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Showing Up to the Pain and Grief of Others

It has been a tough few days.  It feels as if everyone around me is dealing with/has received bad news.  Not just bad news, life altering news.  In these moments, it is hard to put out the challenge to live happier because in these moments we are just surviving.  We are just putting one foot in front of the other and moving forward. Pain, grief, tragedy, are all a part of life, but that certainly doesn’t mean they are easy to deal with.  These moments require us to dig deeper and keep trucking along.   They also require a period of denial, numbness to allow your brain and emotions to catch up with the reality of the situation. I believe that denial and numbness is the body’s way of protecting us from going into shock.  The number of tragedies that occur if we really faced them head on we would all go through a mental break down.

So in the past few days I have been thinking a lot about being there for friends/family who are going through challenging times.  What do we say or do?  We all feel a need to say something. We all have been told the trite annoying platitudes of ‘God, doesn’t give us more than we can handle’ or ‘When a door closes a window opens’. These are lovely sayings, and might even be true, but they aren’t helpful to someone who has just lost a loved one, or going through a divorce.  They are pithy and dismissive and in time might bring comfort but in the moment of the pain they are more for our comfort to have something to say then providing comfort for our loved one in pain.  I know for me when I have dealt with a tragedy or been in pain it is the people who have just sat with me, who were present with me, and who even admitted” I don’t know what to say or do but I am here”.  Ah, that wonderful admitting of humanity, is so healing.

I can remember a few years ago, my dad had been admitted into the ICU after nearly dying in the ER.  I had asked my now nearest and dearest to come over because I didn’t want to be alone. I didn’t know what I wanted or needed but I knew I didn’t want to be by myself.  At the time he and I were just friends.  When he arrived he insisted that I eat something I wasn’t very hungry but finally decided on a spinach salad (odd choice I know).  As I was talking on the phone with my mom making plans for the next day, I looked up to see him in the kitchen breaking off the stems of each individual spinach leaf, and my heart just melted.  When I asked him what he was doing he said he hated the stems and he thought I might too, and he wanted to make it as yummy as possible.  I know that at the time he had no idea how to comfort me, what to say and the breaking of the spinach stems was probably more to give him something to do while I cried on the phone with my mom then to make my salad better.  But it showed his humanity, his wanting to try to help me and to be present, he just didn’t know how to do it. That right there was a comfort to me, knowing someone cared to be present to deal with me when I didn’t know how to deal with myself.

As our loved ones, move through the dark periods in life, it is my belief that when we regularly show up, hold the space (even if it is silence) and show our humanity we are the most helpful to those in pain.  We need to fight the urge to soothe with words (and it is a STRONG urge) and sayings.  We need to remind ourselves that there is no perfect answer or words to heal the pain.  Pain takes time and the best way to help is to be ourselves, be present to the fact that grief and sadness take time and admit our humanity as we try to help.  What do you think?  What has helped you in moving through grief/sadness?

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