You just never know

The last time Dana and I had a conversation of sorts was on July 1. I had inquired as to her health. She was upbeat regarding her bout with cancer. She said she had “only a few treatments left and then another scan. I actually feel good except for the fatigue. The most interesting part of this journey, my attitudes are changing. I’m becoming creatively and intellectually stimulated and I’ve developed a peaceful sort of persona, lol. At first I thought it was the drugs, but that isn’t the reason.”

Then she went on to ask specific questions about me and my health and life, giving me a pep talk and telling me to stand firm against frustration. And she wished me a “wonderful 4th” (of July).

Dana died yesterday. I just got word this morning.

Dana Crouch Davis (Facebook photo)

Dana Crouch Davis (Facebook photo)

I don’t think I’ve seen Dana since high school, if then. It had been years since we had talked. She contacted me through Facebook in December two years ago. There were no phone conversations and we never saw one another in person. At that time she was dealing with “a fair amount of emotional turmoil.” Her breast cancer then was stage 2 or 3. Still, she was upbeat, optimistic, and hopeful even as she talked about upcoming chemo, a double mastectomy, and “a clean up round of radiation.” She said, “It’s been a numbing experience and I can’t seem to move past numb. The plan to heal my body is the right course for me and combined with exercise and healthy diet this is a treatable and survivable disease. My emotions will probably take longer to heal. I just can’t seem to connect right now. I’ve always been a pragmatic person, more inclined towards the intellectual/analytical part of an equation rather than the overly emotional side of things. Right now I’m wanting to really connect with the deeper spiritual side of my nature but I’m having hard time finding it.”

Just so we’re clear here, I wasn’t sure why Dana even sent me that message on Facebook. Perhaps she had read that I had become a minister and was simply seeking spiritual direction on that level. But she didn’t say exactly why she was writing.

Nonetheless, for several months, off and on, we communicated always through private messages on Facebook. Once or twice I suggested emails or phone calls or even getting together when I made one of my trips in the direction of Kansas City. She always said she wanted to see me, but the timing was never right in terms of her health. I’ve found that there are some very fine lines in pastoral care that one must negotiate carefully. Yes, sometimes it is good to just break down the door and visit. Most of the time, however, I take a person at her word and if she isn’t up for visitors, then that should be honored.

I was still approaching this as clergy as I had no other explanation as to why she would be confiding in me after 40-50 years.

Then on May 9 (either on or near Mother’s Day) this year, I discovered something I had completely forgotten. Dana and I had been in Sunday School together as children. She posted something on Facebook about me and for everyone to see. Just a little statement of gratitude for the comfort I gave her when her mother died. I still didn’t make the connection so I sent her yet another private message and a beautiful quilt pieced together for me.

“Gretchen,” she wrote, “you may not remember, but it’s clear as a bell to me. We were in the stair area” (I assumed at the church as we didn’t go to the same school as children), “I don’t remember the day, but I was in the area alone and you appeared and asked me what was wrong. I don’t remember the specific conversation, but I do remember you being there and taking the time to listen and asking me if I wanted to come wherever you were going. I suddenly didn’t feel alone anymore.”

I was rather overcome. In fact, I had tears. And I had to ask, “How old were we when your mom died?”

“We were about 7 or 8. I think it was 1960,” she said.

Once again, she revealed that she knew more about my life than I knew about hers: she knew I had no children. “I’ve been a CASA volunteer and can speak from firsthand experience that some women should never have had children and some women without children are the most nurturing role models around. It’s that which lives in the heart that truly matters.”

I responded, “You brought tears to my eyes in more ways than you can imagine, Dana. I don’t have a memory of talking with you that day, but I’m glad I put my generally selfish intentions aside for a few moments if it was a help to you. I’m thankful it was.” I had to acknowledge my 8-year-old self-absorption.

“It’s funny,” she said, “I don’t remember you being selfish at all. We were wee ones, but there was a side of the woman you were destined to become that appeared that day.”

And she concluded that day’s exchange with “I’m really enjoying your blog.”

Yes, I suspect Dana made that original and continuing contact with me because she heard I had become a minister. Perhaps even more, however, she did it because she remembered a stairway conversation when we were eight-years-old.

I relate this today because Dana died yesterday and I recalled how I was overcome with her kindness toward me 55 years after an awkward 8-year-old apparently showed her a little (and I imagine awkward) compassion. It’s not what I did that was so important. It was what she did – not only remembering a kindness but relating it back to me. I would never have known, never remembered that as a kid I could be a nice person and that someone else was grateful for it.

You just never know when you might have an impact on someone’s life or even a day.

There is an ancient Hebrew word that kind of looks like hesed when it’s written in English. There isn’t a one-word English equivalent for it, but it is often translated as a combination of two English words written as one: lovingkindness. It most often is applied in the Old or First Testament to God and encompasses even more than a combination of those words. Sometimes it is translated “steadfast love.” It is a description of God’s character or, I suppose, when we look through the lens of the New or Second Testament, God’s grace. Hesed or lovingkindness includes all of God’s wonderful traits.

I guess lovingkindness is the key here. I am grateful for the life of Dana Crouch Davis, one of whom I knew so little and who I could only identify through Facebook photos, but who made me feel like a really good person when I most needed to feel that way. I’ll wrap myself in her quilt of her lovingkindness for years to come.



1 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
his steadfast love endures forever!

5 Out of my distress I called on the LORD;
the LORD answered me and set me in a broad place.
6 With the LORD on my side I do not fear.
What can mortals do to me?
7 The LORD is on my side to help me;
I shall look in triumph on those who hate me.
8 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in mortals.
9 It is better to take refuge in the LORD
than to put confidence in princes.

29 O give thanks to the LORD, for he is good,
for his steadfast love endures forever. – Psalm 118:1, 5-9, 29

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16 comments for “You just never know

  1. Merrie Miller
    December 16, 2015 at 10:22 am

    Thank for that message, Gretchen. Having lost so many really dear friends, I am now wondering if by some lucky fluke, I may have had as loving an effect on their lives as they did on mine. I was not a collector of friends but the ones I had were treasured.

    • Kristin
      December 16, 2015 at 11:58 am

      Love it. You had a positive effect on our time in Pierre. Even before you became a pastor….

      Merry Christmas!

      Kristin Peterson Hughes

    • Kristin
      December 16, 2015 at 12:02 pm

      Hi, Merrie! I remember you fondly from our time living in Pierre & being part of Chap. BU. (& being a Theta who really enjoyed your daughter Lee).

      ~Kristin Peterson Hughes~

  2. Terry Anderson
    December 16, 2015 at 10:33 am

    A wonderful Christmas message. Thank you.

  3. Susan
    December 16, 2015 at 10:34 am

    Awesome insight into your connection(s) with Dana, and you’re correct…you just never know when you might have an impact on someone’s life or even a day. That has been my mantra throughout my educational career, and in general, my life. God places people in our paths for a reason I believe, and so therefore I need to be sure that my half of the interaction can be impactful.

    Even back in high school, you impacted my life ~ and I daresay, you were probably not aware of it at all then. I’m so very blessed to have you back in my path, in “my dash” between my birth and my death dates.

    Never give up the opportunity to let someone know their importance to you and that you love them.

    And, I love you sweet Gretchen. Hope to see you soon.

    Have a wonderful Christmas.

  4. Sheri Anderson
    December 16, 2015 at 10:50 am

    Simply beautiful. Thank you.

  5. Ellen
    December 16, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    Oh what a wonderful story. People touch lives in some many ways…thanks for the many touches you make Gretchen

  6. Patti
    December 16, 2015 at 2:09 pm

    I’m not sure exactly what to say Gretchen except this is a very touching piece. Also I have no idea why or how you fell from the sky during this time that I am here as well, but I do know – I’m thankful and glad! Merry Christmas! LYM:)

  7. Pam
    December 16, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I guess we often won’t know what effect our words or actions may have on others. What a wonderful story!

  8. Barb
    December 16, 2015 at 3:00 pm

    I remember when I went back to work after my surgery for my colon cancer. I was in oncology sales. Well, I went into one key account as a rep. When Dr. Siegel heard why I had been out for a couple of months, he stopped seeing his patients for two minutes. He came to the area where he saw reps. He took my hand and said “barb, you know you have dodged a bullet.” He doesn’t know how that positive comment kept me feeling safe,that my surgeon had cured me.

    Years before that, I was a volunteer for hospice. I worked with kids who had lost a loved one. One 8-year old kid had been acting out and getting into some miserable behavior as he was mourning the loss of his grampa. Well, one evening we were working on our “memory boxes”. We each had a shoebox that we decorated. I had instructed the kids to bring in something from their loved one — a photo, a toy, etc. — and we would sit around in a circle and tell each other about our loved one who was no longer with us. I started and I shared a photo of my sister in her prom dress. This kid was sitting next to me, and he nudged me on the arm. He wanted to speak alone. Another volunteer noted this and stepped in to take care of the group. This kid and I pulled our chairs away from the group. The kid asked “can I tell you a bit about my grampa”? Golly I felt the tears well up in my eyes. I said “yes, tell me about your grampa”. He told me. We just sat together in a moment of silence when he was done. Then he said, “thanks, I know I can find grampa in my memory box next time I need him”. I had to say thanks to him for letting me share my memory of my sister. This kid has no clue what he did for me. And interestingly, I don’t remember his name. But I vividly remember him and what he did for me.

  9. Susan Norby
    December 16, 2015 at 5:37 pm

    What a wonderful story and what a gift of care and concern you gave Dana so many years ago. It reminds me of my grade school years back in the 50’s. There was a girl who joined our class of 7 kids for a short time. She was very quiet with dark circles under her eyes. She moved away shortly after and life went on. Within the last few years her name came to me several times and prayed for the opportunity to communicate again. I wanted to tell her that she was special and that I hoped I was nice to her so many years ago. One day I read her mother’s name in the obituaries in the newspaper and I took off work to attend. She traveled from New York to attend her mother’s funeral. It was obvious that she had many struggles in her life, but I found her and was able to tell her how special she was and how grateful I was to have the opportunity to tell her. I made sure that her siblings knew that she was very special back then and I appreciated her friendship so many years ago. We send Christmas cards back and forth now and I can tell by her penmanship that life is difficult. What a gift to me that I was able to reconnect and tell this individual that what I wasn’t able to when I was 10. Thanks be to God.

  10. Glenda
    December 16, 2015 at 5:59 pm

    This is a wonderful message. I’m sure there is a very long list of people who are thankful for the impact you have had on their life. I know you have played an important role in my family. We all love you. Merry Christmas!

  11. Margaret
    December 16, 2015 at 6:52 pm

    You must have been as beautiful as a young girl as you are a woman, Gretchen. Love you. Margaret

  12. David Deutsch
    December 17, 2015 at 11:08 pm

    Dear Gretchen, I have no doubt that you have had an impact on many lives, mine among them. Sometimes it takes a long-term perspective to see the effects we may have had on people, or of their effects on us. Often the effect is not as specific as it was with Dana; rather, it’s a general sense of nurture and kindness, a nostalgic yearning to bundle yourself in that friend’s spirit in a tough or even loving time. A few years ago I attended a memorial in Beverly Hills for my acting teacher Nina Foch, who had played Moses’ mother in the movie classic “The Ten Commandments.” I loved Nina, as did her former student Barry Manilow and her best friend Julie Andrews, both of shared how Nina enriched their lives. But Nina’s son revealed that his mother had not wanted any kind of memorial because she didn’t believe she’d had any impact on people’s lives or that anyone would care or show up. (About 300 people attended.) I know Nina’s concerns were more dramatic hyperbole than truth; it was Nina’s wry sense of humor about herself. Nina’s favorite flower was the gardenia, and she always wore one. Now whenever I smell a gardenia I think of Nina and smile. I can almost hear her saying, “I’ve been around so long — I was at the first Passover.” So we all touch each other every day in small ways and big ways, and in ways that we may never know make a difference in each others lives. To have someone acknowledge it is a gift, but most of us can find fulfillment and self-love in knowing that we have given of ourselves without knowing the outcome. Thanks so much for exploring this topic and spurring me to give it more thought. Your brightness and compassion always shine through.

  13. Susan
    December 18, 2015 at 6:32 am

    I love your response, David. We have the “easy” ones to remember (like you and I dancing at Cliff and Paul’s when I was certain no one would claim me as a partner), and the ones that are now more “engrained” and brought to mind when we see a gardenia. You both have given me cause this week to think more deeply about them both.

    And, I never let the opportunity to say “I love you” slip away. I love you both. Thank you for the impact on my life you’ve both had.

  14. December 19, 2015 at 7:48 pm

    Rather than write to you all individually this week, I just want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and memories (both here on the site and in other contacts with me). And I want to reiterate that whatever happened in that stairwell that day at the church had nothing to do with me. It had to do with my parents and our Sunday School teachers and God. That’s it. I am just so grateful to have been reunited with Dana after all those years, even in just written communications. She was truly a beautiful person and I am grateful to her. Thank you!

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