Discover more from Finding Words in Hard Times - with Jon Swanson
028 - There are no recipes.
Welcome back (or welcome!)
When it comes to being with people at times of death, I’m a trained professional. (Which simply means that I get paid to be a chaplain.)
It doesn’t mean, of course, that I know the perfect things to say and do. Because there are no recipes.
When we are trained professionals, but not at work, and are with someone when they get bad news, it feels like we should say something. Like we should know the right answer.
But we don't. At least I don’t.
Recently, we were with friends when the news came of a turn in health. And when the call came about a death.
We never met the woman who died, though we had more than a century to make it happen. But we do know a child, and grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. We care about them all, deeply.
So I should have answers, right? And should be able to fix things, to speed the healing, to meet the needs.
But there are no recipes.
I sit and wait. I listen to family members sort things through, tell stories, make plans and change them. I listen to people being confused, being overwhelmed. I wonder whether this is the moment to help. Or this. Or this. But none of them were.
I offer hugs, and eye contact, and my trust of them to let me know how to help.
It’s a little bit of a miracle that we are here, now. But being present doesn’t feel like enough, does it. Simply being deliberate and quiet.
But it is, I think, enough.
I tell you this because we are always wanting to know the recipe that will yield a grief relief sandwich. We forget that fast food answers to deep pain are full of all the wrong things.
I was tempted to continue the metaphor in cooking terms, thinking about a long cooking crockpot, or an overnight marinade. But there’s no cooking metaphor for grief. There’s no recipe for support that yields a cure-all.
And if there is, I’m not sure I want it. I want to feel uncomfortable when friends are in the middle of grief. I want to be uncertain so I have to pay attention, have to listen, have to monitor the words I say.
I can’t fix anything. I can attend.
So can you. So do you.
I get tired of hearing people defer to the professional, people who say, “what do I know?”
You know from losing parents and children and spouses and siblings. You know from being a person who reflects. You know from caring and loving. You know more than you believe you know.
I know that because you are reading this newsletter. Which means you care about caring. But I also know that you feel like you are falling short, or that you ought to do better.
We all fall short of the impossible task of making the irreparable better. But that’s not our task.
Many of us, including you, are more helpful than we believe.
I shared this with Nancy. I said, “I need to add something more, some links or a list of practical things to do.”
After we talked a bit, I realized that it’s enough this week bless you. To not give you one more list of 5 things you can do to be even more helpful, even more successful, even more caring, even more inadequate.
So, be at peace. Be there. Take a nap.
Because there are no recipes.
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