Over the weekend on a drive home I noticed my son, Caleb, staring out of the back window. He was leaning forward, almost in anticipation of something. I turned around because he was so quiet, I thought he was asleep. Usually on long rides he will watch a DVD so to my surprise he was awake and his posture implied he was in deep thought. I asked him what he was thinking, usually the response from a 6 year old is light-hearted or a typical, "I don't know." But this time, the response was clear and said without hesitation. "I was thinking - what is the name of the man who killed my daddy?" Not a normal conversation between a mother and son, but this is our reality. And this moment embodied two truths and a lie that will hopefully serve you at some point along this journey of life.
First truth: it doesn’t matter how much time has passed, grief waves can hit when you least expect it. Many times, the triggers are so subtle we don’t even recognize what stirred up the emotion. It could be a song, a phrase, a smell… But when we least expect it, a flood of emotions can consume us and change our current state. I don’t know what provoked Caleb’s thoughts about my husband’s killer, but instead of rushing past the awkward and heavy comment I paused for a moment – said a quiet prayer for clarity – and authentically responded. I first comforted him by sharing that, I too, miss his dad and I get sad thinking about him not being here. And I then I proceeded to create a safe space by telling him it’s perfectly okay to feel sad or angry, and we can always talk about anything regarding his dad. So when grief pops up unexpectedly, intentionally create this gentle atmosphere to help the person move through challenging emotions in a healthy way.
The second truth: just because you don’t see someone in pain doesn’t mean it’s not there. If I hadn’t asked Caleb what he was thinking, I would’ve never known the pain he was holding in at that moment. On the outside, one could’ve assumed he was looking for a wild boar (if you’re in Florida you know these are often seen off the turnpike), but on the inside he was processing something inconceivable. So during your interactions with others, keep in mind you never know what difficulties or hardships that person may be bearing. And while it’s impossible to read their mind, I encourage you to lead with kindness and make a conscious effort to be the type of energy that no matter where you go, or where you are, you always add value to the lives of those around you.
The lie: you have to have all of the right words to be effectively supportive. Sometimes you don't have to have words at all, just being "there" is enough. After I thought I said all of the right things, Caleb looked over to me and said in a quiet voice, "I don't want to talk right now, Mommy." Have you ever had that moment before? I know I have. I had a friend who would come over and just lay on the floor with me, and that was always enough. Reflect on this - if you are ever in a position where someone is vulnerable and shares deep pain with you, consider it an honor. By them coming to you, they are showing that they respect you as a safe space; and you can honor their emotions by being present, authentic and comforting.
(written March 7, 2017)