The Gift of Presence is Priceless

Posted on December 4, 2019

man and lake

This Morning Buzz is brought to you by Lynn Kelly-Lehner from the City of Temecula.

What I’m Reading: Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (I’m always reading Harry Potter) and The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor

What I’m Listening To:  Everything Happens Podcast with Kate Bowler

Good morning from rainy Southern California, ELGLers! I want to begin my post today with a disclaimer: if you are looking for a happy, motivating, cheerful Morning Buzz post, this is not it. Perhaps you may want to save this for later. But I do feel like this post has an important message that we may all need at some point.

Recently Kylie Bayer posted a thought-provoking post on How to Handle the Death of the Co-Worker. Unfortunately, I have also experienced the death of several co-workers, and sadly another co-worker passed away within the past two weeks.  First of all, I want to say –  yes. Do all of those things that Kylie mentioned. They are very important. But with a heavy heart here in Temecula,  I wanted to write through a different lens – the power of real human connection with your colleagues and friends going through difficult times.

I didn’t know what to do when I found out P was sick. I was shocked. And sad. And angry. P was SO full of life and SO full of energy that it seemed impossible that this could happen.  The diagnosis and the prognosis were always grim, but we had all hoped that she would overcome the odds. When I found out about her passing, I felt the heavy weight of grief rush over me. I was suddenly very aware of the whole fragility of life – in the middle of a staff meeting.

Not long after P was diagnosed with cancer, I came across the brilliant podcast by Kate Bowler called Everything Happens. At age 35, in otherwise great health, Kate was diagnosed with Stage IV cancer, with no history of it in her family. Her whole world turned upside down in an instant. Cheerful spoiler alert – Kate is currently in good health and keeps a close eye on her numbers.

I was instantly captivated by Kate’s beautiful soul, kindness, heart, and wisdom beyond her years. By creating this podcast, she wanted to encourage people to not turn their backs on grief and all the uncomfortable or awkward emotions that can come with it. Not only had I been struggling with my own grief, but I struggled with the grief of my friends and colleagues as they processed all of this. And of course, what on earth can I possibly say to P while she was enduring her months of treatment? Not knowing if she had tomorrow?

I want to share with you, lovely ELGL family, some of Kate’s quotes that have resonated with me most during this difficult season.

I wish there was cultural permission to be fragile and be in that liminal space where we’re not totally sure it is going to work out, but we really need one another to step in with love. Kate Bowler’s words were what I needed to hear just at this moment. I needed to step in with love.

What does this even mean?

As Kate discusses, it is vital to learn how to connect to someone as a human being and understand the power of just being there.  We may not be used to being in this role with our co-workers. But being there doesn’t need to be complicated. It can mean just sitting with the person in pain. Being willing to be vulnerable and share their emotions with them.  The gift of presence is priceless.

Pain makes everyone awkward so just get in the game.

Yes, it will probably be uncomfortable. Pretty much no one is born with this skill. Imagine for just one second what the other person is going through. How incredibly lonely and isolating and scared they might be. Get past your awkwardness. Just get in the game. Love can make you brave.

 The hardest lessons come from the solutions people, who are already a little disappointed that I am not saving myself. There is always a nutritional supplement, Bible verse or mental process I have not adequately tried. ‘Keep smiling! Your attitude determines your destiny!’ said a stranger named Jane in an email, having heard my news somewhere, and I was immediately worn out by the tyranny of prescriptive joy.

The tyranny of prescriptive joy. How charming and hilarious is that phrase? People that are experiencing such impossible pain do not always want or need cheering up. Empathy is so powerful. Yet it can be so difficult to express, especially in a work setting, where we are seemingly bound by the (outdated) norms and cultures of not showing emotions at work.

People grieve differently. Grief is not linear. There is no rubric for mourning.

Don’t ‘should’ on people. Your grief does not look like someone else’s grief. Don’t tell people how they should be feeling. This includes being gentle with yourself.

Sometimes you just are at a loss for words. Or too overwhelmed to say what you want to say. In one of my favorite episodes of her podcast, Kate interviews artist Emily McDowell. No stranger to hardship and pain herself, Emily McDowell has created a line of cards to find the right words for loved ones who are experiencing major illness, grief, and loss. One of my favorites boldly offers please let me be the first to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. If that isn’t love, I don’t know what is.


Unexpectedly, I have found a silver lining in all of this.  I have become much more comfortable embracing discomfort. The overwhelming power of grief has brought our work family closer together. We have learned the importance of the gifts of empathy and presence. We are all a little bit more patient and understanding.

I leave you with one of my favorite quotes from P. Most of my City family agrees that we have no idea what she was actually talking about, but she said it all the time, and it makes me laugh.

“This ain’t your daddy’s City!” – P


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