We were nearly 2,000 miles from family when we had our first child. I didn’t know much about babies, other than the fact that they communicated by crying. In my early days of motherhood, I wondered if crying would be my new communication method as well. At least the baby and I would speak the same language.

I soon got a handle on things and we settled into a lovely routinely, thanks in part to a friend who lived within walking distance. She was older than I was, was already a mother, and came from Germany, where she had grown up learning homemaking as an art. She was a wonderful cook, amazing seamstress and met all of life head-on.

She often stopped by in my early days of motherhood to check on me, hold the baby, offer encouragement, run a load of laundry and linger for conversation. She kept our firstborn overnight when we went to the hospital for our second baby and kept our first and second overnight when we went to deliver our third.

I was fortunate to have had an older, wiser woman walking alongside me as I navigated new terrain. I still remember some of those things she stated years ago with authority in that lovely European accent.

“When you are in a hard situation, talk to yourself like you would your best friend.”

“Where there’s a lot of sunlight, there’s a lot of shadow.”

She became more than a good friend over tea, folding dishtowels and changing babies’ diapers. She became family.

We moved to the other side of the country a few months after our third child was born and I’m not sure she ever entirely forgave us for leaving. We stayed in touch, but the distance grew as the years passed. We saw her husband frequently, as he would stay overnight with us when he flew his small plane to the East Coast once or twice a year.

My friend battled cancer in recent years, doing so with dignity and class, the way she did almost everything. She died recently. The finality of death is always a shock.

Even more shocking, her husband died unexpectedly one month later.

Family is clearing out the house now, sorting through all the material belongings of this world that stir memories and ignite emotions, wondering what to keep, what to let go.

When the job is finally finished, they will know what I know – that the best treasures we give one another are not the things we can hold in our hands, but the things we hold in our hearts. When they close the door to the house behind them for the last time, they will carry the same precious gifts that were given to me and my family – the gifts of time, understanding, joy, faith and wisdom. Those are the real treasures, the true valuables that we leave one another, the gems that last for a lifetime.

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