When someone we love is suffering, we often feel the desire to DO something; to help in some way; to try to FIX the situation. This can lead to feelings of helpless or being stuck in our inability to make the suffering go away. Yet, when I asked you all to share what has best served YOU in times of need, the overarching response was painfully simple: PRESENCE.
While DOING OR SAYING something might make YOU feel better, what a suffering person may really need is for you to simply come alongside them with love and compassion during their difficult time; to believe that they have a deep knowing and intuition about the next best steps for themselves; to trust that this part of their path is not meant to be fixed, minimized, or avoided. The answer can be as simple as saying “I care about you. You are not alone.” A simple act of presence can be enough. In fact, it can be incredibly powerful. I’d like to share, in your own words, some of the MANY responses I received in this vein:
- “What helped most was when people just checked– in no matter what.”
- “In the moment when you are going through something traumatic, you don’t even know what you need and can’t even think about asking. Those friends that reached out and checked on me without me asking are the ones I’m still closest with today.”
- “When one of my best friend’s husband died, she was living in a different state. I would just sit on the phone with her for hours, not even saying anything. Just being.”
- “When my father died I wanted to be left alone and grieve in peace but I loved the texts I would get from my friends who checked on me.”
- “I didn’t want magic words because there were none. But being present and doing your best to just sit and carry that burden for a little while–not trying to ‘fix’ the situation–was what helped most.”
- “Show up. Check in AND communicate that no feedback is required.”
- “When people said, “I am here for you” and just held space and didn’t judge whatever crazy things I was ranting or saying. They just let me get it all out.”
- “What helps most is when people are the EAR, not the MOUTH.”
- “Best thing I ever heard was ‘your grief, your way, your time’.”
- “I loved when a friend said, ‘I’m not going to bullshit you and say that I understand. But I want you to know that I am here for you, even if it just means bringing you ice cream and wine and crying with you and saying nothing.’ And she did.”
- “I’ll walk beside you through the difficult days ahead. Lean on me. I’m here, next to you through this. I’m not going anywhere. I care. I love you.”
- “A Chaplin at Boulder Community Hospital for many years said the most important thing to do is just to show up and be present. She says they usually won’t even remember what you say or don’t say, but they will remember that you were THERE with them. (I also find that chocolate and wine can sometimes speak louder than words.)”
- “Instead of platitudes…Just show up. Bring chocolate or wine or comfort food. Tell them that you have no idea what to say, but you do know that you love them and you want to walk alongside them whatever that means.”
- “Simply this: “you aren’t alone in this, I don’t know what to say or do, but I am walking alongside you.”
- I love you and I am here for you, that’s maybe the ONLY thing anyone needs to say.
In addition to these beautiful examples of ways we can verbalize our willingness to be present for our suffering loved ones, I also invite you to ask questions. Here are a few suggestions to help create the opportunity for someone to express their own experience:
- It sounds like you are feeling___. Is that right?
- I see your tears. What do these mean to you?
- If you feel comfortable sharing how you feel, I am happy to just listen, without judgment or feedback.
- What is it that you need in this moment?
- What voices/stories are you hearing that are NOT your own and don’t support you right now?
- What do you know to be true?
- Simply act as a mirror and repeat back what you are hearing them say. (i.e. I hear that you are angry. I hear that you don’t understand why this is happening.)
I hope this article provides some guidance the next time a loved one’s suffering might leave you feeling lost or helpless.
Personally it is incredibly unifying for me to see that, while we all experience grief in our own ways, the simple act of presence seems to be a deep comfort to all.
Be sure to be on the lookout for my next post where I will share some of the mistakes we’ve all made. This will come in the form of a handy “what not to say” list. Then, as we move into the holiday season, I am super excited about sharing my final post in the series: a fun and creative list of the myriad of ways our community goes above and beyond to support each other!
As always, none of this would be possible without the participation of my wonderful community. Thank you for speaking from your heart, into the hearts of others.