Sunday, 30 June 2024 04:24

12 little acts of kindness: What friends and strangers did for each other in their hour of need

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I have a fond memory from a Monday a month or so after my mum died. My friend Deb’s son, then three years old, was playing hide and seek with my daughter of the same age. He picked a delightfully impressive hiding place, wedging himself into the bottom of my floor-to-ceiling shelves. He was wearing camouflage print and against the usual domestic detritus on our shelves proved genuinely difficult to find. Quite a feat.

I properly laughed, for which I was truly grateful. It had been quite a while since I had laughed like that. Deb was there to deliver dinner for us all; something she had promised to do a few days earlier. A family meal, every Monday, for the next few weeks.

“That is beyond nice of you, but way too much of an ask,” I said.

“OK, but you’re not asking, I’m just doing it,” she replied. “Just accept and enjoy while you get through the grey.”

Grief can come in many shades. For me, there was the glowing red panic of my mum’s cancer prognosis that was falling off a cliff so fast we could barely keep up. Then there was the searing white heat of her actual death, and the blinding fame that comes with being the bereaved at the centre of a tragic circus. And then came the grey. That point when I was due to get to back to normal life, except everything was entirely abnormal because how could it possibly be anything else? A meteor had struck and left a gaping abyss in my world which I was somehow meant to avoid falling into.

Deb intuited Mondays were my greyest days. The day of the week that I was solely responsible for my three-year-old and not quite one-year-old. The day of the week my mum had called her “Abigail Mondays” because that was the day she would devote to me and my children, ever since I had moved back to my home town to be closer to her 18 months earlier. After her death, I was a shell of a person by teatime on a Monday, struggling to function with two young children relying on me for their care. That is when Deb knocked on with dinner.

Friends and family did so many wonderfully kind things for me at that time, each act of compassion like a thread of a safety net they collectively sewed to prevent me from freefalling into the abyss. Deb’s Monday meals-on-wheels were a particularly robust bit of net that I will never forget.

So we asked you, our readers, for the good memories of your worst of times. For some, it is a lifelong friend who ran to their rescue; for others, a perfect stranger who showed them extraordinary kindness when they needed it most. From grand, country-crossing gestures to just listening, all of them acted as a balm to souls at their weariest. Like a homemade meal for your family on a grey Monday.

When I met Caroline (not her real name because, honestly, I really don’t remember it), I was at a party in Toronto. I had had a stillbirth in the spring and this was summer. My family and friends could only stand so much of my grief. Somehow Caroline and I ended up sitting with each other in a private corner away from the noise and I told her about giving birth to Tabitha at eight months, already knowing that she had died in utero. She listened to me without interrupting, her quiet attention giving me space for my stumbling, anguished words. And then we sat. Still, quiet, letting the story of Tabitha have yet another moment. She’ll maybe not know how grateful I was/am for that. I will never forget it.
Vivien Stollmeyer, Trinidad and Tobago

When I was at university, I struggled with my mental health. One of the most acute spikes of anxiety and depression coincided with exam season. In the midst of this crisis, I volunteered at a local charity shop. When I started my shift one of my fellow volunteers presented me with an entire bag of home-cooked meals, enough to last me a week, “so you have one less thing to worry about”. It remains the kindest thing anyone has ever done for me. The food was delicious, and I ended up doing well in my exams, too.
Declan Cochran, Worthing

My husband died on Christmas Day when I was 35. My first birthday without him was six months later; our daughter had just turned three, and so I was up early making her breakfast. When I drew back the curtains I discovered that my sister had been to my house (very early) and stuck “Happy birthday” and “We love you” signs up on my windows. It really lit up a dark morning.
Rebecca Messenger-Clark, Leeds

I was one of the unfortunate people kept in draconian Australian hotel quarantine during the second wave of Covid. My dad had a sudden heart attack and instead of being able to fly to his bedside, I ended up alone in a windowless room three hours’ drive away. It was hell. But one of my oldest friends, Thomas, really went above and beyond. Every day I woke up to a coffee delivered by an alien in PPE and him standing under my window, ready to talk. Over the two weeks he organised letters and treat boxes from my friends, exercise plans, books – things to let me know that I wasn’t alone. My dad died while I was in my Covid prison, but Thomas kept showing up: he reminded me that friendship, as Coleridge said, is a sheltering tree.
Sophie Mathisen, London

It was the late 1980s, at Christmas, and I was living in Norwich on my own. I knew I wasn’t getting any presents because I didn’t really know anybody there, but a woman I had met by chance left a wrapped Christmas box for me. It was beautifully done with various gifts inside – a book, bubble bath, chocolates, some really nice tea and gorgeous biscuits. I was on benefits at the time, and I was very ill and barely making it financially each month, but she didn’t know this. It was an act of kindness.
Sarah Lionheart, Whaley Bridge

Shortly before the Manchester riots in 2011, I was robbed at knifepoint by an intruder in my flat. Fortunately I was not injured, but the experience shook me up. My friend dropped everything to be with me and joined me for my police interview, and later, my attendance at court. She was there for me every step of the way and this made our friendship even stronger.

I’m currently going through cancer treatment, and things are very uncertain. With too much time on my hands, I have sometimes felt very lost in frightening thoughts. I mentioned to a friend that I was running out of courage. A parcel arrived with a beautiful soft toy lion inside, with a message: “Here’s some extra courage for you.” I sleep with the lion – if I am wakeful in the night, this little toy soothes me but also connects me to the loving support of my friend.
Leigh, Wiltshire

I have travelled frequently on my own, but since my father passed away, I’ve never had a friend or partner meet me at the airport at my final destination. I mentioned it once to a friend, then thought no more of it. Over a year later I went to meet her in India, and she surprised me at the airport with flowers and a silly welcome sign. Such a simple gesture but it meant so much.
Lilly Crick, Brighton

My husband of 20 years died a little over a year ago after a heart-wrenching struggle with type 1 diabetes and end-stage renal disease. To chronicle my grief, I tried a new medium, TikTok. I put my grief into short, one-minute capsules, hashtagging #widow. I received thousands of comments from other widows who were watching my raw pain. Laurie reached out to me in a private message about her own loss – her husband of 17 years had died in a motorcycle accident. She was broken like me. I took a risk and gave her my phone number. We shared our experience of love and loss. She was able to understand me in a way my friends could not, and never tried to fix me or expect me to “move on”. On the one-year anniversary of my husband’s death, which I was dreading, she bought a ticket from Rochester NY to Los Angeles to hold my hand. My godson dug a hole in the garden for me to plant a gardenia bush and mix my husband’s ashes into the roots. My new friend was crying, too. She didn’t speak. She didn’t have to. She was there.
Carole Raphaelle Davis, Los Angeles and Nice

During the terrible 2017 California fire season, our entire neighbourhood was threatened by multiple wildfires. From our house, we could see the fire line and the planes dropping orange-coloured retardant; power was cut off and the police toured the area warning residents to evacuate. With some difficulty, because cellphone connections were bad, my wife and I rented a lovely, if expensive, house in San Francisco, one of the few still available. The owner greeted us and as soon as I told him about our circumstances he stated emphatically: “Stay as long as you need to. There will be no charge for your stay.” His kindness is seared into my memory.
Gabriel Baum, Sonoma

I was at work when I heard news that my dear dad had taken his own life. I called my friend and, worried about me driving after hearing such news, she offered to pick me up in a heartbeat. She drove me 45 minutes to collect my mum and brother and brought us back to my home so we could begin to process what had happened. To bravely support us all in the immediate aftermath was heroic.


The Guardian, UK

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