I spend my days in people’s mess. I have for so long now I don’t know that I would know how to handle anything else.
For years, I have walked into people’s worst nightmares. Their weariness, their brokenness, their frustrations and tangible fear.
I knock on a door, I introduce myself, I take a seat, and immediately I am with them. Over and over.
In the ICU I slogged through long hours with families asking about the small stuff, the deep stuff, the mundane stuff. The stuff to help them escape their current hell as death sang a song in the very room in which we became acquainted.
In the beginning the pain was uncomfortable. It was too big, and I was so unprepared for it that it startled me. I didn’t know what to do with it. When the grief was too heavy or uncomfortable I diverted my eyes. I busied my hands and mind, whittling away at the never ending tasks required to maintain life when life itself taunts a body. I had never witnessed pain that great or grief so overwhelming. But slowly, courage anchored herself, and I learned to not look away from the pain and grief that hung heavy and clothed their bodies. With time, I began to stare the son of a bitch down.
Grief is uncomfortable in the way it permeates and changes everything, how it takes over and silences. Early on, I did not know how to say the words that no one wants to hear. But, I learned to face the language of loss and to look people in the eyes. I learned to not just throw a box of awful sandpaper hospital grade Kleenex at humans and “give them a minute”, but rather, I started bringing that awful box of Kleenex as my Hors d’oeuvre while I took a seat at their table of grief and simply stayed present.
I really started to look at them, and I observed that what people need the most in their suffering is to know they are not alone. They need to know that they are seen in their pain.
Because the pain of this world is so overwhelming, but not being seen in that pain is intolerable.
So, now, I look at people in their worst. I stare at them until they are uncomfortable sometimes. When they are ready I tell them, “I am sorry. This stinks and nobody asks for it. Nobody hands you a guidebook that tells you what to do in this moment, but you are not alone, and I can help walk you through this.”
And the weight that people offload when they hear those words…I can almost see it go. Watch it float away. It is palpable what happens when someone realizes they are seen, like watching fire melt plastic, weight falls off and eyes clear. Resistance can not stand when the broken finally realize they are not alone and that their grief is too big to carry without another person. They breathe. If only for the moment.
I don’t really even know why I am telling these things, other than maybe to remind us that humans need to be seen. It is instinctual. It is a primal longing. It is a dust to dust desire.
So, be someone who sees. Sees value. Sees light. Sees dark. Sees broken. Sees beautiful. Sees redemption. Life is too short to live with eyes closed.