“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
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?