My dad’s high school yearbook told the story of a popular teen with the world at his fingertips — track star, editor of the school paper, class council president. Countless black and white photos of the handsome young man surrounded by smiling peers in matching horn-rimmed glasses. An athlete and academic full of promise and potential.

But that’s not the story I knew. Nor the one reflected at his memorial the day we gathered to mourn my father.

Had someone asked my dad’s friends back then what Ralph’s funeral would someday be like, I’m sure they would have described an auditorium packed to the gills with old classmates and friends eager to pay their respects. Surely there would be stories of his impressive professional success and anecdotes from loved ones about the dynamic, devoted man he was. The line to greet the family would be long, but everyone would wait because that’s what you do to honor an extraordinary man.

But when we gathered on that somber morning five years ago to pay tribute to my father, I think I could count on one hand the people that were there just for him.

The successful high school senior’s life didn’t turn out the way everyone expected. Yes, he had worked his way into a high-paying management position. He got married and had three beautiful daughters. But the majority of his adulthood was marked by pain and broken dreams. Two divorces, depression, and addiction marred his body and soul. He cut himself off from everyone, save for my sisters and me, who worked hard to continue a relationship with him.

But the church sanctuary was not empty that cold February morning. Not by a long shot.

Rows and rows filled with friends and loved ones — of mine. Of my sisters. Friends who had walked and prayed with us over the previous years of trial with my dad.

My closest friends from college and former professional colleagues. My childhood BFF and her parents who were like a surrogate family. In-laws, Bible study sisters, and dear family friends.

Most had never met my father. But they came to give a gift — the gift of presence.

When I stood up behind the wooden podium next to the big floral wreath to share about my dad, I looked out and saw not only my husband and mother and sisters, I saw my community.

There was nothing left for them to say or do. Just be with.

And that is one of the greatest gifts we can give someone on the often-lonely journey of grief. We can give the gift of bearing witness to the pain. Not coming with neat answers wrapped in tidy Christian clichés. Just come. Show up so a friend is not alone in the question-asking, faith-wrestling, soul-wrecking agony of losing a loved one.

It will probably feel awkward. My friends who came in their black blazers and dark navy dresses didn’t know what to say. Frankly neither did I. But I was deeply thankful for them just being there.

Their presence alone spoke volumes. It told me my dad’s life mattered. My loss and grief mattered.

I felt lost, but I was seen.

Because of the sweet redemption of God’s unrelenting grace, my dad did not die apart from the Lord. His life was still very broken this side of heaven but his heart was being made new. From the pit of physical, financial, and emotional despair, my dad had grabbed the Lord’s ever-outstretched hand and accepted His gift of mercy and forgiveness.

And because people chose to take off work, get a babysitter, and drive in traffic, God was glorified by a host of witnesses.

A gift I will never forget.

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One of the greatest gifts we can give someone on the lonely journey of grief is the gift of our presence. {Tweet This!}

  • Webbgurl2000

    Let us not forget that grief comes in so many forms on a daily basis such as a death of loss of a child, miscarriage, separation, divorce, job loss, friendships, breakups. With the most loving holiday around the corner many have no one to share the traditional Valentine day with. Thank you for sharing a personal loss with us. Your Father was truly a gem.

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      You’re so right, Webbgurl. Grief takes many shapes, rooted in many sources. We need to learn how to be people whom others can lean on in those hard parts of the journey. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and being here today. <3

  • http://myhomesweethomeonline.net/ Dawn Camp

    Becky, this was a beautiful testament to true friendship, well told. Thank you for it.

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Thank you, Dawn. It’s a joy to share here and reflect together on God’s redeeming grace.

  • Penny

    Thank you for this statement of truth. It gives me hope for that day when my Dad passes. My Mom’s memorial was filled with people from the church. My Dad’s may be like this one as his manhood has been riddled with disappointment and failure.

    Looking to be the person whose presence acknowledges another’s grief as Christ instructed us is a tremendous gift in the pain.

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Penny, when that day comes, I pray you, too, will have the gift of seeing God’s redeeming grace. Yes, what lives we can impact for Christ just by showing up for someone. xoxo

  • karen

    This is beautiful on so many levels! I am sorry about the difficulties in your dad’s life and his death, but I am thankful for the beautiful picture of friendship and community you painted!!!

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Thank you, Karen. God is so gracious not to make beauty out of our ashes. It’s a joy to give testimony to his goodness even in the midst of brokenness.

  • Anna Smit

    Becky, I’m so sorry for your incredible loss, but thankful to the Lord for carrying you through His beautiful Body. What love is reflected in your words and experience here.

    For me the greatest gifts given to me through the illness and passing of my Mum were also gifts of presence. My Mum’s friend who came to sit with my Mum, almost every day, commuting almost two hours, when Mum could no longer communicate, not only gifted my Mum with God’s love, but me too…she’d always pull me aside to check up on me and speak words of love and encouragement (she also lost her first husband to cancer). My friends lifted me up in similar ways, many 1000 of miles away, but near in the words and hugs they sent from afar.

    May God continue to strengthen, comfort and carry you forward. Thank you for encouraging through your words here.

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Oh, Anna, thank you for sharing your experience as well. My heart tugs with the tension we face on this side of heaven–such loss and grief, yet such beauty in how God provides comfort and assurance through others. So thankful that you, too, experienced the gift of presence and can now be that for someone else when the times comes.

  • http://www.christineleeb.com Christine Leeb

    Wow! In tears right now. What a beautiful picture of God’s love coming through the support system that He so carefully surrounds us with. Thank you for sharing this touching story!

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Thank you, Christine. And you’re so right–God’s care was undeniable and his grace palpable in that most difficult season of grief. I’m thankful to get to share the story.

  • Beth Williams

    So sorry for the loss of your dad! God works in mysterious ways! My neighbor lost her son two years ago. I know it is painful for her and I have no words. Every now and then when I see her I will go over and let her cry on my shoulder. She can talk about him if she wants. Healing takes time and everyone heals differently! I praise God for the gift of friends showing up and being there!!
    Blessings :)

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Thank you, Beth. What a gift you are to your grieving neighbor. To just be a shoulder to cry on, whether she needs to or wants to explain the feelings behind the tears or not–that is a beautiful and selfless act of love. I so appreciate you sharing that here today. <3

  • Susan

    What a beautiful testament of gathering and grace. I am so delighted to see your post here on (in)courage! Blessed for YOU!

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Appreciate your encouragement, Susan! God is so good to make beauty out of ashes. xoxo

  • http://mydailybreadandbutter.com Devi Duerrmeier

    This is a beautiful story, Becky, thank you for sharing it.

    • http://www.beckykeife.com/ Becky Keife

      Grateful to have you hear reading it, Devi. Thanks for the encouragement.