The Beautiful People

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”
― Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

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My friend Amy has been through the wringer and back. She is currently recuperating from shoulder surgery and is laid up for at least six weeks.

I’ve written about Amy before. She has three grandchildren already (at age 55) and two of them are to her daughter Mandy, who passed away suddenly three years ago.

What do you do when someone close to you loses someone very dear? I’ll tell you what I used to do. Uncomfortable with my own feelings, I would go to the funeral home, make polite sympathies and leave. Then months would go by before I would say “How are you?” to the friend or family person, lacing my greeting with an apology for not being in touch sooner.

I was never comfortable around sick, dying, or ill people. Preferring the land of the living and healthy, it never occurred to me to look deeper into someone’s heart and soul. To align myself with how they might be feeling. To have EMPATHY instead of detachment.

When my mom was in the hospital, I made an effort to smile at strangers all day. I struck up conversations with people in elevators and the cafeteria line. I would glance into rooms and smile at the recovering people inside. I wanted to bring a smidgen of joy to someone’s day…including my own by connecting with others in a similar situation.

I had an idea that there should be a “Smile Wagon” at the hospital. It could be manned by a very cheery person who had a “wagon” of sorts filled with all kinds of happiness stuff. Smiley stickers, mylar balloons, whoopie cushions, etc. The cart could go around, cheering up the patients and brightening their day. Especially the patients who did not have loved ones that lived close. What do you think about this idea? (Should I write to the hospital?)

Back to Amy. When she lost her daughter, I made a conscious decision to keep in touch. I worked in town and her house was 20 minutes from my work place. When she would pop into my head, I would stop by after work, usually unannounced. I trusted that God would let me know when she might be need a sympathetic ear. Once, after she had back surgery (only within a year or two after Mandy had passed), I laid on Amy’s bed with her and we hung out for hours.

During these many times of being with Amy, I did nothing miraculous. Mostly, I just tried to listen and be there.

I was with Amy this week and I asked her about friendship and grief. She told me people fear loss as being contagious (this blew my mind) and of course, many avoided her because they just didn’t know what to say. I’ve heard of others who try and manage the life of someone with such loss, thinking that is the answer. For me, that is too much control, unless the friend really asks for such help.

My favorite author, Anne Lamott, talks about loss often in many of her faith books. I remember she has said something like All you can really do sometimes, is just show up. It is true. By just showing up, I do what hopefully God wishes of me- to just be there for those beautiful people.

Photo taken at Phipps Conservatory, Pittsburgh, PA. by my lovely daughter, Michelene.

How have you dealt with another’s loss or illness? Are you comfortable with lending an ear?

Join me on my graceful journey.
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20 Replies to “The Beautiful People”

  1. Lovely photos, especially the top one by your daughter. I think Anne Lamott has it right; you can only just be there or show up. Or as you did, be alongside a friend for as long as it takes.

  2. I also don’t know what to say most times to someone who has suffered a loss or to someone with a terminal illness. The tragic death of a young man we both knew and loved made me realize that life is too short. I contacted the mother and talked to her a few times. Then she stopped taking my calls. I don’t know if I said something that offended her (unintentionally, of course!) or what. I have another friend who lost her son tragically 8 years ago and when she has a bad day, I just listen and let her cry. I can’t imagine the loss of a child. It would be more than I could handle.
    Dealing with the loss of my mother was very hard. I am one who has to work through my grief alone. I am a Cancer and want to hide inside my shell while the healing takes place. I have a great support system and they seem to know what I need, when I need it. Most likely God at work,
    Thanks for the post!

    1. Hi Cathy! It is interesting to hear you say you are one who has to work through grief alone. That is an interesting perspective and one which we all should understand if that is the case. I too have an great support system and there were many for me when my mom got sick and as she continues her recovery. I count you among my good friends and I thank you for your comments today!

  3. I think you’re a beautiful person, too, Joanne, Lying on the bed with your friend for hours? Lovely!

    My next door neighbor has colon cancer. She had surgery over a year ago, and the cancer is back. I’ve stopped by a few times, taking her an orchid and telling her my orchid story (may share it in my blog sometime). I sat with her, talking, after I got home from work a couple of days ago. My husband and I will visit her and her husband again this weekend.

    I don’t know what to say, either, but I hope just showing up says that I care and am available if she needs someone for any reason.

    Blessings,
    Peg

  4. I used to be one of those people that thought I had to solve everything for people who were grieving in some way. I’m a fixer by nature and that is comfortable to me. So I think part of fixing people in their grief was just comforting to me. Because when I could not fix it, that it’s when I would become uncomfortable. Once when I was in fixing mode with my husband, he asked me why I couldn’t just be there for him and listen, why did I feel the need to “do”? That is when I really began to just be there. You’ve got it right, Jo. Just being there for someone is so much more of a comfort. This is a beautiful story, You are a beautiful person. Thanks so much for being there.

    1. My dear, you are a beautiful person too, inside and out. And I think it is in our nature to want to “fix” an uncomfortable situation. But I do believe we can do our best work just by being there! xo Joanne

  5. Beautiful post, Joanne…you said it all very well, and I think hit a chord for not only me, but for everyone who has and will read this.

    I once wrote an article on how to write your own sympathy note. I think it’s true that friends and family want to begin the healing for someone whose lost a loved one. But the healing, if and when it comes, must come in its own time, and in its own place. I think it’s true that most of us, unwittingly, want to relieve our own discomfort, as well as the theirs.

    Thank you for your gentle teaching…

    May Amy’s shoulder recover quickly through Christ’s divine love,
    Marianne xo

    1. Marianne, you speak volumes with the one line – “most of us, unwittingly, want to relieve our own discomfort, as well as theirs.” So true.
      I thank you for your blessing for Amy. She is tough and I’m sure she will be good as new by summer.
      Blessings, Joanne xo

  6. I love this post, but if I’m honest I have to say that it made me uncomfortable, but I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Discomfort helps bring change sometimes.

    I know I get wrapped up in my own pain, and have a tendency to try to work on myself before showing up for others. Working for a church, I see much joy and much sorrow, and listen to people on a regular basis. I think I do it well. But when I come home, it’s difficult to do more, although my heart aches for friends and family I know are hurting. Hopefully this will balance out in my life.

    Healing hurts. Just when I think I’ve recovered somewhat from the loss of my parents, something happens to blow the roof off the house, and I’m sitting there exposed and shivering again. Even the title of your post brought me pause. Only my mother was the one in my life who used the word beautiful to describe me. It’s always meant so much more to me than simply the way someone looks, so the word has become sort of a holy grail for me.

    Thanks for the post, and I’m sorry for my lengthy response. You are definitely one of the beautiful people.

    1. Oh Laurie, this is such a lovely comment. It brings a tear to my eye to hear such honesty. I am sure you hear much sorrow and joy in your job and I know it becomes more difficult to extend when home, probably because you live/breathe it in your job. And, you have been through much. You are definitely one of the most beautiful people I know!
      Blessings, Joanne

  7. Hi Joanne, Iam riding in my car reading this wonderful post and the lovely comments thereafter. Iam thinking how blessed I am( and we are) to know & have “The Beautiful People” in our lives! I was never comfortable in situations where someone lost a loved one, or something tragic happened to someone I knew, because I never knew what to say or how to approach them .I have a very dear friend who who kept watch at her mother”s bedside for 3 weeks watching her die. Not knowing what to say or how to help, I decided to go to the hospital and have coffee with her every morning. Sometimes it would be 5:30 or 6: 00 or 7:00. So we had breakfast & coffee together then started our day. It was truly a gift to the both of us. Sometimes, as you said: “we just have to show up!” I have learned so much from the beautiful people I have had the pleasure of meeting & knowing. I love helping others but sometimes we just need to be there. So happy to have read your post today!

    1. Hi Cindy! What a wonderful thing you did for your friend, stopping by to have coffee. I do think the little things end up meaning so much. Just having friends nearby when my mom was will was very good for my heart. It meant alot to me to have people call and stop by for a visit. Have a wonderful day! Joanne

  8. I love the idea of a “Smile Wagon”–and your intentional smiles for everyone at the hospital. We have a hospital with an entire floor for Hospice care. One of the volunteers has a huge, older, gentle St. Bernard she brings to “visit” the Hospice patients. Buddy pulls a little wagon loaded with colorful socks, picture books, bouquets of fresh seasonal flowers, etc. Buddy pads into each room, goes over to the patient’s bed and lays his big sweet head next to the patient’s hand. He’s an amazing dog, and if he senses someone really needs him, he’ll lay on the floor next to the patient’s bed and sleep there, softly snoring like a bear.

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