Originally posted on embodyedtides.com
This title – I know – perhaps not for the faint of heart, but hear me out.
Someone I know recently received a cancer diagnosis. This comes shy of one month after she lost her mother to cancer as well. She lost her mom over the holidays after several preceding months that included watching her mother die, as her two young kiddos accompanied her many times over to visit their ill grandmother.
Someone I know is experiencing their parent’s travels along the spectrum of Dementia and Alzheimer’s. The disease has swept up fast, aging what appears otherwise to be a physically healthy woman. And again, another mom and daughter with young grandchildren facing this together.
Someone I know is supporting a family member who has come into significant hardship after his home was destroyed by a fire. He, along with his wife, kids, and pets have survived the physical devastation. All personal items were lost, and it happened in a cold, snowy location.
These experiences – certainly unique to each involved – are also some of the most universal themes of our shared Human experience:
death, disconnection, displacement.
While perhaps less “extreme” (and exactly how one identifies the extremity itself is deeply personal), you may have experienced one, some, or all of such described losses. Bringing about a separation of reality and/or identity in some way. Bringing about the countless, intangible stressors that become involved with such difficulty. Bringing about what many express towards you out of their support. This may include: “Everything happens for a reason.”
And perhaps, yes. Everything happens. But I wonder what happens if we consider that such a sentiment (even with good intentions) can come across as dismissive or careless. Rather, use the power of your good intentions, condolences and solace for your companion, in letting them know that you’re there. In each circumstance described, it is plausible one approaches an element of grief. Use an opportunity here to join them, embrace them, and reveal that you are present for them.
There is not much we can do to “fix,” even as we set up GoFundMe campaigns with the hopes of raising money for those in their suffering. It certainly offers steps towards moving forward in their journey. Though know that for them this assistance may be utterly unrecognizable at first glance, as they manage other goings-on such as the very process of mourning what is being lost. Take time to be tender and patient here.
A recent New York Times article, “Understanding Grief,” describes the state of being present with others in their loss as “bearing witness.” Which is to say that not all things have meaning right now. And that certain experiences may never make sense or meaning in one’s life. We certainly cannot assume it ‘should’ or ‘its lesson will come.’ Instead, I encourage you to find a way of relating to them as a counterpart in their life, someone to whom they can reveal their feelings if that’s what they need. They could share their stories or their struggles, and know that even with your encouragement, they may not want to reach out or share at all.
Continue to effort your love towards them. Build off of your compassion and recognize their experience by simply acknowledging. See what you might be able to offer, and lean back in respect if they appear unready for this help, and lean in if/when they show a need for comfort.
Simple words or phrases that speak to acknowledgement?
“I am very sorry for your loss.”
“I am here for you.”
“If you need anything, let me know.”
“My thoughts are with you and your family.”
In all ways that you can, as always – be well and be kind.
Carly McDade is a therapist practicing in Center City, Philadelphia. Carly supports individuals and couples, and has a special focus on women’s issues.