Everyone grieves differently. One person might look at a friend’s grief and think, “It’s been a year, why hasn’t she moved on with her life yet?”
The truth is that when someone suffers a great loss, the hurt doesn’t go away in a month or two, even though the cards and visitors usually do. Even the most sympathetic ear and the warmest hugs are gone within a few short weeks as friends and neighbors get wrapped back up into their busy lives.
I’d like to introduce you to my neighbor, Mr. Ferguson. What a character he is! In his long life, I think he’s never met a stranger. The moment you encounter him, you are accosted with a barrage of good-natured jokes and gibes. With a sprightly twinkle in his eye, he weaves tales that make you wonder at first what kind of crazy guy you’ve encountered! Then, with a hearty laugh, he dismisses the stories: “Ha ha! I’m just teasing you!” You never know what he’s going to say next.
That was the Mr. Ferguson I met several years ago when he and his wife moved into the house across the street. Today, if you were to stop by to share a laugh, you’d look into eyes that, rather than twinkling in delight, appear red-rimmed and tired. His jokes are now a rare treat, rather than a regular occurrence, because he carries the burden of the loss of his loving wife.
When we talk to him these days, the sorrow in his eyes tears at my heart. Though we do what we can to help lift his burden (and though his family takes great care of him, too), we know it is still exclusively his to carry. We do things like visiting him for a quick chat, taking him food, etc. From his recliner, he can see our carport through his front window; so whenever we come home in the evenings and the bright motion light clicks on, our family lines up and waves to him, or bows, or dances a little jig. These small gestures entertain him and distract him for a moment from his long days.
Though I’ve always highly valued our privacy and safety and never could stand to leave the drapes open after dark, we have gotten in a habit of leaving our living room curtain open in the evenings, just to keep a better eye on him. He noticed and said it makes him feel less lonely. He said he particularly likes it when he sees that we are still awake when he gets up to get ready for bed. “I don’t know why. It just makes me feel safer, and not so alone, I guess,” he told me one day.
I’m ashamed to say that our visits to his house have become less frequent over the last five months, but we make sure to sit down with him once or twice per week. A surprise I’ve discovered over these months is that the visits are not just for him. Spending time with him warms my heart. It makes me count my blessings, let little things go, and hold my loved ones tighter.
Last week when I knocked on the door and entered his living room, his eyes were particularly bleary and red. “What have you been up to today?” I asked.
“I’ve been sitting here crying,” he answered with his head bowed. Then, he shared with me a thin, spiral-bound booklet his wife had made several years ago. He said she had copies printed for all their friends and family, but that this was the only copy he had left. He handled it delicately, and his eyes glowed with love as he looked down at the booklet.
“It’s all true, and it’s all straight from her heart,” he said as he extended it toward me. I was almost afraid to touch his treasure when he asked me to take it home and look through it.
It was a sweet, thoughtful, and entertaining book, chronicling their family history and the loss of their adult son to cancer. It also contained a variety of family photos, stories, poems, and anecdotes.
With Mr. Ferguson’s permission, I’d like to share one of her poems with you:
by Betty Ferguson
I looked at my garden;
It was in need of repair.
I asked the master gardener
To help me with its care.
He said in place of complaining
Plant seeds of daily prayer.
Then take words of kindness
And sow them everywhere.
Where once there was doubt
Let faith take its place.
Sprinkle that with hope
And lots and lots of grace.
Charity is a must,
Meeting people’s needs.
Now fill these places with joy,
And edge it with good deeds.
My garden now is blooming.
Its fragrance fills the air.
To reap a bountiful harvest,
I must tend it with care.
There are a couple of funny poems in the book, as well, about Mr. Ferguson’s childhood misadventures. I think I’ll borrow the book again and share those with you later.
One last note: Please, today, look around you more carefully than usual, find someone who is hurting, and share your time and attention with them. You may make their burdens a little easier to bear for a moment, and you will be blessed as well. This world is full of too much “ME” and not enough “WE.”