A very close friend of mine passed away, just recently. Even though it was expected, it’s still sad and difficult. What’s helped is my friends who have contacted me and fed me soup. As simple as that sounds, it’s been one of the most wonderful things that has happened.
One friend came over with a most nutritious, home-made, chicken and vegetable soup. She even brought bread and wine to go with it. We ate and talked for two hours. Mostly I talked. Mostly, she listened. Comforting.
Another friend invited me over to her place. She had many yummy items set out for pre-lunch nibblies—cheese, small round crackers that she made herself, olives and red pepper jelly for small toasts. As we talked about my good friend who had passed, she brought out a bottle of port-just a wee glass to chase the winter (and other) blues away. She then assembled the soup as we talked on, filling a basic chicken stock with fresh carrots, onions and green peas. Nourishing, very tasty and warming. She then gave me a large jar of the soup to take home.
As I drove away, I reflected on the simplicity of what both of these friends did. What could be more nourishing than a warm bowl of soup? And, by the same token, what could be more nourishing than the simplicity and warmth of friendship. Two friends, one of only three years, the other of more than 40 years, who knew just what to do. Feed the body and nourish the soul. Just be there. Let the other person talk about the friend who has died. Make the space and provide comfort.
I feel extremely fortunate to have the friends I have.
My friend who just died was a very special person. We worked together over 30 years ago, and stayed close even when I got divorced and moved away. She knew that I was sometimes lonely and began to call me every Sunday. Even when she first contracted cancer, more than 15 years ago, she still called me every Sunday. She shared her warmth, and even her family, with me. She and her husband are close to my son; her girls and I are still close with each other. Even their husbands and new babies are included. When one daughter hugged me, she said, “I feel as if my mom is still here. I feel like I’m hugging my mom.” For me, that was a high honour indeed.
There are many accolades for the woman who was not a huge personality on any large stage. But she was a huge heart on the stage of friendship. She shared her smiles, warmth and caring all throughout her own suffering. She wanted me to tell her my problems, to complain to her so, in her words, “I can still feel normal and included.” She didn’t want to voice her own complaints, to share her suffering, or to be honoured for the grace with which she bore her pain. She didn’t want to talk about herself at all, most of the time. When the end was near, she only was sad that she wouldn’t get to watch her newest granddaughter grow up, or meet the new one, due in two weeks. She was sad to not be able to be there to babysit and help her daughters with their new daughters. She was still thinking of others, to the end.
After her death, I drove for an hour to bring soup to her husband and family. They hadn’t really eaten much in the last two days, and were so grateful for all the food I brought, but mostly, for the warmth of the soup.
This is friendship at its most basic level. Just be there, with soup.
To be a good friend, in times of trouble, after an operation, an illness, or a death, offer the following:
- Don’t say, “What can I do?” Say, “I can come to see you on Tuesday or Wednesday, which is best for you?
- Don’t ask, just bring food, and not just dessert. Bring a meal if you can.
- Be present. Talk less. Don’t make small talk. Let the person say whatever they need to say. Make the space for silence.
- Don’t be surprised if there is laughter and some joking. That’s a huge tension reliever, and it may seem inappropriate, but sharing funny stories helps.
- If someone had an operation, they might want to show you their scar. Brace yourself and look if they want you to. Sometimes the person needs to share that.
- Don’t stay too long. Plan to be there for 20 minutes or so, and if they want you to stay for an hour or two, or half a day, they will tell you.
- Bring soup-perhaps a nourishing, hearty vegetable soup or a plain chicken soup broth, depending on any dietary concerns or preferences, but do it. Bring the soup, and yourself.