Tag Archives: Friendship

Help: On the Horizon vs. At your Door

It had been a particularly trying day.  Disastrous, really.  I had come home from grocery shopping in the middle of winter to find frozen pipes that had busted and thawed, and water was now gushing from the ceiling in my laundry room onto the wood floors below.

The valve to shut the water off to the whole house had frozen in place outside in the ground.  After struggling unsuccessfully to wrench it free, I deemed it a lost cause and ran to the garage where I dumped the Rubbermaid trashcan full of garden tools onto the floor and frantically ran to place it inside the house to catch the water pouring from above.  I opened the back door and began sweeping the water covering the floor outside.

Then I called my husband at work and screamed through frustration and tears into the phone; “GET HOME NOW”.

Taking to social media later in the day to lament and seek out commiseration, I suppose, I quickly had a message from my friend, Halcyon.

“Can I bring you dinner?” she wrote.

My immediate instinct was to respond with a no thank you, a how thoughtful, or that I appreciated it, but we’ll be fine.  Then for some reason, I just accepted.  I did want that dinner.  It would help. It would be one less thing I would have to worry about in the midst of such a terrible day, and it felt like a win.

We were no strangers to acts of kindness at this point in our lives.  Our daughter’s terminal illness and death were humbling in ways we never even considered needing to be humbled before her life, but the general idea of utilizing the village before you seems somehow, almost un-American.  As if accepting help is an admission of our inability to pull ourselves up be our own bootstraps, rather than an act of love and concern for other humans that makes the world go ’round.

She brought warm soup and fresh baked soft bread from Panera (one of my favorite places).  It was delicious.  And so appreciated.  The real gift she gave, however; was not the meal itself, and not even the act of caring, but the outreach she exercised to begin with.  She didn’t let me know she could help if I needed, she didn’t even ask what she could do for us.  She took action, and offered something specific, something concrete.  She then placed it in a time frame and set to work on following through.

When facing life’s challenges, simply wanting to help or letting someone know you’re there to help is often not enough.  Don’t make vague statements or plans that don’t amount to anything.  While the thought is appreciated, the action always speaks louder.

When someone is struggling with a difficult situation, the burden of need is already on their shoulders.  Don’t add to their overflowing plate by asking them to tell you how you can help.  Often, it’s just too much for someone to even consider tying to navigate the map of help-need to be able to organize or convey those needs to you.

Perusing social medial recently I found a message from a friend, posted on her personal page, as a cry for help.  She posted the following picture with the message, “Definitely me sometimes”.

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What followed, to be honest, as someone having been in need myself annoyed the crap out of me. The response, even though positive, genuine, and seemingly in an effort to be supportive, just wasn’t.

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Simply telling someone you’re there for them simply doesn’t do anything.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you’d better be willing to walk the walk and actually be there. Don’t wait for a friend to ask for help.  They are already overwhelmed, so they most likely never will.  Just take the initiative and go out of your way to be there without waiting to be asked.

I specifically remember the phrase “we support you” being uttered to us repeatedly when Miss Elliott was alive.  How?  I always wondered, because with certain people those words seemed to be all there ever was.  Nothing to back them up, no outreach, no follow through.

What was interesting to me about the respondent’s message to “call me” was that someone else, yet another friend, liked the comment, in what I can only assume was a show of solidarity, or a me too response.  But even when my friend reiterated that she always needs someone, and implores her to please just come over, the respondent again defaults to asking the person in need to call her.

Don’t do this.  It’s painfully obvious that this person should have picked up the phone at that very moment.  Should have gotten in her car and driven over.  She should have done anything worthy of being called helpful, but what happened here instead was that this person did, literally the least she possibly could have done, and probably mentally checked off a box in her mind that allowed her to continue in her thinking that she reached out, did good, and helped.  She didn’t.

Sometimes in our attempts at care toward others we place them into our box, our comfort, zone, rather than stepping outside of that zone ourselves to look deeper into what they really need.  I think we usually just tend to look for what may be easiest for us to offer.  We fail, so often at truly going that extra mile.

This interaction would have left me feeling even more alone.

There are many things that everyone needs, so make a list of what would help you because chances are, it would help someone else too.  Some simple suggestions of ways to help that I like to give are:

  1. Mow the lawn
  2. Wash and fold the laundry
  3. Clean the house
  4. Let them take a nap or get a hot shower
  5. Bring dinner
  6. Take the kids somewhere for a bit (a movie, to the park, etc.)
  7. Bring groceries
  8. Run errands
  9. Help coordinate appointments
  10. Go to their house to visit
  11. Help them have a night out aloneand most of all
  12. Just listen without trying to fix their problems
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#Problems

Have you seen the recent cultural trend of people taking to social media to complain about their problems, which are actually just minor inconveniences? #firstworld  (e.g., they spelled my name wrong at Starbucks, I really want to wear white pants but it’s after Labor Day, my cell phone is dying but my charger is all the way upstairs…etc.)  Well, I had a big one yesterday. I stood in my kitchen and thought, “I don’t have enough Halloween decorations in here to coordinate with the rest of my home. I need to get to the store today to buy a few more things –stat”.

Admittedly, I have a lot of these moments. It’s easy to become so hyper-focused on every minute detail of our polished lifestyles that we actually forget what a real problem is. But is it ok to care about frivolity too? I have had my share of problems. Actual problems. Problems other’s aren’t even willing to try to comprehend because they’re so earth-shatteringly terrifying, but standing in the middle of my kitchen concerning myself over decorations may not be a ‘first world’ problem at all. I mean, it is, but what if it’s actually also a tell-tale sign that I’m doing ok? What if it means that I haven’t allowed myself to be so consumed by the grief I feel over losing my child that I can actually still function in a normal capacity? What if it means that I’m doing alright?

I hope it does. I’ve seen others lose themselves as they follow their grief down the rabbit hole. I’ve seen them spiral into oblivion as they, step by step, move away from society, family and friends, and even their lives outside their own mind. What’s worse, is when someone becomes so consumed by their own misfortune that they become immune to recognizing it in others and lose their capacity for compassion.

I think that when an issue occurs is when you start to take your ‘first world’ nonsense and see is as an actual problem. Not having enough Halloween decorations is not only not a problem, it’s not even a minor inconvenience. It’s just a testament to my following suit of the consumerism mentality of my culture and my buying in to the idea of materialism itself. Whether they’re ‘first world’ or third world, when an issue in your life becomes so polarizing that you can’t see past it and you fail to pick up on the hardships faced by your fellow man, you begin to lose your humanity.

Last night I had dinner with a group of women from church. It’s a dinner we have once a month at various restaurants around town. A time to try new places, socialize together, and get out of the house…alone (which can seem like a big deal when you’re a mom and wife). We had a new member in our group. She was excited to be there because she “never gets to go out to restaurants”. And she had never been out to a girl’s night before. She’s pregnant and has no support. The baby’s father is not involved in her life. She lives with a friend, for now. She had another child that was taken away and adopted out permanently a few years ago. She just got out of prison. She has no car, no job, no skills, and no GED. She doesn’t qualify for most of the assistance programs available because of her imprisonment. Her mother is also in prison, is addicted to drugs, and is not even emotionally supportive of her. She had wandered into our church a few weeks ago spontaneously to ask for prayers. In these few short weeks she’s been attending services, Bible studies, and was even baptized. She told us at dinner how she feels that God is giving her a second chance with this baby and she desperately wants to do things right this time, for his sake.

She asked if we would be willing to come to the hospital when she has her baby. Here she was asking a group of practical strangers to be with her because she literally had no one else. It was evident throughout the dinner as she divulged the details of her life that she just wanted to talk, about anything. She just wanted someone around her to sit and listen. To see her, to hear her, to care. Here was a very young woman with no one, grasping at straws, reaching out to any of us asking us to care about her. And I think I don’t have enough Halloween decorations? That was my big issue of the day? We go out to dinner whenever I just don’t feel like cooking, and she hadn’t been out to a restaurant in who knows how long. I felt ashamed in so many ways for the things I complain about in my privileged life, but I also felt pangs of sorrow for her, and in such, knew that I was able to sympathize with her. I may have suffered an inconceivable personal loss in the death of my daughter, but my experience has not hardened me. It has made me more sensitive to the plights of others. I have not lost my humanity to my own sense of grief and sorrow. Only that would be a real tragedy (#problem) in my life.

To Let Them Live

“I just try to let them live their lives,” she said.

“I say, just try to remember every moment. She won’t be two months old for long,” she told her seat-mate. “Soon she’ll be walking and talking.”

Or she won’t, I thought grimly.  The rest of the world doesn’t seem to share the same outlook as me with their constant expectation of a bigger, better, brighter tomorrow that they seem to feel entitled to, but I couldn’t help it. As the mother of a now deceased child who never did those things it’s just the automatic thought that springs to life in my mind. A consequence of my position, I suppose.

“I worry about them,” the petite, approximately mid-fiftiesish Asian woman continued from the seat behind me. “I just see them working all the time, and I know it’s rough on them. I know they want to get a house, and now they have the baby so you wonder when it will work out, but what can I do?  They’re adults and I have to let them live their lives. I just can’t wait to see my grand kids this weekend…,” she continued.

This eavesdropped upon conversation was a reminder to me that parents never stop parenting. Not when your children are grown, not even when they’re dead. It was an all too familiar thought, and ironic given the timing as we were wheels down in San Francisco after the first leg of our flight on our way to a good friend’s wedding.

Like me, this friend has also lost a child. Again, like me, she lost that child to Tay-Sachs disease. She knows the pangs of grief that accompany never hearing those first words or seeing those first steps that, like everyone else, we also thought we were entitled to as a mere byproduct of giving birth to our children.

Like me she’s never stopped being a mother to her child, even though he now exists in some form and realm beyond her reach. Even so, here we are this weekend to celebrate with her and for her. She’s found new love and recently become a mother again to a beautiful new daughter named, in part, after my own daughter.

She relayed to me in one memorable conversation how strange it is to see her wiggle and crawl around. It’s something foreign to us, uncharted territory, as our deceased children were never able to achieve such praise- worthy accomplishments.

This trip marked my first official face-to-face meeting with this tiny, magic girl. Holding such a precious child, my daughter’s namesake in my arms was a salve to my deeply broken heart. I whispered in her ear that I loved her so and had since long before she was born. I watched my husband cry as she was placed into his arms and I marveled at the beauty and joy she brought into the world.

It’s a relearning about the process of life. A continuation. Another chapter. Time matches on, and so must we. Old wounds may sting somewhere from below the surface, but new joys may also be just around the corner. Incessant worry won’t change what’s already there waiting for us, it simply distracts us from the pleasures of the present.

Living without entitlement doesn’t mean living without hope. We each have to choose to have the courage to ’round the bend as the road begins to curve. None of us know what the future holds for ourselves, let alone anyone else. You just have to let them live their lives. And as a parent, or child, or lover, or friend, you just have to live yours. And know that even in times of extreme pain and suffering this life, your life, and theirs too, can always circle back around and turn out to be better than you ever thought possible.

The Sunday We didn’t go to Church

Two years ago this July I received an unexpected phone call from one of my very dear friends who was in somewhat of a panic.  A panic only someone in my position could fully understand.  Her daughter was turning sixteen and she needed a favor for her birthday.  There was no party planned, no driver’s license test to be taken, or presents waiting to be opened.  There was only the grave of a little girl who had died when she was just five years old.

“It doesn’t hit me like this every year,” she said.  “It’s just that it’s her sixteenth birthday and I can’t be there to be with her.  I’d ask my sister but she’s gone too.”  My friend lives far away from where her daughter was buried, here in Seattle, all those years ago and even though her sister, usually able to be there, happened to be out of town as well.

“Would you mind taking some flowers to her?” she asked me.

She asked because she knew I’d understand.  Not because I could logically comprehend what that must feel like, but I would understand because I was in the same position.  Even though I had never met her daughter, she had died of Tay-Sachs disease just like my Miss Elliott had and we had been brought together in recent years in our shared losses.  My own daughter was buried at such a tender age and I too would one day be missing those parties, presents, and milestones.  I would be suffering the same heartache she was.

It was a Saturday when she called.  Part of her panic was that time was ticking away.  Her daughter’s birthday would be here the very next day and she just needed someone to be with her.  She couldn’t stand the thought of her daughter being alone on such a special day.  At this point, my Miss Elliott had been gone for just five months, and I had yet to have to celebrate one of her birthday’s posthumously, but I knew what she meant about not all birthdays hitting her like this.  I knew that her grief comes and goes in waves, but always lingers under the surface of the veil of functionality.  Today, it was ripping right through it.  Today, it was breaking her down.

Of course I would go.  We would leave in the morning, drive into the city, and navigate our way through the maze of the cemetery to her grave.

I heard a parable once that went like this:  A boy and his mother were on their way to church.  They stopped because they saw a motorist out of gas on the side of the road.  When the mother pulled the car over the boy questioned her, asking “Mother, if we stop to help, won’t we be late for church?”  “Son, if we don’t stop to help, there’s no point in going to church at all,” his mother replied.

What’s the point of a relentless and intensive study of life’s guidebook if you forget to look up and put it into practice once in a while?

That Sunday we did not go to church.  We picked up the flowers from the florist and drove to the cemetery.  We walked as a family to her grave and carefully placed the flowers on her bench.  We did our best to honor this so-loved child.  We wept for her, for her mother, for her brother and father.  We wept for Miss Elliott, and for ourselves.

I knew I would call someone in a panic myself one day.  I will need someone to bring flowers to my Miss Elliott at some point too.  We will all be in the position of needing help from others to some extent at some point in our lives.  Thank goodness for the kindness of the motorist who notices you standing on the side of the road and slows down to help.

This year her daughter would have been attending her senior prom.  She would be graduating right now.  She would be turning eighteen next month.  Soon she would be off to college to start a new chapter in her life.  Glowing with the excitement of young adulthood.  Buzzing with the energy to make her way in the world.  Unfortunately for her, it was a life that never was to be.  In the hearts the mind’s eye of her family, those who love her, and all who were here for her as she left this world behind, she will forever be that five year old little girl.

That Sunday we didn’t go to church, but we put into action the sentiment behind the words in The Good Book, nonetheless.

Karla