Last night I sat in my Mom’s hospital room with her, staring at the ceiling. Her machines were beeping and buzzing, I knew she was in pain, I was worried about what the future would hold, and I couldn’t sleep. As I sat there I thought back on a few days earlier when I found out the news that my Mom was very sick and had been admitted. I was scared, I was heartbroken, and my friends came running to my aide. They sat with me for hours as I cried and talked through my fears and anger. They cried with me, got angry with me, shared their love, and mostly just listened.
They created a safe space for me to feel whatever I was feeling, and they helped carry my grief.
It was exactly what I needed. Many times they asked what they could do for me, and while we joked about them showing up to my voice lessons or going on a date for me while I was gone, I didn’t really need them to “do” anything. Just being there and sharing in the grief was more than enough.
Over the past few days I’ve received countless texts, messages, and calls from family and friends who are worried about my Mom. Beneath all of the words and text is the same message: We love you. We hurt because you are hurting. Let us share this grief with you.
Grief is such an interesting and complicated thing. Because it can be so incredibly painful, our natural tendency is to run from it, avoid it, shove it away, distract with something or someone new, numb out, or pretend it’s not there. But if we do those things we’re missing out on something incredible.
Because while painful, grief is a beautiful thing. Grief is evidence of love. Grief tells us that we have the capacity to care, to love, to attach. Grief says, “This matters. You matter. My feelings matter.”
Allowing ourselves to feel grief, for ourselves or for someone else, can be so dang hard because it requires an immense amount of vulnerability. And vulnerability can be scary. As C.S. Lewis said, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken.” When we allow ourselves to really love someone, their hurt becomes our hurt. The thought of losing them is devastating. When we choose to grieve with and empathize with someone’s pain, we have to tap into our own painful emotions and look at our own hurt and grief. That can be terrifying and exposing.
One of my favorite stories in the Bible is when Christ comes to Mary, a dear friend of His, who is weeping over the death of her brother, Lazarus. When He sees her grief the scripture says, “He groaned in the spirit, and was troubled (John 11:33).” And then it states that Christ weeps with her. He knows that in just minutes He will raise Lazarus from the dead, but He takes this moment to share her pain. Christ hurts because Mary is hurting.
While her joy is restored when her brother is healed, I believe her own healing occurs within this beautiful moment of weeping together.
This avenue of healing is one of the things I love most about being a therapist. When clients share their deep feelings of sadness and shame, I have the opportunity to sit in those feelings with them and tap into my own emotions and vulnerabilities to better empathize. Sometimes it is emotionally painful to go to that place with them, but it often feels like a sacred experience that I am privileged to be a part of. After those moments clients will often tell me they feel “better” and “lighter,” and are confused as to why. I don’t have a good or scientific answer for that. I just know it works.
Connection is healing. Shared grief brings relief. Love and vulnerability are powerful.
This week has been heart wrenching for myself and for my family. I have battled with fear and anxiety, and wept at the pain of someone I love deeply and feel helpless to offer relief to. But this week has also brought great feelings of love and connection. It has brought bonding and healing moments with my Mom, Dad, Brother and Sister-in-law that I will cherish forever. It has brought tender moments of gratitude and love as others have reached out with comfort and shared their own vulnerable feelings of grief and love.
Would I trade these moments for my Mom to be pain free and not going through this trial? Absolutely! But that’s not how life works, and it seems that these experiences of grief are necessary to give us the opportunity to stretch our capacity to love, deepen our relationships, and choose vulnerability over fear.
So maybe we can all give ourselves permission to love a little deeper and grieve a little more. To dig into our own vulnerabilities so that we can truly, “mourn with those that mourn and comfort those that stand in need of comfort (Book of Mormon, Mosiah 18: 9).”
To be healers, and to be healed, by allowing ourselves to sit with those we love and share their pain.