Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | April 1, 2014

On Kindness

Note: This is from a writing prompt in a class I am taking. It contains some brutal language around my typical theme: death. 


Kindness in me is a flower that has bloomed slowly, over time, since I lost my husband Jeff.

It’s a small, strong impulse that pushes resolutely through the cold, dark earth. Much kindness has been bestowed upon me — much more than I have ever brought to this world. I’ve been blessed by it, over and over, in minute, tender ways, as well as grand, sweeping gestures. (Thanks, Mom!)

I say Blessed, and use the word and the notion of Grace, even though I’m not now and never have been religious. In my world, Blessings come from people, and Grace can be actions of other people, or something as simple and everyday as a scrap of purple cloud in a turquoise afternoon sky, or the low basting-stitch swoop of a red cardinal across a brown back yard. Maybe Blessing is the action, and Grace is the noticing.

All I know is, these concepts are important tenets of my life now, much more than they were in my workaday world Before.

Kindness is mainly gentleness, the deliberate step of noticing what is needed and trying to provide it as best you are able. Even to yourself. Especially to yourself, maybe. Perhaps you must take the purposeful first step of stopping, noticing, making the tiniest of gestures towards what is needed, maybe even just one extra, deep, slow intake of breath and the tiny moment that expands there that wasn’t present before. I try to be gentle with myself, and towards others it expands slowly outwards as does a ripple in a pond. Also, if I cannot be kind, at least I try not to be unkind. This was not always true in my Before life.


Jeff died at home on a summer morning, a few hours before dawn. I was with him, holding his hand, watching the slow decline of his breathing, observing the lengthening spaces between inhalations, waiting for his next breath — the one that never came.

Naturally there was no more sleep for those in our house that night — our daughter Anna, Jeff’s sister Karen, and me —and that morning was so very long and surreal. In the beginning, it was not odd to have my dead husband lying so still and silent in our bedroom, but as the hours wore on, it became too prolonged and too strange. I kept going into our room and looking at him, touching him. I know when he started to cool, to slightly stiffen. Clearly he was no longer here, but his body was still present. Anna did not want to see him that way, and the dog and cat would not enter the room, although they sat in a semi circle just outside the doorway, worriedly guarding, for hours.

Around noon two men came from the funeral home to wheel my husband’s body out of our house forever. They told me they must charge an additional fee, as my husband was so tall an extra man was needed to carry him away. They matter-of-factly told me this, even though by the time he died he probably did not carry 150 pounds on his 6’6″ frame. This is information no one needs; it is The Opposite of Kindness. Charge the fee or don’t, but don’t tell me this. Kindness contains truth, but perhaps not every last bit of truth is necessary. Surely it is not kindness to share this fact with the morning’s widow.

Kindness may equal truth tempered with gentleness.

When they arrived, finally, Karen led me outside into our sunny vegetable garden, far from the back door. “We don’t need to see this,” she said. Kindness.

I think I’ll always know kindness as sunshine on my shoulders: that day was sunny, the first sun in a long drab slog of damp, gray, muted, home-hospice summer days. When I feel sun on my shoulders, I think of that day, Karen’s hand holding mine, gently taking me into the garden, wrapping her arms around me.

When we returned to the house, we found the hearse gone from the driveway, the back door wide open to the breeze, a small table askew by the door: they had moved it to get my very tall husband through the doorway. The hospital bed stood mute, empty in our bedroom, sheets rumpled.

I don’t recall much of the rest of that day. But this I remember: in the late afternoon I found myself and my daughter at my mother’s house where my siblings had gathered. I have no recollection of how we got there or got home. Kindness transported us, I guess.

I was curled in a cushioned lawn chair on the patio, in the beatific afternoon sun, surrounded by my family. My eyes were closed. I rested, noticing the emptiness inside me, feeling sheltered in the small comfort of my family, who spoke quietly nearby. “Look, she’s asleep. Let her rest,” I remember someone saying.  I was not sleeping. But I did not speak, did not move. I stayed still inside my closed eyes as a chick abides inside its shell, not yet ready to be born into its new unimaginable life.

Very gently, my brother’s wife Magda touched my neck and shoulders, my hands, my feet. I had touched Jeff the very same way while he was sick: drawn my fingers slowly across his gaunt shoulders, gently massaged his numb, sore hands, his bony feet. When she touched me that same way, I was filled with beautiful gentle love and caring beyond words. Pure kindness.

Later that day on the patio, Magda painted her toenails a rich dark plum. I casually remarked to her, “Jeff used to paint my toenails sometimes, before he was sick.”

“I will paint your toenails for you!” she cried. I felt squirmy and shy. It seemed too intimate. I didn’t know her very well in those days. But I let her. I couldn’t think of a reason why not. And the color was so pretty.

Gently, she held my naked feet, each in turn, a thumb on the instep, palm cradling the sole. She carefully drew the minuscule brush holding dark purple paint slowly down each toenail. I held myself still and watched her, her dark eyelashes lowered as she concentrated on the small task. In one tiny minute I’ve never felt so loved. I cry even now, years later, when I think of this, her kindness. She could not fix me; she could not make it better. The only thing she could offer in that moment was that. Kindness.




  1. Carolyn, I had trouble following the link (got a ‘file not found’ message) and I’d like to read this. Could you check and make sure it works? Thank you! Lise


  2. Hi LIse, the link in your email worked for me. Here is another direct link. Let me know if there is still a problem. Thanks for reading. C.


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