Somehow when I saw the caller ID, I knew my brother Larry had bad news. “Miss Ada,” a beloved family friend, had died at almost 100 years old. Her son Jim had been Larry’s best friend through high school and college, and when Jim was killed in a boating accident at age 22, my brother and his mother adopted each other.
Sometimes relationships don’t fit into a neat category. To say that Miss Ada was my brother’s treasured friend doesn’t do justice to the bond between them. “Miss Ada” became more like a mom to my brother, especially since our mother died when we were very young. Larry and Miss Ada were in touch multiple times every week for 47 years, and he and my sister-in-law Mary Lou came from New Jersey to Nashville for Ada’s birthday every year. Larry was close to her remaining children and was welcomed warmly as a part of their family. When she passed away on March 1st, the same date our father died a few years ago, the family asked Larry to give the eulogy at her memorial service.
Larry and Mary Lou gathered with Miss Ada’s children, grandchildren and great grandchildren at the visitation the night before the funeral. My other brother and I were there, too, along with many other supporters. I was quite surprised, though, to see an unexpected visitor: one of Larry and Mary Lou’s daughters, who left her own young family and flew to Nashville without telling them of her intentions. A few minutes later Larry’s co-minister at their church in New Jersey walked in. He, too, had arrived unexpectedly, and when he hugged Larry, he said, “Well, of course I came! I know how much she meant to you.”
Showing up. It’s the precious gift of presence. Nothing really comes close to the power of simply being there when needed.
Earlier in the week my husband David and I and both our adult children had attended the funeral of a man who had grown up with our kids. This bright, gifted and kind 34-year-old had taken his life after many years battling mental illness. The church sanctuary was full of people who came to offer the grieving family their presence. Especially when there are no words, it’s important to show up.
I think of those who have shown up for me at critical times. I will always be grateful for the friend since childhood who called to check on me Christmas before last regarding a situation that had me completely emotionally and spiritually undone. When he heard how distraught I was one horrible afternoon, this now retired friend appeared at my home. For over an hour, he helped me wrestle holiday decorations (which held no interest or joy for me) out of the attic and stack the boxes in the chilly garage. I sobbed and railed while we worked, and he said little beyond a few affirming words. He simply showed up and gave me a huge bear hug, and I will never forget it.
Sometimes people don’t want our presence, and often it’s then they most need someone to show up. I remember when a dear friend had suffered a devastating disappointment that signaled the end of a long-held dream. She didn’t want to talk on the phone and told me not to come, but a third close friend knew better. She met me with chicken soup and a heart of love, and we drove to our friend’s house. Our friend was in the darkened living room lying like a lump on the couch beneath a heavy blanket of grief. We had the privilege of holding her and crying with her and sitting silently in the darkness for a long time. What holy ground! Such tender presence is a gift for the one who shows up as well as the one who needs comforting.
Our little three-year-old grandson is going through a difficult stage after a tough transition moving from his familiar environment in South Carolina. Whatever is distressing him is coming out in tantrums, and they are fierce. He’s inconsolable and flatly, physically refuses to have anyone near him or try to help. As his GrandMarnie, I’ve started scooping him up, thrashing and crying, and holding him tightly. I whisper in his ear, “I know you don’t want me here, but no one should be alone when he’s this upset, so I’m just going to be with you until you feel better.” Before long, the little guy relaxes and snuggles in.
Showing up. My faith instructs about the Trinitarian presence of a loving God, a faithful Brother, and a comforting Sprit. But sometimes I and all of us need the Trinity embodied in a human face.
Marnie C. Ferree