Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Want to Help Your Sick Friend but Don’t Know How? DO THIS!

And THAT, my friend, is what it looks like to love on a friend or relative (or wife!) with chronic illness. That picture right there. I know it’s hard to get past the adorableness of it to have your attention for any type of explanation, and I’m totally distracted WITH you. But let me try to steal your eyes away for just a minute (meanwhile mine admittedly remain fixated on the ones in the front right).
We’ll be joyfully distracted together.

You see, this picture (providentially) came when I was incredibly heartbroken. Because I had just discovered that I was going to fully miss out on a monumental event.
Yet again.

Let me back it up a bit for you to give you a little context.

Since my health crashed six years ago, missing out has unfortunately become a way of life to somewhat varying degrees. Some years more than others and praise God this year hasn’t been one of the “more” years. But one of the hardest parts about chronic illness is that you can’t do everything you want to do. Sometimes you can’t do ANYthing you want to do.
And painfully, that includes relationally.

When my husband and I were first married, travel was a way of life.
We traveled to see family in NJ, friends in Chicago, friends in Florida and Washington state, family in PA and VA, traveled to friends' weddings in Ohio & Iowa, you name it. There are some incredible people in those places, and it was always a joy for us to go the distance to spend time with them.

That way of life unfortunately came to a complete halt six years ago.
For me entirely, and largely for my husband as well. It felt like one of our greatest joys in life, being with our friends and family, got swept out from under us.
And that’s been incredibly painful.

The loss hasn’t only been felt at great distances.
The same togetherness loss has been felt on the home front even more. When our son started Kindergarten right before I crashed, I assumed I’d be going on all the fun field trips. And be there for all the special programs, competitions, family pumpkin picking. You know, all the usual mom stuff.

My assumption was wrong.

I’ve missed out on a lot as a mom.
And wife.
And friend,
church member.
I’ve wrestled hard with feeling like a crummy friend and family member.

Last year, for example, our niece was graduating from college in PA. First time for us to have a niece or nephew graduate college. Oh, how I wanted to be there. To join in on the party, hand her our gift in person, give our sweet flower girl a big hug of congratulations.
Fortunately, at least there’s technology.

Through tears of nostalgia, I hooted and hollered in my family room as I watched across the miles, and even snagged this great shot thanks to my virtual front row view.

A similar scene occurred last weekend when our nephew graduated from JMU in VA, which meant both a university ceremony plus individual ceremonies for each of the colleges of study. Fortunately, at least my husband was able to go to this one. I’m so glad.

Like with our niece’s graduation, I watched the first ceremony by live stream, heart swelling with pride and nostalgia. (I’m a total sap with a capital S.) The following morning, I rushed to get ready and be in front of the screen by the start of the second ceremony. Yet it wasn’t coming on. After fussing with it for the first five minutes of the ceremony, I discovered that one wasn’t going to be live streamed.
My heart sank lower than low.

This was the ceremony where he would be giving his speech as valedictorian of the entire graduating class!

This was the one where he would be leading the entire processional carrying the large regal performing arts banner. The only banner!

This was a once-in-a-lifetime moment in his life, and I wasn’t going to be a part of it even virtually.

I hopped over to my e-mail, and had a new message from my husband.
This picture is all it said. 

Exactly what I needed.
My sweet family on the way to the ceremony.
He even sent me a picture of my sister’s van in view in front of them, the van of honor with my sister, the graduate, and the rest of the family.
Suddenly, I felt somewhat present again, even in my absence. 

Shortly thereafter, I received a text from my sister (in the back seat above). I told her my heart-breaking discovery, and suddenly my little flip phone started beeping with non-stop messages like a relentless alarm clock.
Blow by blows of what was happening when.
Who was speaking,
when our nephew was recognized,
dictation from the main speaker,
practically notes on when anyone moved or breathed. 

I LOVED it. 

I was desperate to somehow be a part of this experience,
and her texts were a lifeline.

Meanwhile, my husband continued to e-mail me pictures. And I didn’t even care what he captured. Because even his random candids of my bro-in-law setting up his camera and my mom looking at her phone were exactly what I needed to transport me there.

So lean in close as I let you in on a little secret. 
As you think about your friend with chronic illness, or even an elderly relative who’s largely home-bound, want to know the best and easiest way to make a gigantic difference in their life when they’re missing out on a special event? Gigantic?

Take them with you.

Real Time!

Take them with you! 

By camera, by phone, by text. However!

Give them an opportunity to taste the sweetness of the occasion real time by including them on the experience.

All these and more (much more!) were pictures my husband sent me real time during our nephew's graduation. And these graduations, of course, aren't about me. Yet my family found ways to take me along. And each contact made -- each text, each picture, each call -- was a sacred gift they placed in my heart.
Real time. Real easy.

One final thought.
A super fun way to pull it off? 

Let ‘em eavesdrop! 

That’s right. Dial them in and put them on mute!
My always-thoughtful mom did this for my other sister one time. My sister's son was having a concert but my sister’s chronic illness kept her home. So when my folks went to the concert, my mom pulled out her cell phone and dialed my sister so she could listen in. It was second-hand audio, so I'm sure it was low quality. My mom knew that didn't matter. She knew it would be the most beautiful music to my sister’s longing ears. 

It’s really that simple. And I can tell you from the receiving end,
it is really that profound of a gift.

So please, think about some special occasions coming up. 
Who might you take along real time? 

Congratulations again, Abigail and Ryan.
Your Proud Aunt Tanya

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