“It seems counterintuitive, but the way to help someone feel better is to let them be in pain. This is true for those giant losses and the ordinary, everyday ones.” ~ Megan Devine
I have some friends who are living through the unimaginable loss of their teenage daughter.
Aeden was a friend of my daughter for years—ever since they met in the fifth grade. I’ve thought about her parents a lot in the 30 days since Aeden’s death, wondering what I could possibly do to help.
I thought about them a lot yesterday too, as I lay in bed crying for most of the day about my own pain and the series of losses I’ve experienced in these last few weeks since Aeden’s death. Ordinary, everyday losses like getting my heart broken. (Really f*cking broken.) And bigger, more overwhelming pain that I’ve been carrying for too many years.
Today, I’m okay. This morning, I was singing in my car as I drove home after treating myself to a yummy coffee. But yesterday, I wasn’t okay—and there is nothing wrong with that. I let myself lay in bed and cry—all damn day. I didn’t brush my teeth or put on clothes until dinner time when I finally forced myself to leave my apartment and take myself out to dinner.
Please understand, I know what a luxury this is. When we have children, we don’t always have the time to let ourselves feel the pain and grieve like we need to. I was lucky enough to have had a whole day yesterday with no obligations and my kids were with their dad, so I had the time and space to finally let myself begin to process some of the pain.
And in allowing myself the whole entire day to feel the pain and really let it move through me, I had a revelation about pain and grief.
A sweet and lovely man reached out to me because he knows about everything I’ve been going through. He simply texted to ask how I was.
I debated with myself about how honest I should be with him. I wasn’t sure if I should share how much of a wreck I was in that moment since I was in full-on ugly-cry mode with tears all over my laptop as I wrote and felt and processed the hell out of everything that had been happening so it doesn’t all get trapped in my body and spirit.
I also debated how much to share with him because he has asked me out repeatedly over the past couple of weeks. And while I have been honest with him about everything, since a big piece of my pain includes just having gotten my heart broken and needing to lick my wounds, I wondered how much one man wants to hear about another man hurting me?
But here’s what he did.
He acknowledged my pain.
He asked me to include him in it.
He offered his two shoulders to cry on.
He said he would cry with me.
And then he asked if he could come over and just give me a hug.
I told him there was a zero percent chance of him seeing me on account of the way I looked after crying for hours. And when I told him it would take days of me holding ice packs on my eyes before he could see me, he offered to hold the ice packs for me. (Swoon.)
Now, someone with a guarded heart might be all kinds of pessimistic or skeptical and immediately assume that this man has an ulterior motive. But all I felt in that moment was seen and heard and acknowledged.
He wasn’t trying to fix me or make me feel better or tell me that I’m strong and that I will get through this (which my poor, sweet best friend knows I’m getting tired of hearing).
He simply wanted to be beside me while I was in my pain and be there for me while I felt it. That’s it.
Luckily for me, this is not the first time I’ve experienced this. The sweet soul who broke my heart a few weeks ago was also really good at this.
The day I fell in love with him was the day he showed up for me in a very similar way, on one of the best—and worst—days of my life, last spring. We spent the morning on a video chat where he opened up and allowed himself to be even more vulnerable with me than he already had, which was quite a lot.
He got emotional and not only let his tears flow, but he also didn’t try to stifle them or hide them. He allowed his feelings to flow, and it was one of the most beautiful things I have ever had the privilege to witness. Especially coming from such strong masculine energy, which our society certainly doesn’t always support or celebrate.
That afternoon, however, brought an unexpected crisis for one of my kids. And he was right there for me when it was my turn to be in tears in front of him. He held space for me and my pain and asked if he could be there for me. After the initial tears, I needed to take action in this particular situation and had no idea what to do. My ex-husband was looking to me for the answers, and I had none. As usual.
My sweet heartbreaker was already well aware of my personal motto, “You’re not the boss of me,” but he gently asked—just for today, just in this situation—if he could be the boss of me and tell me what to do to help my child.
And in that moment, I exhaled.
Because he wasn’t inserting himself and trying to fix things or cheer me up. He was acknowledging and allowing my pain and then asking me if he could help before he stepped in with his loving directives on what he thought I should do.
The advice he gave me that day is still something I am deeply grateful for today. I was too caught up in my own pain to know how to help my kiddo, and he knew precisely how and when to step in—with the exact support I needed in the exact moment I needed it.
Later that night, when the crisis was over and I drove back to my apartment, he was there waiting for me. He had driven an hour to see me, at 9:00 on a Sunday night, just to be there for me and to let me cry on his shoulder. (Come to think of it, I’m not sure if I actually cried that night because I was so relieved that the crisis was over or because I was so happy to see him and physically be in his arms.)
What a gift these two men gave me by showing me what it means to hold space for someone’s pain. To just be there for me. With me. And allow me to be in my pain.
Too often, when someone we love is hurting or grieving, we rush to try and cheer them up or fall back on empty platitudes because we don’t know what to say. Is it because it’s too hard to see them in pain? Or, is it because we, ourselves, are too uncomfortable with our own pain and negative feelings that we can’t bear witness to someone else’s either?
After letting myself feel all the feels yesterday, and then seeing Aeden’s dad post on social media this morning about the grief he’s been feeling this past month, I remembered a book and author that a friend of mine shared with me after she experienced her own devastating loss. Megan Devine is the author of the book, It’s OK That You’re Not OK, and she has a website and Facebook page called “Refuge in Grief.”
When I went to her website this morning, I saw this video about how we can help our loved ones when they’re grieving. It’s one of the most eye-opening and straightforward explanations I’ve ever heard about how to be there for those we love when they’re in pain, and I promise you it’s worth the four minutes it will take you to watch it.
Whether it’s the big, overwhelming losses that make us wonder how we will make it through or the everyday pain we experience from the stuff of life, this is a helpful message for all of us. And one I will remember as I hold space for others’ pain the way I have seen mine held so gently and lovingly.
We can’t take away the pain our loved ones are experiencing, but we can witness it and let them feel seen and heard. We can let them feel acknowledged.
And then we can hold the ice packs on their eyes for them when they are done crying. At least for today.
“If your life has exploded into a million little bits, you don’t need platitudes. You don’t need cheerleading. You don’t need to be told this all happened for a reason. Some things cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” ~ Megan Devine
For some more inspiring reading: Healing Chronic & Unresolved Trauma: A Life Coach’s Approach.