It's the holiday season and I wonder if Walton will always be foremost in my mind this time of year. I imagine and hope he will be. The irony of that is not lost on me because he didn't care much for holidays. He tolerated holiday family time as long as he could until he found an opening, however small, to escape to be with his friends. We cautioned that his leaving was his loss, but he didn't see it that way because he truly loved his friends. He had good friends who were there for him when he needed them, and was a good friend. All that has me thinking about friendship in tough times.
When the fabric of a life unravels like a cheap prison towel with the death of a child, parent, sibling, spouse, or when a marriage or career explodes, there is nowhere to hide. Grief, shame, emptiness, hurt are on full display, and many people whose lives are unaffected simply don't know how to respond. I know that because I've been there. While I knew what not to say, I often hesitated to reach out, waiting for the perfect thing to say. The longer I delayed, the harder it became. By then I felt like I needed to come up with a not-so-lame excuse for being worthless when friendship should count the most.
One of the gifts of personally being in the position of having nowhere to hide (death/divorce/prison) is a new perspective on friendship. I've been forgotten by friends whom I thought would remember. But I have more friends who remembered me when they could have easily given up. And being on the receiving end of such wonderful gifts has prompted me to come up with some simple ideas on how to respond when a friend finds himself/herself face down in life's mud regardless of the circumstances and who's at fault. Here are some suggestions:
Don't worry about being late. You can't be too late. The pain never fully subsides and often gets worse before it gets better. Reaching out later could actually be more meaningful and needed.
Just show up. You can keep your mouth shut and bring barbecue, a dessert, or a bag of household items. When Walton died, someone showed up with a bag of paper towels, napkins, toilet paper, and paper plates. It added some needed levity, but also said "I've been there and you're going to need this." If you show up at a prison, bring cash, lots of change and small bills, to purchase Dr. Peppers and Peanut M&Ms.
If you can't show up, write a note. All you have to say is "I care about you" or "I love you" and sign your name. Seriously, that's all. Those words have been powerful when received here at Bastrop Federal Satellite Camp.
In the case of a death send a memorial contribution, particularly if one is designated. It's not often that a family tells you exactly what to do, so take them at their word.
Continue to talk about the painful experience with those who are grieving or shamed. Don't pretend it didn't happen. Ask questions.
Pray and then convey specifically what you prayed and why. Prayer is powerful, particularly when targeted and articulated to the beneficiary. It moves mountains and touches the heart in unimaginable ways.