Sitting with someone else’s pain is awful.
It’s hard enough to sit with our own grief, much less that of someone we love, when there’s really nothing we can do or say.
Just being present and holding the space of a loved one as they process and move through difficulty is enough—and when we feel the need to talk or hug, it’s often our own discomfort that we’re feeding and nurturing, rather than the other person.
I have to remind myself of this often.
It’s difficult because many of the people I love are a phone-call away and not down the street, so when sadness in life hits, I can’t just sit with them and physically hold their space.
Instead, I’m in the even more uncomfortable position of knowing that my words are not what should be used, but finding it a challenge to hold them back.
Still, even in this long-distance situation, it is possible to hold our tongues and listen; really listen to what the person on the other end of the line is saying.
And, usually, I find that what’s being said is, “I’m hurting. I need you and you’re too far away, but your being here—even on the phone in silence for a minute—is my comfort.” (Although, typically, this is unsaid).
Because when we open our hearts to another’s wounds, we also expose ourselves to their damage. On the other hand, in true relationships—deep, meaningful connections—we cannot expect to receive and hold space with only the good.
Simultaneously, we are better able to comfort and support if we can find that balance between putting up walls to another’s sorrow and letting it consume us.
One way I’m able to feel genuine empathy, while not letting an emotion envelop me, is to envision myself as a rock with water flowing over it. I’m the rock, whether in trouble or in joy and the flowing water is life’s circumstances. Sure, I might weather from the water but this weathering is actually a smoothing—a rounding—that serves to make me softer; gentler.
And here’s a little tidbit from that nerdy geologist who will always live inside of me: when a rock weathers from water, it’s called mechanical weathering and the materials that erode away can go on to create soil—soil that will eventually help new life flourish.
So, as I attempt to put my words and thoughts to the side and simply be there, holding heart-space with someone I love, my ability to give love is more than challenged—it’s allowed to grow and shine.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Author: Jennifer White
Editor: Ashleigh Hitchcock
Photo: Daniel Zedda—flickr