Ten days ago I pulled my only black suit from the back of my closet, brushed the dust off the shoulders, and prepared myself for the first of two funerals in forty-eight hours. Two young men, too early. Two young men so loved. Inconceivably, the universe fell further off it’s axis that week, with news of medical challenges for a person so dear to my heart. The beginning of February has been layers of sadness and bad news, sadness and grief, sadness and fatigue laid on so thick and fast I lie awake with my heart pounding.
I purchased this suit in 2005 for $30.00 at a post-holiday dump sale at Macy’s. A black suit of mixed fiber heritage, I stalled at the checkout — there was a slightly ruffled hemline. Was this flirty? WAY too dated? Frighteningly inappropriate despite the color and square understated jacket? Really, really cheap of me? I stood and sweated in the aisle, spinning the racks, rapidly depleting time and confidence. Ultimately, I decided my mother-in-law would be proud of my thriftiness and daring at her memorial service in the lofty New Haven, Connecticut, Episcapalian church, surrounded by sensible tweeds and twinsets.
The suit is the easy part. More challenging is how to gift ease to others at these times: the 101 of giving support and care is often counterintuitive. My first instinct is to barrel in, fix everything, spew wisdom, share stories, buy too much for a lot of money. In a love-driven, panic fueled sadness. But what I have learned over the years, in actual fact, is that waiting and listening can be the greatest gift, the most needed ingredient to help others survive loss or life-changing news.
My absolute is to remember nothing is about me. I try to pay attention to the little things — a texted emojis heart, a small vase of daffodils left on the doorstep to allow privacy, sending a card. What helps and how will I know? Sometimes I don’t. But I always ask first, then take action if needed or wanted. I let my action be determined by the people that need it. Sometimes, it is all I can do to practice this, I want to fix everything so badly. But then I remember — this is not at all about me.
Nothing is good about five dinners delivered on the doorstep on the same day when everyone is sick to their stomach. But soon, in time, needs present themselves. The dogs will need to be walked, the groceries delivered, the laundry folded. And nothing is nicer than a card of encouragement that makes someone smile. Showing my love is sometimes about not showing up uninvited and sometimes takes every bit of willpower I can muster.
I never regretted the purchase, or the flirty hemline. It has held up to everything I needed, has been borrowed, dry-cleaned, tide-sticked, re-sewn, worn with-and-without a slip, always paired with dress boots over and over for the last twelve years. Always ready for whatever I need it to do. The little ruffle makes me smile when I am sad. It waits patiently and makes tough times easier.
Last week, I fully expected the skirt to halt at my hips, the jacket buttons to refuse to meet. It had not been worn for a long while. But each piece slid on, forgiving the last two years of injuries, accommodating the control top pantyhose, gifting me, once again, with ease at the time of extordinary sadness.
This is a silly analogy that means well. When the buttons buttoned I was so grateful the suit was just hanging there, waiting.
Find out what fits the needs of others. Sometimes, it is just waiting, listening or letting a family know you are available for the call. Then you will be the perfect person, at the perfect time. And don’t forget to breathe.
Marblehead, MA, February harbor