An Essay on Candy Baskets

Authors Note: This is an essay I wrote for one of my classes.  I’m posting it here because it discusses my emotions during and after my mother’s illness – something generations from now will not find in the medical records or death certificates.

But it also touches on the fact that certain acts of kindness, love, and compassion can never truly be repaid.  When I was originally given this assignment, I wanted to write about YOU – the genealogy community that sent more love, support, and words of encouragement than I could ever have imagined.  I survived on the blog comments, emails, and Facebook messages of support, advice, prayers, encouragement.  On the days that I felt like I just couldn’t take it anymore (and trust me, there were a lot of those), I could feel all of you holding my hand, reminding me to take a deep breath, count to ten, and somehow give me the strength to put one foot in front of the other.  Every time I think about it, I am deeply humbled and reminded just how much I love this community.  But since I could easily write a novel about all of that and the assignment was to only write a 600-700 word essay, I picked this topic instead.

Enough of me rambling….Here it is:

Candy Baskets

         It is often in our times of great need, when we are shown great love and kindness, that we realize that there is no gift sufficient enough for repayment.  In Billy Collins’ poem “The Lanyard,” the speaker comes upon the realization that he will never be able to repay his mother for all she has done for him.  Similarly, I feel that the baskets of candy will never repay the nurses, social workers, and firefighters that supported me through my mother’s illness and death.

My mother began suffering from liver failure in September 2009 after many years of alcoholism.  Since my mother did not have health insurance, she was forced to be treated at Harbor-UCLA Medical Center where many of the nurses are overworked and tired.  As I was trying to learn how to manage my mother’s illness and the treatment options available, it was often the nurses who took the time to calmly explain new terms and keep me updated on new options.  When the stress became too much, it was the nurses who gave me a supportive smile and encouraging arm squeeze to keep me going.  Although the nurses were overworked and underpaid, they always took a few seconds to make sure I was coping.  Once it was time for my mother to be discharged, she told me to bring the nurses a basket of candy as a token of appreciation for their care.

In January of 2010, I had to call paramedics to my apartment to rush my mother to the hospital.  As the paramedics were taking my mother to the ambulance, one firefighter stopped and placed his hand on my back.  He gave me a reassuring smile and asked me if I was alright.  I was so overwhelmed that I couldn’t speak and could only give a nod in response.  He gave me another reassuring smile, reminded me that the paramedics would do everything possible for my mom, and then walked away.  I dropped off a basket of candy and sweets to the fire station the next day.

My mom spent much of January in the Intensive Care Unit with some of the brightest minds in the hospital keeping her stable.  The doctors spent a lot of time educating me about her various medical conditions and guiding me in how to care for her.  When visitor hours would close, the doctors would call to check on me, give me updates on my mother’s care, and answer any new questions I may have had.  As the hospital decided to transfer my mother to Harbor-UCLA Medical Center because she lacked insurance, it was a young doctor who held my hand and eased my nerves.  I spent the night creating another candy basket that was promptly delivered to the doctor in the morning.

On February 28, 2010, I called the paramedics for the last time to my apartment.  It was the second emergency in a month and the paramedics had a bleak demeanor.  As I was in a state of panic and dread, the firefighters no longer attempted to relieve my fear but instead tried to help me endure the pain that was coming.  One firefighter in particular tried to soothe my panic by reminding me that he was going to hold my mother’s hand the whole ambulance ride.  Once at the hospital, he brought me a glass of water, said I looked so much like his own daughter, and wished me well.  I made a note in my planner to bring him a basket of candy.

Later that evening, a social worker came to speak with me about my mother’s worsening condition.  She asked me about my mother’s final wishes and clearly explained each of the options I had in front of me.  As I sat in the emergency room waiting room, her presence gave me strength.  When her shift was over, she gave me a glass of water and told me she would check on me in the morning.  When my mother did not survive the night, I made a note to bring the social worker a basket of candy the next day.

During my mother’s illness, I was fortunate enough to receive the kindness and encouragement of the nurses, firefighters, and social workers that cared for my mother.  Just as the speaker of “The Lanyard” felt that he would never be able to repay his mother for her love and parenting, I feel that my small and insignificant gift of a candy basket will never repay the staff for everything they’ve done for me.

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9 responses to “An Essay on Candy Baskets

  1. Beautiful. Just beautiful.

  2. The candy baskets were probably the highlights of their days. So few appreciate the heroic and difficult tasks that paramedics and hospital workers endure.

    Thank you for sharing. You are a wonderful woman!

    • Don’t be fooled – they didn’t all get their candy baskets. Sometimes I just got so overwhelmed that I forgot and there were some doctors who were down right rude (one doctor came in, looked at my mom’s chart, looked down at my mom and said “Looks like the liver is failing from long term alcohol abuse”. I remember staring at her and saying “Yes, we’ve established that.” What was your first clue, doc? The fact that it is written on her chart? The fact that her skin and eyes are yellow? The fact that her legs are swollen? And she later sent a bill for $450. I ripped it up and laughed – she was in the room for 5 minutes and only restated the obvious)

      I really really wanted to give a basket to the social worker. But I couldn’t for the life of me remember her name. And when she called me the next morning to see if I had any questions, I had so many questions that I didn’t really know what I was doing. Everything was so up in the air and I didn’t know what to ask. By the time I had questions, I had lost her number and name.

  3. While you may feel your candy basket may have been small or insignificant I’m sure it made those who helped you and your mother feel appreciated. Because we usually can never repay those who help us the most during hard times, remember you can pay it forward in someone else’s time of need. Be there for them with a hand on their back, a glass of water or a candy basket.

  4. I have tears in my eyes reading this. Thank you for sharing and making sure that your experiences are available for your descendants. Also thank you for reminding us of the importance of showing our appreciation to those who unselfishly go above and beyond to make those small gestures. (I’m not talkin about that doctor!)
    Michelle Goodrum´s last blog post ..Lima Beans and Peas – 52 Weeks of Personal Genealogy & Family History

  5. One of the best blog posts you have ever written. Very beautiful and touching. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Elyse, this is very moving and your’s mother dignity and life are honored in the way you wrote this. I work in health care and I am going to share this with our staff. Thank you for being who you are.

  7. Beautiful post. I also lost my mother too young. And kudos to you for tearing up that doctor bill! What a jerk!

  8. Elyse,
    I’m a little late to the reading of this, so despite my tardiness, I want to empathize with your experience with clueless medical professionals and also those (often the nurses and social workers, as you say) who were wonderful. That doc needed a biff upside the head for a heartless and crude comment. When children or a spouse has already dealt with the heartbreak of substance abuse, the last thing they need is insensitive commentary. My mom dies of peritoneal (related to ovarian) cancer 17 years ago, so I know the drill. Please take care and know your thoughtful remembrances will live on in your writing.
    Linda Gartz´s last blog post ..Left Behind

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