On our drive home from school, my thirteen year old son was telling me about his Christmas choir concert, and how he really did not like one of the songs. It just feels like they’re trying to make a calm holiday all jumpy and excited.
He’s our sensitive one. He often hears things differently than they are intended, is easily discouraged and offended, and takes about nine hours to tell us any kind of story. I laughed it off and turned up Baby It’s Cold Outside, which was sandwiched between Frosty the Snowman and Holly Jolly Christmas.
But there’s something true about our boy’s observation. There is this tendency to skip the dark and jump straight to the lights, the coco, the loud and bright and happy…forgetting that the silent night was what started it all-the calm, bright, quiet evening that preludes all the celebrations begin.
Because, the truth is, the tension that exists between the quiet and the dark and the loud and the light is thick and hard to sit in. But, this thick tension is exactly where we are needed.
It’s cliche to say that this is a hurting world in need of healing hands, I know. But it is a statement that renders truth…We live in a time of uncertainty and fear, where people are lacking security in their lives. I can’t go one day without hearing a story of a woman losing a baby after trying to get pregnant for years, or someone losing their job right before Christmas, or someone shaken by some inconceivable act of violence. This is the reality of our world right now. People we know, people we work with and family members and those we love, and those we don’t, are hurting, right now. So how can you respond?
You can’t soften the blow. You can’t clean their pain away like food on a dirty dish. But you can be there for them. Even if you don’t know how, even if you don’t have the perfect words to say, here are a few ways to sit in the dark and calm of the night someone you encounter may be facing:
1. Don’t offer a solution. Seriously, don’t. Just accept what’s happening with them. Look them in the eyes and listen…listen hard. Nod and grimace and swallow and smile and accept them in whatever stage of grief they are at. Don’t correct. Don’t judge. Set your biases aside and open your ears. Your job is not to solve, correct, or inform. Your job is to be a rock for them to hear their own voice bounce off of. Let their experience matter.
2. Pay for a housecleaner. When we got our emergency foster placement, someone paid for us to have a housecleaner for nearly five months. I’m a firm believer that if the home is chaotic and messy and cluttered as heck, the mind and heart will reflect the same. Someone in grieving needs open space to breathe. They need permission to focus only on the ones in their care, and to be respectful of this very moment in their lives. The house won’t be perfect. Dishes will still fill the sink….but to know that the bathrooms are clean this week, that the stove is free of gunk and that the floors have been vacuumed could be the absolute greatest gift you give someone this year.
3. Drop off a meal, a book, and a candle (or coffee). When I was going through an intense season of grief after losing our foster sons, not having to think about cooking was such a gift. People would bring us cupcakes, dinner, a latte…anything they thought could bring me a smile, and would sit on my couch and listen or do my dishes and not require a thing from me. Think of what brings you comfort on a rainy day (Gilmore Girls marathon?)…it will probably bring your friend some cheer, too.
4. Do be the pursuer and let them be messy. I lost a lot of relationships in my season of grief. I felt like I had enough energy to love my husband and my kids, and there were friends that didn’t understand that I couldn’t be the pursuer anymore. I had to let those friendships go so I could focus inward. When I did that, an amazing thing happened. I started noticing and valuing the people who pursued so much more. The ones that didn’t make me put in more work in our friendship (not forever, just in that season), and who let me be messy, angry, sad…whatever I needed to be. The ones who bought my coffee, who held my baby, who said “I’m on my way to say hi” when I was trying to hide myself. They were the ones that didn’t let me crumble in isolation. Be the pursuer. Go sit with them. And don’t expect anything in return.
5. Do say something. I have a certificate in assault victim counseling-in one of my trainings, I was told an unforgettable truth about trauma: after something significantly traumatic happens (like an assault) to a person, there is a window of ten minutes that will determine how they will view this event for the rest of their lives. Literally, the things I would say to my clients in the hospital could make or break them for the next twenty years of their lives. Will I speak hope? Will I discount their feelings? What would I say that could possibly make this positive? Well, first, I would never try to make something horrific positive. Bad things happen. Accept and recognize that. Recognize the event for what it is: This is a terrible thing…This is an evil thing….This is cruel… Then empathize: I am so sad with you….I am so sad that you’re sad…I wish I could make this better for you. Admit your inability to cure all: I don’t have the solution….I don’t know what to say…I wish I could…And offer hope: I’m with you in this. You’re not alone. I love you. I care for you. I wish I understood, too; but I’m here with you.
There is no perfect anecdote to being with someone that is grieving or in pain. I wish there were. People have tried to create ten step programs; but the truth is that, as many people there are in the world (according to the population clock, 7 BILLION)…that’s how many different ways there are to grieve. There is never going to be a cut and dry way to be with someone that’s hurting because people are beautiful and messy and complex and human. But you can be there with them in their grief, and accept their heart where it lays. This holiday, your silence may be the lifeline someone needs to get through their calm and silent night.
At 22, Sally became a foster mom to her three younger brothers. Affectionately titled a Mister (mom-sister), she uses her story to inspire others towards the hard and holy that life brings. When she’s not editing or writing on her blog, Letters From a Mister, you can find her dancing in the kitchen with her husband and tribe of seven-hugging a baby in one arm and a latte with the other.