In the past two days, I’ve spent about thirteen hours sitting in my mom’s hospital room while she recovers from surgery. This afternoon, after I finish marking papers, I’ll go and sit for a few more.
I don’t do much while I’m there. She doesn’t require much care, I can’t heal her wounds, she’s not up for a lot of conversation yet, and lots of time (especially the first day) she sleeps. But still I sit. Sometimes I read, sometimes I chat with her husband, and sometimes – when she’s alert, we talk.
I do it because I know that it’s something I can do for her. I haven’t always known how to be a support for her, but right now, while she’s in a hospital room, I know that the thing I can offer her is my presence. Simple as that. Just my presence. When she drifts off to sleep, I say, “it’s okay Mom… sleep… I’ll be here when you wake up.” And she smiles, because she likes to have me there.
Eleven years ago, just down the hallway from where my mom now lies, I spent three weeks waiting for my baby to arrive. During that time of waiting, and then later when my baby died, a lot of people showed up and sat with me. I don’t remember much of what they said, but I remember that they were there. Just sitting. And listening. And sharing pieces of themselves with me. One in particular (my friend Stephanie) showed up for at least a brief visit nearly every day. When I had to go through the most excruciating experience of my life – birthing my dead son – she (together with my Mom & Marcel) sat with me and held my hand while I cried. I never needed her advice, but I sure did need her presence.
So often I forget that simple fact – that the best gift I can give people is often as simple as giving my presence and my time. We want to fix their problems, give them valuable advice, buy them memorable gifts, be a hero in some way… and yet, what they really value is the easiest (and the hardest) gift to give – ourselves.
This afternoon, think about who it is in your life that needs your presence. Just for today, withhold your advice and your solutions for their problems, and just show up. And believe that what you have to give them with that offering is worth more than you will ever know.