Show Up

Make your presence felt in post-presence world.

Eighty percent of life is showing up, we often hear. Show up to class. Show up to practice. Show up to work. It’s pretty good advice. And more of us should take that advice to heart in the context of family members and friends in crisis. By show up I mean make your presence felt, and no, a text message or a tweet or a post will not do.

I was blessed with a large extended family that taught me how to show up for those in their time of need. In the wake of emergencies or loss, my aunts and uncles descend upon the chaos — coordinating, feeding, soothing, and working out details. In short, they are an impressive collection of souls, unfortunately well-practiced in the art of showing up in a crisis.

Despite excellent examples in my family, I have fallen far short of the benchmark at times, and I regret it. As a law student and while working as a corporate attorney, I relied on others to show up for me. I rationalized my behavior, saying I was too busy, other people had more flexible jobs and they would understand. I sent text messages. And worse, sometimes I said nothing at all. It was pretty selfish. One of the greatest joys I’ve experienced since leaving my job last year is greater freedom to show up and be present with those who need me.

A recent exchange reminded me of the power of showing up, and the distaste in sending a text when only a call or a visit would do. While on vacation my husband and I woke to a flood of text messages. One of his friends had circulated funeral information for his brother who died in a tragic accident. I lost my own brother a few years ago, and I had a sense of what this friend was suffering. Call him, I said. Even if he doesn’t pick up, or doesn’t want to talk, call him and let him know you are here. In other words, acknowledge his loss and his pain. Show up. My husband called his friend and spoke with him for a while, even though they hadn’t spoken in years.

A few days later, a person responded to the text chain apologizing for a delayed response and saying that he was very sorry for our friend’s loss. It reminded me of something one might send a week after he or she failed to respond to a request for restaurant recommendations. The text languished there, making even me want to crawl under a rock. The asymmetry of the loss and the person’s response via text message is a textbook example of how technology can lead us astray in our efforts to show up.

Crisis is uncomfortable. No one plans for it, and yet it is sure to come. In the age of social media and rapidly advancing technology, we are more connected, but don’t confuse connection with compassion in crisis. We must not forget to show up for those who need us.

How to Show Up in Times of Crisis:

1) Walk, run, bike, Uber (or Lyft), boat, fly etc. to the person or situation. Sometimes this is clear cut. There is a funeral or a medical procedure, for example, and you show up. At other times, it may be less clear what the person needs. Taking people to dinner, watching their kids, or running an errand for them may be in order. Regardless of what you do, trust that they are already comforted by your decision to show up. People remember who shows up.

2) Call. It almost seems that calling is more anathema than physically showing up. In some ways I identify with that sentiment; I generally avoid talking on the phone if I can. But in the case of a crisis you can’t physically visit, pick up the phone.

3) Send a hand-written card or an e-mail that takes the time to demonstrate compassion and support. Some people prefer this method of communication. Pain and loss are difficult to confront, and the written word affords one the opportunity to sort through thoughts and lay out clearly what one wants to say. Just make sure that it conveys compassion and concern.

4) Do something comforting from afar. Arrange for prayers at church. Organize a fundraiser or letter writing campaign. Plant a tree in someone’s honor. Donate.

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