When Someone Dies...
I had a friend die in a car accident this week. He was vibrant and full of life. It was senseless, tragic and heartbreaking. I want to find meaning and I want to find reason. I want to rally against the universe for its cruelty and randomness. I want to rage and weep all at the same time. I love his wife and I don’t want this for her.
Yet death is the one non-negotiable in this life. Almost everything else can be changed with a new decision. The minute death occurs, however, there is absolutely nothing that can be done to change it and so the process of grief towards the future, unimaginable, new normal begins.
When death occurs in my life, my mind always immediately goes to Janie. When I was in the 7th grade I had a best friend, Janie. Janie’s mother had cancer, a word I had never heard before and did not fully understand. When we were in the 7th grade Janie’s mom died.
I remember my dad coming into my room the night her mother died and telling me that I would be going over to Janie’s house. I was anxious and not sure that’s what I wanted to do but he told me “that when people you love experience such pain your responsibility is to ‘be there’ for them.”’ To this day, it is one of the most defining moments of my life. It truncated my existence from being someone relatively oblivious to the workings of human nature to the realization that we are on this planet to be of service for each other.
Over the years, I have learned, through many painful experiences, that “being there” does not mean:
1) Fixing someone
2) Having their pain for them
3) Diving into pain with them
4) Trying to get them out of their pain
5) Rushing them to the other side of their pain
I have learned, that “being there” means:
1) People are amazing
2) The ability to cope is infinite
3) Grief is always moving us forward toward the new, even when it appears, we are stuck and staying still
4) The power of having grief witnessed is second only to God’s power in healing
5) We need each other
Those basic tenants are what prove to be facts every time I witness those of us left behind when someone dies.
So, when someone is going through loss, tragedy and grief, what we do is “be there”” and we show up. We don’t worry about what to say. We don’t worry if we have or don’t have anything profound to offer. We don’t offer platitudes, analysis or answers. We don’t make it about us or our experiences. We just show up. My friend is gone. I know, however, that his family is currently surrounded by people who will show up. We will all show up and be there to hold the space for the inevitable healing that will happen. That break that they feel, the agony of the spirit, the loss leaving such a chasm of emptiness they cannot image it will even fill again will happen.
Because what we learn with every single one of these experiences is that our mere presence matters. It is our presence that allows the inner resources of the other person to be activated. They don’t need us to do anything but be nearby offering love and support. How amazing is that?!