The call came early in the morning, waking us up in a skipped heartbeat. I called my own mom right away, telling her what she’d already heard in her own early-morning call. Refusing to accept what seemed so unfathomable, so incomprehensible, I asked if we needed to pack funeral clothes.
Are you sure? I asked. She was sure.
I don’t remember every minute, every conversation, or every thing that happened in the days after my mother-in-law died in a car accident, but some things are planted firmly in my memory.
I remember looking at the sheets protecting her new couch from the sun coming through the window and thinking about how my husband’s mom would just die if she knew people were seeing her living room like this. (And I remember thinking that was possibly the worst pun I’d ever made in my entire life, even if it was just in my head.)
I remember standing in rarely worn heels for hours as hundreds of people filed through the church. I remember so many conversations as we told the story of what had happened and tried to find reasons and explanations for what had happened. I remember food and tears and stories.
But most of all, I remember faces.
Our childhood friend who came to the house and sat with me while Mark was with his family. Our college friends who drove several hours and stood in line for an hour, just to hug us at the visitation. Our other friends who drove down for the funeral and came to the house afterwards, who walked in the field with us and listened to our stories and our questions that had no answers.
I remember who was there for us.
Years later when my brother-in-law was killed in a motorcycle accident, I remember the same thing. I remember my cousin who came to the funeral home and my best friend who helped distract Annalyn and our friends who walked through the door and stood in line and hugged us. We hadn’t seen them in a while, and they didn’t have anything to say other than, “We love you guys.”
They didn’t need to say anything, though. They were there.
Last week my cousin’s father-in-law died. He’d been sick but his death was unexpected, and I was surprised to get the call. Like every loss, the timing of this one was frustrating. It was an already busy week, and they live several hours away, and I wasn’t sure how to make it all work and fit it all in.
But I never once questioned my immediate reaction to go, to be there.
When my grandpa (on my dad’s side) died, my cousins (from my mom’s side) were there. And when their grandpa died, I was there. We’re a close family, and being there is just what we do. So last week, I paused my regularly scheduled programming (a.k.a. frantic cleaning and packing to prepare for two trips out of town) to drive to my cousin’s father-in-law’s visitation.
We were only there for a hour or so before getting back in the car, and I only spoke to my cousin and her husband for a few minutes. I didn’t bring a casserole or a comforting book or a giant box of tissues. I’m pretty sure that when I hugged her, I got sweat on her arm (because that funeral home was so uncomfortably warm).
But . . . I was there.
Not all bad days are literally life and death, and not all unexpected phone calls mean you should pack your funeral clothes. Heartbreak and grief can appear — and linger — for a myriad of reasons. And if you’re a doer like me, your first response might be to bake a batch of muffins, to write a letter, to pick up their dry cleaning or their kids, to set up a resume, to drop off some groceries, to walk their dog.
Several years ago one of my friends had a miscarriage. In the face of her grief I felt helpless and unsure. I wished so badly that I could do something to ease her pain. But in the end I couldn’t think of a single way to tangibly help, so I simply sat with her and watched a silly movie. That was it. But, I realize now, that was what she needed. She needed someone to be there.
Do you know someone experiencing a loss right now?
Is there someone in your life you wish you could help?
What would it look like for you to simply be there for that person?