I learned a valuable lesson after the death of my step-father, father, and a close friend who all died in the same year. I want to share the lesson learned with you [. . .]

I had a bad year a while ago. I was battling cancer and grieving from the loss of both of my father’s as well as a dear friend who had been a cancer warrior with me. I had never lost people so significant who were in the prime of their lives. My grandparents had passed, but I was either too young to absorb the loss, or they had lived to very old ages which seemed like a natural part of life.

The lesson learned was to reach out to people personally in their time of need.

I hate to admit that in the past, I had loved ones who lost parents or went through major struggles and I did not reach out like I should have. My heart hurt for them and I had maybe sent a card, flowers, a text (never again), or even been one of many at a funeral. I know I didn’t reach out in a more personal way because it felt awkward. I mean, what do you say or do in times like this? The answer is you just be humanly and awkwardly present for your friends, neighbors and loved ones.

My friend Dave battled cancer at the same time as I did. We were treated at the same cancer center and traded notes, hugs, and encouragement with each other. He passed away in a sudden accident. I was able to be present for his wife who is one of my dearest friends. She called me on a Sunday morning after the accident and I was at her house within the half hour. We hugged and cried and stared at the wall together in shock for hours! But, I was present for her.

Then, my father passed. He had moved from California to my home in Washington where I took care of him for several months until he passed. As I was doing what needed to be done to handle my dad’s estate, I realized how alone I was in this process. My other siblings were in California, and my friends didn’t really know my dad. This was a wake up and lesson learned moment for me – It sucks not having friends and family to lean on at a time like this. The cards were thoughtful, but what I needed was human empathy and compassion. And, I remember Tena saying she couldn’t read the cards she received after Dave died because it was too painful.

That’s when Dave struck. My husband had put together Dave’s memorial video which included the song, It’s a Wonderful World by Louis Armstrong. Well, we were driving home from making my dad’s funeral arrangements when this song came on the radio. I will always think of Dave when I hear this song. I was doing just that and turned to my husband on a rant about how friends needed to call and not text, they needed to knock on the door, and I needed to hear from them. I was on a real roll when Dave’s wife, Tena, called.

I exclaimed, “Yay! Tena is calling.” After several “Hello’s, are you there?” Tena came on the phone with an unsure “Hello?” I exclaimed, “Tena, it’s Dana. You called me. Did you pocket-dial?” She informed me that she was sitting at her desk and that her phone was on the other side of the room on the charger when she heard someone saying “Hello.” We both feel like Dave intercepted for me and got his wife on the phone. Thank you, Dave. I needed that. I realized then and there how important human connection is in times of trouble and grief. It helps heal those negative emotions by surrounding them with love, caring, and empathy. 

And, connection brings great healing and joy too.

My husband’s cousin, Patty, is in her late 60’s and is developmentally disabled. She also lost her husband recently and could no longer live by herself. Her immediate family is not in the area and so my husband volunteered to be her Guardian. We understood Patty’s need for personal connection to family. This has been our greatest blessing as Patty is the most kind and funny person. She is always positive and ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS has a compliment for everyone.

At our last family dinner, I set my table with matching linens (both table cloth and napkins). Patty was amazed that the table cloth and the napkins matched. She commented about 10 times during dinner and we all found delight in this. This also brought a lesson learned moment – that is that the smallest gesture is really appreciated by others. Who knew matching linens could be so appreciated!?

If you know someone who is going through a hard time, I encourage to reach out personally. You will find that the blessing is in the connection and that love, joy, caring, appreciation and happiness will surround you.

And to my dear friend Kathy, who lives in Seattle, thank you for flying over to sit with me during my last chemo treatment. I needed that! For this, I am eternally grateful and love you forever!