Wednesday, May 11, 2011

When Others Hurt

by Anne Peterson

Look around. Hurting people are everywhere. In the last couple of weeks I have had some medical tests done, finding myself in and around the hospital. When I see others there, I wonder what their stories are, what they’re going through. Years ago when I lost my mother I remember the impact it had on our family. My whole life changed in a matter of days. I was just 16 at the time and I remember feeling so alone. I am convinced we don’t know what others are going through. We make judgments based on what we see, but we really don’t know their stories.

This week I read a devotion by Lysa TerKeurst, noted speaker and writer with Proverbs 31 Ministry. She told the story of a speaking engagement she had last year in Pensacola. At the conclusion of the conference she was immediately summoned to speak to someone in crisis.

“There has been an horrific tragedy, the speaker was told. Would you please come at once.”

A grandmother attending the conference had just received word that her two grandchildren had been killed in a house fire. This poor grandmother had just spent the prior week with those precious grandchildren and she eventually put them on a plane home. The children did not want to leave her and were crying. Upon returning home their mother’s boyfriend was high on drugs and deliberately set fire to the house, with the children inside.

This woman’s whole life changed in a matter of moments. What could the speaker possibly say to this grandmother in shock. How could she help her as she stood consumed in this sea of grief? Lysa approached her not knowing what she would share at all.

Still, she made her way over to her. When she finally got to her side all Lysa did was quietly mention the name “Jesus,” over and over. Soon the grandmother started repeated it, the police officer repeated it, as well as the paramedics who had come to the aid of this distraught woman. Over and over people within earshot started saying “Jesus.” And though that was the only thing said, a peace started permeating the room and this poor woman started to relax.

One year later when Lysa returned for another speaking engagement she stood with this grandmother once again, hand in hand remembering the events of the previous year. The speaker noticed a peace in this poor woman who had lost something so valuable in a senseless act of violence. They simply stood in silence remembering the event, but also the peace they shared because of turning to God.

Sometimes when someone is in the throes of grief we can be there with them, just sharing in their pain. We needn’t wait till we know what we can say. There are no magic words to take away such deep abiding pain. And yet, our presence speaks volumes to those who are hurting.

Sometimes in our grief others step back. It isn’t that they don’t care, though at the time that is how it feels. Some simply are afraid, lacking experience. Some feel that if they bring up the loved one their friend or family member will hurt. The truth is, they are already hurting.

A friend of mine lost her baby years ago and shared what hurt the worst was not what people said, but those who chose to say nothing. To her, it felt like they were denying the very existence of her child. It made her loss more difficult, and it felt like her loved one was unimportant.

We are human beings and we make mistakes. But, it is still better to make an attempt to console someone than to step back.

Through Hospice, I read a great article about grief and how it helps to get in the bucket with those who grieve, to just be there. Often when someone is hurting they are in their pain and we bring over our own buckets, trying to pour what we have into theirs. The problem is their buckets are already full. What they really need, the article explained, is for us to get in their bucket with them.

Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. When we don’t understand the particular thing someone is going through we can still be there for them, we can share their feelings.

The truth is even if we have gone through something similar to those who are hurting, we don’t know how they feel. We are all different, and we process things differently. In fact, it is helpful if when we are with a hurting person that we don’t say, “I know how you feel.”

Ogle County Hospice printed a story about a young boy who asked his father if he could go across the street to visit their elderly neighbor who was sitting on his porch. This old gentleman had just lost his beloved wife of many years, and the family had talked about how tough it must be for him.

The little boy carefully crossed the street to the neighbor’s house and then climbed on the old man’s lap. The father watched quietly, wondering what kind of conversation the two of them might be having. Soon the young boy came back home and he and his father went inside their own house. As they did, the father asked, “What did you talk about son,?”

“Nothing,” was his reply."

“But, I saw you sitting on the neighbor’s lap, what were you saying?”

The son replied, “I didn’t say anything, Daddy, I just helped him cry.”

A counselor once shared with me his reaction to a doctor’s treatment of a terminal patient. The doctor briefly told the woman in a matter of moments that there was nothing left they could do for her. When asked about his lack of sensitivity, he merely, replied,” That’s not my job.”

Maybe as a doctor he felt that his obligation was met delivering the woman’s prognosis, but as a human being, he failed her. Five minutes spent being with her might have assuaged some of her impending fears. Those few minutes would have given her the message that she mattered.

It’s interesting to me how we are wired as human beings. Personally, I have experienced many losses in my life. It’s something that became familiar at even a young age. Consequently, I am not uncomfortable when someone receives bad news. I don’t feel like backing away, but instead, I am somehow drawn to the person, perhaps remembering how difficult it is at that moment. How the world seems to go on unaware that your whole world has just stopped. Maybe for that moment I can be someone that makes a difference. Maybe I can help in some way.

It’s good to know that God cares about us, that he has numbered the very hairs on our heads. Those are truths we can hold onto. But sometimes, in the midst of our pain, we need to know someone will be there with us, someone who will help us cry or just get in our bucket with us. It can make all the difference in the world.

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