What do we do in the face of personal tragedy? What do we say to the grieving? How then, shall we act when we hear of a loss that takes our breath away?
I’m getting back-to-back-to-back opportunities in that regard. Yesterday was the first anniversary of the death of my dear friend Becky, who tragically succumbed to cancer last year at the young age of 46. Today is the anniversary of the suicide of someone in my inner circle. And yesterday I found out about a car accident on Monday in which my friend Ann’s husband Tom was instantly killed, Ann seriously injured. This last is made much worse because 14 years ago Ann had a serious stroke and Tom has been her caretaker. We’re not sure (from reports) if the leg that got crushed in the accident is her working leg or the one the stroke left dangling.
What do you say? What can any of us possibly do? I have a close connection to the mother of the man who committed suicide. He was her oldest child. Her first husband died when she was 40, leaving her with 7 children to raise. She got them all successfully raised and through college. That must’ve seemed like the hard part – and then….
I don’t know if you’re like me. But what I want to do when these hard, scary, heartbreaking things happen to my friends – well, my first impulse, at least – is to hide. It seems so hard. I don’t know what to say. I am very aware that words are trivial in the face of such loss and anguish. And I have no ‘wisdom’ to impart.
But what I am finding is that just acknowledging the loss and saying you care (and of course MEANING it) and standing by people helps a lot.
Yesterday I had to give myself a pep talk to call Becky’s mom. I felt very guilty that at Becky’s funeral I had sworn to her mom that I’d keep in touch. And I meant it when I said it. Except then I didn’t do it. So I felt ashamed. My inner dialogue had Becky’s mom thinking “oh yeah, call me NOW, a year later – where have you been this whole hard year?”
What I got instead was her delight that I called yesterday. She told me that my many messages on the Facebook page we set up in memory of her daughter had been a year long comfort. She said “I don’t write on Facebook – that’s just not me – but I read every word that has been written – often many times – and it has comforted me and Rachel.”
We had a good talk. We laughed about Becky. We both teared up. It felt cathartic.
When my friend Deb called to tell me about Ann and Tom I said “wow, I’m a spiritual person but I’m having a very hard time conjuring up any way this could turn out well – it feels totally overwhelming.”
Deb said, “Well, today is the one year anniversary of Becky’s death. Let me ask you something. Has anything at all good come out of this past year?”
Such a helpful reminder. My mom used to always say “God works in mysterious ways” and I think that’s true. I don’t know how things will turn out. I have no magic words or deeds that will Poof! make everything better. But I can be with people. I can acknowledge their loss and suffering. I can ensure that they are not alone (if that’s desired). And I can pray.
In the end, I think, only love is real. So I can be love. And I am SO reminded on this day, of life’s fragility and preciousness. Really truly, friends – be loving. Tell the ones you love how much they mean to you. Daily. You never know which moment will have been your last.