The greatest disease in the West today is not TB or leprosy; it is being unwanted, unloved, and uncared for. We can cure physical diseases with medicine, but the only cure for loneliness, despair, and hopelessness is love. There are many in the world who are dying for a piece of bread but there are many more dying for a little love. The poverty in the West is a different kind of poverty — it is not only a poverty of loneliness but also of spirituality. There’s a hunger for love, as there is a hunger for God.
Mother Teresa

Familiar carols played softly in the background.   Tiny Christmas lights brightened the room.  Tastefully chosen decorations all around us reminded us of the holidays.  There were signs of the season everywhere.

But the season was a nightmare to her.

She had lost her teenage son in a tragic accident, in the heart of the season, more than a dozen years ago.  It was the anniversary of his death.  She needed someone to share it with that day.

We met her at a book signing a few weeks before.  She bought a copy of our book – Someone To Tell It To: Sharing Life’s Journey.  While reading it she resonated especially with a story about another mother who also lost her son in a car crash shortly before Christmas.

She hated the approach of the holidays and found it impossible to feel the hope, joy, love and peace it was supposed to be about.

At one time she was part of a solid church community and held an active faith.  But now she doesn’t.  She can’t find a meaningful church home.  God is hard for her to find.  Her family lives many states away.  She lives far from her son’s grave on the other side of the country.  The life she had when he was alive is now long gone, buried with him in his grave.

There is no one who will talk with her about her son.  No one wants to listen.   His death is too far in the past.  For her, though, it’s still very much in the present.

The biggest thing for her is the loneliness she feels.   It seems when no one wants to talk with her about him, it’s as if he never existed.   She has no one to acknowledge that her grief still exists; it’s as if it doesn’t matter.

So on that day, the anniversary of his death, we invited her to meet with us.   We knew that it was going to be an excruciatingly hard day for her.  We thought that she might not want to be alone, drowning in her sorrow, despondent at his absence.  She readily accepted.

She came into the coffee shop carrying a folder.  Lovingly, tenderly, she opened it.

“Would you like to see photos of my son?”

One by one she took them from the folder and handed them to us.  A score of snapshots.   A photographic narrative of his life.  Each one told a story.  A baby, held in caring arms, his entire life yet before him.  A young boy, at Christmas time, excited and expectant.  A young man, just days before he died, a smiling teenager, relaxed, so full of promise and hope.

It was a sacred time.

In those moments his life was real again.  In sharing this chronicle of his life he was remembered.  With joy and with sorrow.   In this sacred time her pride and her joy, her grief and her longing, was shared.  In this sacred time, if even for a few moments, she did not have to carry it alone.  It was shared.  That’s what made it sacred.  If only for a moment, her loneliness could be soothed and the ache of her heart relieved.

We felt as if we were part of her family in those moments.  It was sacred to be invited into her pain, her grief, her pride.  We believe we are all family, that we are all connected in sacred ways.  On that day, in that moment, her pain was our pain, her loss was our loss.  She was not in it alone.

None of us should ever be in it alone.  Whether it’s grief, anxiety, fear, doubt, pain, disease or loneliness, none of us should ever be in it alone.  We are all part of a shared humanity.  We need each other, especially in those moments, to remind one another of our sacred worth, of our inherent, God-given value.

We never fully know what pain and loneliness someone else is carrying.  But if we are willing to invite others to share and be heard, we allow them to invite us in to a sacred place where our common humanity resides.  There is nothing more profound than that.  When that can happen, we see the face of God, a face of love and compassion and peace.

While it can be hard to sit with someone in pain, with someone who is broken, it can be the most important gift we can give.

By recognizing her pain and inviting her to share on that anniversary day, by looking at her treasured photos and not shying away, we tried to be ambassadors of Christ’s comforting presence.  Of Christ’s healing love.

It is something that each of us can do too, for those in our lives.  All of us are capable of experiencing these sacred times with one another.

 It is these sacred words in 2 Corinthians 1:3 – 7 that inspire us …

“All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort.  He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us. For the more we suffer for Christ, the more God will shower us with his comfort through Christ.  Even when we are weighed down with troubles, it is for your comfort and salvation! For when we ourselves are comforted, we will certainly comfort you. Then you can patiently endure the same things we suffer.  We are confident that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in the comfort God gives us.”

So …

… think of one person in your life right now who has lost someone they love very much.   It doesn’t matter how many years it’s been.  Reach out to that person – call, write, text, send a card or visit.