Tag Archives: Bereavement

Nobody Knows Our Sorrow

Sally Field

Pain and loss are deeply personal states and often very lonely ones as well. We share in each other’s joy and accomplishments with ease. Happiness is not complex, it simply is. But pain and loss are layered and very specific. Despite our own personal experiences we can never truly know how someone else feels. This doesn’t matter when we are celebrating happiness. Nobody celebrating a marriage, birthday, or addition to the family needs empathy. It’s when our world has become small and dark and hollow that we crave understanding.

There are people who are comfortable with the loss of others. They are often drawn to professions that care for and about the bereaved. However the majority of people follow the evolutionary dictum of trying to avoid loss and pain. We shy from the enormity or contagion of pain and loss. Often we don’t know what to say, or in our nervousness spew forth a ridiculous (and potentially painful) cliché. Even people who themselves have endured their share of sh*&storms don’t necessarily know what to say. “I’m so sorry”, while honest and empathetic, doesn’t seem sufficient.

The throes of anguish and despair can feel very lonely. How can the world go on as if nothing has happened? The weight of the personal pain often wants to make its presence known. A stranger’s reflexive “How’re ya doing?” sounds like a serious inquiry. It may feel disloyal to a memory or oneself to answer; “Fine.” Expressing our loss and pain is important, but it can exacerbate the misery if we do so indiscriminately. We all want to feel understood and comforted. The former is far trickier than the latter. Only those who really know you can understand you,up to a point. Pain is personal. We can rail, blog, and rant about nobody understanding our specific hurt, and perhaps the very act of purging is of comfort. But expecting others to comprehend the intricacies of our experience while understandable doesn’t advance our own understanding. Self-care, and ultimately recovery necessitates that we understand our own pain. Fully understand it, care for it, and find a place for it.

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Posted by on February 11, 2013 in Well-Being


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Put Your Hand In My Hand*

“This guy’s walking down the street when he falls in a hole. The walls are so steep he can’t get out.” A doctor passes by and the guy shouts up, ‘Hey you. Can you help me out?’  The doctor writes a prescription, throws it down in the hole and moves on.” Then a priest comes along and the guy shouts up, ‘Father, I’m down in this hole can you help me out?’  The priest writes out a prayer, throws it down in the hole and moves on” Then a friend walks by, ‘Hey, Joe, it’s me can you help me out?’ And the friend jumps in the hole. Our guy says, ‘Are you stupid? Now we’re both down here.’ The friend says, ‘Yeah, but I’ve been down here before and I know the way out.'”

This story, written by Aaron Sorkin for The West Wing, never fails to bring an enormous lump to my throat. Human beings have a tremendous capacity for kindness and empathy. We are at our best when we jump into the hole knowing the way out.

Chances are that unless you sleep upon 20 mattresses stacked to the ceiling, something unpleasant has happened in your life at some point. Life happens to us, mostly for better, but sometimes for worse. It’s what we do with the worse that makes us better. If we are wise and fortunate we have strong connections to others. These people may have not been in the same hole, but they know how to hold a hand and make a cup of tea. That often can be more than enough.

There are some circumstances however that cry out for a hole guide. Illness, addiction, bereavement, and violence can result in a trauma that benefits from others’ past experiences. Support groups (and some chat rooms) are built on this premise. During the blinding vortex of trauma (that feels anything but temporary) there’s great comfort in hearing; “Me too.” The ideal gathering will include those who have found their way out of the vortex of trauma. They stand at the top of the hole, torch in hand. We may not take the exact steps they did to reach to top. We may have to stop at times, or even slide backwards. But we keep our eyes on their torch and commit to putting one foot in front of the other.

There is power in reaching out; to comfort or in search of comfort. It takes courage to continue to ask for help (after having bits of paper tossed upon your head.) It takes compassion and a touch of bravery to jump down back into the hole after finding one’s way out. It’s us humans at our very best.


*Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now – Starship (1987)

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Posted by on September 12, 2012 in Well-Being


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