I was not surprised the night I found my mom’s lifeless body. I knew I would. I spent years rehearsing the night. I never knew why. But, as much as I thought I was prepared—I needed the help of a stranger.

It was a November evening—the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. A half-day of school and preparations for the family gathering created an excitement in the house. As was typical, I called my mom on the way home from work, and she didn’t answer. Figuring she was busy, I didn’t think anything of it. I spent the next few hours organizing Thanksgiving side dishes to bring to my brother’s house. I called my mom again and still no answer. It was dark and my mother, who didn’t like to drive in the dark, would surely be home.

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As was becoming routine when she didn’t answer the phone, I would quickly run to her house, see that she was fine, spend a few minutes visiting and head back home.

As I took that all too familiar drive, I knew this time would be different.

When I drove into her driveway and noticed the dark house and car in the driveway, I knew it was time. I quickly got out of my car and entered the garage. There she was—on her back with her arms spread at her sides. Her shirt pulled up, slightly exposing her belly. For some reason, I kicked off my shoes and ran to her yelling “Mom!”

I had a brief thought that she would pop up—laughing, thinking I was silly for overreacting, and then tell me to put my shoes on. An almost instant contradictory thought reminded me my mom was a modest woman and would never have her shirt exposing her belly, even in the slightest. 

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After calling 911, I had my last few moments alone in the garage with my mom. I immediately thought back to an incident 15 years prior—one I didn’t think of often. I was sitting next to a man in an airport who was showing clear signs of physical distress. After finding medical professionals to assist, I frantically paced around the man as he passed away. I have always regretted not sitting with the man, holding his hand, and praying with him. 

That moment flooded my memory and I remembered details of this man—this stranger. This memory carefully guided me in the next precious moments . . . moments that would stay with me forever.

Calmly sit with her. Pray. Hold her hand. Fix her hair. Pull her shirt down. Give her permission to move on. Let her know we would all be OK. Tell her everything I ever wanted her to know.

And so I did.

I have a stranger to thank for that. He will never know. It is because of him that I have no regrets in those last moments. I used my few quiet minutes with my mom in the way I had wished I had done with a stranger at the airport.

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We just never know. We never know how we are connected. The profound impact we all have on one another. I think we see it all around us in the current pandemic—the medical professionals holding hands of their dying patients, facilitating last phone calls with loved ones, and selflessly risking their own lives for the lives of others.

I have a plaque that was gifted to me by my mother months before she passed. It is a passage from Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some have unwittingly entertained angels.” This can be interpreted differently—I see it as profound and divine. It makes me wonder how different the world would be if we only saw the connection of strangers.

Laura Domer-Shank

Laura Domer-Shank, Ed.D. is a School Psychologist, Adjunct Professor, and Consultant of twenty-five years who specializes in supporting children and families. Dr. Domer-Shank is the wife to Neil who is an educator and coach and together, they actively parent their three children – Cam, Larkyn, and Ella.