From Chicken Soup for the Girlfriend's Soul

Knowing When

We are so very rich if we know just a few people in a way in which we know no others.

Catherine Bramwell-Booth

After moving to a new state, I looked for ways to meet new people. Then, to my delight, the neighbor living in the duplex behind mine waved in my direction. She shared a friendly smile, offered a warm hello, told me her name was Evelyn, and engaged me in casual conversation. Without pomp and circumstance or either of us being aware of it, we each invited the other into our lives and became friends.

Evelyn’s knack for perfect timing never failed to amaze me.

She always knew when . . .

In happy times, she knew when to laugh with me and share my joy.

If I was upset, she knew when to bring chocolates and listen while I vented.

During sad moments, she knew when to offer me a tissue so we could cry together.

If I became unsure about something, she knew when to encourage me not to give up.

Her support, whether by phone, visit or note in the mail, always arrived exactly when needed.

One time in particular her knowing when saved me. . . .

Our fifth child’s delivery date was to be later than expected. Family members, who awaited the SOS call, would be notified quickly so they could come take care of our four children. As time and schedule permitted, my husband, Eddie, would care for our three school-aged boys, but because of his irregular work schedule, he couldn’t manage our one-year-old daughter.

My friend Evelyn didn’t hesitate. “I’ll keep her for as long as you’d like.”

It put my mind at rest to know everyone would be taken care of. All I had to do was deliver the baby and return home to the rest of the family as soon as possible.

I went into labor and our plan went into effect.

But, tragically, our baby boy died from complications.

There was nothing anyone could do to ease my pain, heartache and loss.

Four days later, when I returned home from the hospital, I had no idea how to explain to our three sons what had happened. I didn’t know how to comfort them in their grief, or me in mine. To my surprise, they offered more comfort than I could give. They stayed at my side and showered me with talk of their school activities. How I appreciated every thoughtful moment. Still, I knew I had to come to grips with my own grief, shock and sorrow.

As the day progressed, to my further horror, my husband became seriously ill and was rushed to the intensive care unit at the local hospital. The threat of a second loss became more than I could bear. What would I do if Eddie died, too?

My mother, already en route, arrived that very day and took over the care of the boys.

I didn’t call anyone about Eddie, not even Evelyn, who still had our daughter at her house. I could only retreat to my bedroom—to be alone, to think, to brace myself for the worst, to grapple with answers to threatening questions: How will I ever recover from losing my baby boy? Will I be a single parent of four? How will I make ends meet? Will I have to get a job? Who will take care of the children, a day-care service? I collapsed on the bed and sobbed, unable to leave my cocoon of grief.

Early the next morning before Eddie’s parents arrived, one of the boys came into my bedroom where I remained, wallowing in self-pity and depression. “Mom, Evelyn’s here. She’s in her car. She said she wasn’t sure just when to come in. But she told me she had something she thought would help you feel better.”

Somehow I managed to drag myself to the door.

There, parked at the end of the driveway, was Evelyn with my one-year-old daughter who I hadn’t seen in over a week. Walking to meet with them, I saw my little girl’s face glowing with excitement. She stretched her arms up to me. I started to cry, wondering if she’d thought she’d lost me.

Evelyn opened the door, handed me our baby girl and said, “I think this is the best medicine for you now.”

I embraced my daughter, held her close and looked into the eyes of my best friend. “How did you know?”

“The boys called and told me about Eddie. I knew this was when you needed all your family here.”

Knowing when is an art my friend Evelyn has perfected.

But being this kind of friend is an art perfected only by God.

Helen Colella

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