One of the parts of my ministry as a priest is to be with families as they cope with the loss of a loved one. When there is a death, I meet with them and get a biography of the person’s life. I typically like to use a story too to lead into the homily as I do with most of my homilies.
At a recent funeral Mass I celebrated, I came across a story shared by a son with respect to his mom and how he thought of her. And I think it’s quite timely for Christmas as we think about the “perfect” gift in that no matter what we buy, people will look back on us and remember the most important thing we gave them was not material, but rather that we were there or them when they needed us.
In a story he shares about his mom, Dale Jackson, a contributor to a book dedicated to moms, talks about how he realized this one day in the hospital.
The morning sun brightened and warmed the hospital waiting room as he and his siblings awaited the results from his mother’s latest surgery. He feared the worst, and that led him to contemplate specifically what it was that made his mother so special to him. Like most children, he believed that his mother was the best anyone could have. How could you feel otherwise about the person who gave birth to you, fed you, cleaned up after you, cared for you when you were sick, held you close when your first love broke your heart, and did millions of other things for you?
As he enjoyed the warmth of the sunlight it dawned on him that the most extraordinary thing his mother did for him, the one characteristic that illustrated everything about her as a mom, was that she always put her book down.
When he was a teenager, Dale admits he was so wrapped up in himself that he felt his issues were the most important and weighty things in the world. Also like most teens, he’d keep his worries and concerns to himself and try to figure things out on his own, since no one else could possibly understand what he was going through. But every so often he could not ignore the need to talk to someone and would drift into his parent’s bedroom to unburden himself to his mother while she was sitting in bed reading.
As the mother of five rambunctious children, she’d often retreat to her room in the evening for some down time. Dale was sure she viewed this as her time to relax, unwind and get away from the pressures of caring for a husband and children even if only for a few moments. Yet even though this was to be her time for herself, she would never close the bedroom door. This was because Dale’s parents stressed to them that they were always welcome to talk to them about anything, at any time.
Dale would sit on the edge of the bed and begin with some idle chitchat as he worked up the nerve to talk about what was bothering him. His mom would always do something remarkable – she’d put her book down. The impact of that simple act still resonates with him many decades later. How easy would it have been for her to sneak peeks at her book and act as if she was listening? But she put the book down and in so doing demonstrated to her child that he was loved, accepted, and cared for. She never once complained that she was interfering with “her time,” never asked if he could come back later, and not once did she act as if his thoughts and concerns were stupid, irrelevant or silly. She simply put her book down and actively listened to her child for as long as was needed.
In the decades since Dale tried to embrace the lessons that his mother silently taught during those mother-son conversations. He noted that many times when someone comes up to him and strikes up a conversation, he almost automatically puts down whatever he’s reading to give this individual the same gift that his mom gave to him. He strives to remember how it felt to know that what he had to say was important to someone else and what a wonderful and powerful message can be sent by simply putting the book down.
As he thought about all of this next to his mom, who made it through that surgery, he reflected that yes his mom was special in many ways, and not the least of which was she put her book down.
Needless to say, the person who’s funeral I celebrated that day clearly did that in the lives of the people who filled her life. As one family member put it, she made you feel like you were the only person in the room and were important when she was talking to you.
No matter how much we have, all of us have the ability to give that same gift of time. And it’s something we are called to do every day. Consider asking yourself:
- Do I listen to the needs of my spouse, my kids, my parents?
- Do I multitask when someone is speaking to me or give them my full attention?
- Do I try to pick up on something a person may be holding in?
- Do I make an effort to visit loved ones who may have a hard time getting out of the home or in assisted living?
- Do I know what is going on in the lives of the people I live with?
- Do I let people I care about know that I am always available for them to talk and listen?
- Do I make time for God every day and listen to what He may be telling me?
- Do I actively listen and resist the urge to fix something or speak quickly so I can get a better sense of what is in a loved one’s heart, and what the “real story” is?
Time is a precious commodity. But when we give this gift to one another, we can help them realize a very important truth: they are loved by God, precious in His eyes, and also loved by us. So let’s pass on what we’ve been given, and put the book down too.
Have a blessed week!