John shares how to identify family when everything falls apart.
“When everything falls apart, the people who stand by you without flinching, they are your family.”
– Jim Butcher
Ten days ago one of my nephews came down with the stomach flu. He was in town to celebrate the 4th of July, play with his little cousins and visit with his grandparents. That evening, another nephew complained of a headache. And the following day one of my children started running a fever.
With a series of cousins feeling sick, we took our son to the doctor’s office for what we expected to be strep throat. Shortly after entering the front door of the doctor’s office, we were ushered out the back door, directly to our car with a positive case of Covid.
We weren’t the only ones. In total, five young grandchildren tested positive with Covid. [We are super grateful they all are resting and recovering.]
How a family celebration turned into a Covid spreading event, left John’s father alone in a Skilled Nursing home and ultimately, reminded him of what family means.
And even though my mom had been vaccinated, after a bit of a cough and some shortness of breath, we got her tested. It turned out Mom, who has so much going on right now, contracted Covid, too. As her symptoms worsened, she battled aches, shortness of breath, a fever and nausea. After a week of feeling incredibly ill, she’s slowly beginning to feel better.
A family celebration of Independence Day turned into an unexpected and unlikely spreading event.
In the midst of this family outbreak, and struggling far more than any of his family members diagnosed with Covid, was our sweet Dad.
In a Skilled Nursing Facility, struggling with late-stage Parkinson’s disease, and recovering from a shoulder replacement surgery, he only seemed truly at peace and hopeful when visiting with his wife, six kids, or grandchildren.
Now, due to Covid protocols, not only were none of us able to see him, there was a large yellow sign on his door warning people to enter at their own risk because he’d been potentially exposed. Even after a negative test, the sign remained; as did his loneliness, discouragement and sadness. Dad felt completely cutoff and isolated.
When this man’s family was quarantined from visiting him, these friends stepped in and remind us what it means to fully show up for those we love.
Knowing none of us could visit, we asked some of his friends if they might go lift his spirits and advocate for him with the staff. Matt, Dick, Greg, John, Katie, Gary, Tim, Bridget, Jane, Fred, Mary, Paul, Debbie, and Russ all went by to visit with and encourage Dad on that first weekend. It was a humbling outpouring of love for our Dad.
Unable to leave his room, unable to visit with his family, unable to communicate effectively due to his disease, in constant pain, dealing with his recovery and deeply worried about his wife, these friends, their visits, and the love they shared made a mighty difference for Dad. And us.
Perhaps most meaningful to me was a visitor named Harold.
Twenty years ago I hired Harold to help me renovate houses. What began as a typical contractor relationship, grew to mutual respect, then admiration, then friendship and then love.
I love Harold.
He sees the world through a very different lens than I do. Because of that, he has taught me as much about life, empathy, difference, unity, generosity and loyalty as anyone I know.
The evening we learned none of us could visit Dad, I called Harold to see if he might swing by and visit Dad. His gruff but caring response was, “Why didn’t you let me know sooner?”
He came to the Skilled Nursing Facility the following day at 7am with a dozen donuts for Dad. Harold came out the following morning, too. When I heard he was back for a third day in a row, I called and asked why he was doing all this for Dad?
This is what family does in the wake of a storm.
Harold seemed surprised I asked the question, and answered, “John, that’s what family does.”
My friends, we live in a world that seems to focus on our differences. Our media and politicians benefit by promoting, magnifying and dividing us based on those differences. How do they vote? Where do they live? What color is their skin? Are they on our side?
What Harold has been teaching me for 20 years is that the very things that seem to make us different, are in fact the attributes that make us stronger.
What he revealed to me again last weekend is that, when everything begins to fall apart around us, the people who stand by us without flinching, well, those are our family. And I’m grateful to have Harold as part of mine.
In these divided days, let’s remember that in spite of some differences, we are in fact far better together. Although we often focus on what physical gifts we possess and financial resources we can invest, what’s important is our willingness to be generous with our time, thoughtful in our words, and courageous enough to fully show up for others.
After all, that’s what family does.