The Gift of Presence

In all seasons, people are important but there’s a heightened in hard times. When tragedy strikes we tend to rally around people and stand closely but once the ‘worst’ is over, we all go back to life.

The most challenging day when you lose a loved one, after the day they die, is the day after the burial. You have been surrounded by people from the day of death to the day of the burial. They visit, sit around, tell stories, and make you laugh and cry as they remember your loved one with you. They cook, clean, shop for you, and fill our house with so much bread and milk you could feed a school. It is a revolving door of entertaining that if you are not careful, you will burn out before the longest day of your life.

On that burial day, a large crowd gathers to help you give a befitting send-off with glowing tributes, soulful songs, sometimes dirges, sermons, processions, lowering of the casket, a handful of soil and then that hollow sound of soil hitting the casket. Ah…it is like a sharp serrated knife stabbed into your heart twisted, pulled out and repeated with every thud as everyone wants to put their contribution in.

Next is to fill the grave with soil, after all, it is dust to dust we go, accompanied by mournful songs because we can’t muster the strength to be joyful. We lay wreaths of flowers and plant single buds so everyone has the chance to pay their last respects and tearfully say goodbye. As this happens the food station opens because we cannot send people home without something little and slowly the mournful sounds turn to quiet laughter and conversation. A pat on the back, a hug, promises to call, sighs of sadness, and everyone quietly slips away back to their homes and off to mind their business.

Evening passes and morning arises with a deep, ten-foot-thick, solid wall of silence. No hooting, no open doors, no people to make you a meal, no questions about how you slept or if you slept…nothing. Everyone is GONE. Where? Back to their lives. They have done their solemn duty after slowing down their lives for some days, now they must go back to make up for the work they missed, the money they didn’t make, the meetings they didn’t attend, they have to get it back.

Oh, it is indeed right that they do but what do we do with our pain now? How do we deal with the reminder that we are no longer whole? Who will check on us daily? Who will cry with us? Who will walk with us? How will we get up in the morning? Who will help us sort through the clothes and belongings? Will we throw or give them away? Will we get overwhelmed in the middle and just give up? Who will help follow the death certificate and benefits? How will we generate income for next month?

I don’t think anyone means to forget the bereaved, rather I think we are consumed by life…our lives. I pray we can be more deliberate about caring for the bereaved. I will be different knowing what I know now from walking down that path. Many people don’t know what to do so let me share a few thoughts:

  • The day after the burial, check in on your friend…a text is likely best, a simple reminder they are loved and thought of
  • In the weeks to come check on them often…call, text
  • Show up and just sot with them, don’t talk a lot, just be there often
  • Hug them as much as they are comfortable with.
  • Less is more, if you don’t know what to say, sit quietly.
  • Do some chores for or with them.
  • Call and if the call is not picked up, don’t keep calling, rather send a message.

Loving people is more powerful when you show up and respond to actual needs not perceived needs. Love is more an action word than a feeling. Love in times of hardship is better expressed by pressure-free physical presence.

black and white quote by Kyesubire that says

Loving people is more powerful when we respond to actual needs.

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