The Surprising Power Of Condolences (And How You’re Teaching Me to Be a Better Friend)

In about six years, cancer ravaged my mom’s body. Her sixty year old frame looked about ninety-five by the time cancer was done with her. And watching it unfold – watching the disease hunch and disable her was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

When finally, mercifully, she was allowed to leave her body behind, e-messages and Facebook condolences from friends and family – and from Mom’s friends and family - filled my screens.
I didn’t think condolences would mean so much. But they did.

Thank you for taking the time to say anything when it’s hard to know what to say.
Thanks for thinking of me and my family. For praying and sharing memories. It all meant so much.
I felt loved. We all did....

The funeral followed fast on the heels of Mom’s death. In two days, how would we notify everyone? With such short notice, who would even be able to come? We wondered if expecting 250 people might be presumptuous. We knew people were busy on Saturdays. It would make perfect sense they wouldn’t come. Oh well, what it would be, it would be.

To our amazement, on the day of the funeral, the church was packed with no room for more. Over five hundred people came to bid farewell, to celebrate with us, and to support us. So many came who we never imagined would come. Friends. Acquaintances. People who were connected to just one family member but thought it important to show their love and support by attending. People who ‘don’t do funerals’. People who were part of a church or cell group, and came to support their sister in Christ. People who weren’t particularly close. People who found out about the funeral just minutes before, and raced over to show support.

I didn’t think funeral attendance would mean so much. But it did.
Thank you for attending. Thank you for standing with us in our grief.
Thank you for going beyond words and showing your love by giving of your time and support.
You move me.

I had no idea showing support through words and even attendance could be so powerful.

Your support communicated so much:

* That you genuinely care
* That people genuinely care.
* That even simple words like, “I’m sorry for your loss” can be inexpressibly heartfelt and sincere.
* That you hurt too – for us, for your own loss of relationship with Mom, or perhaps from the memories all this crying and funeral attending drudge up.
*  That sharing memories, even if through tears, is healing.
* There is incredible power in being together, even if we’re sitting together listening to a message or eating raisin buns. To some degree, we are in this together. There is comfort in that.
*That laughter and tears are both completely appropriate and wonderful in our mourning.

How You’re Teaching Me to Be a Better Friend

You got me to thinking. If your words and funeral attendance are so powerfully moving to me, I definitely want to do the same for others.

I haven’t. I didn’t attend the funerals of your mom, dad, grandparents, cousin, or friend.
I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it would mean so much.

I thought it would be more respectful to ‘give you space’. I didn’t want people to think I was coming to a funeral for the free food or something. I didn’t want to burden you with the cost of my meal or take the space of a seat from someone else who might mean more to you. Plus, what if I don’t know any of your friends or family? It would just be awkward. 

Now I see how silly that all is. How all-about-me it is. I'm sorry.

You showed me what a powerful, moving thing it is to have friends support you by coming to a funeral, awkward or not. Ah, thank you. I’ll try to be more supportive of you that way too.

I also didn’t realize how deeply moving receiving a casserole could be.
One day, when Mom was still struggling, and sadness was weighing my arms down, you made me soup and casseroles and chili. You must have known how sadness can make it impossible to cook. Or do laundry. Or have a shower some days. Really didn’t see that coming.

As I carried that foil tray into the house, I was humbled. You thought of me. You understood. You knew my needs and lovingly helped to fill them. Tears of thanks fell on the foil that day. You moved me. Thank you.

You showed me what a powerful, moving thing it is to receive a gift of food in times of mourning. I haven’t done much of that. I haven’t thought of it or understood the need for it. I'm sorry. Now that I understand, I want to do that for you too. Thanks for showing me how to be a good friend.

You also showed me the power of touch to communicate love. The way you put a hand on my shoulder, or wrapped your arms around me, or just hugged me really long and firmly. I’m not a super touchy person, but those occasional gestures seemed to come at just the right times. Thanks. I’ll try that more often too.

Even the peripheral, invisible, behind-the-scenes ways that love was shown ,even before the funeral, spoke volumes about the thousands of ways to show love.

I’m learning so much from you!!

Those times when Mom needed someone with her around the clock, you were there, day or night, for hours. Even if you had to drive a long distance to do that.

Every time you brought what Mom called ‘real’ coffee, or chocolate, or barbecue-flavored peanuts. Every time you sang or prayed or read with her. Every time you even asked her what you could do or bring her. When you washed her hair or fixed a hospital door or did anything at all to make life a little more pleasant in that horrific limbo.

In all of it, you were not just loving her, but also loving us. Loving me. Every time I’d see a new thing you brought, I’d smile and make a mental note of yet another way to show others love.

In all these ways, you’ve not only moved me with your love and compassion, but also shown me how to be a better friend.

Thank you so much. For everything.

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