I have often heard it said “Tis better to give than to receive.” I believe that in times of grief and suffering, it is harder to receive than to give. Only recently have I learned that it takes enormous grace to accept help, support and love when one has lost what is most dear.
My son Adam died suddenly and unexpectedly last year. He was 11. In the first few weeks after his death, my family and I were overwhelmed with food, flowers, gifts, and donations to the memorial fund that the funeral home director suggested we set up. Numb with pain and disbelief, I watched my sister find places to put the food, I stared dumbly at the words people wrote in their cards, and I was sickened with the smell of the flowers that filled the house.
As the reality of my son’s death sank in, my New England WASP background compelled me to maintain a stoic independence and detachment. I was angry and impatient with the people who were trying so hard to reach out to us. I wondered: How on earth people could expect us to eat a four course meal when we could barely stomach dry toast? What would compel strangers to pour out their hearts about their own losses when I was still reeling with my own? Why would people think want to look flowers when I could no longer look at my beautiful son’s freckled face? And how could I be expected to be charitable and kind with the money accumulating in Adam’s memorial fund when the world was so cruel to me?
Within months of Adam’s death my 44-year-old friend Susan was diagnosed with cancer and my 7-year-old nephew Sammy was found to have a brain tumor. Suddenly, I have been hurled into yet another new place in the universe. My mind reels and my heart bleeds as I watch them suffer, and the only thing that brings me peace is to do something. So I make ginger carrot soup, stuffed shells, twice baked potatoes, and banana bread. I arrange bouquets of flowers. I write emails., I offer childcare. Deep down, I know that what I am doing is as much for me as it is for them. I know how hard it is to be grateful when there is so much to be angry and resentful about. I worry that my feeble efforts might be interpreted as trite or insignificant. So I feel relieved when these women embrace me. I feel like I am a part of something important. And I am glad that I’m not shut out.
I believe that it is better to give than to receive, harder to receive than to give, but that it is important be able to do both, with grace and love.
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