When Molly first went back to school after losing her son, Ryan, she understood when her colleagues didn't know what to say to her. She did not take it personally when some people avoided her gaze, went the other way in the hallway, etc. She sat down and wrote a beautiful, heart-felt email to the entire school to let them know how she was doing, set the facts straight about Ryan's death, and just make people feel more comfortable. The response was overwhelmingly positive; people filled her email box with responses. She sent some of them to me, and they moved me to tears more than once.
As the weeks have passed, she has noticed that some people still avoid her in the hallway, and she has reached the point that it hurts her and makes her feel resentful. This is a post to tell you that no matter how uncomfortable it makes you, it is selfish to ignore or avoid people who are suffering, just because it makes you feel awkward. Her son is dead; you can't possibly feel as uncomfortable as she does (unless you, too, have lost someone and still have fragile emotions yourself, in which case I will give you a pass.) She is a human being who needs to not feel like a pariah. A simple smile is all she needs; you don't have to even ask her how she is doing. Just look at her and smile.
Here are the contents of one of the emails Molly received from a co-worker, who is also a father...
I wanted to take a minute to thank you for the email you sent yesterday. Although it made me want to cry, I wanted to share with you how your loss has affected my life. I look at my children very differently today. I've had a realization as to how grateful I should be to God for the family he has given me. I can see through your words the love you have for Ryan, and it helps me to realize the love I should have (and have) for my children. I no longer take for granted seeing them every day. I enjoy every minute more and realize that it could all be gone in a second. I just wanted to take a minute to let you know that your sharing of your feelings has helped me to understand what a gift my children are. I am wiping away the tears as I write this to you, but I really feel compelled to let you know this, and hopefully it will help you to continue to be open and share, because some people are waking up and developing a gratitude that they didn't have before. I hope you don't mind me sending this email.
People are suffering this holiday season. You've no doubt received many tangible gifts, but one of the greatest gifts you've been given is the gift of compassion. Share it today by looking a stranger in the eye and smiling, writing a simple note to a suffering neighbor, or sending an email that says, "Thinking of you."
Reach out. It's not always easy, but it's the right thing to do.
[To read more about Molly's journey, go to Archives by Topic and scroll down.]