When you have lived the grief experience others often assume you know “just what to say” to a friend or family member who has lost a person they love. Many times I have been the go-to person for advice on what to say, how to help, what not to say, and sometimes for requests to make a personal phone call to a fellow griever. Many times I feel overwhelmed by this assumption, because the truth is nothing changes the fact that the person they love isn’t coming home. This fact alone is so strong, and devastating that I sometimes feel that words are futile, and the little I can do is but a bandage on a gaping wound.
But I am wrong. Recently my daughter taught me what words, actions, and willingness can do to heal a friend in need. This weekend, I was scheduled to spend three days away with two of my best friends. We spent Friday at the Tour of California (very cool, and I got a photo with Phil Liggett!!) and were on our way to a weekend at the desert when my cell phone rang. Seeing my daughter’s name on the screen I picked up cheerfully, but the wind was knocked out of me by the sound of my crying girl on the other end. My first instinct was to be sure she was safe…did she get into a car accident, suffer some other serious injury, was there a relationship issue I was unaware of?? But some part of me knew the unique timbre of those tears. Caitlin was calling to tell me one of her best friend’s mother was dead. Between her broken sobs, and confusing explanations my heart began an oddly familiar rhythm. I knew these tears, and the road ahead for this boy’s family was crystal clear to me.
Sparing details of the story that are not mine to share, this mother’s death was unexpected, mind bogglingly fast, and left three children without a mother and their father without a wife. Not to mention her parents, siblings, friends, and other family members who grieve the loss of a woman they loved. As things turned out Caitlin and I both witnessed the grief of this family first hand, both helpless observers, and seasoned vets. The combination grated my nerves. I could anticipate what lies ahead for this torn family, but felt useless as they each processed this new and devastating information. I paced, I hugged, I made calls, I paced some more, and I watched my little girl gracefully stand to one side both available, and unobtrusive. She reached out when the need was there, she sat quietly when that seemed more appropriate, and she assured her friend that she would be there for him. And she knew what those words meant.
In the moments I spent watching my seventeen year old daughter comfort a grieving family, I remembered the gift of just being. The friends that were the most help to me at the time of my own loss were the ones who could stand beside me no matter where the grief roller coaster took me. Some days I needed them to laugh, other days to cry, sometimes to listen, other times to fill the silence with idle chatter…but most of all I needed to know they wouldn’t leave me. That they would be there. And I watched Caitlin do just that with courage, with grace, and with a compassion born of an experience I would have given anything to save her from.
Kids are the best teachers. Mine have easily uncovered some of the most important nuances of living the best life we can. But this weekend Caitlin provided me with a lesson I needed. Grief is only as powerful as we allow it to be. We can comfort each other even without the power to change the facts. A hug and a quiet moment of reflection are priceless. Those of us who have experienced loss have been left with a unique gift; we are hope personified. My little girl made that abundantly clear.