Cracks

“There is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in.”

-Leonard Cohen

After last week’s post (The privilege to live without open wounds), I had the following exchange with a reader who gave me permission to share it below. I think it speaks to the journey we are going on together and the discussion I hope you will join into.

 

Reader: 

“Living with open wounds”…as with most things, often a lot of grey area in that. Totally get that in the article you do not mean to address a certain level of trauma. “I’m not talking about people that had tough romantic breakups or are dealing with the unfortunate but predictable sadness that life can bring.” For many people things can be clearly categorized. Upon first glance I would fall into the privileged category…I am hardly the first to be divorced after a long marriage, have parents deceased, had someone die in his arms, etc. And I do consider myself privileged. But my oldest daughter is MR (the term Du Jour is Intellectual Disability). Make no mistake, I do feel blessed to have her! But I see the things she will never have in her life, the things that for some reason were determined for her before she had a chance to have a say about anything in her life. Because my love for my child is endless, it forever shock my faith in God … why did he allow this with my sweet little innocent? Please, I am not looking for spiritual or religious advice…been there, done that, still doing that, it is a constant in my spiritual life. But I do consider it “Living with an open wound” because if you love someone impacted in such a way, it is a constant tear at the heart. Again, I feel privileged in other aspects in my life, and I feel blessed to have her as my daughter. I just bring this up to point out that this discussion can have multiple layers within multiple layers. Wounds can leave “gaping wounds in the heart and psyche” and “derail your potential” in subtle ways. They can drag you down or serve as motivators. And they can do both at the same time! Definitely a thought provoking topic.

 

Me: 

Thanks for this thoughtful comment. I had to give the post a title, but I realize that people have wounds of all kinds. In this case, I was speaking specifically of the wounds that come from dramatic trauma that usually includes violence of some kind. But really my point is that we all have painful disadvantages in life. Suffering is not trivial no matter what caused it. You make that point eloquently and I certainly can see where you struggle with things that many (to include me) do not. But there’s something powerful about considering the pain that you/we DON’T have. Often we are so consumed with the pain we DO have that we don’t give the emotional energy needed to let others pain in. We may feel we don’t owe the world anything because we’re still suffering too. I think it is worth trying to feel more despite the pain that is uniquely ours. Because until we can care about what goes on with our brothers, we won’t really care enough to help them. So that’s my point with these posts. But know that I am sending you extra love and am grateful for your ability to engage in these kinds of conversations.

What does “privilege” mean to you? Are you privileged?

 

Openwounds

“What separates privilege from entitlement is gratitude.”

–Brené Brown

Has life been kind to you? Are you privileged? If so, in what ways and by how much? Do your disadvantages in life outweigh your advantages? Are they about even? Are you more advantaged than disadvantaged?

How you answer these questions has a direct link with your level of gratitude, happiness and purpose. So these are not small questions. These are big questions. They are arguably the most important questions you will ever answer. Which is why I want us to take our time and explore them together.

Over the next several weeks, we’ll discuss the topic of privilege. Especially the question of “how much privilege do you have?” At times you may realize that you have a disadvantage that many others don’t have. But you probably knew that already. We tend to be pretty good at seeing where life has been unfair to us. Yet at other times, I hope you’ll see your advantages in a new light. I hope you will pause to see that despite your hardships there are many circumstances where you are privileged. And I hope you will start wondering why you’ve been so blessed.

First a disclaimer, often when the topic of “privilege” is discussed it is applied to the privileges granted to certain groups by racial or socioeconomic factors. We will not be using the word in this way. Instead, we will be going a layer (or two) below that to draw out what your privileges actually mean in terms of your daily experiences and your life options. Today we will explore the privilege to live without open wounds.

Living without open wounds

I decided to start with this privilege because there are very large groups on both sides of this coin. There are many people living with the open wounds of trauma. People that literally can’t fall asleep or start their day without replaying memories of how the bomb destroyed their house and killed their family. Perhaps, they can’t forget the day they were raped or forced to commit murder. Maybe they aren’t able to make it out of bed today because of PTSD or deep bouts of depression. In this case, I’m not talking about people that had tough romantic breakups or are dealing with the unfortunate but predictable sadness that life can bring. I’m talking about major trauma and suffering that leaves gaping wounds in the heart and psyche. Wounds that stunt your growth as a person, derail your potential and make simply functioning and appearing normal the goal of every day.

Is this you?

If so, know that I’m praying for you. Know that I believe in a God of healing and recovery.

Is this NOT you?

It’s not me. And that’s a privilege. It’s a privilege that makes no sense to me. Why some of us get to think about Starbucks and our favorite TV shows and others get to battle mental demons all day long. It’s unfair. It’s a gross, wild, crazy, tragic privilege. And we shouldn’t forget it. Take some time to think on that as you go through your week. How would your day today be different if you didn’t have this privilege? What would it mean to your job if you were living with open wounds? What would it mean for your family? What would it mean for your ability to leisurely read this post? I hope you’ll think on it and share it for others to consider as well. See you next week.

What does “privilege” mean to you?

 

Pottery

A year ago today, I posted about grief on the first anniversary of my grandfather’s death. My family received many of the blessings below and today felt like the right time to share that post again. The current list starts with one very important addition that someone shared in the comments of the original post. I’d love your help in making this list even better. Please share your thoughts if you see something missing. There will never be a shortage of grieving souls to serve.

5 Ways to Serve a Grieving Soul

  1. Allow them to grieve on their own terms. As one reader explained, “There is no set time frame when someone should no longer grieve. There is no specific way. It is important to listen and respect their grief process.” I’d also add to not try to make their grief process look like your own. What worked for you, may not work for them.
  2. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.
  3. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better.” Be there to remind them that these episodes of intense sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.
  4. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.
  5. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to stay very present and supportive for a minimum of two years (and likely even longer).

What would you add?

 

sand serviceTomorrow is the anniversary of my grandfather’s death. I’m blessed to have many relatives that live well into their eighth and ninth decades. I had more than my fair share of time to love him in this life. But, that doesn’t take away from the longing to still be with him. That doesn’t take away from the longing for him to guide and observe how my life is moving forward. I believe that grief teaches us that life is temporary and death is final. This lesson can’t truly be grasped with just our analytical mind. During the grief process, the lesson is taught in the heart.

I’m not an expert on this topic nor have I experienced the more traumatic ways that loss can occur in one’s life. The tips below just scratch the surface on ways to serve in times of grief, but it is a topic I wanted to cover. Anyone that focuses on serving people will have the opportunity to serve someone that has lost a loved one.

1. Fill in the gaps of their life. Picture the person grieving as a large rock in a glass jar. The glass jar represents their life before the loss. The people that are supporting them during the initial phase of loss (before and directly after the funeral) are the sand that will be poured in the jar until it is full. This image is important because it will help guide you on how to serve them. They will need help with basic tasks like having meals available, getting space to rest appropriately, and handling a number of routine chores that inevitably seem hard to focus on but still need to get done. An example of this would be to make sure any pets they might have are taken care of or filling their prescriptions. Look for gaps and fill them in. It is likely you will have to identify and suggest the areas to serve for them. At this stage, they may be too numb and detached to ask for help.

2. Help them re-frame what “doing better” looks like. As the grief process moves along, the intense periods of sadness and despair tend to become less frequent but the intensity of the grief (once it reappears) can be the same or stronger. This can be alarming to the person in grief as they “thought they were getting better”. Be there to remind them that these episodes of sadness are normal and that longer time between episodes is a sign they are “getting better”.

3. Share your joy. It is a human instinct to heal the soul. Grieving people aren’t sad by choice; they want to feel better. Don’t be afraid to share happy stories or engage them in fun activities. Check in to make sure you are doing that respectfully and on a pace they feel comfortable with, but actively try to show them the counterpoint to grief. Love and enjoy them.

4. Commit to a longer healing process. You never get over losing a person you love so in some ways grief is never done. I’ve talked to many people that have experienced significant periods of grief and it is clear that the one-year mark tends to be viewed as a disappointing milestone. Many consciously or subconsciously assumed that they would feel better adjusted after a year had gone by. It was a reasonable assumption as they had gotten through all the “first” holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. What they often found was that the second year (and the second set of holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries) were even more bitter because they had expected to feel better by then. They also found themselves with less support as people had assumed they’d gotten them through the hardest part already. Make a commitment to actively stay present and supportive for a minimum or two years.

Like I said in the beginning, these are just a few ways to support those in periods of grief. What other suggestions do you have? Please feel free to share them in the comments below. Serve on!