It’s Wednesday morning.
I’ve just finished getting my kids up and ready for the day when I get the phone call.
“Honey, I have some news,” I hear my mom’s voice on the line. “Uncle Jimmy had a heart attack last night, he’s gone.”
What? I think. How? What happened? I’m immediately reminded of just about a month earlier when I received a similar call from my mom to tell me that Jimmy was in the hospital for another episode with his heart. On that day, I had told my mom, “It’s going to be a sad day for me when Uncle Jimmy dies.”
Today was that day.
“Your dad and I are going up to the farm today,” my mom says, bringing me back to the moment.
“I’m going with you,” I hurriedly reply.
As I hang up and quickly tell my husband Kyle what’s happened, my mind is already planning how I will manage this day and be able to go along. I call my friend Terri in the hope that her daughter Madi, a teenager who is great with my kids, is around. Terri answers.
“Is Madi available today?”
“No” Terri replies, “she’s already babysitting.”
I burst into tears – something I had prepped myself just moments before so I would not do.
“What’s wrong?” she asks, the sympathy in her voice adding to my already fraying emotions.
“My Uncle Jimmy, my favorite uncle, died last night,” I say, explaining how my parents are going to go up to the farm today and how I’d hoped to go with them.
Without missing a beat, Terri tells me, “I’ll watch your kids.” It’s more of a statement than a question.
“No, you don’t want to watch my crazy kids!” I exclaim.
“Yes, I do; I’m already on my way,” she says. I hang up and breathe a prayer of thanks once again for the amazing friends God has placed in my life.
My parents pick me up just fifteen minutes later and we make the two-hour drive up to my aunt and uncle’s farm, sharing memories along the way. Memories of Uncle Jimmy’s amazing stories that never got old, the way he’d tease my aunt and call her “girlie,” and all the times he’d hook up the horses to take us for hay rides. I remembered all the times he’d pick me up after school to bring me to the farm. I used to call and beg Uncle Jimmy to take me home with him. Some of my favorite childhood memories are of their farm: riding horses, running through fields, building forts, and swinging from the rafters in the hay barn. It was my childhood playground and I loved it.
As we pulled up to the farm, everything looked as it always had and I had to remind myself that it wasn’t. That Jimmy was gone. We entered the house and greeted a few of my cousins who were already there. My aunt was in a back bedroom and we greeted her with a hug and a few tears. I sat on the couch in the spot that had been my uncle’s favorite place to watch everyone as they would come and go from the house. My aunt sat next to me and took my hand. We sat by each other without saying a word while tears spilled down my cheeks. There were no words in that moment. Just the comfort brought by being near someone you love. We felt a shared understanding of the sadness brought by this day.
As I sat, my mind went back to another instance years earlier, where I found myself in a similar situation. I’m in my sister’s bedroom. The lights are dim, the kids in bed, Gilmore Girls is quietly playing on the TV in the background. She takes my hand and we talk of the future, of how much fun our kids will have together. I have no children yet, but my sister is many things, including a dreamer. She takes my hand and we sit, quietly thinking about what is to come. We both know there’s not a lot of time left. The cancer has come back and there is nothing more to do. I’m struck by the softness of her hand. The comfort it provides is beyond words.
Outside, I hear a noise. Someone forgot to bring the dogs in. They’re barking at someone or something outside and all I can think is, Be quiet, Tilly and Waldo! I quickly dismiss them. I don’t care if they bark, I’m not leaving this room. Knowing this would be the last time I’d have a moment alone with Katrina.
Today my aunt’s hand reminds me of Kate’s. It’s soft and offering comfort far beyond any spoken word. And I find myself again wishing this moment wouldn’t end.
Many months have now passed since Uncle Jimmy died. I still feel sad at times. I keep thinking about those few moments shared with my aunt on the couch and in my sister’s bed. I think of all the times I’ve been comforted by a hug, an encouraging smile, and a comforting hand.
And as I think about how simple and yet profound these simple acts of comfort are, I’m reminded how often this is exactly what God does as well. Often it’s not his voice I hear, it’s a nearness, a comfort, a closeness. Psalm 34 says, “The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” It’s not that he necessarily fills the space with a bunch of words, although he certainly could. But I am struck how this scripture says he’s simply near. He’s close at hand. He meets us and comforts us in our broken moments. Every time we whisper, “Lord, please be near,” he is there.