02/22/2013 05:24 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

A Lucky Old Woman

It's a rainy day in Washington, D.C., as I sit at my computer to reflect on the morning I just spent. They say that rain means that God is crying. Today, I share those tears too. I just came back from a funeral for a friend's mother. Oh, his mom was a lucky woman. She died of natural causes at the ripe old age of 98. God bless her. What was so striking to me, however, were the beautiful stories that both her children and grandchildren told about their lives with her. I never met her but from what everyone said she must have been an angel. That was the word that they used, in fact. She was a nurse during her working life and her patients seemed to have adored her. One former patient even wrote that she was known for her kindness with those who were so sick. They wrote that she actually could inoculate folks and they didn't even know that the needle was poking their arm.

The grandchildren -- all grown now -- were the most fun to listen to because they all had a wonderful story about Grandma's pies, or her bacon, or the way she poured just a little milk on their cereal. They said she was stingy with the milk because she had five children of her own and rationed the milk in those days and never quite got out of that mindset. They told wonderful stories of their grandmother and, strikingly, they were mostly about food. Oh, they loved their grandma, but they especially loved having a meal with her. The simple act of breaking bread with someone is such a commonplace event that we often take it for granted. I would suspect that even as they regaled us in the pews about those wonderful meals with grandma they took it for granted that sharing a meal with someone is a simple act with complex ramifications. The joy of sharing mealtime means that someone cares enough about you to: feed you, nourish you, be with you, and even love you.

For 94 years she did just that for her children and her grandchildren. At about 95 the tables were turned. It was now the kids' turn to feed grandma. And, boy did they. They took turns caring for her and feeding her and nourishing her and worrying about her. But Ellen was lucky. She had all those kids and grandkids and they traveled from all over the country to take turns taking care of her. Her only son, my friend, eventually moved to Florida to live with her and take care of her full-time.

Ellen was lucky. But my mind turned to those grandmas and grandpas and mothers and fathers who aren't so lucky. They are the ones living alone and are not lucky enough to receive a meal, much less share a meal. They are the 1 in 7 seniors who will go to bed tonight hungry. They are alone.

Being alone was another striking reality to me as I sat in the chapel. My friend, the only son, the one who packed up his life to go take care of his mom, was surrounded by his family there in the church, but very alone. His world was diminished by her death, as all of ours are when a loved one dies, but this was patently clear: he would always be alone now. Her death was the closing of a door, the end of a journey; an empty place at the table is all that is left.

He stood to tell the congregants what his mom meant to him and to read a poem. His words were muffled and barely audible between his sobs. I cried too. I cried for him, not ever having met her. I cried knowing that he was rudderless now and lost. And I cried for all of us who have lost a parent because no matter how old we are when we do, we have lost an irretrievable part of our souls. I wept too for my own parents. I will always weep for them. But they are at peace now.

I sat there and silently thought of the mourners Kaddish. Inspired by Ezekiel 38:23, I find it fitting: "May there be abundant peace from heaven and life for us."

I only hope my friend finds peace too. I cry for him.