I spend all day, mostly every day, talking about death, grief, love, loss. This is my chosen territory.
I keep track of important dates, especially for those I love. My calendar is full of notes like, “R’s father’s death date,” and “M’s baby’s birth/death day.” If you didn’t know me, and you happened to glance at my calendar, you might think I was a particularly morbid person.
Grief is my home turf. I’m comfortable here.
Which makes it all the more stunning that I feel helpless sometimes. A dear friend marked her father’s death date this week. I knew she was in pain, and I wanted to make it better. I wanted to say something, something more than just acknowledge the date.
I found those useless platitudes leaping to my throat. I caught myself tempted to comfort by telling her this day would pass.
With everything I know, with everything I tell all of you at every turn, even knowing that pain cannot be made better – I still have that impulse: I want to make this better.
We’re human. I’m human. Witnessing pain in those we love is difficult.
Fortunately, this time, I caught myself before I let those “make this better” thoughts fly. And I told myself what I tell friends and family members all the time: my job is not to make this better.
My job is to tolerate my own helplessness in the face of her pain, without trying to relieve that helplessness by offering platitudes or false comfort.
My job is to know that showing up, being present, acknowledging the truth that this hurts, this hurts, this hurts is the best way I can love my friend.
And this is what we most want, isn’t it? That our friends and family members, the ones who most want to love and support us – we want them to be willing to feel their own helplessness. To learn to tolerate it, not act out of it.
We want them to stand beside us, not trying to fix what cannot be fixed, not trying to rush us out of our grief. We want them to stand there, without flinching, and acknowledge what is true: this hurts. This hurts. I’m here.
Being human is hard sometimes. Learning to love each other differently, care for each other differently is hard sometimes. It’s a work in progress, for everyone – including me.
I spoke at the World Domination Summit this summer on just this topic – you can watch the video here. Acknowledging pain without fixing it is such a necessary topic for discussion. Please share the video around – there’s so much work to be done. The dominant emotional paradigm that says pain is a problem that needs to be fixed can’t be overthrown by just a few voices in the wilderness. We need you. Share this post, share the video, share this site. Together, we can revolutionize the way we love each other inside pain that can’t be fixed.
How does the impulse to help show up for you? Even knowing what you know, do you find yourself tempted to comfort someone in their pain? What do you do with your own helplessness? Let us know in the comments.