Let it be known that I’d like to be done with hospitals and funerals for a while. While I’m at it, I’ll add breakups and unemployment to the list. Done. Thank you. The mess of things gone south for those close to us is enough to make one wonder if it’s contagious. Nevertheless, the importance of the shadows in life is not lost on me. I’m grateful for a heart that has been brave enough to ache along with people. And I am glad for the deep hope I have, something that I think grew out of true experience of God’s goodness after my own very desperate and dark times. How are we to really value and embrace the glorious things in life without knowing also the pain?
Yesterday I attended a memorial of my good friend’s mother. Her name was Ann Schlink. She laughed and painted and gave of herself to help people for 77 years before passing. The stories of her life and the people she helped were touching. I was inspired by the many jobs she went through, countries she lived and communities she was a part of. I realized how much time there is yet to do remarkable things, and how my own life’s work is merely just beginning (so I hope). Her memorial was truly a celebration of her life, a time to honor her memory and learn from her life. What a sad but beautiful experience all at the same time.
I came across an article recently about supporting people going through tough stuff, it was about Susan Silk and Barry Goldman’s Ring Theory. Picture the person in pain as in the center of a series of coencentric rings. Each ring represents people, and their distance from the center is how close they are to the person in pain. Basically the theory says depending on where you are in the rings you direct only comfort toward all those in rings closer to the inside, and any of the frustrations or fears or whatnot you have get dumped on those on rings further outside than you. The person in the middle can say whatever they want but everyone else should consider where they are in the rings and who they are talking to for how they choose to listen or share their own thoughts. Perhaps this framework would help in curbing the awkwardness of not knowing how to help friends in their time of need?
I will say that while you’re only supposed to “dump” outward, I think there is a real place to grieve with those who are grieving. The few times I’ve been in the center of the rings I actually really appreciated the friends who helped me express the sadness and fear I felt – I remember telling one of my best friends when we first found out about Whitney’s diagnosis and I heard the silence (shock) and then tears on the other end. I felt like she was really with me, feeling some of what I was feeling. I also think that sometimes people are ready to sit in their pain, but sometimes it’s time for distraction.
Each situation is different, but here are some of the ways I’ve tried to help some of those near me who are in the trenches. I’m also curious what other people think is (or isn’t) helpful.
– sometimes I think the best thing to say (while crass) is “That just totally sucks”, someone commented to me that me saying this stuck with them because yeah, that’s exactly how they felt. There’s no explaining, no advice attached.
– verses of truth. There were times in my life where verses were exactly what got me through as I clung to each word, and times where I felt that nothing spoke to me, nothing related to what I felt.
– mix tapes. This is my current favorite. I have made three recently and am thinking of reviving this rite of friendship
– baked goods, popcorn, meals. Food speaks what words can’t. It says I’m there for you, I’m thinking of you, and no one’s going to let you waste away even if you’re at your worst.
– distraction. Some of the best things for me at my most difficult moments was going on a walk (in silence mostly). and also pulling weeds in the yard. I’ve done both with my mom by my side and at the time it was exactly what I needed. Nothing like wielding a shovel and pounding dirt to physically take out some unwanted feelings.
Anybody have any other ideas?
Enough of the heavy stuff. Here are a few shots of the kids – my favorite happy-makers.