I want to apologize to anyone who has ever needed me, and I haven’t been there.
Today, our family on Aaron’s side memorialized a family member who died way too young. One year ago today, Aaron’s cousin, Johnny, was taken suddenly and tragically, leaving behind a wife and three young, sweet kids.
It is truly unfathomable to me how I would even go on living if I were in his wife’s shoes. Attempting to wrap my head around that reality is like trying to solve an advanced physics equation or explain the existence of God – I don’t even know where to begin.
Today we went out to breakfast with Aaron’s family and everyone took turns talking to Aaron’s uncle, the father who suffered the heartbreaking loss of his son one year ago today. For a number of reasons (time, logistics, passing a phone around), I wound up being one of the only people who didn’t personally speak to this uncle today, and offer my condolences. Aaron said he offered his on our family’s behalf and not to worry about it, but it has stuck with me all day.
Lying in bed tonight, reflecting on this day with Aaron, it occurred to me – there was a small amount of relief in not talking to the uncle for this reason and this reason alone: I don’t know how to handle tragedy. I really struggle with what to say or do, whether my words would be helpful or a hindrance to someone else’s grief. I am uncomfortable in the presence of others’ grief. That probably sounds pretty selfish, but I just kind of…..FREEZE. I don’t know what to do, when I see someone crying, know they are hurting, or fear a heart is breaking. It’s as if I’m protectively scared that if I get too close to someone else’s pain, my heart might break, too.
I have friends and family members who have been broken to their core, suffered deeper losses than I’ve ever known, and who probably could have used more support and love than I knew how to offer in those moments, months, years… Tonight, I know this. And tonight, I am sorry for my shortcomings.
This last month has been the month of half-written blogs for me. I haven’t published anything because I can’t seem to finish anything. Anything I’m happy with, at least. I have this yearning to write and I have things I want to say, but I wonder if my words are relevant enough, important enough, interesting enough. I hold myself to a high standard as a writer, and yet I know (or I certainly believe, anyway) there are far better, more compelling writers than me. But the world needs each of us, all the time, to give exactly what we can, no less and no more. That is why I write.
So this is not a perfect essay – it’s not catchy or thoroughly edited. I didn’t even plan to write it 20 minutes ago. But it’s from the heart. Tonight when I had this ‘aha moment’ in bed, admitting to myself and to Aaron that I don’t know how to respond to tragedy and sadness, my husband told me I’d hit the nail on the head simply by admitting my weakness, and my desire to not be numb, to not freeze – to do more. He told me that, in the face of tragedies he has faced, it would have meant so much to him if his friends could have simply told him that they didn’t know what to say, they didn’t know what to do, but they wanted to be there for him.
There’s something about this time of year that lends itself to quietness. To reflection. To gratitude. If the holidays carry with them a sort of drunken, carefree spirit in the air, January follows with the sobriety of a cold shower. When the Christmas tree is down and the lights dim, we realize that it’s how we live these other 300+ days a year, that make those ones in December worth celebrating. And some of those 300+ days are bound to include some bad news. Some hard times. Some conversations we’d rather not have and facts we’d rather not face.
I’m learning that even when we want to freeze, and hide, and convince ourselves we have nothing to offer – we DO and we SHOULD. Our friends need us to care – more importantly they need us to let them know that we care – even if that caring is clumsy and vulnerable and not at all practiced. Let people know you care. They really may never know it if you don’t.