The ultimate expression of love : ‘Being there’, is the greatest gift one can give | Sunday Observer

The ultimate expression of love : ‘Being there’, is the greatest gift one can give

The phone shrilled early in the morning, causing me to miss a heartbeat. I don’t remember everything that happened in the days that followed my father’s demise, unexpectedly. But, some things are etched firmly in my mind.

I was 19 years, and remember standing in front of my father’s remains lying in the living room, as hundreds of people filed through the room. I remember the faces of my childhood friends who came in and sat with me and tried to console me. I remember my college friends who came from far, and stood in line, just to hug me.

I remember all my friends and relations seated around me after the funeral, and silently listening to my questions that had no answers.

That was the day I understood why ‘being there’ is the ultimate expression of love.


Last week, an ex-office mate told me a story. “When I turned 40, my husband staged a surprise party for me. I’ll never forget my emotion as I entered the garden of a small restaurant and saw loving friends amid flowers and decorations.

I hurried from one table to the next, greeting each guest. Then, suddenly, at the far end of the garden I spotted a gentle, smiling man with snow-white hair and a vibrant woman on his arm.

“Thaththi, Ammi” I gasped. They had travelled from Hatton to Galle just an hour before. I burst into tears at the sight of these two, who, more than anyone else, had taught me that being there for another person is the greatest gift we can give.

A year later, my husband and I were invited to an unusual ceremony. The couple had been married 5 years before in a civil ceremony, and they now wanted to reaffirm their commitment to each other in a church service.

The morning before the wedding, I decided to call my friend and beg off. “Indrani, this is Kanthi,” I began tentatively. “You’re coming, aren’t you?” she broke in. Her voice was urgent.

I hesitated, and in that instant recalled the sight of my parents at my 40th-birthday party.

“Yes, of course,” I said, “We will be there.”

So we went. I was grateful we did. We weren’t in our seats a minute, before Kanthi came up behind us, radiant, but with tears in her eyes.

She told us how much our presence meant to her. Indrani’s in-laws didn’t make it. Her two sons and her sister too were absent. I saw the hurt in her eyes.

“To think I actually considered not going,” I later whispered to my husband. “How awful!”


The moral of these life incidents is clear. One’s presence can be duty bound, something that we owe one another, whatever the cost. But, to be there in person, for the solemn or joyous occasions of our friends and dear ones makes a difference, not just for the recipient but for the giver as well. When we are present for others, important things happen to them and to us, for instance, we renew our love and friendship. ‘Being there,’ is at the very core of civility.


What occasions are most important for being there? Surely, weddings and funerals head the list.

Birthdays, anniversaries, family holidays and victory celebrations follow closely. But, there are other, less conspicuous ways to express a sense of caring, e.g., visiting a sick aunt.

How best can we add the gift of self? Here are some suggestions:

1. Invitations: Do not think of excuses. Try not to say no to an invitation. It may not always be practical, but it is attitude that counts. Work things out and find ways to accept invitations, rather than ways to say no.

2. Go out of your way: Sometimes it is difficult, but when we make it, despite the inconvenience of travel or expense, we are often astonished at what a difference our presence has made. A former college roommate of a friend rearranged his whole teaching schedule to attend the funeral of my friend’s sister. “Can you imagine!” my friend said. “He came all the way from Singapore. I’ll never forget that.”

3. Make amends: Sometimes, you may miss a solemn event, feel embarrassed about it and gradually withdraw from friendship. Don’t let guilt compound your absence. If you didn’t go to the ceremony, you can still visit the person.

Recently, a friend lost his wife after a long illness. Throughout the endless months that he nursed her at home I phoned him from time to time, but I was always on the run, and never took the time to pay a visit. Then, one morning I heard that his wife had died.

A few days later we met, unexpectedly, as he was coming down to his car. There he stood, a frail, exhausted, lonely man. “Janaka, I am sorry” I whispered, surprised by the impact of seeing him face-to-face. As our eyes met, we reached for one another like two children.

We went up to his apartment together. In that hour, his pain and his loss became mine as well. I had not been there during his wife’s last days. But, I was needed now, and finally I was there.

Expression of love

I recollect another story related by a niece. After a long day spent raking the garden and pulling weeds in their big garden, she hobbled, exhausted into the house.

Her husband stayed behind to put away the gardening tools. As she stepped into the cold shower, she heard a rap on the bathroom door. Her husband was calling her. “Hi, I miss you. The moon’s coming up and I want you here beside me to enjoy the evening.” “The gift was so lovely, it took my breath away,” she told me later. “That’s the ultimate expression of love.” I told her.