Joining Hands

Dear Ellie — For the past five years, your grandfather and I have lived in a downtown highrise condo in Austin. It’s a lovely place, where we’re treated very well. It’s also been a good place for us to be at this time in our lives when we don’t want the bother of taking care of a yard or worrying about our roof when it storms.

But it’s also a community. People have come and gone over the years, but those of us who live here full time have become close friends. We go to dinner and movies and plays together, we meet in the gym, we gather in the lobby for monthly parties. It may not look like a traditional neighborhood of well-kept lawns and front porches — but a neighborhood is about people, not structures.

Yesterday was a terrible time for all of us who live here. One of our neighbors died suddenly. His death may have been accidental or self-inflicted. All we knew is that he was gone and we’d never see him again. Like everybody else, I kept seeing his face — his large, dark eyes, his friendly smile, his air of kindness and sweetness.

His death would have been a tragedy under any circumstances, but he was fairly young and that made it so much sadder. He left behind a partner and an extended family and many others who cared about him and will miss him terribly.

As you’ll learn, people gather together at a time like this. They shake their heads in disbelief, they cry, they hug, they talk, they cling to one another. There’s not much small talk — just faltering words that come from somewhere else entirely, a deep well of grief and pain and longing to connect.

Your grandfather and I went to dinner afterwards with two other couples from our neighborhood. We toasted our friend Paul and we told stories about him. We recalled his great kindness and warmth. At the end of the meal, one of our neighbors suggested we join hands and remember Paul.

So we did — six people at a round table on a warm October evening holding hands. It made me think of my childhood, joining hands and saying a prayer. It was something I hadn’t done in years, but it seemed perfect last night.

My dear, sweet baby girl, you will know times like this when you carry a great weight. It happens to all of us. But it’s also a time when you reach out to other people and, for just a few moments, understand what life is all about. More than anything, I hope you will have good friends and a caring community to hold you when your heart aches and you feel alone. Much love, Coco

(Copyright 2016 by Ruth Pennebaker)


  1. Sharon Lippincott · October 25, 2016

    Oh Ruth, what a bittersweet post. My heart aches for your loss, and at the same time, I so appreciate the appealing picture you paint of community in a high rise condo. Thank you for writing so frankly about your shared grief. May Ellie find courage and inspiration in your words at an appropriate time.

  2. Brette · October 25, 2016

    I’m sorry for your loss Ruth. Learning how to grieve is an important lesson and I hope this helps Ellie when she is older.

  3. Sheryl · October 25, 2016

    I’m so sorry to hear this sad news. I hope the closeness and strength of others will help support you and boost you up. There is great strength in community especially in times like these.

  4. Kerry Dexter · October 25, 2016

    As you and your friends support each other in remembering Paul, you strengthen you community, and you are a gift each to the other. This story, so well told, is a gift to Ellie, too, and to others who will read it and be encouraged. Joining hands, indeed.

  5. Roxanne · October 25, 2016

    I’m so sorry for this loss in your life. It’s good you can honor him with your words.