012 - We all struggle to find words.
Welcome. Or welcome back.
You are here because I’ve pledged to help you find words in hard times, words and tools to help you help others.
I need to tell you something that happened recently. To remind us both that I’m looking for words all the time myself.
We sat in a small room, getting acquainted. He was about my age. So was his wife. “The Price is Right” was on the TV in the corner. The players guessed amounts of products, pleaded with the big wheel to stop on the best spot. We talked about their life, how they met, what she did for people.
While we were sitting in the room, 40 feet to our south, through a couple thick walls, his wife was in the center of a crowd of people working to restart her heart, pleading with the big wheel to start.
Eventually her heart got started. It took a long time.
The next day, the man and I talked again, an hour or so before she died.
He gave me a cherry Starburst. Later, he reminded me that it was my payment. “That’s why my prayer for her was so sweet,” I said. He laughed.
I suppose I should have turned off the TV earlier, instead of just before the intensivist told us she was being moved to intensive care. Just like I could have anticipated the explosion of grief from another family. Or the quiet conversation in a backyard for another family. Or the numbness of another family, ready to give us the funeral home information and leave.
Or maybe I couldn’t have anticipated any of it.
Because I often don’t know these people before we meet in the direst of circumstances. And even if I know them, these are, after all, the direst of circumstances.
I’m telling you about my second-guessing and sense of falling short for two reasons.
First, because it’s been an accumulatively hard couple weeks for my colleagues and me. Though we always remember that for each of those families it is the worst minute and hour and week of their lives. We are changed by their stories. Their stories have been fundamentally changed. But I need to acknowledge that it can be hard for helpers, too. Like you and me.
Second, because you need to be comforted that there aren’t experts in conversations in the hours before and after death. There is always improvisation, always uncertainty, always searching for words and pauses, speaking and listening. Some of us are there more often, but when you are there for someone you care about, you have the privilege of being there. In those moments, don’t waste energy on finding the right words, on fixing things. Just be there as you.
As I write this, Nancy is rocking Ben to sleep. He’s our grandson, on his first overnight with us. It has been a good night. And we are all tired. As I’m thinking, as they are rocking, we heard a dissonant piano chord. It was Minerva. The cat. Ben stayed asleep. I laughed. I needed it.
I enjoyed the cherry Starburst.
I smile at the irony of our Drew Carey moment.
I appreciate your time.
See you next week, I think.
Minerva (in front) and her sister Dax are often on the piano.