This I Believe

Wendy - Oakland, California
Entered on June 26, 2006
Age Group: 30 - 50

Reaching Through the Dark Tunnel

I believe in reaching out, particularly in hard times — when people we care about have illness or grief or professional setbacks. It’s hard to know what to say in these moments, and that’s okay. The words matter less than the saying of them.

When my grandmother died recently I needed my friends to know what had happened. I was sleeping in my childhood bed, 400 miles away from where I live. I sent an email to them, and they wrote back sweet, loving notes. Each time I checked my email, I felt cared for from afar.

But one friend called me. That simple act of picking up the phone meant more than he could know.

The day before the funeral I had lunch with my aunt, uncle and father. We’d talked to the rabbi that morning, and I’d called two dozen of my dad’s friends with details about the service. In some ways, it was a harder day than the previous one when I had been at my grandma’s bedside, stroking her hair, talking to her for the last time. Now she was gone and everyone’s bad behavior was surfacing. I was sitting in my car crying when my cell phone rang.

“I just read your email,” Peter said. “I want you to know that I’m so sorry.”

It was hot on the side of the road, and I was crying so hard I could barely speak. Peter let me cry. I told him that I was relieved my grandma was no longer suffering, but I was very sad. For the last four years she could barely communicate, but she had still always known me, and acknowledged my presence. Now I felt so very alone even with my family. Peter listened.

I hadn’t realized how good a friend he was until that call. I needed to be held right then, and even though he was half a state away, Peter held me.

There are times when it’s hard for me to know what the right thing is to do. I don’t want to be intrusive or too familiar. But I believe that everyone craves connection, especially at hard times. It’s how we know that we’re not alone.

My grandma’s best friend Dorothy hadn’t been able to come to the funeral. I was hesitant to send her a copy of the eulogy I wrote because my grandma’s decline had been very painful for her. I worried that the eulogy would cause her more pain, but a friend encouraged me to send it. Dorothy wrote back with stories about my grandma when she was young — stories I hadn’t known, and would never have learned if I hadn’t reached out.

I believe in pushing through the dark tunnel of awkwardness or self-consciousness or uncertainty to let someone else know that I care. I believe it’s always worth the try.