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These Donuts Became a Divine Sign from Above

Her late son’s favorite treat helped others mend their broken hearts.

An illustration of an angel carrying a box of donuts; Illustration by Aura Lewis

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into the meeting room that November evening. I’d never been to a grief group, but when I came across a flier, I thought it might be good to speak with other people—besides my husband—who had lost someone they loved. Our son, Al, would have turned 25 in just a few weeks, but he had died in a car accident.

I took a seat and looked around at the group chatting amongst themselves. It was obvious that many of them had been coming for a while. I’ll give myself three sessions here, God, I bargained. That will be long enough to know if it’s right for me.

When the meeting began, I just listened. The group wasn’t shy about laughing when someone told a funny story. I wasn’t yet ready to laugh or to share. Not at all ready to talk about the last time I saw Al.

My husband, Dana, and I had driven to visit him at the group home where he was living in Traverse City, Michigan. At first, I wasn’t happy about Al moving out. He had autism, and even though we’d tried to raise him to be independent, it was hard to think of him living six hours away from us. My doubts were dispelled on that first visit. I’d never seen Al as excited and full of purpose as he was then, preparing to start work on a cleaning crew. We shopped for everything he would need at his new job: good shoes, a bag for lunch, thick gloves for cold days. I could see the pride in Al’s eyes each time he said, “I have to get ready for work.”

When it was time to go, Al walked us to our car. He gave me a hug, something he hadn’t done since he became a teenager. “I’m so proud of you, Al,” I said. As we drove away, I turned around to wave, but Al had gone back inside. “He’s got to get ready for work,” Dana reminded me with a smile.

Al was ready to make his mark on the world. Then, just a few months later, he was gone. I grieved for myself, but also for my son’s dreams. He would never get a chance to make that mark on the world, and no one besides Dana and I would really notice.

I wanted the grief group to know about Al. I just wasn’t sure what to say, where to start. Before I knew it, we were wrapping up. “Does anyone else have something they’d like to share?” the leader asked.

“My son would have been celebrating a birthday soon,” I said. “Al didn’t like cake, but he loved donuts. The bigger and stickier the better. So if you think of it, I hope you’ll have a donut on November twenty-ninth, in memory of Al.” Many said they would.

Dana and I got through Al’s birthday as best we could. At the next grief group meeting, several people mentioned they had wished Al a happy birthday on the twenty-ninth. A man I thought I might have recognized from the last time was first to raise his hand. “Yes, Dave?” the group leader said.

“I wanted to ask…who was the lady at the last meeting whose son loved donuts on his birthday?”

“That’s Linda,” someone said, pointing me out.

Dave nodded my way. “Well, I lost my wife about a year ago,” he said, “and haven’t been able to think about much else. When your son’s birthday came around, I remembered what you’d asked, such a simple request. I thought to myself, if you can’t have a donut in memory of this lady’s son, you’re thinking way too much about yourself. So I went to a bakery and bought a big sticky donut.”

Al would love that, I thought. What an unexpected gift.

“But when I got to the counter, I thought, Oh, heck, might as well get two,” Dave went on. “While the girl at the counter put them in a bag, I noticed eight more just sitting there on the tray and I thought, you know, people really like donuts…”

The group laughed.

“I bought all eight,” Dave said, “and packed them two to a bag. On my way home I stopped off to see a few people I haven’t been keeping in touch with as much as I should. I asked each one if they wanted one. But before I gave them the bag, they had to wish Al happy birthday.”

Oh, Al, I thought. Do you hear this?

“‘Who’s Al?’ the donut recipients asked me, and I told them what I knew. Funny thing,” Dave said, looking at me. “I couldn’t remember your name. In fact, I couldn’t have picked you out of a lineup of two. But your son’s birthday was the best day I’ve had since my wife died. I wouldn’t have thought buying a donut could change my life for the better, but that’s just what it did.”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry in thankfulness for Dave’s story, so I did a little of both. God gave Al a legacy worthy of the man he was, mending broken hearts one donut at a time.

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