I didn’t recognize the number on my cell phone but decided to answer the call anyway. “Is this Alan from The Compassionate Friends he asked?” I said “Yes, how can I help you.” He explained how he was given my number by a friend of his who had met me out on the road several years ago when my wife Denise and I were traveling as part of the Angels Across the USA Tour where we visited over 1,000 cities speaking and playing music in support of families grieving the death of a child.
He was apologetic for intruding, but told me that he was desperate and at a loss about how he could help his brother through the holidays because it would be the first season his brother had faced since the death of his 15-year-old son in an ATV accident. He said that his friend had told him, “If anybody can help you, Alan can.”
Well, I must admit that as much as I was flattered with his confidence in me and wanting to live up to the expectations that I possessed some special words or magic method, I had to admit the truth. We had a very nice conversation where I shared with him what most all of you reading this already know. Sometimes, there simply are no words to say. But I also told him that there were some very important things he could do to lessen the load for his newly grieving brother.
I carefully laid out for this man how more than presents, his presence during this difficult time could be very helpful. I asked him to look around his brother’s house and see what chores or other things might need to be done that could help lighten the responsibility of maintaining the home. I offered the suggestion to repeatedly let his brother know that he was here to hurt with him. Most importantly, I advised him to remove all expectations and allow his brother to feel what he feels, think what he thinks and participate in only those things he felt comfortable with.
After 15 years of walking this journey, I can honestly tell you that I don’t know how I made it through those early years of holidays. In my case, the anxiety about the approaching days were often much worse than the day itself. I let this man know that I admired the fact that he was willing to take a chance and call me. I knew that after we talked his brother was going to have support that he would desperately need as he navigates this first year of grief. I left this man with my most emphatic advice; “Let your brother tell his story again and again, and ask all those you know to share stories and say his son’s name as this is the best medicine your brother could ever receive.”
This simple conversation served as a reminder to me that we never know how many lives we will touch when we reach out to one hurting individual. This man got my number from someone I reached out to years ago. That is the beauty of working in grief; each time we share our story and listen to another who walks this same path we plant a seed of hope and healing which may blossom anywhere, at any time.
My hope for each of you is that in this busy holiday season you will take the time to pause and celebrate the life of your children, grandchildren and siblings. Though it may be difficult to see beyond the death story and all that you have lost, my hope is that you will also remember that they lived and we loved them and we continue to love them.
May each of you have a blessed holiday season; thanks so much for the honor of allowing me to serve as your Executive Director.
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