When our kids were younger, Laura-Ashley would hold make-shift classes on Saturday morning. Instead of playing with toys or calling friends to hang out, she would gather up old stools and turn them into ad hoc desks. Within minutes she would transform her bedroom into a classroom. My sweet daughter would spend an hour writing up some form of curriculum, drafting handouts and preparing homework assignments for her younger brothers. And when class started, she would teach the boys about math, science, english and other topics. At the time, Wyatt was a tiny toddler and had no idea what was going on; he just sat patiently in his chair because his brothers were there.
Ethan and Mitch, being older, would always walk away with a homework assignment in hand, only to return later and have it graded. Most of the time Ethan and Wyatt attended her class - but Mitch always showed up. Always.
This is a photo of Mitch showing up. In truth, he didn't need to be there. He had already finished his chores, completed his real homework and was entitled to play time. But because showing up was important to his sister, it was important to him. I love that about him.
When I stumbled upon this photo series recently I was reminded of the power of showing up. He never had an agenda for personal gain – he simply offered his love and support. And that is a powerful thing.
So, when I look at this photo of an ordinary Saturday morning, when Mitch decided to show up, I feel a deeper resolve to be there for my wife and kids in every way I know how. I am flawed. I struggle to do the very things of which I write – but I try. God knows that I try. I am getting a little better at it each day.
Sometimes for those who wrestle with grief or struggle in other ways, just showing up and offering love and support is all that is needed. I receive thousands of private messages from people asking for advice, so they might help their friend or family member who is struggling. They almost always worry about saying the right thing in the right way – carefully treading an invisible minefield of words and unknowable emotions.
In my experience words of consolation, while comforting at times, do very little in the end. My advice to those who seek to comfort another is to worry less about the words you use and think more about how you cause the other person to feel. Sometimes showing up and saying, “I want you to know I care” is enough … and more.
I remember when my neighbor, Nate Copling, came to the hospital when Mitch was in the cardiac intensive care unit, on the verge of dying. He simply showed up, just like little Mitch did for his sister, and offered love and support. That meant a lot to me. But it was what he didn’t say … what he didn’t need to say … that made all the difference.
After this gentle, good man said goodbye to Mitch I walked him out of the CICU into a darkened hospital hallway. He turned to me with tears in his eyes and said nothing. He didn’t need to. I felt that he cared deeply. I knew that he mourned with me – which was more powerful and consoling than any arrangement of words.
Mitch and my friend Nate taught me how to show up in body, heart and soul. And when we do that, everybody grows.
For those interested, I just posted a few extra photos of this moment on instagram.com/mitchells_journey