Mary Carver / incourage.me

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?

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Sometimes all we really need is someone who can just “be there.” {Tweet this!}

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  • Bev @ Walking Well With God

    Mary,
    Your post made me remember the lines I’ve stood in at visitations and funerals, and you’re right, you do remember faces. Many other details are blurred, but you remember the faces of those who came to share in your pain. I am at an age where many of my friends are losing their parents and even months after the event, I know I’m still needed to just be there. Thanks for the precious reminder to go and be there for them.
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      Bev, that’s a good reminder – to continue being there well after the funeral.

  • Trish

    Our family experienced a loss this past weekend…he was a 4-footed family member & it was comforting to have our son come home for a couple of nights just to be with us as we laughed & remembered the 15 years we had Izzo, our friend & companion. He was always ‘just there’ for us…always ready to wag his tail & put a smile on a bad day face. I posted his picture on Facebook – my husband doesn’t have a FB account – but he/we found comfort each time I told him another of our friends had sent a message of compassion. Yes! Just knowing someone was ‘there’ was what helped us through saying goodbye & moving forward.

    • Penny

      Trish,

      I’m so sorry, I know how hard that can be, losing a companion. It does n’t hurt less. I’m thinking of you and your husband.

      Blessings to you,

      Penny

    • Beth Williams

      Trish,
      Losing a pet can hurt just as much as family. Prayers for you and hubby as you grieve this loss. Do your best to remember the good times you had. I remember losing my iguana (iggy). Good thing I had pictures of him and was able to send them via email to my hubby to remember.
      Blessings :)

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      I’m sorry to hear about your loss, Trish, and glad that your friends were there for you.

  • http://www.buildinglifeslibrary.wordpress.com Amy M

    I am so sorry for your loss. I know I’ve underestimated it because I’m one of those people who tends to feel like she has to DO something in order to be useful. But yes, just being there is sooo helpful. I remember the people who braved the ICU to be with us after our son’s surgery, I remember the people who came to visitations and funerals – and I am so thankful for their presence. I just hope I can be there and help by sharing with others.

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      Yes, I prefer to DO as well – exactly why I needed this reminder that BEING is just as valuable!

  • Penny

    Mary,

    I’m sorry for your loss. Your family and friends are very fortunate that you were able to be there in their times of need. It is a nice thought to be able to be present at all times but sometimes it isn’t possible. When someone wasn’t able to be present for me or I wasn’t able to be present for them we mutually understand that we just weren’t able to be present and not that they care any less.

    Penny

    • Debra Zantman

      Thank You Penny. Love your words about mutually understanding that they were not able to be present and not that they care any less.

  • Nancy Ruegg

    You are so right, Mary: just being there is a powerful support. Thank you!

  • Patty

    I love this. I came from a family that was very close whe my. mother’s parents were alive. I remember how we were all always there for each other. Now at times i feel so lost because we have all driftex apart.

  • Karrilee Aggett

    I love this… and sadly, I am convicted in all the best ways by it too! A good friend recently lost a family member and the funeral was last week… I wasn’t sure of ‘protocol’ because I didn’t know him at all… didn’t know most of the family… but I wanted to be there for her. I talked myself out of going, assuring myself that I would be there when all the family went back to out of town homes… and I will be. I am. And still… at least now I know! Next time, I will go. Thanks for this!

    • Debra Zantman

      I recently loss my mother in law (about 4 months ago) and let me say that we, my immediate family was overwhelmed by people who were “there” for us. From the emails, phone calls, beautiful cards and flowers. Support at the funeral also. We had to fly to another state for the burial and funeral arrangements. This post reminds me of all those who were “just there for me. Thank You Mary, this is a lovely and touching post. Bought tears to my eyes.

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      Karrilee, I have talked myself out of being there for friends in the past, too. Recently, actually. I needed this reminder, too. :)

  • Debra Zantman

    This is truly a lovely and heartwarming post. I recently loss my mother in law about 4months ago and our family was overwhelmed by people “just being there” for us. It was either via email, cards, flowers or just “there”. Knowing that they loved us. Thank You Mary for your beautiful words of love. Your words really touched my heart.

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      I’m sorry for your loss, Debra, but so glad your friends were there for you.

  • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.simlergoff Debbie Simler-Goff

    Nice post Mary. As a hospice volunteer manager, I can so attest to the value of presence. Thank-you for this wonderful reminder.

    • Sara Clodfelder

      Debbie,
      We experienced the blessing of Hospice care during my dad’s last days.. Thank you for what you do.. it means the world. Truly. The care providers cared for him as if he were theirs.. and we adopted them into ours.. forever connected by just a few days of love and later grief.. but connections create memories.
      Thank you again.

    • Beth Williams

      Debbie,
      God bless you and all hospice workers. My mom had hospice for the last year of her life. When she died one hospice worker had her hubby go get my dad a biscuit to eat. They stayed and looked at pictures and were there until family could arrive.
      I pray God bless you !
      Blessings to you! :)

      • http://www.facebook.com/debbie.simlergoff Debbie Simler-Goff

        Thank-you! I truly feel blessed to work in hospice.

  • Sara Clodfelder

    Mary,
    I’m so very sorry for your loss.
    This post.. it hit home for me. I experienced this just – (wow, has it only been a month?!) – in June.. What did I take away from my dad passing away? (1) Live in the present. (2) Do things you enjoy. (3) Be there for family and friends [what this article is about]. (4) Work hard but play too [Dad tried to tell me this in one of our chats.. We had some great conversations..] (5) I’m still learning and taking away from Dad passing away.. but mainly? (6) LOVE those dear to you.. and make sure they know it.. no regrets. ‪

    Since Dad passed.. I’ve made it a point to reach out to folks, and if someone passes, I go to to their visitation/funeral. We have to be there for each other.. who else will? It DOES make a difference to see that face you’ve not seen in person in ages.. and they are THERE when you need someone the most.. they are THERE. Your article was so right on point. Thank you!

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      Sara, I’m so sorry to hear about your loss. Thank you for taking time to share with us what you’ve learned – such valuable reminders of how to really live and live in community!

  • Beth Williams

    Mary,
    So sorry for the loss! Know that you, your husband and his family are in my prayers!! :)
    We are two peas in a pod! When friends have family in the hospital, someone goes through surgery, etc. I want to do something. Usually I cook a meal, visit, write a card, etc. Each time there is a funeral for church people-even if I didn’t know them well I will go and visit the family. I know it means a lot to be there for them. I pray for the family afterwards.
    Blessings :)

  • http://martysmoosetracks.blogspot.com/ Marty

    Thank you so much for this. This past weekend, we got 4 of “those” calls. FOUR. In ONE weekend. As we re-worked schedules and headed off in the car for the first visitation, an hour away, my husband and I discussed that this is our life now: weddings and funerals. The happy and the sad. When my Mom passed away 17 years ago, we stood in a long line at their church and greeted their friends. My parents lived in another state, so 99.9% of the people were pretty-much strangers to us. But then, out of the corner of my eye, I spied this tall man, walking quickly toward us…totally “cutting” to the front of the line. It was our former pastor…who drove FROM ANOTHER STATE…just to step in, offer a hug and some encouraging words. And then, he was gone. It was a total surprise. He didn’t know my Mom AT ALL. Him being there…making that effort? It was completely unexpected, and it meant so much.

    • http://www.givinguponperfect.com/ Mary Carver

      Oh, wow, Marty – four calls in one weekend is too much! Thank you for sharing the story of your mom’s funeral – what an amazing friend to travel so far after so long to be there for you!