It was September 1988 in Bologna Italy and I was freaking out. I can still feel the horrible fear of running out of time. It was just the day before that I had arrived from Germany on an invitation from an Italian company in Bologna that produced a cosmetic line I was representing in my Day Spa in Dusseldorf. It was a customer appreciation visit to the factory in beautiful medieval Bologna.
At that time my mother was battling with cancer and it had finally reached the stage where she could not get out of bed. It had taken much of my energy and many tears to accept the invitation but she, my family and my friends had all urged me to go, since I obviously needed the break. With a guilty feeling I had gotten on the plane to Italy and as soon as I arrived in the hotel, the cosmetic company had booked for me; my heart sank into my shoes. At the front desk there was a message for me to come home as soon as possible, mom had gotten worse.
But getting home as soon as possible was easier said than done. I had a plane ticket to Dusseldorf, but the only flight I could get onto quickly was the next morning, a Sunday at 8:00 to Frankfurt.
My mother lived in Holland in a city called Nijmegen and that was still 350 kilometres away from my arrival in Germany. My host from the cosmetic company assured me it was no problem to get on that flight with the ticket I had in my possession. But early next morning the clerk at the check in desk had a different opinion.
I had waited in line for about half an hour to hear that my ticket wasn’t valid and I needed to buy a new one at the sales desk of the airline. The airport of Bologna is very small and on this early Sunday morning it seemed abandoned. None of the airline desks were open; in fact there was nobody I could ask besides the young clerk at the check in desk. As I passed the line up, which now had grown much longer, and approached the check in desk again to ask him for help, I could feel the eyes of irritation poke in my back. Nevertheless I was determined to get on that plane and when he told me he could not help me, I broke out in tears, screaming my mother was dying and I had to get home on this flight.
The people in line now had turned their eyes to the floor avoiding looking at me. Checking in their luggage was their main concern and I started to feel panic rise. Suddenly a woman stepped out of the line up and made her way towards me.
I remember her being beautiful. She wore her blond hair in a Grace Kelly roll on the back of her head. She was a lady elegantly dressed and when she spread her arms around me I could feel her coat being soft and comforting. With her calmness she transformed me back into a functional person again. What happened after that embrace is still a blur to me, but I got on the plane to Frankfurt and managed to rent the last car available upon arrival at the airport.
That weekend Frankfurt was hosting an international trades fair and I went through five car rental companies in a calm and confident state of mind, before I finally and still calmly drove the 350 kilometres home to my mother. I never knew the name of the lady; I also have never forgotten her and her act of compassion.
I once read that the decision to pay attention to someone is the first act of self-limitation, the first sacrifice, the first gift we make in the name of love. Even today I am still thankful for the gift of love a stranger had given me in one of the most difficult moments of my life. She had paid attention, she showed me empathy, and it was her compassionate nature that made her put her arms around me. When I close my eyes I can still see her approaching me that early Sunday morning in Italy, I can still feel the softness of her coat and the comfort she gave me.
Today when I see the Hospice volunteers at Ty Watson House or those who serve in our community, they remind me of that lady at the airport in Bologna. Hospice volunteers act in self-limitation, donating their time to pay attention, giving away a compassionate gift of love to those who need it.
For more information on end of life care, Ty Watson House or how to become a Hospice volunteer please contact the Hospice Office at 250.723.4478 or visit our website: www.albernihospice.ca