Sunshine in the Storm

It was a gloomy day, one that promised to be the hardest of my friend’s life so far. This I knew all too well.

As I got in my car to make the drive from the Heights to Friendswood this past Thursday, I reminded myself not to set the cruise control since it was raining. Then I kind of chucked to myself, thinking how remarkable it would be if I even reached a cruise control-worthy speed at all on this drive. It was, after all, rush hour in Houston.

I was on my way to the memorial service for the father of my friend of more than 20 years. He was a wonderful person, and I am grateful I got to know him. As I drove, my mind took me back to the day of my own mother’s memorial service. My sweet friend was right there by my side, and now it was my turn to comfort her as much as I could with my presence during this difficult time.

By now, you’re probably wondering why I’m writing about such a melancholy topic on a blog dedicated to finding joy in our most mundane, day-to-day tasks.

I’ve come to believe that, on even our darkest days, there are bright spots that shine through — fleeting as they may be — if we learn to recognize them. So, I thought I’d take a minute to share some of the things I witnessed at this great man’s funeral, which I hope with all my heart brought my friend and her family some comfort and a glimmer of hope.

Stories and memories that will live forever

Vivid tales of deer camp adventures and Christmas mornings made even more special because of family were a constant theme as Mr. P’s best friend and grandchildren captured our hearts with their words. I felt as if I had been there experiencing it with them.

Laughter amid the tears

Isn’t it amazing how a little humor can put our grief on pause for a split second? Oh, how good it feels to get even a few seconds of relief from the sadness when that happens. The minister made me chuckle when he mentioned how Mr. P’s long career as an airline mechanic put him in a whole other class of “tinkerers” than he himself would ever achieve. And hearing Mr. P’s oldest grandson talk about stolen moments swimming with his grandpa in the creek at the deer camp had me smiling big, too.

Symbols of a life well-lived

From the American flag that draped the casket, to the collection of ball caps and miniature model Continental Airlines plane that sat on the entryway table, everywhere you looked there were symbols of everything this incredible human being stood for.

Mr. P served his country in the Navy, where he became an expert “tinkerer” on an aircraft carrier (which ultimately prepared him for a successful career in commercial aviation). And those baseball caps were such a beautiful hodgepodge of what mattered most to him, representing everything from his son’s college alma mater to his grandkids’ adoration of him (Best Grandpa Ever).

The greatest gift of all

Little details like the ones described above become monumental when we’re faced with the loss of someone we love so much that their absence leaves a gaping hole in our heart. You know the feeling if you’ve ever experienced loss on that level — the elephant sitting on your chest that makes it hard to even breathe sometimes.

As somebody who has walked the lonely road of losing a parent myself, I’d be remiss if I didn’t call out the most meaningful thing you can do for those you love when they lose someone special: just being there.

When you make the time to be at the memorial service or funeral, you show the bereaved that they matter — that their loved one matters. (Yes, I used present tense here; I refuse to use past tense when talking about the dearly departed, because love never dies, and they’ll live forever in our hearts.)

Sometimes, attending the service just isn’t possible. Life happens, and sending flowers or a sympathy card will have to suffice when circumstances prevent your presence.

But, if there’s any way at all you can be there, go. You don’t even have to say anything. Seriously, just show up and give them a hug. That says it all.

Because, at the end of the day, we should never miss an opportunity to be someone else’s sunshine in the storm.

This blog post is lovingly dedicated to my friend Penny and her family, in memory of her sweetheart of a dad. May he forever tinker in that big repair shop in the sky.