Just Be There

Compassion-is-hardSometimes the very best thing we can do for someone is hold some space for them to be where they are, to listen intently, and reflect back our understanding with love. To say, “Yes, of course that would hurt. I’m so sorry you’re going through this.” That’s often the best we can do for people, reassuring them that they are not alone in their experience, that we get it, that we’ve been there, or that we haven’t been there, but still, we can mourn with them, or just be there to make a meal, or take them for a walk. It’s very hard when people we love are suffering, or grieving, or enraged, or feeling bitter, or maybe all of those things at once. It’s natural to want to get in there and fix it, to brainstorm about solutions, or to offer our unsolicited opinions about what our friends should do. The reality is, we never know what another person needs for his or her own healing or grieving process or growth. Sometimes people are in so much agony, the people around them become uncomfortable, and this discomfort propels them to give their friend a push to “get back on their feet.” That’s really the last thing a person needs to hear when they have no way of doing that for themselves. As Earl Grollman rightly states, “The only cure for grief is to grieve.”

Some wounds are self-inflicted. Sometimes we need painful lessons again and again until we get it. That isn’t easy to watch, and of course if someone you love is harming themselves, we’re in a different territory. Then, you step in and do everything you can to get them some support, or you find some for yourself so you can honor your own needs and boundaries while you try to offer a hand up, or a shoulder to lean on. But you can’t save anyone, and if you’re confused about that, you’re in a precarious position. We can never carry the burden of another person’s pain, nor can we be responsible for anyone else’s happiness. Each of us must do our own journey. We all have to find a way to be at peace within ourselves, and sometimes the journey to that peace is fraught with roadblocks, self-imposed, or provided by the twists and turns and losses of life.

Whatever we have to bear, having loyal and understanding friends with whom we feel safe can be such a comfort. Knowing that there’s at least one person we can share our fears or insecurities or doubt or shame or guilt or jealousy with, without hearing a solution we didn’t ask for and don’t want, is really a gift. It’s hard to just listen. I think a lot of people feel like that isn’t enough, that if someone is coming to them in some pain or discomfort, implicit in their sharing is a request for advice. People will ask for our opinions if they want them. Most of us don’t listen to advice, anyway. We tell ourselves that’s the way it is or was for our well-meaning friend, but it’s not the way it is or will be for us. I’ve gotten into the habit of asking close friends when they share with me, “Do you want me to just listen, or do you want to know what I think?” People will tell you. Most people just want a safe space, and some understanding. Hoping we can all be, and have, friends like that, and sending you love,

Ally Hamilton

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