April 13, 2011 // Uncategorized

We’re all in this together

I recently attended the heart wretching funeral of a dear friend who lost her short-lived yet grueling battle with cancer. She was only 47, but had been a widow for nine years — which left her raising four children as a single parent. She and I had countless conversations over the past decade about the balance we sought between our widowhood, single parenting and faith.

Though our lives were bound by so many similarities, we were nonetheless near polar opposites. She was a pragmatist and eternal optimist. I, on the other hand, am the deep-feeling type who analyzes events and corresponding emotions until I get to the core meaning, unafraid to sit with my pain. “It is what it is,” my friend would reply calmly to my continual questioning. I was and remain in awe of her world view and continued optimism even in the face of death. 

As I drove out of town to attend her funeral service (something I suspect she would have scoffed at) I replayed the past eight months in my head. Upon diagnosis, my friend’s optimism kicked in to the exclusion of all other feelings. She was determined to beat this cancer with no tears, grief, conversation or additional support from family or friends. We all acquiesced at the time, stepping back from our need to be with her and comfort her, allowing her to handle this health crisis in her own way.

But now a heavy heartedness has settled on us knowing we were denied the honor of walking with her during this difficult time, especially as she approached her untimely death.

At the funeral home I wondered what words I would muster for her beloved children, who had lost both father and mother at their young age. And, I pondered, what does one say to the parents of a young mother whose only desire was to love her children long and well? 

In the midst of this cacophony of thoughts I realized that although my greatest desire was to be present to this treasured friend’s family in their time of deep grief, I, too, felt in need of consolation. I allowed myself to recognize the feelings that accompanied the loss of my dear friend and confidant. And though I had a fleeting urge to withdraw in to my own grief, the deep compassion I felt for the family outweighed my present need.

Over the years I’ve attended many funerals of loved ones, young and old. I’ve learned that, for myself, practice does not make it any easier when the next loss occurs. Some losses are more devastating than others, but one is not any easier than another to offer or receive support. 
I have also learned that we sometimes withdraw from mourners because we simply don’t know what to do or say. Though we understand the mourner’s need for comfort, it is our own discomfort that keeps us at bay. 

Compassion for our loved ones commits us to walking with them in their pain and suffering — even when it is uncomfortable for us. Staying present to the mourner’s needs takes courage and raw honesty. It is what we as friends and family are called to do. 

I believe shared grief is a lightened burden. Many times there are no words to offer, but your quiet, consistent presence can be of great comfort to those who mourn. Being with others in their grief may benefit you in your pain as well.

I thanked my beloved friend’s family for offering the funeral service in which we had the opportunity to share our grief and honor our friend. It was, I told them, a gift to us to be given the opportunity to say good-bye. Though it was a long and difficult day for them, and for all of us, my hope is that they did find consolation in the presence of those who loved their mother, too. After all, even with our differences, we’re all in this together, aren’t we?

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