The elderly caretaker of a peaceful lonely cemetery received a check every month from a woman, an invalid in a hospital in a nearby city. The check was to buy fresh flowers for the grave of her son, who had been killed in an automobile accident a couple years before.
One day a car drove into the cemetery and stopped in front of the caretaker’s ivy-covered administration building. A man was driving the car. In the back seat sat an elderly lady, pale as death, her eyes half-closed.
“The lady is too ill to walk,” the driver told the caretaker. “Would you mind coming with us to her son’s grave – she has a favor to ask of you. You see, she is dying, and she has asked me, as an old family friend, to bring her out here for one last look at her son’s grave.”
“Is this Mrs. Wilson?” the caretaker asked. The man nodded.
“Yes, I know who she is. She’s the one who has been sending me a check every month to put flowers on her son’s grave.” The caretaker followed the man to the car and got in beside the woman. She was frail and obviously near death. But there was something else about her face, the caretaker noted – the eyes dark and sullen, hiding some deep, long-lasting hurt.
“I am Mrs. Wilson,” she whispered. “Every month for the past two years –“
“Yes, I know. I have attended to it, just as you asked.”
“I have come here today,” she went on, “because the doctors tell me I have only a few weeks left. I shall not be sorry to go. There is nothing left to live for. But before I die, I wanted to come here for one last look and to make arrangements with you to keep on placing the flowers on my son’s grave.”
She seemed exhausted – the effort to speak sapping her strength. The car made its way down a narrow, gravel road to the grave. When they reached the grave, the woman, with what appeared to be great effort, raised herself slightly and gazed out the window at her son’s tombstone. There was no sound during the moments that followed – only the chirping of the birds in the tall, old trees scattered among the graves.
Finally, the caretaker spoke. “You know, Ma’am, I was always sorry you kept sending the money for the flowers.”
The woman seemed at first not to hear. Then slowly she turned toward him. “Sorry?” she whispered. “Do you realize what you are saying – my son . . .”
“Yes, I know,” he said gently. “But, you see, I belong to a church group that every week visits hospitals, asylums, prisons. There are live people in those places who need cheering up, and most of them love flowers – they can see them and smell them. That grave –“ he said, “over there – there’s no one living, no one to see and smell the beauty of the flowers . . .” he looked away, his voice trailing off.
The woman did not answer, but just kept staring at the grave of her son. After what seemed like hours, she lifted her hand and the man drove them back to the caretaker’s building. He got out and without a word they drove off. I’ve offended her, he thought. I shouldn’t have said what I did.
Some months later, however, he was astonished to have another visit from the woman. This time there was no driver. She was driving the car herself! The caretaker could hardly believe his eyes.
“You were right,” she told him, “about the flowers. That’s why there have been no more checks. After I got back to the hospital, I couldn’t get your words out of my mind. So I started buying flowers for the others in the hospital who didn’t have any. It gave me such a feeling of joy to see how much they enjoyed them – and from a total stranger. It made them happy, but more than that, it made me happy.
“The doctors don’t know, “ she went on, “what is suddenly making me well, but I do!”