The way people deal with loss is so individualized. The way other people respond to those dealing with loss is just as unique. Some people can be there for others. Some can’t.
I was speaking with a friend yesterday who is beginning her experience with this particular loss. The death of her mother has been compounded by extenuating circumstances that has further deepened her pain. Even though I have gone through the death of my own mother, I shared with her that I have no idea what she is really going through.
One of the topics of our conversation was how there are just some people who can’t show up for us. They don’t know what to say or do. Others simply feel uncomfortable with our pain. They want to gloss over the anguish, change the subject and talk about something absolutely innocuous; compounding the pain we’re already in. The anger we feel in losing someone we love is furthered by the anger of not being heard.
Sometimes I just needed to be heard. I didn’t need someone to say they understood when I knew they didn’t. I needed someone to say, “I hear you. I do not know what you are going through, but I hear you. And I’m here for you.” It was those who could hear me and not try and fix me or make the pain go away that I needed most.
And I warned my friend that there are just some people who won’t be able to show up for her at all. I knew the ones who couldn’t be with me while I was deep into my sorrow. There were people with whom I was close to and dearly loved that just couldn’t be near everything I needed to feel, everything I needed to express, everything I needed heard.
Part of my anger in the initial losses was directed at those that disappeared in my greatest time of need. If I was to stay connected with those that did not want to be near my pain, I had to hide my pain. I had to take care of their feelings in the midst of the menagerie of my feelings I had to keep at bay. I had to pretend, to placate, to pacify their unease and awkwardness.
Many times those that couldn’t be there for me in my authenticity are no longer here in the realness that loss brought me. I have no time or energy to take care of others or indulge in trivia pursuit with idle conversation to keep someone in my life that doesn’t want to share my life.
But I am not angry with the ones that by mutual consent have departed from my life of living in loss. What I have found is compassion. The seeds of this compassion began when I dropped my expectations that they should show up for me. I stopped wanting people to be anything other than who they are, just as I stopped expecting me to be anything other than who I am.
The impetus of this compassion for others also entailed my finding acceptance of what they could and could not do. The people in my life that scattered when loss catapulted me into another world did not lose their love for me, nor I for them. We lost a common world to share that love. Love is different in loss. Like everything else that goes through a sea change in loss, love changes, too.
As I sat with my friend yesterday in our common world of loss, I was keenly aware of the uncommon nature of sorrow. I shared my experience. I have no advice for others. I only have what I have learned from all of my losses, what I did well and what I did not do so well.
As I listened to her, I heard the familiar sound of the aloneness that comes with loss. I remembered my anger and frustration in being there with her. I recognized the depths of her sorrow and the expanse of her love. I returned to those early days of loss and we met at the entryway of the Afterloss.
We sat at that picnic table far from where our words began and so close to where they landed. When she spoke I heard the echoes of my own Afterloss. And when we parted, her eyes reflected that she had been heard. I may not understand, but I heard her. I do not have any advise, but I heard her. And her relief radiated from our hug goodbye that she had been heard.
Will somebody just listen? Yes, there are people here that can just listen.