‘He had tears in his eyes as he grabbed his daughter’s hand. ‘I’m so sorry. My wife died in a car accident. She wanted to hang out with you guys.’: Mom ‘forever changed’ by chance encounter with stranger

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“One of the best places to grab lunch with my 4-year-old twins is at Sam’s Club. We can walk around getting some samples and then we can grab a really cheap pretzel along with a drink. It’s great entertainment when we just need to get out of the house for something to do.

On this particular day I was sitting down at the table while they enjoyed their pretzels and I enjoyed a slice of pizza. The two of them were chatting away about how they’ll get to ride the bus to kindergarten next year and I was just people watching. All of a sudden, a little girl with blonde hair came and sat down at our table.

She had the biggest grin and her eyes lit up as she sat next to one of the twins and across from me. I glanced up to see if I could find her mom but I didn’t really see anyone. I asked her what her name was and how old she was. She really didn’t say anything, all she was doing was smiling. The twins started talking to her, telling them their names in hope she would tell them hers.

I looked around again and still didn’t see her mom anywhere. I started thinking to myself, ‘Wow this is really odd! I wonder if her mom is looking for her? Maybe this little girl slipped away and the mom was calling her name?’ I tried to listen for a frantic mama looking for her baby. Nothing.

In my head I decided that if nobody came up within the next few minutes then I’d notify an employee. But for now, she was safe and comfortable hanging out with us so I just kept talking to her in hopes she would open up. Every few seconds I would glance up to look around and see if anyone was claiming her. There was a long line of people waiting to order food so maybe she belonged to one of them? This was pretty crazy though! Nobody called her name or even made contact with me to let me know they were aware she was sitting here.

I started to get more and more anxious about who she belonged to when all of a sudden, a man walked up and said, ‘Hey, thanks for letting her sit here.’ I immediately responded with a, ‘Oh my gosh no problem at all!’ It must be her dad. I thought about my own husband and how he probably would have just continued to let our kids sit somewhere, too. Men don’t really have that courtesy, ‘is it okay if she sits here?’ type of conversation starter. So I was kind of like, ‘meh, understandable.’

He had to have been standing there the whole time. Could he see the little bit of panic I had in regards to finding her parents? He was definitely more reserved and his daughter seemed really outgoing, so he probably was cringing the whole time anyways. No need to make it more awkward.

He showed her the food he got her and she hopped off the bench to follow him. She grabbed her food off of the table he was sitting at and ran back to our table to sit down and eat. I flashed a smile his way to let him know it was totally fine and he acknowledged it. Then began the next 20 minutes of sitting and eating lunch with a tiny stranger that couldn’t keep her eyes off of us.

She never told me her name or how old she was, but her smile was infectious. The twins kept talking to her, trying to engage in a conversation. She never wanted to talk, she just wanted to be around us. The entire time she never said one word. So we just kept talking to her as if she was partaking in everything we said.

Once it was time for us to get going, we started packing up our food and got our jackets on. We all said goodbye to her and headed for the door. Without missing a beat, she grabbed her uneaten food and drink and then followed us. She skipped alongside our cart and I had to stop. I tried coaxing her towards her dad but she wouldn’t budge. I took another step and she took one too.

At this point I started to get a little uneasy. Is she scared of him? What if she doesn’t want to go with her dad? What if he abuses her? What if he is really mean to her? I honestly didn’t know what to do in this moment. My mom radar was starting to go off and I got a little sick to my stomach.

As I’m contemplating my next move, the dad walked up. I won’t lie – I was a bit nervous. Then he spoke and my whole demeanor changed. ‘I’m so sorry,’ he started off, ‘my wife and other daughter recently died in a car accident and I guess she wanted to hang out with you guys.’ He had literal tears in his eyes as he grabbed her hand to walk back to their table.

I felt like the biggest B. I honestly hated the way I was previously judging him. This poor man was just trying to get through a lunch at Sam’s Club in the most normal way possible and yet his daughter sought out a total stranger (a mom, nonetheless) and her daughters to sit with. It was probably ripping his heart out the entire time, yet this little girl wanted to stay near us. I don’t blame him for not being overly friendly about the situation. It all made sense now.

You literally never know what path someone is walking when you see them on any given day. It’s so easy to judge someone’s bad attitude. It’s so easy to wonder why someone is so standoffish. It’s so easy to internally damn them without knowing a single thing about their lives. You never know what someone is going through. You just never know. This man was swallowing his heartache and I had zero idea.

I left without offering to help out, which I hated myself for even more. So, I did what every other human does when they’re trying to find someone – I got on my local mom group on Facebook. I also, like every other curious human being, tried googling details of what happened. I scoured through numerous articles and news sites. I tried searching through Facebook profiles seeing if any names I came across, fit who I saw.

After a few hours I had a message from someone saying it sounded like their cousin’s family. He was from out of state and was visiting family. After a bit of back and forth she told me he was very thankful for all the offers I threw out, but preferred to have privacy at this time. Then my heart sank for a second time. There I was, trying to be so nosey and Googling his poor wife and daughter, yet he didn’t have the energy to indulge me. None of them did and why should they? I was a total stranger. Truly it wasn’t my business anyways.

Maybe I reminded the little girl of her mama. Maybe her mama timed our meeting so perfectly and sent me to spend a few minutes with her. Maybe her mama knew exactly what she needed on this particular day and made sure to give her a beautiful meeting with a stranger. Maybe her mama channeled herself through me for a bit and the little girl could feel her. I don’t believe in coincidences. I absolutely believe her mama had a hand in this.

So now a chance meeting at Sam’s Club has forever changed the way I approach anyone I come into contact with while in public. I’ve always been really sweet to people I see while out and about. But now I will make that extra effort to smile at everyone. You never know who needs it.”

Molly Schultz/Tried & True Mama

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Molly Schultz of Tried and True Mama. You can follow her on InstagramDo you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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