A few years back, we got a call from a friend. It was the kind of call that you pray you never have to make. Ever.
He’d called to tell us that his infant daughter had died.
My toddler slept quietly in her crib. I knew she was okay. Still, I needed to check on her. Reach over the side to touch her face. My pregnancy swollen belly pushed against the slats.
I begged to be spared the kind of suffering our friends had that day.
Our friend gave my husband the details of the funeral. My husband asked if they needed help arranging things or setting up chairs or a dish for the luncheon.
“Just be there,” our friend said.
I’ve had hard days in my life. That day counts as one of the hardest. The day of the funeral. But it didn’t come close to the mother and father of the baby.
I try not to let myself imagine how difficult it was for them.
I could do nothing for them. How do you comfort someone who lost a child? What do you say? How many casseroles could even come close to helping ease the suffering?
Nothing could or would make things right. Nothing I could do, at least.
It bothered me for a few years. My inability to say the right thing, do the right thing. Guilt hovered over me when I saw them. Because I couldn’t make things better.
I didn’t have the power to fix the terrible thing that happened to them.
It wasn’t until a year ago that I understood: Compassion isn’t about fixing. Mercy doesn’t take away the problem. Comfort is not the remedy.
Compassion is the desire, mercy is in the doing. They are both the road toward delivering comfort, or relief.
In my novel “My Mother’s Chamomile”, the Eliot family runs the only funeral home in the fictional town of Middle Main, Michigan. Over and over, they comfort their neighbors in the worst moments, the moments of losing a loved one. They never fix the problem. They don’t bring the deceased back to life. They can’t magically heal the wound of grief.
However, the family offers relief. Comfort. And that mercy comes out of their great capacity for compassion.
Writing this novel forced me to rethink my approach to compassion. Mercy. Comfort.
Comfort is the hug that speaks more than any word in the dictionary.
It’s the check to help pay a bill for someone else.
The bag of groceries dropped off to a family in need.
A phone call. Coffee shared. Prayer whispered.
It’s not in taking anything away. It’s in the relief.
And, sometimes, all you need to do is just be there.
Susie Finkbeiner is a wife, mother, and novelist from West Michigan. Her first novel Paint Chips released in January, 2013. Her second novel My Mother’s Chamomile releases on February, 15, 2014. She is currently working on her third novel.
Susie enjoys zoo trips with her family, coffee dates with close friends, and quiet moments to read and write.
Learn more about Susie at www.susiefinkbeiner.com.