A guest post by Katie Wilson
26 years ago, the phone rang in my college apartment. I had just spent the afternoon in the library studying, and now I was enjoying a movie rental and dinner with the love of my life, my boyfriend Jay. What more could a 21-year-old ask for, right? Life was good. The caller asked for Jay. Looking at Jay’s face, I thought he was in serious trouble. He hung up the phone with tears in his eyes and said, “They have to call me back.”
Who?! Who had to “call him back?” I badgered him, while he kept trying to hug me. Looking back, I now realize that was probably the longest 15 minutes of his life. He was, as the song goes, “waiting for the world to change.” Little did I know, it was my world that was about to change. The phone rang again. Jay answered it and then handed me the receiver.
It was my brother Mark. “Katie. It’s Mark. . . Dad passed away last night . . .” The rest is a blur to me. That first phone call was someone from Vanderbilt University calling to make sure that Jay was with me when my brother called. The second call was the one Jay had to wait on, knowing my world was never going to be the same.
For those interminable 15 minutes he sat with me, held back his tears, and gave me the gift of presence. Waiting for someone who you love’s world to change—and not for the better—is an intense but worthy business.
Jay, who is now my husband of more than 24 years, sat with me while I cried. He held my head in his lap and drove the three hours to my home. Jay listened, cried with me and still, after almost 26 years later, lets me relive that day anytime I need to.
During those first weeks of grief for the loss of my dad, people tried to help. Some things were comforting, such as when people shared their stories of my dad. Even all these years later, I still love to hear anecdotes about him. One thing that wasn’t helpful: people who quoted Scripture. Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Lord with all my heart! But when I was grieving, it did not help me when people quoted Scripture. In that moment, it just felt sterile and distant.
If you’re ever unsure of what to do in a sad situation, let the one who is grieving dictate the mood. Follow their lead. When they are happy and sharing memories, jump in to do the same. If they are sorrowful, walk along with them in their sorrow. John 11:35 tells us, “Jesus wept.” Demonstrate your compassion for their suffering, as Jesus did. Many times, the only action you need take is to “be” with them. Give the gift of presence when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one. Words are not necessary but “with-ness” is.
About the author: Katie Wilson is a Memphis-born, messy masterpiece, who is confident in her Creator! After graduating from Vanderbilt University, Katie married her college sweetheart Jay and now lives in Huntsville, Alabama with their three children. Katie is on staff at Lincoln Village Ministries, and blogs at Psalm 8110 where she shares her many Jesus take-a-ways and “opens her mouth wide to let God fill it.” (Psalm 81:10)