after Christmas, as a result of the progression of terminal cancer, and our family's desire to ensure that she was well taken care of in the final months of her life. After she had surgery last November and lived in a nursing home for a month, her spirits were low, as were her stamina and energy. After all, she was only 68 years old, but this terrible disease aged her, and robbed her of the last vestiges of her youthful spryness. She was now, sadly, finding herself having to rely on a small staff of people to do the most basic tasks in her day - tasks that most of us do without a thought, and tasks that we take for granted. 

However, upon moving to [name of assisted living facility], my husband and I were amazed to watch her spirits lift, and a bit of her energy return. She made friends, and enjoyed going downstairs for mealtime. Her laughter returned, as did a bit of her lightheartedness.

I do not think that this is a coincidence. In fact, I know that this was a direct result of the caring staff at [name of assisted living facility], and the cheery, upbeat atmosphere that you work so hard to cultivate. Like my mother-in-law, many people enter your facility knowing that they will live the final months or years of their life there, but I want to commend you for creating an environment that makes it feel like a place that is anything BUT that.

One could argue that your staff members are, "just doing their jobs," but I would disagree, because what my husband and I saw was so much more than that. There are people who just do their jobs every day, and then there are people who pour their hearts into their work, and truly care for the people that they tend to on a daily basis, and that accurately describes so many members of your staff. They got to know Nancy as a person, and cared for her well in her final months, and I hope you will believe me when I say that it was a beautiful thing to witness, and it did not go unnoticed by our family.

We all hope that our health never declines so much that we need assistance using the bathroom. Or taking a shower. Or wiping food from our chin after a meal. Or getting around via wheelchair. Or getting up from a couch. Or dressing ourselves. Or combing and styling our hair. 

Unfortunately, cancer and old age aren’t so kind.

Although these two words feel a bit inadequate, from the bottom of our hearts, my family says thank you. Thank you for caring for Nancy. Thank you for getting to know her, and asking questions about her life. Thank you for making her laugh. Thank you for allowing her to maintain her dignity, despite not being able to care for herself. Thank you to Wandza, especially, as her kindness was always able to lift Nancy's spirits and make her smile, even in the middle of the night when it was time for a dose of pain medication. Thank you for working with the Hospice team to carry out her final wishes. Thank you for not helping her to die, but for helping her to live as fully as she could, even at the end. Thank you for your heartfelt condolences and kind words about her when she passed in July. 

Thank you for not just treating her like she was the dying old lady who lived in the upstairs apartment at the end of the hallway, but rather, a living, breathing valuable human being who was loved and cherished by so many people. 

The many jobs and tasks you perform on a daily basis are thankless ones, and may generally go unnoticed by most of the world, yet they are so important. To you we say, "Thank You." 

The world could use more people like you.

Sincerely, 

Clare and Bill [last name]

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