My brother gave me an article out of the Reader’s Digest, September 2015 issue, titled The Art of Offering Love and Comfort, written by David Brooks from the New York Times. I appreciated the suggestions and thought today would be a great day to share them in light of the tragic accident that happened in our neighborhood last week.
The Art of Offering Love and Comfort references the Woodiwiss family whose daughter at age twenty-seven died in 2008 from injuries resulting from a horseback riding fall. In 2013, another daughter, Catherine, at age twenty-six was hit by a car while biking to work. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. Her recovery has been slow. Her mother, Mary, talks about the grief that a parent feels when he or she has lost a child and sees another badly injured, “a pain felt in bones and fiber.”
Through the Woodiwisses experiences, they share a few lessons about how those on the outside zone of trauma might better communicate with those on the inside. The right responses are not limited to what is discussed in the article, but rather a collection of their wisdom, which I found useful. My favorite points as written in the dos and don’ts list is as follows:
“Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were in awe after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, but showed up and offered love. They were also disoriented by close friends who simply were not there, who were afraid or too busy.
Don’t compare. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Catherine writes, ‘From the inside, comparisons sting as clueless, careless or just plain false.’
Do bring soup. Nonverbal expressions of love are as healing as those articulated. When you see a need and act on it, whether it’s a meal, a needed item or helping with a household chore such as dishes or laundry, it is appreciated. The Woodiwisses recall a friend who noticed they didn’t have a bath mat and went to Target and bought one. It was a thoughtful gesture which they will never forget.Don’t say, ‘You’ll get over it.’ Catherine writes, ‘There is no such thing as getting over it. A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no back to the old me.’
Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.
Don’t say, ‘It’s all for the best.’ Don’t try to make sense of what has happened. Don’t over-interpret and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Some people have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness.
What seems to be needed is the art of presence: to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the situation. Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.”
I’ve touched on the key points of the article which resonated with me. What insights do you have from your own experiences? How have you been helped or how did you help someone through a time of grief and/or affliction? Your thoughts in the comment box are appreciated. Together we can add to this list and help one another improve in offering love and comfort to those who are suffering.