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It's The Least I Could Do

Jan 9, 2018 at 8:47 AM

holding elderly handsWhy is it that we want to help the most when the least will do and feel like the most?

Our elderly neighbor, Mary Lou, died recently. A childless widow, she died a pretty lonely woman. She was a woman of faith, a teacher for forty-two years, and had been retired for sixteen years, so her network had gone quite cold. She depended on Jamee, my wife, as a friend and neighbor, and as she diminished, Jamee’s connections increased and deepened. Jamee became her health advocate and confidant, and towards the end of Mary Lou’s life Jamee became her health care power of attorney. After her passing Jamee knew Mary Lou’s wishes about her funeral, so she became a point person with the parish and funeral home. Jamee often said, “John, she has no one.” Easter, Christmas and Thanksgiving dinner always included Mary Lou and John, her husband, before he died seven years ago.

About twenty-five people came to the funeral. A few cousins, a few church friends, and four former teaching colleagues who saw the obituary. It was a lonely funeral and burial.

Jamee received twenty-five glowing, gushing affirmations about her role in Mary Lou’s life. Jamee’s response to each praise was, “It was the least I could do.” You see, Jamee was feeling remorse at not doing more to help Mary Lou’s final days. She wanted to be able to say, “I helped the most I possibly could.”

It seems to me that this desire to help the most paralyzes us. It might have also paralyzed others who knew Mary Lou better and longer than Jamee did. I met all twenty-five folks at the funeral. They seemed like good people to me. But the fact was, not many of them were available to Mary Lou while she lived.

I wonder if maybe knowing that Mary Lou was a lonely widow needing so much companionship, advocacy with doctors, and help around her house caused them to predict that a connection would require more capacity than they had…so they did little or nothing to connect.

Jamee’s gift is unearthing treasure in the little things of life. I love her for this lesson.

It turns out that being present is helping the least, and it’s what helps the most.

7 responses to “It’s The Least I Could Do”

  1. John Toogood says:

    I remember Mary Lou! I met her one Christmas dinner about 5 years ago at your home! Mary Lou was very nice and was glad she had somewhere to go on Christmas! Patty and I as well, were glad to be at your home that day! I know Mary Lou appreciated your neighborly kindness at the end. Good for you Jamee!

  2. Mark Neumann says:

    Wow, those are some good words brother! As I read it I realized I feel paralyzed quite often by that exact thought. Let’s not worry about what the long term need is, let’s live in the now. What does the Lord have for me TODAY, not tomorrow?!

  3. Calvin W. Edwards says:

    John, so very true. Thank you for interrupting my busy-ness with this thoughtful and helpful reflection. We must not hold back because we cannot do all we can, rather do what we can do and sometimes that will prove to be what helps most. Thank you for sharing that through a lovely story. God bless Jamee for her unpretentious generosity.

  4. Harville Hendrix says:

    Thanks, John, for teaching us that generosity, no matter how small, is always significant. As Jesus said, “when you do it to the least of these, you do it unto me.”

  5. Pat Woehrer says:

    “It seems to me that this desire to help the most paralyzes us.” This comment is so true in my own life. In helping to care for the elderly, our literal acceptance of earthly death comes face to face with the desire to stop what’s inevitable, or at least to make it the most dignified as possible. This also happens with other suffering that is not unto death. Jamee brought dignity and God’s peace to Mary Lou. Today I’m inspired to be more generous with my presence to those who are suffering.

  6. Diane Reynolds says:

    That is a beautiful story. The other day I read the story of the disciples asking Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?” Sometimes we use Jesus’ own words to define our neighbor as someone far off, in Africa or India; someone who can never ask for us to be inconvenienced. When in life, sometimes our neighbor actually lives next door!

  7. Ron Riemersma says:

    What a great reminder to look for all the little ways we can make a difference in the lives around us, every day. Every day, to seek how God would have us live and look for opportunities to give or serve. Maybe it’s having a pre-packaged lunch in our car for someone in need, helping at a shelter, or lending a listening ear to the lonely. The little things that will probably go unnoticed, but indeed are for the least of these. I hope I watch for more opportunities this year.

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