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home : health : health June 20, 2018

5/23/2018 8:02:00 AM
A boat called life
By Sue Stafford

No one knows what it is like to walk in another person's shoes. Nor will we ever know the inside workings of an individual or a family.

Outward appearances and behaviors can often camouflage a life filled with pain, uncertainty, physical or mental ill-health, financial difficulties, or any number of other issues that reside within one's heart, soul, and mind.

One of my sons, during a difficult period in his life, accused me of having no ability to understand his situation because, to quote him, "you've never really had any big problems."

I was aghast. Obviously, I had worked much too hard to shield my sons from the difficulties in my life. I had perhaps robbed them of the opportunity to observe how to handle difficulties in a healthy, appropriate way.

That particular awareness and the fact that both sons handed me plenty of opportunities to have my sharp corners rounded off, led me to develop a new way of interacting with others in certain situations. When it's appropriate, I will allow myself a transparency that formerly would have paralyzed me. I have discovered that when someone is experiencing some difficulty, if my past experience is relatable, I will offer a space for conversation in which guards can be lowered and speaking from the heart allows connection, providing support and understanding.

There is no usurping of another's feelings or experience. Rather, a common ground can be found to provide a safe place for honest self-expression. And in a majority of situations, my transparency has invited another person to share their burden.

I choose my times and situations carefully so as to not intrude on someone else's process or to not share with someone who has no interest or understanding.

While working for hospice, I learned the importance of not avoiding talking about the death of someone's loved one. We as a culture don't handle death well. We don't want to upset someone by mentioning the person who has died, but with that avoidance we leave the bereaved person feeling isolated and like we don't care. No need to be intrusive, but don't avoid talking to them and mentioning the person who has died.

Several weeks ago, a family in our community lost their son to suicide - an unfathomable circumstance, which compounds the deep sorrow of losing a child. They used to be my neighbors and I remember that cute little blond-haired 7-year-old who played in the creek behind our houses and rode his bike around the cul-de-sac. And my heart breaks for his family.

Having flirted with the shadow of suicide in my own experience - with family members, the loss of one of my clients, and once briefly in my own life - I have had a glimpse of the despair that drives one to that conclusion. I have also witnessed the unspeakable pain, sorrow, guilt, and anger that accompanies a loved one's death by suicide.

There is no blame to be assigned, no reason that will make sense of it, and no magic wand or potion that will take away the bone-splitting pain.

If the opportunity presents itself, offer your condolences, talk about what the deceased person meant to you, and share a memory of them. Allow the surviving family member to talk about their loved one. Don't be uncomfortable with tears - yours or theirs.

We are all in this boat called life and, if we row together, the journey may be less difficult and more meaningful.

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