How friends do the holidays

Unexpectedly over Thanksgiving break, my brother-in-law Harris, needed a significant open heart surgery to repair his aorta and replace his aortic valve.  For a guy who is only 34 years old, eats strictly healthy foods, and is in pristine physical condition otherwise, to say it was a shock would be an understatement.  He’s the last guy you’d ever pick from a lineup as a candidate for a heart condition.

And so life seems to go.

In the days leading up to the surgery, it was stressful for the entire family, but particularly for their immediate family.  The unspoken but obvious, elephant in the room, was that my sister-in-law has already endured the unexpected loss of one beloved, perfectly healthy husband and father to her three incredible kids.  The weight of the impending outcome of this surgery seemed like too much for one family to bear.  And yet, there they were.

Both, afraid and holding on to hope, at the same time.  

For us, it was one of those things that trumps all others.  My family had flown in from all over the country to spend Thanksgiving week all together, even my Grandmother from Missouri.  We had houseguests and dinner plans, but none of that matters in light of this type of circumstance in your family.  So we booked the flight to head to Houston, for only 24 hours, to be present for the surgery.

“Family comes first”  

That’s always been the mantra in my family.  When family is in need, we show up.  No matter what.  So when it comes to family, everyone else can just take a number.  But I learned something new that day in the waiting room.  There are times when friends in need trump family dinner, even on Thanksgiving.  You see, when we arrived at the hospital at 6:30 Wednesday morning, so did a group of Jen’s close friends.  They’d chosen to leave their families and company, to make the drive to Houston to be present for their friend.  Of course, she was surrounded by family, but it’s not the same.

She needed her friends.

Throughout the day, her friends arrived like the cavalry.  They brought coffee, a catered hot lunch, homemade pies, and giant cases of water.  They literally thought of everything.  They served us like we were The Royal Family.  But most of all, they were there for Jen.  They sat in those uncomfortable chairs all day long, even when the surgery start time was delayed by four hours.  They walked with Jen when she needed a break.  They were her rock.  They took turns, but they didn’t leave until late in the night when Harris was out of surgery and in the clear.

I watched in awe, and soaked in every bit of learning.  

This is how friendship is done in the trenches.  Thankfully, I’ve never had a close friend go through something like this, but if I ever do, now I know how it’s done.  Being a good friend, a good wife, a good mom or a good citizen, comes naturally for some folks.  But for the rest of us, it takes practice and we learn by watching the ones we respect, do it so well.

Look for the helpers. 

When we were little, we were taught to look for the helpers when we needed help.  That idea still applies, now that we are all grown up.  When you want to learn to be a good friend, or simply a good person.  When you’re trying to navigate your role in the world.  Look for the ones who are making a ruckus while serving others with whatever they have.  Look for the ones you respect.  Watch what they’re doing.  Listen to what they’re saying . . . and learn.

Of course, it looks different for each of us. 

As you go through life, if you’re paying attention, you will learn from the ones around you.  You learn from the ones who are doing it right, and even from the ones who are still trying to figure it out.  Look for the helpers.

Learn from them. 

Become them.

This is how friends do the holidays. 

You never know who is watching and learning.

to more love,



  1. This is a beautiful story Crystal and well told. As I read it I was feeling blessed that I am considered a friend to your sweet family. We are keeping the Gornto family in our prayers and ready to help in any way that we can. Friendship Love is the best!💖

    1. So true Angie! Friendship love IS the best! So grateful for you and your friendship to our family!

  2. Wonderfully written and a beautiful story! Still sending prayers and love to the Gornto family. Thanks for reminding us true friendships and good helpers are SPECIAL!

    1. Thank you Mary! Thank you for your continued prayers! True friendships are so special!

  3. Crystal, as usual, This is written beautifully! I, myself, have had and felt this kind of love from a wonderful group of friends who were with me through so much — the sudden death of my husband, cancer surgeries, broken feet, and so many other instances. The love, prayers, kindness and closeness of those friends has held me together for many years; I thank God for them every day. I am sure it’s the same way that Jennifer feels.

    1. Thank you Brenda! Yes, it’s so true how life has a way of showing you so clearly, your need for close friendships and then making way for them to surface in your time of need. So so true. Grateful you’ve had those good friends all these years!

  4. Crystal so very well written! I I was brought up like you Family comes first. When family is in the hospital we were and still are always there. But for friends to travel great distances to support you in your time of need even on a holiday just magnifies the love people have for the Gornto family.

    1. Thank you Dorothy! Yes, family first. . . and friends like family first too! 😉 Their love for Jen was surely magnified that day, no doubt. A beautiful gift!

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