As I have aged, I have seen many friends confront tragedy and felt helpless to be of service to them in their time of need. We have often been a part of our church’s efforts to provide meals and other forms of support, but I still get that feeling that I should be able to do more or say something more comforting.
I’m afraid I usually just say the things I’ve heard others say in similar situations.
Some years ago, I helped host some visitors from Croatia after they had hosted us in their country. We were treated so well during our visit that we went out of our way to make their stay with us memorable. The Mayor of Pazin was a particularly nice guy; so when he told me he enjoyed some western music I was playing on one of our tours, I promptly gave him the CD. He appreciated the gesture and said, “Can we just assume I’ve said “thank you” every time someone does something nice for us?” I knew exactly how he felt.
I have been blessed throughout my life by my association with a loving family and a large number of caring friends. I’ve learned that when you face a tragedy, it really doesn’t matter much what someone says as long as you know of their concern. Friends can’t make bad things go away or cure cancer, but their expression of concern is a reminder that whatever your loss, you still have people who support and believe in you. Like my friend the mayor, my gratitude for the gracious acts and expressions of support is a given.
Sometimes you can also find ways to be of real help when a friend is in need. During my early years as a city manager, I lost a very close friend when our police chief died suddenly in his mid-forties. I will always be grateful to his wife for giving us the chance to help out with a cleaning project and some woodcutting not long after his death.
Most o f us are not poets or trained counselors who know what will be most comforting to our family or friends when they are challenged. Taking the time to express support is usually enough. I have been reminded recently how important that can be as my family faces our own challenges. The phone calls and conversations with people who care have been greatly appreciated.