The range of life...how to be with someone in their darkest hours

overcoming challenges Oct 20, 2023

Life is a wonder. And it's difficult. And...there will be dying. There will be heartbreak. There will be despair, and there will be horror.  

Thankfully there will also be joy, forgiveness, love, and connection.

Because this is what life is all about. It's about the range of experiences and the thoughts and feelings about what happens. 

If we can pause for a moment to let ourselves feel the pain and joy together and be with all the feelings, then we will be able to handle more of what comes our way and if we can "be" with the people experiencing sadness and deep loss, then we can be a gift to the people who are going through dark times and we can give ourselves a gift, too. 

Embracing Life's Inevitabilities

There will always be things we can't control. There will be the unexpected, the pain of seeing loved ones die or go through hardship. Yet, in the middle of sorrow comes the promise of hope and renewal. For every despair, there is a seed of joy, forgiveness, love, and the unbreakable bonds of connection. Life is made up of moments that are hard, and it's also made up of miracles. 

What makes us human is to experience the full range of emotions, sometimes simultaneously. It's possible to allow ourselves to feel the highs and the lows, even at the same time. 

In my personal life right now, my brother-in-law has just passed away. His family is in shock and is living life moment by moment. Tomorrow I will dance at my nephew's wedding, and next week, I will meet my new two-month-old granddaughter for the first time. Death, Birth, Celebrations...It's a true mixture of life's experiences.

And with the war in Israel and Palestine, even though I don't have a close connection to anyone being devastated there, I feel the disbelief, loss, and inhumanness. May we lift all the people there experiencing the unspeakable horros and ask for peace. 

The Healing Power of Compassion

Throughout my 30-year career as a psychotherapist, I've been privileged to sit with individuals who have experienced some of life's most challenging things: the death of a spouse, the heartbreak of two young children whose father committed suicide, and combat veterans who have seen the horror of war. When they sobbed, I was there, holding the space for them. And the moments when I've listened to too many stories of childhood abuse and trauma, I have felt my own heart break, but I was there, being a witness to the sadness. 

It's not easy because the fixer in me wants to help, to make it better. But I've found that you can't fix death; you can't fix when people get a cancer diagnosis or when someone who has been married 25 years hears their spouse say, "I'm leaving."

Instead of "fixing," my training and experience allow me to know how important it is to encourage people to express their feelings and what they need. Sometimes, my role is just to listen. 

The Art of Presence

If we can pause and sit with our own emotions and those close to us who may be experiencing grief and loss without the urge to "fix it," something remarkable occurs. We become observers of life in its purest form, embracing the notion that this is the essence of existence.

What to do instead of fixing

When someone is sad or grieving, don't try to make things better by saying things like this: 

"At least..."

"I know what you feel."

"You'll get over this."

These statements don't usually help. 

Instead, what can help is to just be present with the person. 

Say things like 

"I'm here."

"I love you."

"You can handle whatever comes your way."

OR

Listen. Listen to whatever they have to say. You don't have to say anything. Hold them if they want. Let them cry, sob. This is the best way to help someone grieving or with immeasurable loss. 

Self-Reflection and Empathy

Within our interactions with others, it's equally important to recognize the emotions that may arise within us, triggered by their experiences.

Check in with yourself to see if emotions are being triggered. And make it a goal not to put your reaction or belief onto anyone else. Instead, welcome the opportunity to explore your feelings or unresolved issues. 

A Privilege to Be Present

Know that to be with someone while they are grieving is a gift for them and yourself. There is so much awareness and presence of mind when we sit with someone. You don't have to be a therapist to do this. 

It's a privilege to stand alongside someone, offering them unwavering presence without judgment, without an imposed timeline for their healing. To meet them where they are – this, I've come to realize, is the most profound gift we can give each other.  

This delicate art of being present, empathizing, and walking the path with someone in their darkest hours is not exclusive to professionals. It's an innate capacity within us all, waiting to be tapped. By acknowledging our emotions, dealing with them, and approaching others with a heart full of love and understanding, we can all partake in the sacred act of compassion and connection.

Over to you

When you have needed comfort, what is it that someone said or did for you that was helpful? Let them know how it helped you. 

How will you show up for someone who needs support now? Write this down in your journal or somewhere to help you remember. 

If you're struggling and need help, reach out to a friend you know can "be" with you. If you don't have anyone, consider contacting a psychotherapist or coach who can help. 

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