An Earth Angel At The Grocery Store

She remembered her late stepfather’s kindness and wondered if her mother would recover. Until she received a reminder from above.

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Posted in , Apr 27, 2022

Illustration by Jessica Allen

Stacks of full files and loose papers covered the ping-pong table in my parents’ basement. My husband, Eric, my brother, Tim, and I had pulled out all my parents’ financial records. “This is the last of it,” said Eric, making room for one more pile on the table. “Keep an eye out for a life insurance policy.”

I grabbed a folder and started sorting, still in shock. Two days earlier, my stepfather, Doug, told my mom he wasn’t feeling well and went to the bedroom to lie down. When Mom checked on him a couple hours later, she couldn’t wake him. He was 64.

“Are you sure Mom doesn’t know where Doug kept things?” said Tim.

I shook my head. “She never asked him. She thought he’d be here to take care of whatever was needed.”

We all did. Doug was the type of person everyone relied on, including me. When my first marriage fell apart, Doug had welcomed me—and my two young children—into the brand-new home he and my mom had just built. Even when my son’s remote-control car left a big black mark on the freshly painted wall, Doug shrugged it off. “I’m just really glad you guys are here.”

It was Doug who eventually helped me find a little rental house to move into. Doug who paid my security deposit. Doug who paid for the wedding dress I wore when I married Eric. My children knew they could depend on him too. But no one relied on him more than Mom. They’d been married 21 years. With Doug gone, who would take care of her?

My oldest brother lived fairly close to Mom, but as a single dad, he already had his hands full. My sister lived out of state, and Tim and I each lived a few hours away. We all had young children, our own responsibilities. We couldn’t take care of all the little things Doug had done for Mom every day.

Since his death, Mom had hardly spoken. She wasn’t eating enough, if anything, and moved around the house in a daze. Doug would have known what to do for her, I thought. I was afraid he was the only one who could comfort her.

As we rifled through papers, I thought of one thing I could do for Mom. She had mentioned she wanted to pack up some of Doug’s belongings, photo albums and mementos, to give to his family. “I’m going to pick up some boxes,” I said to the guys. It wasn’t much, but it was something.

I drove to the grocery store and asked the manager if he was throwing out any boxes. “Are you moving?” he asked. When I explained, he expressed his condolences.

“Do your parents have a shoppers’ card for our store?”

“I don’t know,” I admitted. “I know they shop here.”

He asked for their names. “Can you come back in an hour?”

Unbelievable, I thought as I walked back to my car. He couldn’t give me a few boxes unless my family shopped at his store? I guess that’s the world we live in, I thought. My stepdad was a rare type. I drove off more worried about Mom than ever.

When I returned, the manager loaded a dozen neatly flattened boxes into my car. Then several bags of groceries. “I didn’t order…” I began.

“I looked up your parents’ account and duplicated their last grocery order,” he explained. “I hope it’s helpful for your family. No charge.”

Back home, Mom stared into space at the kitchen table while I unpacked the bags. Mom’s favorite cookies. Pulp-free orange juice. French onion dip and Lay’s plain potato chips. Deli ham and rye bread. Small red potatoes. I explained where the groceries had come from. “You must have gotten all your favorites the last time you shopped,” I said.

Mom blinked at the food. “Oh, that was Doug. Since the pandemic started, Doug did all our grocery shopping online,” she said. “He was better with the computer than I am.”

Of course, Mom could depend on Doug to buy all her favorite foods. But it turned out that she could depend on a caring store manager too. I’d been quick to judge, without any inkling that I might be experiencing an act of kindness from a stranger. No one could replace my stepdad, but God reminded me that the world was full of people who cared, earth angels he would send us when we least expected it.

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