Updated: Nov 9, 2021
Our stories are based on our beliefs.
What makes us believe that things happen for a reason and that time heals all wounds?
Sometimes we say things we believe are loving and kind when the words actually reveal our conditioning and opportunities for growth. This reality exposed itself on a recent walk with a friend. It was a Tuesday morning and my friend and I (I'll call her Abby) were discussing ways we could support a mutual friend who was aching from the recent death of her son.
I've never lost a child so I cannot begin to understand the depths of pain and difficulty it would take to move forward. However, my friend Abby could relate. She lost a child years ago and explained that the pain is different than bleeding flesh or bruised egos. The pain is deep, raw and ever-lasting.
Earlier in our friendship, she compared her loss to carrying a rock in her pocket. "The rock isn't always visible to others, but it's always there," she says. Some days the rock is heavy and other days the rock is light. Sometimes she holds the rock in the palm of her hand to remind herself of her resiliency and strength, while other days the rock feels jagged and reminds her of the loss. That simply became a part of her everyday attire, she explained.
Abby's friendship has sustained the test of time. I treasure our relationship because she speaks her truth, regardless of whether I am ready or want to hear it. That is how I’ve come to trust her. She is solid, wise and not unkind, but truth is sometimes harsh to hear. I appreciate friendships that allow space for what needs to be said.
That particular Tuesday while discussing the heartbreak and our collective concern for our friend, my words and my problem-solving creativity dried up. I couldn't think of anything to say or do that would remove the pain from her world, but I suggested that "things happen for a reason and everything is going to be ok."
In a tone I wasn't expecting, Abby asked me to clarify my statement. I explained that I believe the pain and joy in our life is designed to give us wisdom and a chance to learn empathy. I believe that something good can come from something bad. What she said next caused me to pause. She asked if that meant there was a reason for her son's death? "Did something good came from that" she asked?
I didn't have words, only the presence of mind to understand that I had hit a nerve. I didn't mean to minimize hers or our friend's pain or loss, but I also recognized there was unintended harm. Life lessons have a way of sneaking up on us. Our best intentions may be perceived in a way we didn't expect or understand - and our words or actions may trigger or reveal another's pain. But just because we don't mean to, doesn't mean the hurt doesn't exist.
Unintended harm is still harm. The appropriate response is to own it and take responsibility for your role in the creation of that harm.
For the rest of the walk she shared that she couldn't think of a good reason why her son died; or if it was true that time heals all wounds. She said it wasn't time that helped her -- it was intention. It was the act of moving through each day and slowly learning to live with the pain and the new normal. It was her choice to surround herself with people who showed up and allowed her to work through her process.
I thought about how often I suggest from a place of love that "things happen for a reason" in an attempt to offer support. But instead of providing comfort, it can be received as dismissive or minimizing human emotion. Perhaps the statement revealed how unconsciously uncomfortable we are with other's pain and suffering. Or maybe the statement was an innocent statement about a complex problem without clear outcomes. Either way, there’s a bunch to unpack.
It's been some time since that talk, and I've come to realize that I believe things do happen for a reason. Call it my belief system or spirituality, but I can't go through life thinking otherwise. To do so would mean leaping into a void filled with randomness and meaninglessness. Others, however, have the exact same right to believe that things DO just happen.
The reasons and meaning of the events reveal themselves only after they've happened. We can search for the reasons outside of ourselves, but we won't find them because they don't exist out there. We carve out the reasons for our pain and loss and then bind them together with compassion, forgiveness, acceptance -- or resentment and suffering -- as we move through the process.
There is no right or wrong way to grieve and I have no authority to dictate the path and timeline. When we pause and look backward, we may or may not discover what we've learned -- and perhaps that is the reason for the event. I can't say for sure, but I know it is a grueling process and those on the outside of our pain may not have the capacity or experience to empathize and so we say things that expose our inadequacy to relate. But inadequacy doesn’t mean we aren’t willing. It just means choosing an informed response instead of an ignorant one.
If our intention is to help, love and support those around us, it takes more than flippant statements. It takes self-awareness and the courage to allow raw and real human emotion to be present and processed, even if it makes us uncomfortable. Healing requires us to show up without judgments or pre-determined healing timelines – sometimes without words.
Supporting, loving and healing our community ultimately takes intention and action to seek understanding. Understanding comes from awareness. Awareness comes from asking questions, not offering answers.
Supporting, loving and healing our families and communities ultimately takes intention and brave action.
Powerful perspectives begin with self-awareness and move upward toward acceptance and love.
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