Flashback almost six years ago—just a few short months after our young adult son Tommy died. I had finally ventured out of the house to our local grocery store outside of Dublin, Ireland, where we live and serve with Serge. It was not an easy task in the midst of grief. As I walked down the aisle, a tune came over the intercom. It was the song Tommy and his friend Patrick had sung at their graduation.
The ache of grief quickly swept over me like a tidal wave and I felt myself sinking fast. All I wanted to do was rush to the till (cash register), pay for my purchases and escape to the safety of home.
Keeping my head down so as to not make a scene with my tears, I quickly put the groceries on the checkout belt when the till agent (cashier) said in a gentle tone, “How are you, Love?” Caught off guard, I looked up and quietly said, “I’ll be alright.” But the tears continued to flow and at that point there was no stopping them. She smiled tenderly and said, “Would you close my gate, Love? I think I need to take a break now.”
The till agent put her hand on mine and said, “Are you okay?” At that moment the floodgates opened and I poured out both my tears and my story to this complete stranger. She listened, heard my heart and then told me of her own ache—losing her sister to polio at 21 in an epidemic in Cork, Ireland, in the 1950s. She promised to pray for me every day with her husband Sean. It was a sacred moment.
Three months later, I was back at the store, rushing around after a long summer and picking up odds and ends. I heard fast walking behind me and then felt a tap on my shoulder. It was Mary—the till agent—completely out of breath with her big grin and sweet voice. “I have been looking everywhere for you these past couple of months! I just wanted you to know that my husband Sean and I have been praying for you every day and, well, I don’t even know your name.” Once again, tears flowed. I told her my name and our friendship began.
From that time on, when buying groceries I would always go to Mary’s till and hope for an empty line so we could have a long chat and catch up on things. She would share her need for prayer and I would share mine. By the time the last bag was packed, I would hold her hand and she mine, promising each other that we would pray for one another daily.
At the beginning of summer 2014, Mary pulled me over one afternoon to say she was going to the doctor for a pain and asked, would I pray for her? She smiled that Mary grin and said, “I feel your prayers, you know, Vicki. I can’t tell you how much they mean to me.” I let her know I felt the same way and off I went for the summer.
Two months later, I came back to tell her all the news of the Serge summer interns and changed lives and wanting to seeing how she was. Entering the store, I was confronted with a table full of candles with a picture of Mary in the middle. I gasped and my heart welled up with grief—Mary had died the day before.
At the beginning of the summer Mary had learned that she had a fast growing cancer; eight weeks later she was gone. I went home and sobbed with Tom. He knew how much she had meant to me. I wrote out a card to express to Mary’s family how God has used her tender faith to bring healing to my heart. I signed the card, “…a devoted customer and friend, Vicki” never expecting to hear anything from them.
A few days ago, as I was finishing my shopping, I saw that there was a pricing error on my receipt. I decided to take the time and go to the Customer Service counter to get them to correct it. As I chatted with the woman behind the counter I noticed her name badge—a name I had heard and prayed for in years past. I asked her if she knew the till agent named Mary. “Mary at till* number four? That’s what they used to call her. I’m her daughter!”
Then she paused, my American accent finally registering. Nearly dropping the receipts from her hand, “Are you Vicki?” she said, eyes open wide, “I have been looking for you for two years!”
Her voice started getting shaky and she quickly spoke out, “You changed my family’s life. We have to meet up! Can we have a coffee or something, anything? Please! I need to talk to you about what happened! My family has been searching you out… I have asked every till agent to find you and now you are here!”
She pushed everything aside and looked me in the eyes: “The day of mum’s funeral we were numb, in shock. We had a pile of condolence cards but for some strange reason, we picked out only one card to read—it was yours. We read it aloud around the table and all of us said, ‘This woman knew mum better than any of us did.’ That is when I started to try and find you—and now you are here.”
We were both in tears by that time and she went on to say, “I am not an emotional person, but would it be okay if I gave you a hug?” We embraced for a moment, exchanged numbers and hopefully in the coming days we will sit down, have tea and hear each other’s stories.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” – 2 Cor 1:3-4 (NIV)