Showing up

A friend is the one who comes in when the whole world has gone out.” — Grace Pulpit

The grieving process has so much to teach us, aside from revealing how resilient we can be.  When someone close to us dies, we learn a lot about ourselves, our family, and our friendships. Some people will surprise us — and a few relationships will be tested. We might mend a few proverbial fences in need of serious repair, or strengthen family ties that threatened to unravel from benign neglect. Or we might discover that we can’t always depend on someone we counted among our closest friends.

I’ve been thinking about this ever since Doug’s father died last Friday.

After my father-in-law’s memorial service — and after we waved good-bye to the last of the out-of-town visitors — I thought about my own beloved dad and uncle, whose deaths shook my very foundation several years ago. I recalled how the smallest show of support from dear friends and family kept me on my feet, and how something as simple as a heartfelt note or phone message helped soothe the long, hollow ache of loss.

Grand gestures helped too. When my father died in 1992, my longtime college roomie, Margaret, flew from Chicago to Detroit to attend the funeral. Another college buddy, Donna, drove by herself from Alabama to hold my hand. The sight of those two women walking into the funeral home still shines in my memory, and I still struggle to contain my tears of gratitude and love. An only child like me, Donna understood that close friends are just as essential as blood relatives during a crisis. Margaret, who was maid of honor in my wedding, said she was simply making good on an old promise to “always be there” for me. (Without pause, I flew to Pittsburgh five months later to attend her father’s funeral.)

Here for you

Knowing how to help a grieving friend isn’t always easy — and grand gestures aren’t always appropriate or necessary. But through their example, Donna and Margaret taught me how important it is to be there for someone whose heart has been blown apart; how crucial it is to attend funeral visitations — or at least acknowledge a grieving person’s loss.

And I’ve appreciated every single person who has been there for my husband over the past few difficult days.

Earlier this week, we got a phone call from Pam, a former neighbor and longtime friend. We didn’t expect to hear from her, since Pam had just returned from her own father’s funeral in Cincinnati. Still, she wanted to know what arrangements had been made for Doug’s father. “I know what you’re going through, Doug,” she said in her phone message. We certainly didn’t expect it, but Pam needed to tell us, in so many words, that she wanted to “show up” for us.

Shortly after hearing the sad news, our neighbor Matilda delivered a banquet of food to my mother-in-law’s home, knowing that Mom was hosting out-of-town family at her place. The whole family was touched.  That same day, our friends John and Deb left a plant and a fruit salad on the porch while we were out. But it was the attached note that really spoke to us: “We love you guys.”

And that’s what it boils down to, really. Showing up.

You can “show up” for grieving loved ones even if you live miles away. You can make a heartfelt phone call to express your sympathy. Or you can mail your love and support in a card or letter. Sending flowers might be a cliche, but flowers work too. Or, like my friend Shirley, you can bake a kick-ass batch of oatmeal-raisin cookies and leave them on your friend’s doorstep.

And don’t think twice about finding “the right thing to say.” There is no such thing. Say what you feel, say what you mean. Life is short and sometimes it hurts. It’s all about finding your own way to show up. — Cindy La Ferle

— Garden photo by Cindy La Ferle —

16 thoughts on “Showing up

  1. Thanks Cindy! This is a beautiful reminder!! xx to you and your family in this time of remembering good times and moving forward together with Great Love.
    blessings to you! ~Jenn

  2. So true. I’ve learned this over the years and I must confess I haven’t always been the most thoughtful friend when I was younger 🙁 But now I try, even if I feel awkward because I know how much it means. Sigh- my hugs to your hubby and self, it’s a big life shift and loss.

  3. Oh Cindy, I am so sorry. What you say is so very true, it was the kindness of, well everyone that got me through the passing of both my parents.
    I remember when my sweet Mom died the overwhelming feeling that ” I am an orphan.”
    Friends are the family you choose, and you have chosen wisely.
    Best of luck with your own sweet Mom.

  4. Thanks for all these warm comments and support. I appreciate hearing from all of you, and want to add that I’m sorry, too, for not visiting your blogs more often this summer.

    Yes, I do feel lucky to have a great “tribe” — a treasured combo of friends and relations.

    “B”, I like how you put it: “Friends are the family you choose.” I have had this discussion with many old friends (from large and small families). Sometimes true emotional intimacy is easier with friends than with family members. Just because we’re related to someone doesn’t necessarily mean we are “close” to them, especially if we don’t spend a lot of quality time with them. (I don’t count holidays or staged family “events” as quality time, because those are artificial circumstances.)

    Whether we lean on close relatives or best friends, or a combo of both, I believe that genuine closeness is earned through trust and emotional intimacy. That involves long periods of talking, sharing, giving and taking, facing challenges, and hanging out together because you enjoy each other’s company. All said and done, relationships need care and maintenance. — CL

  5. There is no making up for the loss of family. But I hope your grieving will heal and the memories be sweet, sooner than later. And your love for each other, and the love of your friends sustains you both.

  6. I agree Kathleen. I treasure my family. And losing a parent, especially, is a major life passage. I think of my own father every single day, though he’s be gone for nearly 18 years. — CL

  7. This is beautiful, Cindy, and so true. My husband is particularly good at “showing up” for friends who have lost loved ones, and I’ve learned from him how important it is just to be there. I’m so sorry for your loss, and wish you and Doug and your family peace.

  8. Cindy, I am so sorry for your loss. I wish for your husband peace, and the comfort of the happy times spent with his father. Thinking of you, dear friend. My love and hugs across the miles.

  9. Oh Cindy– My heart goes out to you, your husband and your family. I know how close your family is and I am so sorry for your loss.

    Your post left a lump in my throat because I know all too well how meaningful the kindness of others during these painful times can be. When I lost my father nearly 17 years ago I was touched by the outpouring of love and support…. And honestly, I was ashamed that, at age 35, that I hadn’t realized how very meaningful and necessary that support was. I am afraid I did not reach out as much to others in their time of need in the same way before I experienced such a huge loss myself. I have corrected the err of my ways.

    The coffee cake, the phone calls, the extra hugs are all so meaningful. “Showing up”, “being present” and taking care of the ones mourning is a great gift that I am very aware of now and I put my whole heart into it.

    Please know my whole heart is with you from afar. Your post was so beautifully written and one I will share with the younger generation in my family so, god forbid, when they times comes for them to reach out they will have a better understanding of the long-term significance there kindness can have.


  10. This one made me tear up, Cindy. What has been hard for me since my MILs death has been watching the sadness of my husband. He’s lost without his mom. It’s made him kinder, and quieter. He’s just not himself. And I will remember to keep “showing up” for him, because it’s all you can do at times like these.

  11. Cindy H —
    Gosh, it seems like so many friends are losing parents lately! Makes me so sad.
    My heart goes out to your husband for losing his mother, too. I think we forget sometimes that losing a parent is just as hard on men, though they may not always show it or talk about it. A buddy of Doug’s wrote him a sympathy note recently, and recalled how hard it was to lose his own father a few years ago. “Time heals all wounds, it’s true,” wrote the friend. “But it takes so damned long.”

  12. Thanks for sharing Cindy and my thoughts and prayers are with you and your Family! I can relate to that type of loss as I lost my Mom almost 3 years ago. “Showing up” was a great healer at the time and still is!! Thank-you again! =)

  13. I can really relate to you mentioning your friend who understood that close friends are every bit as essential in a crisis (if not more so) than blood relatives…especially when you’re an only child.
    When I was dealing with a family medical crisis earlier this year, one of the first people I called was my closest friend. She came over to sit in hospital waiting areas with me nearly every day for most of the next two weeks…and ended up coming over to the house regularly over the next few months to help “do chores” (a true friend is one that will come over and do battle with the ants who decide to invade your house as you’ve got bigger things to worry about!).
    Another close friend called me up to ask where I wanted her to leave the cooler of food she had for me…and continued to feed us through much of the next month.
    Neighbors also brought over food, did errands for me, etc.
    My parents drove three days straight to get back home from Florida to be here for me.
    Those are some of the gestures and folks I’ll always remember as being bright spots in some very dark days.

  14. This is sooo true. And you do have some wonderful wonderful friends. Such a blessing.
    I always say — having suffered through some terribly trying times and wondering why some people close to me never said anything — that even if you “don’t know what to say” at least say this: “I’m so sorry. I don’t know what to say.”
    At least they are showing up for you. You know?

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