Tina and I were absolute best friends when we were little girls. Only four houses separated her home from mine and we could have found our way to each others home with our eyes closed. At St. Joseph’s school we were always in the same class, right through to the end of grade eight. Tina and I played together by the hour. Playing ‘school’ was our absolute favourite; our siblings and neighbourhood friends made up our first classes. One summer we spent what seemed like the entire summer, co-authoring our first book. We were the writers and the illustrators both. I cannot recall one argument or one harsh word between us. I loved Tina and she loved me.
After our Mom died and our Dad remarried, our new blended family moved away from my childhood street and of course away from Tina. Although we were, in fact, only about a thirty-minute drive from each other, with me in the country, her in the city, and phones reserved for only ‘important’ calls, Tina and I lost touch.
Years later, on my wedding day, as Jim and I, newly wed, accompanied each other down the aisle of St. Joseph’s church, I caught sight of Tina, sitting in one of the back pews of the church. She had seen our wedding announcement in the weekly bulletin and had come to see me married. It might have been the best wedding gift I received.
And then, long before Facebook and email, we lost touch again for nearly thirty years. It was my sister Margaret’s chance encounter with Tina’s sister Maria, in a different city altogether, that allowed us to reconnect through email.
With this very sporadic contact over close to half a century, you can imagine my complete and utter astonishment when I joined my sisters and my mom at our family farm for a several-month-belated birthday celebration for me, and Tina walked down the hallway and into our farm kitchen to join us! My sister Mary had invited her without my knowing. The last time Tina had been to my birthday party, we were both ten years old.
We cried and hugged and cried some more. Not one single word was needed to let each other know what this moment meant. It was as if we were each acknowledging all that each of us had been through in our lives and it felt just like going home. It is indescribable how comforted I was being with Tina; Tina who knew me ‘when’.
Over the course of the evening we caught up on our lives and our families. Tina told us she is spending most of her time these days helping her parents, both in their nineties, navigate this most precious stage of their lives.
After Tina left, I found a little birthday gift she had brought for me. Pens and a journal were the perfect gift from my co-author. Even more perfect was the card. The final sentence of the card stood out for me:
“Through your posted writings you continue to share your wisdom and joy – helping me to reflect and recharge as I accompany my parents on their final journey.” I love you. Tina.
This idea of accompanying has been rolling around in my head ever since I read the card. What exactly does it mean to accompany someone?
The essence of ‘accompany’ can be best captured by the expression ‘be present with’. Each of us is invited to accompany, to be present with, others many, many times in our lives. It is at the same time both very simple and very difficult to accompany another. It is for sure a privilege.
When we accompany, we are not asked to navigate, nor to give advice, nor even to know the way. Sometimes our physical form is not even required. We are asked to simply be present with someone else as they walk their journey, short or long.
It’s a bit sobering to recognize that things we may say or do can accompany others on their life journeys. Once in a while we can find ourselves being accompanied by thoughts and feelings that no longer serve us well. In these cases, we are best to kindly, but firmly, thank our thoughts for their company, and reassure them that we are ready to move forward without them.
I have been accompanied by many wonderful people in my life. Some have accompanied me for a very short time, some for long periods of time, some in my mind, some in my memories, some in my heart, and some by my side.
As I’ve thought about Tina’s message this week, I’ve been accompanied by my wonderful memories of her. I realize that she has accompanied me throughout my life. Our hours and hours of playing school, practicing how we would be as teachers, modeling ourselves after our beloved Mrs. Beausejour, laid the foundation for my teaching career. I suspect it did for Tina's too. Both Tina and Mrs. Beausejour accompanied me throughout my career as a teacher.
Tina, and her mom, have accompanied me in my kitchen. I spent hours watching her Mama lovingly prepare incredible feasts. Sometimes these days, I manage to catch the smallest smell of something that takes me right back to their kitchen, and I sense their accompaniment.
Tina’s gentle, steady friendship has accompanied me always. It feels like a full circle moment to recognize that Tina has accompanied me for nearly my whole life, and that my blogs now accompany her as she accompanies her parents.
I love this concept of accompanying. In its best form, it is comforting, gentle, strong and safe.
My inquiry for you this week is, ‘Who am I accompanying?’
Elizabeth is a certified, professional Life and Leadership Coach, and the owner of Critchley Coaching. She is the founder and president of the Canadian charity, RDL Building Hope Society. She works with corporations, non-profits and the public sector, providing leadership and personal coaching for individuals and teams. She creates and facilitates custom workshops for all sizes of groups. Contact Elizabeth to learn how to accompany and to be accompanied.