The importance of just being there.
My sweet Mom passed out in the shower last Friday evening. After fainting, she fell backwards, landed hard on the floor, and broke her wrist. As it turns out, she collapsed as the result of anemia and low hemoglobin, which required a few days of observation in the hospital to elevate.
In a surreal coincidence, her room is on the exact same floor as –and stunningly just three doors away from– the entrance to the Burn Center where I was treated 35 years earlier.
With Mom recuperating in her hospital bed, next to the front door (literally) of all those memories, we couldn’t help but reminisce on that shared experience decades earlier.
In discussing some of the amazing visitors who walked through those doors and changed our lives forever, I asked Mom if there was one particularly meaningful conversation she remembered.
She shared that she and my dad had been overwhelmed with support from so many dear friends and family members. They’d been amazed that Hall of Fame announcers and All-Star players would visit. And they had been strengthened by messages of support from Ronald Reagan via the White House and Pope John Paul II from the Vatican.
And yet, it wasn’t a celebrity visitor or sophisticated words of wisdom that moved her most. It was a singular conversation, late one evening, with a young English teacher she didn’t know well, but would never forget.
Several months into my hospitalization there was still no guarantee I’d survive the fire. On that particular evening, as the staff reminded Mom visiting hours had ended several hours earlier, she finally pried herself away from my bedside, looked down at her sleeping little boy wrapped from head to toe with bandages and tethered to lifesaving equipment, and she wondered momentarily if recovery was even possible. She leaded forward, kissed my wrapped forehead, and stepped out of my room. Mom put her head down, walked tearfully through a hospital corridor, and left the Burn Center unsure if I’d be alive when she returned.
She was totally alone, filled with despair, almost unable to walk with the enormity and hopelessness that had eroded her resolve week after week.
From that empty hallway, she glanced into the darkened, vacant waiting room and noticed one person, in the corner, by himself, grading papers. It was my brother’s English teacher, Don Lee.
Don was moved by word of my family’s ordeal, but didn’t know what to contribute to the fight. He didn’t know us that well, could not alleviate my family’s struggles and had absolutely no medical knowledge to alleviate mine. Unsure of what else he could offer, Don worked many evenings in the waiting room on the chance a need would arise for my family that he could fill. Many nights, he sat alone, his own kind of vigil.
But on this night, when Mom was hopeless and alone, he was there. She walked over and collapsed in his arms. She shared the struggles and doubts she had. She shared how hard the day had been for me and how she would give anything to take away my pain. And she shared the agony of recognizing how impossibly difficult the journey forward would be.
I asked Mom how Don responded.
“John, I don’t remember him saying anything. But he was there. And he listened. And I’ll never forget it.”
As an emotionally exhausting day approached midnight, when Mom questioned if she possessed the strength to make it another day, there was profound healing power in simply having someone present to her, crying with her, praying for her, and so importantly, just listening to her.
My friends, we often cheapen our ability to positively influence another human being because we don’t have the right status, don’t feel we are enough or worry we lack the proper words.
Mom’s experience, and so many we’ve experienced since, remind us it’s not having the right words that elevate the life of a friend who is struggling. It’s having the courage to show up, the willingness to be present and the audacity to simply listen.
Today, writing from Mom’s hospital room, looking out at the waiting room where she experienced this lesson 35 years ago, I remind you—just as you are– of your ability to be part of someone else’s healing.
It may not sound like a lot. But it’s more than enough. And they’ll never forget it.
This is your day. Live Inspired.
I met up with Don last week to share personally the ripple effect that his act of being present had on my mom and our entire family. (It turns out, Don remembered that waiting room, those conversations and the profoundly positive impact on his life, too.) My friends, the power of presence always elevates lives. Who is someone in your life who positively impacted you by simply being there in your time of need? I shared my story…now you share yours! Reach out to let them know and then share below how much they meant to you. It’s sure to change their day…and I can’t wait to celebrate them, too!