Custard pie is one of my favorites, and every time I hear it mentioned, I think of those few weeks back in 1992 when I was spending a lot of time with my family. My mother-in-law was receiving hospice services, and when others asked what they could do for us, we let them know baked custard sounded good to her. What followed was an array of home-made custard desserts and pies delivered to her home.

We felt very loved and cared for by those who asked what they could do for us.

Longing to help our friends when they are experiencing a hardship must be a common feeling. We may hear of an illness, a job loss, the loss of a home. Big losses. Little losses. We often want others to know we are thinking of them, and we search for ways to help ease their sorrow or difficulties.

I found my Grandma Lula’s scrapbook of saved get-well cards she received after a hospitalization. I can tell by the written notes that her friends were with her on a Saturday back in 1972 – and some of them wrote they were surprised to learn of her surgery the next day on a Sunday.

Grandma received 107 get-well cards which she taped into a beautiful scrapbook. As I handled the book, the cards were falling from their once-secure spot as the yellow tape was no longer serving its purpose. So I am now the new owner of Grandma’s empty scrapbook and a box full of her get-well cards.  

The first card I opened was signed by our neighbors, Warren and Odelia Wickerham, and it was fun to see their names once again.

Fred and Gertie Jerger sent a card and signed their dog’s name right alongside their own names. I know it made me smile, as it brought back memories of Mr. Jerger out for a walk with his Dalmatian. I asked my brothers and sisters, by way of email, if they remembered the Jergers’ dog. They knew she was a Dalmation, but needed a hint regarding her name, so I told them it started with ‘T,’ and they were able to come up with her name – Tina.  

I recently heard someone use the word ‘empathy,’ and it made me look up the dictionary-definition of empathy and sympathy.

Sympathy means we feel sorrow for someone, and we often let them know by way of a card – which can be a very thoughtful act. When we are on the receiving end of a greeting card, it can mean so much – just knowing we have been remembered.

Empathy, on the other hand, is the ability to really connect. Empathy means you are willing to listen, and the person experiencing the painful event knows you hear them and knows you are willing to feel their pain right along with them.

If a friend chooses to share something that is very hurtful – an empathetic person listens without interrupting. There is no need for us to come up with a solution, an opinion, or a profound statement. We won’t be telling them anything. We don’t need to share our own experiences. Just being with our hurting friend is all that is needed.

It’s OK to tell them we have no idea what they are going through, and it’s OK to let them know we don’t know what to say.

All of us have probably been told that our presence – just being there – is very meaningful to our friends.   

Those who wonder why God has not yet called them home can be reminded perhaps they may feel purpose once again as prayer warriors for others. Let them offer their wisdom. Ask questions about their life and times.

During my years as a hospice nurse, I saw some creative ways friends helped their friends, and I decided to share a few of their ideas.  

~ Help your friend sort through family photos and label them with names and dates. It is a great way to begin reminiscing.  

~ Look through scrapbooks with them. Maybe you have a scrapbook or photo album of your own to share with them.  

~ Deliver a houseplant to them.  Succulents make a great gift because they do not require a green thumb. Go outside with your friend and see if you can find anything in bloom. Consider planting some perennial flowers for them.  

~ Call them to let them know you are going to the store and ask if they need anything.

~ Help them write their story. Ask them questions about their youth. Did they have a Christmas tree in their home while they were growing up? Was it real? Was it silver? How did they celebrate their birthday when they were children? Their stories and answers are always interesting.

~ Tell them what time you will be there with a meal for them.

~ Put a card in the mail for them. It’s OK to just sign your name and your pet’s name, but writing a personalized note can sometimes be extra meaningful. We could choose to include a ‘remember when’ memory or two.

~ Parents who are grieving the loss of a child often let us know they need to keep talking about their child, and they like to hear their child’s name. Let them know you will always love their child, and bring up fun times you enjoyed together.

~ Tell them you know there is probably a burden you can lift for them, but you need to know what it is.

~ Take their car to the car wash for them. Fill up the gas tank while you are at it.

~ If you are fortunate enough to be able to carry a tune in a bucket, sing for them or play your guitar or harmonica.

~ Find out if there is a board game they would like to play or if there is a puzzle that needs to be put together.

~ Become a front porch bandit and leave a bouquet of flowers for them.

~ Buy some ‘Hank the Cowdog’ books for them.

~ Take them to a ball game, dance recital, or playground. If you have the funds, buy a light-weight transport wheelchair for them.

~ Read a book of interest to them. Read Colossians, or Ephesians, or Psalms, or Proverbs with them.

~ Clear your calendar and spend some scheduled time with them – as often as possible.

Remember them in your thoughts and prayers as you find meaningful ways to give them something to look forward to.

One of my Grandma Lula’s saved get-well cards was signed by Agnes Cape. I laughed because Agnes was my best friend’s grandmother. And my younger sister, Jeanette’s, best friend’s grandmother. Agnes was the grandmother of many, many best friends – and that statement makes sense to those who knew Guy and Agnes Cape’s family.

Grandma Agnes wrote a poem to her friend – Grandma Lula – and it goes like this:

Tuesday 12 Noon

I’m going sewing to Clara Maries

Viola can’t go too much sneeze

Elsie is in Toledo with our Sis

This is one sewing she will miss

Tuesday 6 pm

Clara Brady and I were the only ones there

We did what we could and that’s only fair

Guy says his nerves is chewing him up

This March weather is quite tough

When you get sick you work so fast

Here’s hoping the thing will not last – Agnes Cape 

Grandma and Grandpa liked to get together with their friends to play bid euchre, so it was interesting to read a note from their friend Elsie. On the front of the card is the prettiest of pictures with a pink rose in a white vase, and the tiny amount of glitter makes it especially easy on the eyes.

Elsie wrote, “Dear Lula, Well what’s trump? Hope you will be good as new soon. I am with my sister here in Toledo. She is doing very well. Think I will be home soon. Sincerely, Elsie.”

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It’s been fifty years since Elsie sent such a pretty get-well card, and Agnes wrote a poem, and neighbors were jotting their words of encouragement, and here I am – admitting it was fun opening and reading each card.

After looking through so many saved cards, I’ve come to the conclusion that a greeting card is an official piece of paper. After all, it holds the written thoughts and names of those we never want to forget – and we needed their love and their words at the time they gave the card to us.  Everyone keeps official papers – which explains why all of us have saved a card or two.

Perhaps we should not start our days with a to-do list of tasks to complete and errands to run, but instead concentrate on a special people-to-see list and beautiful moments-to-have list. Perhaps we should choose to perfect our custard pie recipe and our poem-writing skills.

If only I had a photo or two of Grandma’s friends – oh wait a minute – I do!

Grandma Lula is in the front – second from right. Clara Brady is in the front row far left. Marguerite Casebere is in the back row far left. We believe some of the ladies in this group were from out-of-town; this is another picture we need help identifying who is who!

© Marlene Oxender 2021