Simcha Fisher: Words are fine, but the real grace is in the follow-up

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This is what I saw when I opened Facebook this morning:

It took me a second to figure out what it was about. Then I remembered: An exhausted friend had posted a question about sleep regression and night terrors in her daughter. Several other friends responded with advice, encouragement, and commiseration. And then one of my friends, who left the comment above, checked in twenty-four hours later, to see if things had improved over the night.

I never remember to do this. I’m getting better about responding right away when someone needs something, and I’m getting better at saying a little prayer right away (rather than making a mental note to say a “good” prayer later, and then forgetting all about it). But the follow-up is at least as important as the initial words of support.

The follow-up says, “You weren’t just a blip on my radar, here and then forgotten. I took your problem to heart, and I had no intention of letting you twist in the wind after I dispensed my wisdom, patted myself on the back, and then moved along.”

When we suffer, feeling alone and forgotten adds to our pain immeasurably. Realising that we’re not alone and not forgotten is immensely comforting.

I’ve heard from the bereaved that death anniversaries can be brutal. Everyone else is the world has long since moved on, but the grief is rekindled. A kind word and the promise of a prayer can make a huge difference in how painful that day feels.

It’s a profoundly Catholic impulse, the follow-up; and, like every virtue, it was modelled by Christ. We just celebrated the solemnity of the Ascension, when he was finally released from the world and went back to be with his Father. Before he died, he promised:

I will not leave you as orphans; I will come to you. Before long, the world will not see me anymore, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. . . . the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

“As the world gives” is a quickie thumbs up or a one-time pat on the back, and then the world moves along, on to the next thrill, the next sorrow, the next bit of entertainment. But Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever, and he promises lasting peace. He promises that he will come back; and in the meantime, he sends his Holy Spirit.

Let’s resolve, as brothers in the Communion of Saints, not only to respond to each other in the moment of immediate need, but to come again. If your friend’s child dies, mark it on your calendar and let them know you’re praying for them when the anniversary comes around. If an old conversation pops up on social media, pop in and see how your friend is getting along. When someone’s name or face comes into your mind unexpectedly, that’s not just random firing of neurons. It’s a prompting of the Holy Spirit. Listen to it! Follow up.