No matter how small, your offer of love and your patient presence create a pathway to hope for a grieving soul.
Inspiring Hope Heroes (grief companions), like my friend Laura, have secrets we can all learn from. Laura’s own grief in losing her mom in March 2018 is still fresh. Without minimizing her own heartache, Laura looks out for others to encourage on their grief journey.
While Laura is adorable, funny and has a big heart of compassion, she openly admits to flaws. She has a daily habit that some would call an addiction. Not a destructive one, but an addiction nonetheless.
Without hesitation, Laura will justify it. She’d be the first to tell you that her addiction is contributing to a healthier economy. It is her self-imposed responsibility to encourage the owner of the cafe she frequents.
A purposeful addiction
Laura is addicted to Starbucks. Her beverage of choice is a Venti Caramel Macchiato half sweet. On almost any given day, Laura can be found at a Starbucks location. I often tease that she is unofficially the “Starbucks Chaplain” because her addiction is purposeful. She always has one eye open for someone who needs a smile, a kind word, or some friendly banter.
With kindness, Laura knows how to draw out people with good questions, empathy and active listening. This is not accomplished in a hurry. Laura is patiently present.
But even our best efforts sometimes need to be challenged to reach farther, right?
A few months ago, Laura’s pastor challenged her and the church family in a message about a love dare. Who would courageously look for ways to love “prickly” people? You know them – those who are disengaged, difficult and defensive.
Most often, we find it easy to love people who are responsive and reciprocal. We’d rather avoid people who seem cynical, negative, and critical. Keeping a healthy distance feels safer.
Laura felt convicted by the love dare and decided to take some action. Armed with a courageous prayer asking God to present her with a “prickly” to love, Laura waited at her table in Starbucks. Wouldn’t you know it? Before long she got exactly what she prayed for.
In the days before COVID, the Starbucks cafe Laura frequents was often busy. One afternoon, she noticed an elderly lady pushing a walker. With a sour expression, the woman searched in vain for an empty table. Her frustration was obvious by her deep scowl and accusing eyes. Laura’s prickly person was in clear view.
Laura invited the lady to take an empty seat at her table. Her name was Gilda, and she was in her early eighties. The Seniors Care Residence across the street was Gilda’s home. With gentle questions, Laura soon discovered that Gilda was lonely and rarely had visitors. Coming to Starbucks was a regular outing that afforded her a little variety in her week.
Over the next several months, Gilda and Laura often shared a table at Starbucks. A coincidence? I think not.
With each visit Gilda disclosed more of her story. Laura responded with empathy and compassion. This was no small feat since Gilda was hard of hearing. Out of necessity, their conversations were loud. To the other Starbucks patrons, it appeared as if Laura was yelling at Gilda. But the volume was needed to communicate.
One day Gilda shared with Laura that her daughter, who lives in the U.S., was not her only child. Gilda had a precious son who died at the age of three. He was buried in a cemetery in Saskatchewan. Farming responsibilities prevented Gilda from visiting her son’s graveside. For years, Gilda’s dad travelled frequently for work and would pass near the cemetery. Repeatedly, Gilda asked him to visit her boy’s gravesite. Sadly, he always refused Gilda’s requests. The pain in her voice as she shared her story was as obvious as the tears in her eyes. The wound was still there, just barely beneath the surface.
Doing some quick math, Laura realized that Gilda’s son would have been in his late sixties by now. It was evident that Gilda’s memories of her son were tucked close to her heart, but for too long, she didn’t have an opportunity to share them.
Slowly, Gilda responded to Laura’s love and patient presence. Physically she changed. Gilda’s harsh demeanor softened over time. A sweet, gentle soul who craved a Hope Hero was revealed.
With COVID restrictions and limited seating in Starbucks, months went by before Laura saw Gilda again. Very sadly, at their first reunion, Gilda did not recognize Laura. Perhaps dementia had stolen her short-term memory. But Laura is willing to patiently start all over again. That is what love does.
Prickly people need you too. As a Hope Hero, are you willing to accept a love dare? Imagine what a beautiful difference you can make with even the smallest acts of love.
Cheering you on!