Posted on Apr 26, 2011 | 1 comment

Last week was the one year anniversary of the explosion of the oil rig in the Gulf of Mexico.  We all remember the devastation it caused and perhaps still causes on the ecosystem of the Gulf.  But we must never forget that eleven men lost their lives in that explosion.  I was listening to a radio interview with one of the widows and her story reminded me of a fundamental human need that all to often goes unfulfilled.

We all want a witness to our lives.  We need someone to acknowledge our unique story.

It was heartbreaking to hear her tell how in a meeting with one of the big corporate lawyers she just wanted to talk about how much her husband had meant to her,  but the big lawyer was having none of it.  He had no intention of hearing about how much pain that man’s death was causing the widow.

It is unfortunate but we all do this in one way or another with people around us.  How often are you truly present for the people in your life?  Truly present for the joyous, the mundane and the tragic.  When we fail to be completely present, we fail to be a witness in those people’s lives.

Being present means that you are focused on what they have to say.  Not what you are going to say next.  Not how their situation reminds you of a similar situation you went through.  Not checking your smart phone.  Being present means you listen with all of your heart, mind and soul.

I have had the privilege to be present for several people who knew they would be leaving this earth soon.  There is no experience more profound than to be a witness for someone whose journey is coming to an end.  Visitors usually want to talk about the weather, what is going on in the family, etc.  Anything except what that person is experiencing, thinking and feeling.  These visitors don’t mean to belittle the person’s experience, they are simply hindered by their fear.  There is the fear that you will remind the dying person that they are in fact dying.  And there is the fear that it will someday be you.  I promise you, the dying person KNOWS they are dying and they do not forget it.  I also promise you that it will someday be you.

I have also had the heartbreaking experience to be there for someone who has suffered a terrible loss.  This is harder, because you know the pain is not going to end soon, if ever.  People at funerals want to put on a happy face and feed themselves until they can’t feel the loss.  I have heard many people say that they never know what to say to a widow or widower.  It is simply and very hard.  You don’t say anything.  You don’t say “they are in a better place”, you don’t say “it wasn’t meant to be”.  You center yourself, look them in the eyes and say “I am sorry”, then you shut your mouth and let them speak.  Don’t interrupt, don’t look at the clock, just sit with them and listen and feel their pain with them.

When you are present for another human being, you absolutely will feel their pain, joy, sorrow, etc.  This is what makes us human.  It is OK to have these feelings.  It is good to have these feelings.  But you can not let them find a harbor in you, you must make a time and space to sit and meditate or do some deep breathing to allow those emotions to move through you.  Just as you would do if they had originated in your life.

I feel so very sorry for that widow.  But I also feel really sorry for the big corporate lawyer.  He is not a “bad” person, he is just someone who had no idea how to deal with coming face to face with that much raw emotion.  He has no idea how soothing it would have been if he would have just simple been present for a grieving widow.  But instead he has added a layer of anger to the already thick layer of pain, worry, disbelief, etc (add every negative emotion you can think of here).

Once again I am asking you to do the hard thing.  Being truly present for another person is never easy.  Even when there is a joyful occasion you will find yourself wanting to add your story to theirs.  Resist the urge.  Let the other person’s story stand for them.  Hopefully you will have someone in your life who will serve as your witness.


One Comment

  1. 5-4-2011

    Loving your blogs and thank you for always being present for me, in more ways than one. Your awesome!

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