Yesterday marked one month since my stepsister’s passing. In the course of the day, I had yet another opportunity to thank the dear friend who was the first person to come through my door to offer condolences to me when she heard the news. At the time, she didn’t even know the details of the event, she just came – with a warm blueberry cobbler cradled in her arms.
Why was her unannounced visit so precious to me? Why was I so surprised she came? And how did the gift of her presence come to mean more once she was gone?
All my life I have lived far away from most of my family. This builds self-sufficiency in a person, which can be a good quality. I have learned to push past my shy nature and introduce myself to strangers; I don’t fear finding my way around a new town; and I have eaten alone in a restaurant more than once. But when we are down, when we need to be consoled, I think that’s when a friend is needed most – standing by your side, in the flesh. And my stepsister’s death was a watershed moment for me in that I realized just how much comfort it is to be surprised by a sympathetic friend crossing the threshold of your home and extending her arms to you for a hug. Nothing needs to be said. Sometimes the right words don’t exist. But she is there. Fully present. And she cares.
What is it about our ‘presence’ that matters? Why doesn’t a phone call or letter have quite the same effect? I think it’s because it’s concrete – touchable – not virtual in any way. By being ‘present,’ a person validates the reality of the situation, be it happy or sad. Until my friend came through the door, only my husband and I shared the grief of this death. But when she came, our insular world was broken, and before she even spoke, her presence and her eyes told me, “I heard the news. This is real and it’s sad. I’m so very very sorry for your loss.”
I have no doubt that God sent my friend that day to help carry my burden of sorrow. I believe that’s a big part of why Jesus came, too. And why he returned, in the flesh, after his resurrection. It was to tell us in so many parables, eye-to-eye, and then again and again, “I’m here, beside you.”