I have a friend whose mother is in the final stages of her life. My friend is sad, and grieving, and mad. Helpless. She is feeling all the things we feel when something really crappy is happening to someone we love.
It’s especially hard because my friend has just become a grandmother for the first time. Her daughter’s baby is only a few weeks old, and so it’s a happy and joyful time in a lot of ways. So she’s really conflicted. She’s trying to balance the joy with the sadness she’s carrying, and the impossible conundrum of wanting all of them—her mom, her daughter, her granddaughter—to be together. Just a little longer.
But last night, my friend called me from the hospital. She sounded lighter than she’d sounded in weeks. “How’s your Mom doing?” I asked, tentative.
“Not well,” she said. “She’s struggling to breathe. They tell me it will be just a matter days, now.”
“I’m so sorry,” I told her, aching for her.
“But..." Christina sounded really good. I waited.
Christina had been holding her mother’s hand and sitting quietly next to her hospital bed. They’d been quiet, together, for quite some time. Out of the silence, her mother unexpectedly and calmly asked Christina not to worry about a thing; it was going to be just fine.
“Oh, Mom,” my friend told her. “That’s not true. Please don't go. Not yet. I need you to teach me a whole bunch of other things. Like, being a grandmother. I don’t know how to be a grandmother. You need to teach me.”
Her mother thought awhile. Then she said, “It’s easy. Just be there, and don’t interfere.”
Christina loved that piece of advice and had called me to marvel at its simplicity. “It’s perfect, isn’t it? I’m going to remember that. As a grandmother for sure—but it applies to a whole bunch of other things, too,” she said, sounding excited. “Think about it. Be there, and don’t interfere. It applies to our work as teachers and leaders, too. There are tons and tons of times that we just need to be there, but not interfere. Whether it is a process, a conversation, a learning opportunity—sometimes our main role is to be there but stay out of the way of the natural progression of things.”
Christina told me, emphatically, that this last piece of advice from her mother might be the one she holds tightest. “She’s told me so many smart things in my life—this is the one I like the best. Be there, and don’t interfere. It’s my new motto.”
It’s a good one.