November 21, 2008

Grateful

I ran into a friend in the supermarket the other day, and in the course of our catching up she shared with me that she was going through a hard time, as a beloved aunt of hers had recently died.

"Oh, I'm so sorry," I said.

And then I think I had a choice.

Image by goatopolis via Flickr

The desire to be of comfort to my friend warred with the desire to steer the conversation back to more comfortable topics as quickly as possible. And it was hard to feel that anything I might say could make a difference. I almost asked how old her aunt had been, knowing that whatever the answer, I could then make a comment about a life well lived, and then we'd be headed right back towards talking about health, and how much we have to be grateful for. Short and sweet. Safe.

But an experience I had earlier this year with a total stranger has changed how I think and feel about reacting to others' grief.

This stranger, who was visiting my school for the day, seemed surprised to be telling me that she had recently lost her father. She found herself quoting him and then caught herself, remembering. And I, not knowing anything about her, was surprised as well. In uncharted territory, I felt the usual, "I'm so sorry," stick in my throat. Instead, what came out was, "What was he like?" And this woman, this stranger, seemed so grateful to have a chance to tell a few stories about her father that it was a joyous conversation.

I am still unnerved to hear of another's death. I'm happy to spend many long days without a conversation like that being part of my experience. But I am less afraid than I was. I am starting to think that death gives us a chance to think about life in interesting and unusual ways, and I am grateful that I now feel better equipped to just be present to those who are hurting. Grateful, too, for the trust that their sharing represents. Standing there in the paper goods aisle, I had another wonderful conversation, this time with my friend about her aunt.

Don't rush. Don't push. Just listen. And yes, be grateful.

I hope I can continue to hold onto this lesson.

(Thanks to the women of Sunday Scribblings
for their continuing inspiration.)

21 comments:

JAXTER said...

that was really, really lovely. thank you.

J at www.jellyjules.com said...

What a wonderful gift you gave both of those people, and to yourself as well.

ingrid said...

you are lovely and generous hearted. oh wait. i already knew that. :)

Linda Jacobs said...

I remember that when my dad died, my daughter sat with my mom on the couch and asked how my mom and dad had met. I can still see the glow on my mom's face as she told her granddaughter all about their courtship.

Thanks for reminding me of this!

Sharkbuttocks said...

excellent reminder of the power in the choices we make.

Rinkly Rimes said...

I think it's always safe to speak because one can always shut-up quickly if one feels uncomfortable.

BJ Roan said...

I never know what to say to someone who has suffered the loss of a loved one. You have inspired me.

'n said...

wonderful, inspiring. a model. thanks.

paisley said...

"What was he like?"

in that simple question i think you stumbled upon the true meaning of death...

*~sis~* said...

that was lovely, and yes, we need to sometimes stop to think. which is the easier thing...gives us time for pause!

Alisa said...

I am grateful for this post. What a great story and a good reminder to us all. I think many people are desperate for someone to listen…even a complete stranger.

This past week I sat by the bedside of a very ill woman who was confused. For twenty minutes, I listened as she rambled on about nothing. She was angry and frustrated that she couldn’t get the words to come out properly. Nevertheless, every few minutes or so she would pat my hand and smile as if to say ‘thank-you’. 'Thank-you for listening.'

tumblewords said...

How wonderful. Good listeners are hard to find and yet, that should be one of the easier things to do. Nice post!

linda may said...

I worked in a nrsing home for years, you got it right. Just listen and let them tell their story.

paisley said...

this post had such a profound effect on me,, i had to use it as inspiration for a petite verse,, you can find it here:

“What was he like?”

Patois said...

This brings tears to my eyes. I will forever more ask "What was she like?" I'm grateful I read this today.

Rambler said...

being there really helps people a lot.glad to find people like you

Lisa said...

Just discovered your blog. The second post I read was about death. I recently lost 3 relatives in 3 months. Death is always an uncomfortable topic. Your candid thoughts were a pleasure to read. Listening is the greatest gift you can give to someone who is grieving. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

maureenpoetryblog said...

this is a great way to be graceful. and by that, i don't mean "kind" or "generous" or "not clumsy." i mean giving and experience grace. wow! thanks for sharing it!

Mary said...

Wow, beautifully written food for thought. Thanks for sharing.

Shelley said...

Dear Friends, thank you so much for your warm and encouraging comments.

One of the aspects of our internet age that I am most appreciative of is the way in which it enables those of us with a web presence to share our failings and stumbles, as well as our moments of grace.

Thank you for finding some value in my journey; I look forward to continuing to learn from you all as well.

juliloquy said...

perfect. A response that opens a door rather than dismisses one's experience. I will remember to use this one. Thank you!