It was a bright sunny Saturday in March. The streets of Kercheval were already lined with empty cars patiently awaiting their owners to return from their errands. The cars shimmered in the sunlight as we turned into the parking lot.
My favorite of all brunch spots, Side Street Diner was first to check off of our agenda that day.
The restaurant’s front door swung wide. As I entered the smell of pancakes drizzled in syrup greeted us at the entryway. The crowd of hungry patrons waiting to be seated met our eyes. I did a quick glance around the restaurant accessing the time I’d have to wait before fresh coffee and yummy breakfast food hit my lips. A grumble rolled through my empty stomach at the thought of waiting.
They have their bill, they just got their coffee —– and then I saw her.
Her long wavy blonde hair gathered at the nape of her neck. She greeted an older couple that had just been seated. An unsettled feeling rolled over me.
What on earth am I going to say to her?
She’s the ultimate waitress. She remembers her customers names and the details of their lives. She serves good food and makes you smile the entire time you sit at her table. She’ll slide down in the booth right next to you and make you feel as though you’re not really at a restaurant but a friend’s house. The warmth that she gives isn’t just found in the food. It radiates from her kindness and compassion.
I watch her as she turns from the older couples booth, drink order in hand, to a corner table that seats a Mom and Dad and two spunky kids. Their parents chug black coffee trying to fuel up for the days activities.
I look down at Charlie snuggled in her car seat wishing it was just Matt and I. I want to shelter this sweet lady from peering down at my Charlie and being reminded she’s a Momma with no baby to hold.
I was excited to get back to some type of normalcy after we brought Charlie home from the hospital last summer. We visited the diner and our friend greeted us on the patio with hugs. We introduced her to Charlie and she gushed over how cute our peanut was and then I gushed over her growing baby bump. I was so excited to get the details of how her pregnancy was going. She was due in August and that was just a few weeks away.
A series of heavy hearted details unfolded. My brow furrowed and tears waited at the brink of my eye, not being permitted to fall so I could be strong in front of my friend.
During a routine ultrasound the Doctor had seen a hole in her daughter’s heart complicating delivery plans and worrying Mom and Dad about the uncertain future of their daughter’s health. Matthew and I shared with her the difficulties we had through our pregnancy and I asked my friend if we could pray with her.
There under the big red umbrella covering our table I ended the prayer but still held onto her hand. Tears steamed down her cheeks and she thanked us. Several months later I would stand not very far from that same spot and hear the unthinkable update. My friends daughter was born with DiGeorge Syndrome and only lived a few sweet months here on earth.
I knew we’d be back in the diner one day and on that day I would see her. Of course I wanted to see her. Hug her. But I couldn’t see past what I would say after I let go of her. So when I did wrap my arms around her I made sure our embrace spoke all of my heart felt sympathies.
I don’t know what I ended up saying but I will forever remember what she did. She spoke of pain. Of memories that sank so deep you could almost see them pressing into her skin. She spoke of a daughter, an angel that will live on in her heart. A daughter that brought such joy in so little time. She spoke of a nonprofit. She spoke of hope. While she spoke, I listened. I listened to her strength. I listened to her courage. I hung on her every word. I ate them up so much more satisfying than my coffee and blueberry pancakes.
I didn’t need to speak, I needed to be there for her. To listen to her. What kind of silly is it that I thought some magic words could remove her pain???? We can’t remove each others pain but we can carry it right alongside them.
So if you have a friend or family member going through a hard time talk to them. They might be feeling so alone. Break their isolating thoughts by caring enough to visit them or call them. Get them out of the house for dinner or coffee.
You don’t need to have the answers or the right words. Just let them do the talking. Ask them about work or summer plans. Ease into the conversation. Sometimes it feels so good for the grieving person to get back to business as usual topics! When in doubt reach out to someone really close to that person like their spouse or parents and get the green light from them about how to approach your friend.
During these conversations remember, they will let you know if they can’t talk about it right then. When they do share, respect the boundaries of talking too much about it! When we lost Juliet I had one friend with the best intentions who would start any communication with me with the whisper of “how are you.” They’d drag out each syllable in the most somber way. I knew they cared but it felt like they were hounding me. I was onto the next subject and they’d steer that depressing bus right back around to my loss.
As long as we are this side of heaven, we ourselves or someone close to us is going through a tough time. None of us are experts. None of us can remove the grief but we can carry this burden with them. Their really is strength in numbers.