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 —