What You Can Do When You Don’t Know What to Say

We had already planned a trip to Eugene for the next day when the news of a devastating accident involving a friend’s daughter came in. We decided to drive up a day early to pay a visit and spend the night before our own appointments.

The drive up was somewhat quiet. As we wrestled with the “what ifs” and the “whys.”

How does a young person so full of life, teeter on the edge of life, in an instant? How do we comfort the parents, the siblings and the many friends this vibrant girl has touched?

That morning when the e-mail came in, I flashed back through the years of knowing this wonderful young lady.

As a toddler with giant brown eyes and engaging smile. Sitting with my daughter and her sister in front of the house selling lemonade. A flower girl in a wedding. Singing at the county fair in the finals at Rickett’s Revue. Playing “Chip” in a stage presentation of “Beauty and the Beast.” Hosting the photo booth with her family at my daughter’s wedding.

A hundred memories we had all the way up to last June when our chins dripped with barbeque sauce in celebration of her high school graduation.

We now found ourselves carefully navigating icy roads, not knowing what condition we find our friends in on this night. Would we be praying for hope or comforting a grieving family or as many times before – both.

As we made our way to the ICU waiting room, Russ took my hand. He asked the question, “What do I say?” “Tell them you love them or that you care or nothing at all. Just give them hugs.”

The text I had sent my friend earlier in the day simply said, “I love you” because that is all she needed to hear at that time. That is all anyone needs to hear.

We spent nine years in and out of hospitals with our youngest: everything from respiratory viruses to being airlifted to the nearest children’s hospital for life threatening symptoms of unknown origin.

Because she was born with special needs, we trudged through most of it alone. I can’t begin to know why, but the whys aren’t even important. The fact that we journeyed there has become part of my story.

I don’t know why we were left alone in dark hospital rooms, barely dozing off to the unfamiliar sounds of alarms, pumps and intercoms.

I’ll certainly never know every reason we have been allowed on this path where we’ve learned to fight for a little girl who was born without words.

I don’t need to know, I need to trust and I need to believe that the One who created me knows. The One who said my daughter is “fearfully and wonderfully made” knows what I need.

When my friend laid eyes on me, after just a few hours of sitting in the ICU, her first words to me were, “You’re no stranger to hospitals, are you?”

She’s right, I’m not.

Although it wasn’t by choice, it has become a place of learning. My education comes without a diploma, no monetary compensation and the answer to “Lord, how can I serve you?”
Don’t get me wrong, I still have missteps. I ask the wrong questions and say the wrong things, but I’m still learning.

Not everyone grieves the same way or faces trauma like anyone else, but we all have the need to feel comforted. For many of us, our need to feel useful kicks into gear as well.

Throughout the next few weeks, I’ll share with you a series: “What You Can Do When You Don’t Know What to Say.”

I’ll give practical tips on being a “good neighbor, a great listener and a valued friend”.

I’ll cover ideas for long term illness as well as short term traumas. I’ll add hospital etiquette and how social media can be used in a positive way to encourage friends and families.
Life is fragile. We all have a limited time here on Earth and no one should have to walk through it alone.

We have a caring community here in our little corner of the planet. Let’s encourage each other to choose our words with care and show our comfort with thoughtfulness as well as love.

Give praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! He is the Father who gives tender love. All comfort comes from him. He comforts us in all our troubles. Now we can comfort others when they are in trouble. We ourselves have received comfort from God. We share the sufferings of Christ. We also share his comfort. 2 Cor. 1:3-5

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