I have an innate need to fix things. Perhaps you do too.
Actually, I know you have this tendency as well. We’re all, seemingly, hardwired to want to fix problems. When my child falls and hurts themselves, I want to fix their pain and bring them comfort. When my friend asks a question, I want to provide advice to them. When my wife experiences disappointment in her day, I want to rewind it for her and go back and fix it.
It’s no different when we come across another human being that is soaked in grief and in loss.
We want to pull them out of their darkness, their pain, their suffering. We don’t like seeing them in this place. We want to fix their problem for them.
The reality of the situation is that it makes us uncomfortable. Another person’s pain brings up painful feelings for us. It makes us unsure of what we can do to help this person. Perhaps it even brings up memories for ourselves.
Sometimes in the middle of the night, one of our kids will wake up sobbing, crying out for mom and dad. As tears roll down their face and we hold their shaking bodies, we’ll say to them, “shhhhh, shhhhh….you are safe…..you are loved.” Whether it was a bad dream, or they aren’t feeling well, there’s quite little that we can do to take away their pain. Their fear. Their anxiety. Their discomfort.
We can tell them that they are fine. We can say, "calm down." We can tell them to suck it up. We can tell them (and show them) that there are no monsters under the bed. We can tell them that it was just a dream, that it’s not reality. And all of this will not calm them down; it will not bring them joy; it will not satisfy them.
All we can do is be a witness to their discomfort.
Tomorrow is Father’s Day. A day that is typically a happy occasion as we celebrate the dad’s in our lives. But for others, it’s a reminder. A reminder that our child is no longer here with us. Or that our father (or father figure) has departed from this earth. And others will experience a mixture of sadness and joy.
There will be a lot of things we will say to these people that are experiencing this dark place. We’ll say things like, “He’s in a better place now,” or “At least you still have three other children,” or “He would have wanted us to celebrate him right now.”
We’ll tell them they’re fine. That they should calm down. We’ll say, “suck it up and move on with life.” And all of this will not calm them down. It will not bring them back into their joyous state. It will not satisfy them.
We’ll say those things not because we think they will be comforting for the other person, but because the other person’s grief makes us feel uncomfortable and we want to fix it.
It doesn’t work with our children when they wake in the middle of the night, so why do we think it will work with adults?
All we can do is be a witness to their grief. To their pain. To their suffering.
I was teaching a Mental Health First Aid class about a month ago, and one of the participants asked what he could say to those that have experienced loss. He wanted a script, something that would work in all situations of loss and grief that he could say the words and….*poof*… the person’s grief would be instantly comforted.
There is no script. There are no right words. You can’t fix another person’s grief. You can’t restore what this person has lost.
But you can be a witness to their grief. You can attend to their pain. You can sit in their suffering. We just have to start getting comfortable being uncomfortable.
To all of you fathers out there that are sitting in suffering this Father’s day, I see you. I see you and I see your pain. Know that your pain is real. That it’s okay not to be okay. That you are loved.