My cousin passed away a few days ago. She had breast cancer. She was in her early 50's. She had a husband and four daughters ranging in age from 10'ish-16'ish. I mentioned her in a previous post.
Sometimes I don't know what to do with all the suffering in the world. Suffering I read about, hear about secondhand, witness firsthand (which is rare), suffering I don't see or hear about but know must be rampant, all around me. The unspoken suffering. Including suffering of my own. Whenever I hear someone say they are going through or have gone through some traumatic or painful experience, I work really hard at responding in some way to acknowledge what they've said to me. Like many, I often don't know what to do or say in times like this. I don't have the right words. I can't say anything of comfort, though I wish I could. And I am thinking the reason why is because there aren't any right words. There isn't anything of comfort at the moment. Maybe they just cannot be comforted right now. And who am I, some rando they came into contact with, to give it to them? Why would anything I say have any impact.
But I have learned that those moments are of deepest, most exposed vulnerability. Horrors a person may hardly be able to even verbalize. So if they do, I have to receive it. I have to say something that acknowledges what they've said, so they feel heard and seen at the very least, and hopefully loved and accepted. I don't know why this feels important but it does. It just needs a place and for two seconds or longer, if they wish, that place is going to be with me. Instead of remaining silent, or brushing it off awkwardly or worse, mistreating it in some way, denying its gravity or validity, I am going to let it exist in that moment and I will let the person know I exist with it, with them, too. I am still working on how to do this. I don't know the best way. Maybe it's by saying something, anything, in response. "I heard what you just said, and I'm sorry." "You are really experiencing something right now." "You are in it." "What is this like for you?" I never know what is the thing to say.
I know the holidays are difficult for people. People who struggle. People who've lost loved ones at any time in their life. People whose relationships are not what they wish. Losing your wife or mother at Christmas sounds unbelievably painful. The holidays can feel so stupid and busy at times. I often don't know how to do it, especially when there's so much suffering going on. It feels wrong. So for now, I go about my day doing my lame busy things, appreciating what I have, and pausing in my mind to make space for those suffering right now and for the kind of Christmas they are experiencing. Hopefully one day I'll know more what to do about it.
I'm so sorry about your cousin. My parents' next door neighbor, who I've known since I was 5, died very suddenly this week and the whole story (which I won't get into here) was extremely sad. And I've been so sad about it but it's so weird trying to even tell people because I hate to suddenly suck all the air out of the room by bringing it up-- especially because it feels like maybe I shouldn't care because it's not like he was my family or I even talked to him except maybe every few years when I visited home-- and yet, it IS really sad.
I absolutely agree that it's important to make space for people to be able to talk. I often think that telling other people the things that make us sad shares that burden so it doesn't feel quite so heavy any more.
All I'm really trying to get to here is that this is a really thoughtful post and I appreciate it.
100% on taking some of the burden. I'm sorry for your childhood neighbor. I just heard of a friend of my old roommate whose only sibling passed away 5 years ago to an illness and who just lost both parents to Covid. Like.. what. Anyway, these things just stay with us sometimes. As they probably should. For the record, it's never an air-suck for me. Kind of gives me room to breathe, to be honest. Maybe because I'm always faintly suffocating in my own self-deprivation.
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