When hard times hit
A couple’s experience of helping a childhood friend find peace again
About a year ago, John and I received a phone call. It was from our friend Greg (name changed) whom we had not seen in years. He and his family were childhood friends of mine. Greg left a message asking for “a favor.” When we called back, he asked if he could park his trailer in our driveway for a few days. Relieved that it was such a simple request, we said yes.
When the trailer arrived, it turned out that it was his home; he was living in the trailer. He said that he had fallen on hard times and had lost everything. It seemed incomprehensible that this man had lost not only his successful business, but also his beautiful family and his health. We soon learned that his family wanted nothing to do with him because of some of the choices he had made.
John and I felt torn between the desire to see and welcome Jesus in him and the fear of becoming burdened with his seemingly impossible predicament. It was obvious that Greg was desperate and had pretty much burned all his bridges. It must have been so humiliating for him to ask us for help. When we met with the community of the Focolare, we were able to share this. We found encouragement to try to love him as the “neighbor” God put next to us in this moment of life.
Whenever we came home from work, the trailer would be in the driveway, and John and I would struggle with the desire to be left alone and the desire to invite him to share our meal. Mindful of the words of the Gospel, usually the desire to love won out. He appreciated every little act of kindness so much.
One evening after dinner, he quoted Mother Theresa, who said that the worst suffering is not to be poor, but to be unwanted. We told him it was an opportunity to renew our friendship after so many years of neglect. We recalled old times and shared memories of our childhood and our parents, who were good friends.
But Greg sometimes seemed very confused. It was obvious that he needed to see a doctor, yet he was resistant to going to the hospital. John felt strongly that we were enabling him; and I felt it would be risky to ask him to leave. Unsure of what God wanted us to do, we reached out for help to the St. Vincent de Paul group at our parish, and with their support John found Greg a spot in a nearby county park and helped him to move there.
When time ran out in the park, a very kind man from the group helped Greg to get into emergency housing. From there we learned he went to the hospital, where he spent several months. I was able to visit him there once, and it seemed that his mind had cleared up. He was starting to think more rationally again. The old Greg was coming back.
In the meantime, Greg had asked John to help him find a place to store his truck and trailer, which were the only possessions he had. This too was almost impossible, but after much searching and dogged persistence, John was able to find a safe spot. Greg was very happy. It was as if this small victory was giving him back some control over his life.
Recently we learned from Greg’s family that he was seriously ill, but that he was living back in his old homestead, with his two sons and their wives and children. I was able to visit him, and he seemed so happy despite the illness.
He passed away a few weeks later, and at his funeral we learned that he had reconciled with his family. He had a beautiful service, and his entire family was there to celebrate and honor his life.
We may not have always loved him perfectly, and I wished I had been to visit him more often. But we were so grateful that, because of the grace of God, we were able to make our contribution, however small, to helping him find peace in the end.
L.B., New York
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