Being There

One of my dearest friends lost her 28-year-old son-in-law to cancer yesterday. He and his wife, her daughter, celebrated their three year wedding anniversary only four months ago. These two kids spent almost half their marriage dealing with cancer. Imagine that.

I don’t mind telling you that my husband and I conducted their wedding and did their pre-marital counseling. They were one of the most attentive couples we’ve ever counseled. And they loved each other. They never even had time to get to that middle-aged phase when you hate each other, either. All they ever had was that heady, youthful love and friendship, and then his sickness. I feel so sorry.

My friend called me yesterday afternoon to tell me her son-in-law was going downhill, but I didn’t listen to my messages until 7:00 this morning. Of course I intended to go up to the hospital after dropping my girls off at school. But when I called my friend, she said that her son-in-law had already died. And she told me how it went. And we cried and said how unreal it seemed and was.

“I’m so sorry I wasn’t there for you guys,” I said, after a time. And I truly was sorry. I felt terrible, because I know what it means to have your loved ones nearby during hardship. And my friend said, “That’s truly OK, I know you would have come. And the hospital was packed. You’ve never seen so many people there for one person—relatives, his fellow National Guardsmen, friends. It was incredible. We had the family room just packed. It’s truly OK.”

I knew she meant it, and wasn’t suffering from lack of support. I thought what a way to go: surrounded by loved ones wishing you godspeed on your journey.

I thought, too, about my friend’s daughter and how untimely this is. How she will be the only 27- or 28-year-old in her circle of friends to have suffered and lost so much at such a young age. Already. Imagine that. When you’re supposed to be young and naive, stupid and foolishly invulnerable and immortal in your own head. And that’s been taken from her.

ico16 by you.

I talked to my other friend today, too, my friend who has just had a new baby over the weekend. A new baby who came with flashing lights and EMTs, for my friend didn’t even know she was in labor until the baby decided to pretty much fall out and be born at home in the bathroom, as her daddy dialed 9-1-1 and tried to catch her with a free hand. Exciting stuff, all right. And all turned out well.

So my friend’s parents and brothers and in-laws all crowded into her small house, so that when her darling toddler son woke up the next morning, he was greeted by all those adoring fans, who promptly whisked him up and fed him, and then took him away to granny and grampa’s house to spoil him for a week while mom and dad recovered and fell in love with new baby sister.

I asked how she was doing, and she said, “Oh, it’s wonderful. I’m glorious! I am so enjoying this new baby. I feel so warm and enclosed and loved, and it’s been so great. Everyone is helping, and all I have to do is nurse the baby.”

This friend of mine has always been surrounded by love and has available, loving parents. She’s always had supportive siblings. Though their family has had some very tough times, they have stuck together and grown as human beings. My friend has also always had good friends, because she herself is a wonderful person. She believes and speaks the best of people. She’s enthusiastic about life and about loving other people. She is so filled up within herself that she has an abundance to give to others, and give she does. She’s someone who really never meets a stranger. The worst she ever does is to become cross. That’s what she says, “I felt so cross.”

She’s charming, really. Cross? Cross?! I wax absolutely bitchy on people, but she is merely cross. And she really is that way. Just a good, warm, kind-hearted human being. I don’t know anyone who knows her and doesn’t say that they feel enriched by knowing her. She is that sort of a human being.

ico16 by you.

So I started thinking about sorts of human beings. I thought about how my friend’s son-in-law died surrounded by love, and about how my other friend had her baby surrounded by love.  I thought about how this love wasn’t just hanging in the air, because it came from people. And then I suddenly realized just how much I’ve dealt with in my life without a mother and father nearby, or a brother or any family member there for me. I thought about the hours I’ve spent sitting in a hospital by myself, and how only my husband or the children we were raising sat with us, and sometimes a friend from church. I remembered how none of our parents had the time or compassion or—what is it that you have when you will just sit with people, and help them by just sitting and loving on them, and being there? oh… is it love?—whatever it was we needed (it was love we needed). Didn’t have something to give. And really haven’t. And still don’t.

And I thought about all I handled as a young parent, when I could have used help but had none. The one time when my sixth or eighth child was born and I had an infection, and was in a lot of pain, and had to drive 45 minutes to a hospital to see a specialist and how I had to take my newborn and five or seven little children with me, because I had no help. And I did that myself. And didn’t even think about it ’til later, when I realized how I have so often just plodded on and pushed through and taken care of myself.

I realized then that people who have never had that sort of love or support just do it anyway, survive. Live. They do it and they don’t know any better until they get a vision and put into motion the ways and means that lead to that place of Family. Love. Being-there-ness. Then they realize one day that they are giving their children, and they are giving to us and to one another and to others, exactly what they didn’t have, but knew they needed. They’re pioneers in their own families of origin. It’s rough. But they’re making it because love is real.

Therapy and analysis and education and religion and spirituality can all change the course of a wounded person’s lifetime. Dreams can become reality.

ico16 by you.

My friend who had the baby told me that her own mother had also tearfully expressed to her how she, as a young mother, didn’t have the family support that she herself has been able to give to her own children. And I thought about how the Bible says “and women shall be saved through the bearing of children.” I thought about how we carry our own selves as we give our children what we know we should have gotten from our parents, but didn’t.

I thought about all those people whose parents or spouses or children die out of time, people who are not finished growing up themselves and absolutely have to go through hell before they are half ready (and who ever is ready? and yet… go we must). And about my friend’s daughter, who just lost her husband… and how wrong that is. And there was no free pass for her. I know she’s strong, though. And she has a good mom.

ico16 by you.

I don’t have a conclusion. I do know that it’s hard being a parent. It’s hard being a human being. It’s hard being someone’s child. Life is difficult. Life is suffering. There’s beauty in it, too, but it can be fleeting and sometimes the sun is gone for a long time.

The only thing that really compensates for the way life is, is true relationship with other people. God is a big help, and I’m not being weird about it when I write that. I love God and I can hardly wait to die, sometimes. I sometimes am just ready to move on, because it ain’t gonna get easier. I am such a spiritual and mental work horse that death seems like a vacation to me, sometimes.

But God is not really my own personal reason for sticking around. My own personal reason is people. I stick around because loving and being loved are meantingful. It means something to hold someone’s hand. It means something to sit in a crowded waiting room and to take turns sitting with a dying young man. It means something to call and tearfully say “I’m sorry.” It means something to show up at the funeral or memorial, tissues in hand. It means something to go to weddings and births, sicknesses, recoveries, anniversaries, drunken dancing parties and christenings, and deaths.

It means a lot. It means a lot to be there for someone. And so I thank God that there has always been someone there for me. How lucky and blessed I am. It reminds me of a verse in Isaiah, I think, where it says, “If even my mother and father abandon me, the LORD will take me up.”

ico1 by you.

32 responses

  1. Well, actually I was taking heavy enemy fire from 50 caliber guns on enemy choppers when I saw the baby entering the world. I threw a hand grenade with one hand and caught the baby with my other. I then jumped up and caught a bullet in my teeth just before it hit me. Wow, this is fun. Before I know it I’ll have been hiding in a refrigerator to avoid a nuclear bomb a la Indiana Jones. Wait, I actually want to forget the most recent Indiana Jones.

    Eve replies:

    I knew it! I knew you were just being modest!

    I didn’t care for the new Indiana Jones either.

  2. I was too weary to respond yesterday, but I have to tell you that this was a very moving and powerful post.

    My condolences to your friend’s son-in-law. How very tragic.

  3. Just some words of encouragement. I wanted to tell you i really enjoy reading what you write and have been reading your blog whenever I find time. you have a great perspective on things and it has been very encouraging to read some of your thoughts /views.

  4. My condolences go out to you and the wife and family of the young man. I will be keeping you guys in my thoughts and prayers. On a good note I would like to congratulate Mr. Frank_Rizzo on your new born baby. That is quite a blessing!

    Hi ho – hi ho it’s back to work I go
    (eve I was not saying hi ho to you 😉

    Eve replies:
    Donald Duck, hello there! I suspect a neighbor, but I don’t know who you are. Other than the cartoons, of course. ;o)

    Yes, gratz to Frank on the birth of his daughter. Now it’s clear that it was none other than Frank’s wife who’s the friend in the 2nd part of my article. I love talking with her. And Frank, too.

  5. Im sorry to hear about the loss of your friend. I will keep the wife in my thoughts and prayers. I want to congradulate you Frank_Rizzo on your new born baby. That must be quite a blessing! –

    Hi ho – Hi ho – its back to work I go
    ( eve i was not saying hi ho to you 😉

  6. Eve,

    I recently purchased a book and I know you are familiar with the author…Elizabeth Kubler-Ross. The book is titled On Grief and Grieving. I have been lucky to make it half way through the second chapter. I have cried while reading each page, even the Introduction. Why should I cry over her death? I didn’t even know her. Because, I surmise, death is a lesson I have yet to learn. I cringe at the thought of it and if I kept thinking about this blog I would cry on my keyboard to, like you.

    Death permanantly and inevitably effects eveyone around. Sometimes I wish I were brought up on a mountain somewhere in the Himalayas. A Buddhist, spiritual and living off the land…respecting life and nature. Not being here, stuck in this spinning carousel that never ends. Waiting to die.

    I wish our culture respected death more and wasn’t as scared of it. I wish I knew how to find Peace in death. My grandfather was having surgery once. He was chaplan at the hospital at the time and I stopped off to see him. He said to me, “Carmen, I am going to have surgery tomorrow. If I don’t wake up remember I will be rooting for you on the other side”. This made me cry then and now. I told him not to say that. He asked me why but I wasn’t really able to have that conversation then. Maybe I am now.

    Peace be with you Eve. The lessons you have learned you share with us daily and they are blessings streamed from something or someone other than you. This is another lesson we will all learn together.

    Eve replies:
    Yes, Kubler-Ross. What a pioneer. I haven’t read her book, but I may just order it on your recommendation.

    Why should you cry over her death? Well… because the deaths of others stir up all the losses we’ve experienced, that’s why. Yes, I’m very sad at the loss of our young friend. But I am sadder still because it brings up the suffering I know this causes, and I have such compassion for the wife who is left behind. So, while death is a lesson each of us will learn, we are no strangers to loss and to what feels like death. Whatever we lose permanently and can’t regain or resurrect feels like death. This is why I think these things stir us so.

    There’s a good book called “The American Way of Death” that explains a lot about the way we die and how to die another way. After reading it as my daughter died, I determined never to undergo a typical American burial because of the way they desecrate the body. The Jewish way of burial, yes. Even cremation, yes, fine. But not, for instance, having one’s eyes sewed shut. (For starters.)

    I love what your grandfather said. And did he survive the surgery? You don’t let us know!

    And thank you for saying “peace be with you.” This is a traditional Catholic blessing during every church service. I really love it. I can never look into another person’s eyes and shake their hand and say that without really meaning it. It was a real blessing for you to write this particular phrase to me, so thank you for this gift I just happened to receive on my blog. It isn’t mundane. I’ve felt so blue yesterday and today, that I truly needed that. Thank you so much.

  7. It is interesting and tragic and sad and happy and joyful the ways in which we human beings are carved into the people we become. thank you for bringing some of that process into focus for me.

    Eve replies:
    Jade, trauma and loss change us forever, don’t they? It’s funny to me how I still can’t articulate all the ways how; I just know it does. What do you say to people who ask how your stroke changed you, now that some time has passed? Do people ask? I always wonder what you’ll say to that, speaking of suffering. (And the joys of survival and recovery!)

  8. My heart is with you and with this family, Eve. May God comfort you and all who mourn.

    Eve replies:
    RG, thanks. I’ll pass on that many who hear about this are similarly touched. I know that you know what it is; you’ve had a year of loss, yourself.

  9. Wow, 0ne hand…..That’s a bit of a stretch. I was actually holding the phone to my ear with my left shoulder. I needed both hands to catch the baby as they are kind of slippery at first.

    Eve replies:Oh, let me make you out to be the superstar you really are. Don’t be so modest. I’ll bet you sent the 9-1-1 call telepathically and did laundry while you delivered the baby. You can’t kid me!

  10. I never know what to say to express condolences and so I am not feeling eloquent either. I’m sorry that your young friend died so young.

    Yes, just being there means so much. I will never forget waking up in the hospital after my son was born after a traumatic emergency c-section and whisked away to another hospital without me seeing him. A friend was sitting there in the room, waiting for me to wake up, when even my husband was not there (I think he was at the hospital with my son, so no grudge there). She just cared and knew how to simply show up. And then the next day my parents and inlaws came, so they knew how to show up as well, even if we are lacking in other forms of closeness. And then other friends arranged for some meals for us. We were very much supported and loved, and to this day those friends and coworkers look on my son as one of their own sons.

    And on the contrary, I will also never forget the friends who were part of a consciously (and karmically, I believe) formed group of friends, who at some point just stopped showing up. It still hurts, many years later. That group was like a family, a social support created willingly and lovingly, and they just faded away. And the worst was that they seemed to be consciously choosing others to be with. It was a total rejection, from my perspective.

    It is so hard to forgive people who don’t seem to have enough love to share with us.

    Eve replies:
    Heni, thank you for sharing this. It must have been terrifying and devastating, having a baby under those conditions. I know it all turned out well afterward, but to wake up without your husband or new baby, to be separated… wow. Blessings on your friend for being a friend.

    Also interesting about your consciously formed group of friends. I like that label. I’ve had that, too, and our group went apart also and apparently consciously. And it hurt. Rejection seems to always have some hurt to it, doesn’t it?

    I don’t find it as hard to forgive as I find it impossible to not feel pained when I think about such things. I still grieve the losses and the what-might-have-been. I accept it, I forgive them (for I don’t want to be in the place of judge, jury, or executioner at all); and yet I still feel that twinge of sorrow, whether it’s toward my own parents or to old friends. And, yes, sometimes I have been the one who has made the conscious decision to reject a friendship after a long time. And even that seems so false… rejecting “friendship” rather than rejecting “friend.” Oy.

  11. I find myself lately worrying in a quiet sort of way about dying alone, because I have no children. That makes me very sad. But then I tell myself that not all children stay close to their parents, even go half way around the world to make space for themselves. There’s no guarantee that having children, a family, may also keep you supported, is there? (depending on how you’ve been brought up, I know)

    I do have friends though, and only time and love will tell if they stay close, or if I stay close ( how courageous will I be?). Being a bit of a loner who dislikes too much socialising doesn’t help. Having a husband who is worse than me, who happily disappears into his cave (our home) and sees no one, doesn’t help. Neither did I learn about being close to friends whilst growing up, as my parents themselves were more or less loners, most of the time. No social parties, rarely a dinner at all. Mostly family at Christmas – that was the main gathering of people, more habit that meaningful. That bothers me a bit now too.

    But I have my garden, and my paint, which when in the midst, I am completely content.

    I think a lot now about ‘being there’ – for those I care about especially, like my mum with all her health worries – heart operation, aches and pains, and doctors appointments. I worry for those that are vulnerable. Last night my husband and I were leaving home in the car for end of year drinks at my studio complex, and we saw a neighbour sitting on the ground, with her friend nearby (both old but always walking every day). I heard in my head ‘what happens when we don’t stop and ask if someone needs help?’. We pulled up, and asked. The lady on the ground had fallen, had become dizzy, and couldn’t get up. So Rob and I helped her up and walked with her arm in arm to her home a little way down the street. She felt so light, I could have carried her. I was overwhelmed with affection, as if she were my own mother. She promised she would go see a specialist the next day, as her doctor had found nothing wrong previously.

    Did she have a child to help her and her also frail looking husband? Her friend looked so worried, I knew she’d be there. So many people we don’t know, alone and frail.

    I’m so sorry about your friend who died, so glad he had so many to love him. I hope his death was peaceful and not too painful.

    And to be near a birth, too. How lucky, how amazing – such a beautiful story for me to hear. You’re so right about all those things you said, about the importance of people around you. And I do think there is something else loving around us, and I do feel it at times. I feel very grateful when that happens. I don’t feel that we die and thats all, the end.

    Being there for others is something I’m still learning about, especially for others who are not so close. I don’t know if I’m intruding, and I don’t know what to say, especially if they have other people around them to whom they are closer. I feel rather inept in those circumstances. But I will live and learn.

    Eve replies:
    I truly believe that God gives us everything we need for every journey and that we will have what we need. I’ve sat with a dying woman whose three children didn’t trouble themselves to come and be with her until after she died, and she was a decent woman. Having children doesn’t really guarantee anything (I feel I ought to say that again: having children doesn’t guarantee anything). Whatever people think they will get from having children and the real cost and blessing of children can be very different. Which has been on my mind lately.

    So yes, you’re right. No guarantees. How nice it would be if life came with them, though: “If you do this, thus-and-so is guaranteed to occur, or your money, time, effort and investment returned, no questions asked!” Hah.

    The story about your neighbor touched me. How we stop and help; and yet wonder, should I? Am I interfering? Is everything OK? Not wanting to intrude, but wanting to extend compassion; in the end, we have to ask, don’t we?

    I didn’t say so in my post, here, but being there for others is a lot of work. I imagine that most of us who have been there for others would agree that it takes a lot of time and effort, involves heartache and emotion, and that all too often we may feel it’s not returned. It’s not easy, being there. It’s not easy for our friends or whoever happens to be there, to be there for us; and vice-versa. I don’t take it lightly. I’ve wanted to be a hermit for the past several years. Daily I breathe the word “vacation,” too, as I feel I am on a fast ride with no getting off. This isn’t good, and so I try to control the spinning by not being there for others, sometimes. I can see why older women, in particular, tend to cut themselves off and isolate. You can get so tired of always being there. I wonder how we’re supposed to do it?

  12. So many things struck me about this post. I am so sorry about your loss. It’s one of those terrible paradoxes that the more deep the love, the greater the loss. And so while it is tragic that this young couple was parted so soon, it would have been more tragic if they hadn’t loved each other at all … if he’d never known that kind of love before he died.

    I have a friend whose wife died in her early twenties, a year after they were married. It was unbearable, and yet I saw how he was raised by suffering in a way that few people ever have the chance to be. It was humbling and inspiring to witness how he took that chance and wrestled with it until it conquered him and made him a better version of himself.

    Eve replies:
    David, you’re right; these two knew what love was and they had that. So many people don’t get that much, so it’s a good thing to keep in mind.

    “Raised by suffering.” What an interesting thought. I have more thoughts on that and hope to get them written down sometime soon.

  13. Deb, I think they do it on purpose subconsciously. They aren’t conscious of it at all but they (we) all act it out anyway. We keep doing what was done to us, even if we say we aren’t, until we are fully conscious and able to choose another way. This is what I really, truly believe.

    It’s not easy to learn to just be with people. That’s why the title of this post was Being There. I had to learn that, and sometimes I still feel unable to do that (every now and then).

    Sometimes I think it’s not so much the need for control, or an illusion of control, but something else. Maybe a fear of the unknown or a fear. Simple fear. Without a container, a mother (type) who can’t be leaned on, we are cast too soon from the womb/nest/hearth. And so we have to stand alone from an early age. I know what that means.

    But, as you wrote, we keep trying. Exactly so.

    I have more I could write, but I hear our puppies crying to be fed, and so I’m going to go and do that. Hopefully I’ll be back tomorrow. You always give me something to think about. Thanks for that.

  14. I grew up in a small family, cut off from aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents. Now that I think about it, I wonder if my parents did this on purpose, without realizing it. But in our small family I did learn that family is what comes first, you take care of your family, you help one another, even if that person pisses you off, they are your family. So I do for my family but not with much love sadly. My sisters are so distant, emotionally and physically, my brother too really. I have my mum whom I care for but I can’t lean on her, I never really could. She can cook and clean like nobody’s business but she can’t listen, can’t just be there for me when things get bad, she makes things worse with her constant worrying.

    And I wonder how much I have been there for my own kids. I know I love them but they are too much for me often. I think I have a perfect family somewhere in my mind, where parents lovely fully and unconditionally, I want that from my parents and I want to be able to give it as well but I don’t know how. I try but I am easily irritated and have such a hard time shutting up and listening or just being quiet with my children. I have this need to fill up the space. I want to learn to be with people, to allow the space between me and others to ebb and flow, to let go of my need of control, to let go of my illusion that I have any control:)

    But you’re right, we need other people in our lives, to share, to love, to witness our lives and I think that’s why we all keep trying.

  15. Gianna, I think it always means something when we hold someone’s hand. I would imagine especially as we die. I plan to die some day, and I hope someone is holding my hand, if not in that moment at least in their heart. I think if I have lived a worthwhile life, that’s what will happen. And if I haven’t, then God have mercy on me.

    But I think I have.

    And I’m sorry you lost your brother and for what you’ve gone through. Death is the hardest thing. I have a lot of respect for it.

  16. Alida, I don’t feel eloquent either. I don’t even know if I was typing English tonight. I really feel devastated and it’s because our friend’s loss and because of what it reminds me of. But, oh well.

  17. my brother died….and in a family where no one knows how to love each other, somehow he did know how and in his loving us we all loved him. And so he like your friend’s son-in-law, had lots and lots of people surrounding him the last 72 hours we all sat vigil. And though excruciatingly painful it was beautiful too.

    Oddly enough, after literally 3 days of sitting around the clock with him, everyone went home but me and my husband. He died with me alone, holding his hand. I want that to mean something but I don’t know if it does.

    I loved this post too and I share the sentiments at the end. The only reason I wish stay alive is for the people I love. And the reason I wish to heal is so that I can love even more people.

    thank you Eve, once again, for a moving and beautiful message of love.

  18. Lately, I feel so…not eloquent 🙂 Bear with me as I muddle through my comment. This post was beautiful. Such a timely reminder during this season that best you can give someone is of your time and yourself.

    I’m sorry for the loss of your friend and happy that there is a new baby that is loved.

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