Love Showed Up: Hugging Strangers in Public Bathrooms

I hope you’ve been enjoying these Monday posts on Love Showing Up in life, at times when we need it desperately. 

I’ve been noticing this common thread in each post, in each moment we find to breathe thankful prayers for grace in the midst of pain, it’s this: when love shows up we feel less alone.

Our darkest burdens are easier to bear, our worst roads a bit shorter when love shows up. 

Today I want to tell you about one of the most unlikely moments in my life, a moment when love showed up to remind me that grief and pain are universal burdens, that even though grief is rightly referred to as the loneliest journey of life, it doesn’t have to be, not always. We can find each other and divide the pain with our presence.

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It was only two days after my Mother had taken her life, and I was 28 weeks pregnant with our son. We were back in Michigan after a miserable 22 hour road trip, to plan and attend her funeral alongside hundreds of other confused people she left behind.

My dear friend Lisa had called when we were making the drive up and didn’t ask so much as told me: “Hey, when you get here, I think you need steak.”

This is important when joining grieving friends on their journey, sometimes you tell them you’re helping rather than asking them, we are a stubborn people who prefer to deny our needs. 

I replied with a small laugh, because I wasn’t a steak lover per say, but I managed something like: “Sure, why not. Let’s go eat steak.

Turns out that part of the reason for the steak was Groupon related, but who says you can’t be a good friend while still being frugal? 

After I’d arrived home at my Aunt and Uncle’s house, managed a full but fitful night’s sleep, helped plan a funeral and gone to the mall for funeral appropriate maternity clothes, my friend Lisa picked me up for dinner.

We had a long drive to the steakhouse in Rockford and we picked up another friend, Becky on the way. Alyssa met us there and together we sat down in the golden light of the restaurant to order drinks and listen to the waitress explain the specials in mouth watering detail.

Nothing distracts my weary soul like great food, so as she went on about searing, herbed butter and the chef’s lifelong passion for steak I fell slightly in love with her. Having been a server for a number of years, I have a deep appreciation for menu knowledge and attentive interaction.

The meal progressed and Lisa and I order the London Broil with Bordelaise Sauce, Asparagus Spears and Yukon Mashed Potatoes. She talked me into adding caramelized onions, no regrets there.

It all melted in my mouth, danced on my pallet, sustained me, gave bits of joy.

I found myself gazing at my friend’s glasses of wine, thinking if ever there was an evening where I could use the comfort of wine, it was tonight. Why did I have to go through this pregnant?

At some point, or likely several points, in the evening I got up to use the bathroom. Too many delicious glasses of water I suppose. On one of these trips I ran into our waitress coming out of the restroom and I stopped her to thank her for her excellent service.

…Telling her that after moving to a small town in Oklahoma, I missed and deeply appreciated fancy food and vast menu knowledge.

She asked why we were back in town and I tried to vaguely reveal the details of our trip, of my mother’s funeral, without divulging too much.

Unexpected tears started to well up in the corners of her eyes, which was briefly awkward for me because I’m not always good at comforting other people to feel better about my grief.

Then she let it out: “My mom is in the end stages of cancer, in Hospice care and I’m living at her house. I’m the oldest and everyone looks to me to handle things, I have no idea what I’m doing and I’m terrified to lose her.”

“Oh, I’m so sorry, it does suck, but you’ll get through it, I lost my Dad about five years ago and it’s not going to be okay any time soon but your life will keep going, you’ll find joy even. I promise. Just don’t carry everyone else’s burdens without taking care of your own, without processing your own grief, don’t be pushed around by everyone’s expectations of you.”

Then we hugged. Right there in front of the bathroom sink.

I peed and returned to our table, awkwardly trying to explain my interaction with the our server which probably sounded something like: “Our waitress’ mom is dying too! I’m not the only one. That feels better somehow, not that I’m happy about it. Anyway… how’s your food?”

Even though that interaction was three and a half years ago, I still think about it, still give heart space to that server, wondering how she weathered her storm.

Our embrace in the bathroom impacted me, I felt less alone in losing my mother young because of our three minute exchange.

It’s true that grief is one of the loneliest journeys we walk in life, that no two losses are alike, even when they center around the death of the same person.

Yes, grief is lonely, there are times when we will feel naked and alone in our pain. Yet sometimes, we are given companions on the journey, for a minute, for an hour, for longer.

My friends around that evening table divided my grief, not just during that dinner but throughout the journey with their presence at the funeral and their words over the phone.

My time with our server divided both our griefs for three minutes, perhaps even longer.

Yes grief is lonely, but we are not alone, millions have walked this path and millions are waking up to walk it today.

It’s normal to feel alone, but if you can look for it, to be open your pain, love will show up in a thousand surprising ways and each time, if only for a moment or two, your grief load will lighten.

May we be a people who divide the sting of death with authentic, loving presence and sometimes, with steak.

Has love showed up to divide your grief?
How have you divided the grief of a friend?

This post is part of a series called Love Showed Up, check out the other submissions and if you are interested in submitting please send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com. We’d love to hear about how love showed up in your life. 

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Love Showed Up With a Simple Offer

Today’s post comes to us from one of my dear friends, Brenna D’Ambrosio. Her words are always water for my thirsty soul and her gracious, soulful approach to life never fails to stop me in my tracks. Enjoy, I dare you not to. 014

If you’ve left a church you’ve been part of for a long time, you know the emotions that go with it. And if the circumstances are less than ideal, the pain is even worse. My story centers around the day I walked through new sanctuary doors carrying heartache and sadness.

I was grieving. I was grieving the loss of our time at our old church, the one I had been part of for almost a decade. The relationships changed due to distance. The people who had become my family were now gone. The people I did life with were all a plane ride away.

I was grieving the atmosphere when we left – it was all bittersweet. We had gone through what I can only describe as walking through mud up to my waist. It was painful and exhausting and all I wanted was relief.

Tears were quick to flow in those weeks and months and I couldn’t even tell why – too many emotions coursing through a nine-month pregnant woman.

I walked into the new sanctuary, the one thousands of miles away, with a swollen belly and my head hanging low. We had just moved from the East Coast to the Midwest. I was 37 weeks pregnant and carrying my 18 month old with me. I was tired. My feet hurt. I just wanted to finish unpacking and then curl up on a couch with my family and rest until it was time to have our baby. But I knew that if we didn’t visit a church that week, I’d run the risk of not going back for a very long time. I was so physically tired. I was even more emotionally and spiritually tired.  But we went that Sunday morning, hesitantly yet determinedly.

I kept my eyes down; I had no energy for small talk. I silently prayed that this wasn’t one of those churches that made you raise your hand if you were new or talk to people during long drawn out greeting periods. In and out. I needed an easy win. I just wanted to say that I made it to church. Continue reading

Love Showed Up: Love that Doesn’t Need You To Say It Back

Today’s post comes form the lovely Sarah Siders, who I happen to know because she works with my brother on an Army Base in Kansas. I hope you enjoy her lovely words today.

“I think we’re going to break up,” I announced to my new boyfriend after everyone else left the church that night. “I break up with all my boyfriends.” 

We’d only been dating two days, yet my previous relationships told me everything I needed to know about this one. Relationships with me end badly. I figured it was only fair to let this new guy in on my secret.

Ironically, I started this relationship believing it would end. But on the other side of my inner cynic was a hopeless romantic, one who hoped someday a man and I could love each other with a true and lasting affection. I’d just never seen it done. Not in my life anyway.

I don’t remember how he responded to my anxious forecast, but I have no doubt he calmed the storm with his trademark patience I would come to expect over the years. I do remember we left in the same car that night. And the next day, we were still together.

After barely a month of dating, or in my world, after 30 days of not breaking up, we curled up beside each other on a crusty, aged couch along his living room window. It was already dark, but we wouldn’t say goodbye for hours. I never wanted to leave him, even though he terrified me. No matter how dim my pessimistic predictions, I couldn’t make him go away.

As we lay there talking, he whispered the three scariest words, words I knew meant we were over. “I love you,” he said, his voice tender and sincere. But they sounded like the end to me.

I couldn’t say it back. I didn’t know how I felt. My mind flooded with all the fearful thoughts. It was too soon for the L word. Why was he being so pushy? Doesn’t he know you’re supposed to wait on those words, like a year or something? The men who said “I love you” before wanted me to say it back. And then we broke up. The L word is a break-up precursor. Doesn’t he know the rules? Now we’re doomed.

As the anxiety whirlwind spun a dervish in my mind, I sealed the words inside my mouth. Eventually I mustered, “I can’t say it back yet.” I braced myself for the awkward guilt I knew would follow my confession.

“I’m not saying it for me,” he consoled. “I’m saying it for you. I don’t need you to say it back.”

What? Who was this guy? I didn’t know, but in that moment, he was the man who loved me, and he didn’t need me to love him back. I decided maybe I did not need to break up with him.

He exuded a disconcerting confidence, the kind that could give love without leaving behind a gaping hole in need of a refill. He didn’t need to coerce me into saying something I didn’t mean.

He was a strange man indeed.

He loved me with a thick, rugged kind of love, gently and slowly burrowing beneath the scales of my soul. His squinty eyes beamed affection and admiration at me, but his romance never showed up grandiose. It just showed up. And kept showing up.

During the coming months, I stormed, nearly ending our relationship on a monthly basis. I tried to find good reasons to write him off like the other men, but I couldn’t deny this one was different. His persistent love rendered me uncomfortably vulnerable. I wanted to crawl away to save myself from the inevitable pain, but every time I tried, he talked me off the ledge. Calmly, relentlessly. And down I came.

All the while, he showed me he wanted a grown-up life with me. He quit his job at the grocery store and took a new job at a bank, a job with potential for growth, something that could support a family. He bought a new car. He met my parents. At first, it didn’t go well.

At our gregarious family dinner table, he was awkwardly introverted. We all wanted him to crack jokes like the rest of us. Instead, he sat quietly with his thoughts, not competing for attention’s center. He drove me crazy, yet his quiet confidence was what I needed so desperately in a man.

His love persevered, present but never fancy. A love

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with nothing to prove. It confused me, but drew me at the same time.

We dated only eight months before we learned my brother would leave for his second deployment in May. It was less than four months away. We considered a wedding after he returned, but suddenly I knew. I wanted to marry this man, this sturdy, bearded man who I couldn’t convince to stop loving me. So why wait?

There was no time for the romantic proposal I’d dreamed of, an evening full of surprises recreating our relationship or a knee drop in a four-star restaurant. We started planning the wedding immediately, without a ring on my finger, and part of me felt cheated. But there was no time for doubt.

One night only weeks before the wedding, he whispered to me in the dark again. “Sarah, will you marry me?” His voice was timid this time, but still sure. And finally, I felt sure too. “Yes,” I replied as the ring slipped around my finger.

We married in the middle of May, a year and a day after our adventure began. After nearly six years of marriage, I doubt his love less and less each day. His love shows up in sickness and in health, in childbirth and mortgage payments, in diaper changing and lawn mowing. His love shows up even when mine doesn’t, just like he promised.

 

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Bio: Sarah Siders is a social-working writer in a Midwestern college town, where she unsuccessfully tries to keep her chocolate stash secret from her husband and son. Sarah is the author of the eBook, My Birthright For Soup, and is currently working on her biggest project yet, Dream or Die, a primer on recovering dreams and vision for our lives. She laughs and thinks out loud on dreaming, relationships and the hilarity of parenthood at her blog home, www.sarahsiders.com. You can also find her on Twitter: @sarahsiders.

Interested in contributing to the Love Showed Up series? Send me an email at leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com and let’s have a chat about it. 

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Love Showed Up: Best Friends Know Better

Leigh Kramer is a longtime blog-friend. Her writing, compassion and zest for life never cease to astound me any time we cross (digital) paths. I hope you enjoy and resonate with her story today, that it ignites gratitude and bittersweet memories in your heart as it did mine. 7023751359

I don’t remember if she picked me up or if we met at the restaurant. I do remember putting up a fuss at first. I wanted to stay in my cave. It was cozy, didn’t require energy, and my tears could arrive as they pleased.

But best friends often know better than we do. Erin told me we were going out for dinner, which is how I found myself sitting on the patio of one of my favorite Mexican restaurants a couple of weeks after my grandmother died.

I see us there perfectly but I have no idea what we talked about or whether I had a margarita that night. Grief’s blur covers almost all my memories from that time. I know we went to dinner. I know it was good for me. I know I never would have realized that apart from Erin’s insistence.

I had lost other loved ones, throughout my life really. Losing Grandma the summer of 2007 rocked me to my core. We were close and I was involved in her care during her last weeks. Our family changed dramatically in the course of four months. Or a little less than a year, depending on where we start the story. My great-aunt was on hospice for about 10 months. Grandma was a valiant caregiver but family had to step up more and more as her own health troubles began. In the week after my great-aunt died, Grandma received her own terminal diagnosis. She started on hospice and died almost two months later to the day.

I worked for that same hospice as a social worker. I picked the team for these two women I held dear. I walked alongside and pitched in as much as I could, ever mindful I was a great-niece, a granddaughter. After they died, I tried to resume the old routines but found I couldn’t.

There was no escaping my grief at work. I would do my best to make it through each day, stuffing down tears as families walked down the same path I’d just traveled. When the work day ended, I’d collapse on to the couch in my living room and crack open a book. Book after book after book. Not even good books. I turned to Christian fiction. While I insist good Christian fiction exists (it does!), it is not always easy to find and the series I turned toward in those days would not qualify as “good.” Now it wasn’t Amish fiction or the drivel I had regularly sold while working at The Christian Bookstore- I still had some standards- but it was sure to have easily solvable crises and happy endings. I needed predictability in the midst of my fallen world.

Before this loss, I was the quintessential social butterfly. Afterward, I stopped planning parties and turned down invitations. The energy that had powered me through the last few months deflated suddenly and quickly. I had nothing left to give and I didn’t know how to receive. Books required little of me. I could lose myself in the pages.

Erin let me be. At first. But when Erin decides something, it’s going to happen. We were going to dinner. She ignored my excuses. She told me to decide when and where.

It was a bright moment of normalcy. I’m sure the conversation meandered through all manner of topics because that’s how our conversations go. I’m sure she asked how I was doing- how I was really doing- because Erin is compassionate and caring. I’m sure she also let me decide how much I wanted to talk about the loss, for the same reasons.

I needed to stow the books away for one night. I could return to my grief cave the next day. The dinner was a line in the sand, not forcing me to change but opening my eyes to life again. In the weeks and months that followed, I’d start picking better books and re-engaging with my closest friends. The loss changed me more than I realized possible and set down a map for how I would navigate future loss.

Erin showed up in ways big and small during that time, as did other friends and colleagues. I didn’t need listening ears per se but I needed people to draw near when I didn’t have the strength to reach out. When I didn’t have words for what I needed.

Thank God they showed up.

Bio picture Bio: Leigh Kramer is on a quest; she’s living life on purpose. Her to-do list might look something like this: leave life in the Midwest for Nashville, Tennessee with only fried pickles for comfort, quit steady job as a social worker to chase that dream of writing at last, suck the marrow out of life’s in-between places and revel in the now at every turn. She is a contributor at A Deeper Story. Leigh shares this journey through words of transparency, heart, and just a dash of pluck at LeighKramer.com and on Twitter at @hopefulleigh.

 

Don’t miss a post in the Love Showed Up Series, there is so much goodness here Use this handy box below to subscribe over email, or click the bloglovin icon on the top left to sign up that way.

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Love Showed Up: Held Up and Held Together

Last week I introduced a new series here entitled “Love Showed Up: The best of People on the Worst of Days.” The idea here is that the best thing we can do to defuse grief clichés is to share stories of times in our lives when everything fell apart and we were loved well and held closely.  

Today my dear amazing friend Jillian Burden is kicking off the series for us by sharing a story from her life that will leave you breathless but hopeful. Simply put Jill is one of my favorite people on the planet, she’s classy and thoughtful with a faith that challenges and encourages me in the best of ways.  Let’s read this story and store it up in our hearts as an example of holding together our loved one in seasons of falling apart.

Six years ago this fall my mom was on her deathbed. She had emergency surgery on her abdomen in late August and then aspirated waking up from anesthesia. Aspirating damaged her lungs and she had to be put on supplemental oxygen as she recovered in the ICU. Her condition worsened.  Soon she had to wear a big black mask that forced air into her lungs. Then she was put on a ventilator; first with a breathing tube down her throat and then directly into her trachea. Her blood saturation levels dipped dangerously low. She was transferred to a larger hospital. She went into an induced coma. She got sepsis. She lost almost all her muscle mass. My dad called me at college twice to come home and say goodbye to her; her doctors didn’t think she was going to make it.

This went on for months. Hellish is the best way to describe it. I continued with my education, driving back to Ontario from my college in Michigan with my fiance at every available opportunity. I lived as normally as I possibly could, but every minute of every day had a terrifying footnote under it: *Your mom might be dead.

When I called my dad from my dorm each night, adrenaline rushed through my body. What would he say? Was she any better? Was she worse? Was she still alive?

And how was he? My brother? My teenage sister? Were they eating? Working? Going to school? How do you continue living when your wife or mom is dying?

I felt like I was falling apart.

Here’s what kept me together: community.

From the moment they learned that my mom was sick, my community was there. My friends, my family’s friends, my home church in Ontario, my Bible college peers and professors in Michigan, and my relatives all over the world reached out to put their hands on me and hold me together.

At first, they prayed. Then they started bringing meals to my dad and sister still living at home in Ontario. They offered to drive me six hours from my dorm to my mom’s ICU room. They paid for the gas. They cleaned my parents’ house every week for weeks on end. They raked leaves. Pulled weeds. Shoveled snow. At school my professors changed due dates and gave me extensions. They asked how I was doing. Friends and family gathered time and again in the ICU waiting room to sit with my dad. With my siblings. With me. They brought pizza. They prayed. They made small talk. They were quiet.

As my mom crept closer and closer to death, my 300 person bible college together with my parents’ church and friends and family from around the world fasted and prayed for two days. My inbox was flooded with words of support. Someone we knew in Jerusalem placed a prayer for my mom on the Western Wall. At the end of the fast, I stood in a circle among dozens of my peers and took communion. When we had all chewed our bread and swallowed our wine, each student came one by one to embrace me. I left wet marks on their necks and shoulders from my tears. I was so scared, so sad, so sick at the thought of loosing my mom. But I was never one thing: alone.

My story has happy ending. After those days of prayer and fasting, my mom slowly began to improve. Her damaged, infected lungs, began to heal. Her blood saturation levels improved. Her sepsis subsided. She was weaned out of her coma. It was late October- two months after her original surgery- when my dad was finally able to tell her what happened… and how much time had past since her last memory. Unable to speak because of the ventilator she simply mouthed the word, “Wow.”

On November 1- her 48th birthday- she was able to sit up for the first time since August, with the help of a giant sling. Her doctor- who had only weeks earlier described her as “the sickest person in Canada-” called her a medical miracle.

Mom on her birthday.

She was eventually transferred back to a smaller hospital near my parents’ home where she was weaned off the ventilator and started physical therapy. At this point, my fiancé John and I were planning to get married in the hospital (so my mom could be present); I remember watching her barely able to turn the page of a wedding planning magazine. She was so weak.

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As she healed and we approached the wedding, our community gave their love and support as generously as they had in her weakest hours. My hair stylist aunt came to the ICU with her scissors and combs in hand to give my mom’s short-hair gone shaggy a trim. A coworker of my dad baked up a cupcake “tree” to serve as our wedding cake and my mom’s best friend cooked up a spread of appetizers for us to enjoy with our dozen or so guests after a short ceremony. My childhood pastor agreed to officiate and the church secretary designed and printed a stack of special programs just for the event. My greenhouse-owning cousin made us boutonnieres and corsages while her parents uncle drove a van filled with poinsettias all the way to the hospital so we could decorate.

In Dember my mom had been moved out of ICU to a long-term recovery floor and we used the floor’s community room for our wedding. The night before the wedding, we set up chairs with an aisle down the middle and went home to rest. While we slept, the nurses on my mom’s floor covered every chair with a white bed sheet and hung Christmas ornaments on the back. It was beautiful.

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On January 2, 2008 I stood outside that hospital community room with my mom and dad, waiting to walk down the aisle after them and get married. My mom smiled at me from her wheelchair as the CD wedding music began to play. She stood, shakily, and held on to me for support as my dad wheeled her empty chair down the makeshift aisle. Then, to the surprised and tear-filled eyes of our friends and loved ones, she took hold of my dad’s arm and, slowly but surely, put one foot ahead of the other…. and walked.

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 Six months after my mom took those first feeble steps, John and I had a big party to celebrate our marriage with all our friends and family, outside those hospital walls. We laughed and cried a lot that day; for us, for my mom, for our family, for our friends… for our whole community who collectively held us up and held us together through

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that last year. We were finally able to fall apart, but this time it was only in the very best of ways. After dinner as the music played my brother took my mom out to the center floor and- surrounded by the loving hearts and glowing faces of our unfailing community- she danced.

 

 

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Jillian Burden loves nothing better than hearing and telling great stories. She chronicles her own story of adoption, infertility, faith, family life and her journey to joy over at her blog addingaburden.com

If you’re interested in guest posting for the “Love Showed Up” series, I’d love to hear more.  Get in touch with my via email, I’m leannerae (at) gmail (dot) com.

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