I have walked at the side of (too) many people who have faced great loss in their lives this past year. I walked into this role with precious little first-hand experience. It is unfortunate to say that I have learned what I have to write, at the expense of people that mean the world to me.
I didn't know what to say or what to do. I sat back and thought that the person who was facing the greatest challenge that life had given them so far had so much support that I wasn't needed. Rule #1 - Never Assume Anything.
I learned that sometimes you may be the only person that 'shows up'. Or perhaps you, as your own unique individual ... have something to offer that makes it easier in some capacity. Rule #2 - Just Show Up. You will never know what a difference your presence makes.
Just listen. I led with my heart and it seemed to take me places that the other person needed to go. Sometimes I felt that I was no help at all ... but I was assured that the diversion of a fresh, new conversation about life-outside-the-hospital-doors was just what the doctor ordered. Rule #3 - Follow the path the conversation takes.
I am not a hugger. But there are times when the physical touch of another human being says more than a thousand words. I will never forget the time my brother simply touched my hand at a time that my world was caving in around me. There are times that I have touched some one's shoulder or hand in a similar manner. Rule #4 - Reach out in 'whatever' language you speak. You will never know the difference you have made by simply reaching out and touching someone.
Rule #4 - Be grateful for the people in your life that tell you exactly what they need. I have friends that are polar opposite from each other, yet what I learn from one friend helps me hear what another friend is not telling me. There is great comfort to be told what to do at a time when you have no idea. Yet ... there comes a time when even that friend who knows how to ask for what they need, will not ask. Fall back on Rule #2 - Just show up.
Mourning knows no end. Don't forget that. You never get over losing a loved one ... you simply come to accept it. Triggers are everywhere and you don't see them coming. Rule #5 - Keep showing up.
I am learning at the expense of others. Every person that I know that has faced great loss is teaching me what I need to know to walk through dark moments with another.
The friend who is not afraid to ask for help has opened my eyes to the simple things that matter. And as specific as she may be in her needs ("A large, strawberry milkshake from Dairy Queen" for example), I have also learned that "Just showing up" is what she needs most of all.
The friend who asks for absolutely nothing has taught me that simply "showing up" is often the best gift of all. She has helped me trust my intuition and feel confident in opening myself up to whatever may help her get through 'a moment'.
My uncle has been raw and open with emotion. He has opened my eyes in ways that I have never seen before. He has talked so openly and freely. My heart aches for him and his loss. He is going through the paces of his unexpected new life. He is saying the same words. But the twinkle in his eye has lost its luster. He misses her and the input that she had to put life's little lessons into perspective.
My uncle and I drove out to my sister's (who is married to his brother) on the weekend. My sister's guest list dwindled greatly due to circumstances beyond any one's control ... and when all was said and done our party dwindled down to my two sisters, their husbands, my uncle and me.
I have never, ever felt so alone in my singleness as I did this past weekend. In part, it was because my sisters and I either get together in a sibling-only capacity. Or else it is a full-out-all-family-included kind of affair. But this weekend, I believe that it was because I was seeing and feeling what I could only guess my uncle was living ... that I felt my 'singleness' so acutely. Any other time, my aunt would have been there.
How does the world go on spinning without her ... how dare it go on? Him without her is like peanut butter without chocolate. It can and does work on its own. But the combination of the two? They were made for each other. I hear it in the twinkle and chuckle that is now missing from his little anecdotes.
He misses her. Her children miss her. The world is not the same without her. Yet ... the world is a far better place because she was in it. I am grateful for every little memory that I have of her to hold on to.
I am but one person in the vastness of family and friends that these people have. From the outside, looking in ... it would seem that they have all the support that they need. But from what I have learned, I will simply just keep showing up. Maybe it is nothing in the whole scheme of things ... but what if it is like the time that my brother simply touched my hand. What if ... it is a small thing that makes a big difference?
I will simply keep showing up...