I just listened to the book There Is No Good Card for This: What To Say and Do When Life Is Scary, Awful, and Unfair to People You Love by Kelsey Crowe and Emily McDowell. It’s a quick and helpful read (the print version is even illustrated) filled with both helpful and awkward foot-in-mouth conversations of people sharing difficult news.
The gist: avoid platitudes, trust your instincts, don’t make it all about you, and when in doubt reach out. For decades in my adult life I could not hold another’s suffering without succumbing to sorrow (even despair) myself. I was too wounded by my chaotic childhood and felt my own inadequacies so acutely, that in my desire to be compassionate I often ended up in a spiral of worry about the other person, terrified about their circumstances as I imagined myself unable to cope in similar circumstances.
It took most of my life to learn to hold another’s sorrow lightly: caring about them and their circumstances, but stepping away from my need to fix, heal, or remove their troubles so that I could be released from my own fears about their situations. Allowing others to live their own lives as they choose is difficult when those choices aren’t ones I’d make.
The authors of There Is No Good Card for This remind readers to be generous with ourselves, to forgive our unhelpful responses that arise from kind intentions, and to know that we have countless opportunities to practice what to say (and do) when life is hard for those we love.
Two dear friends and I, soul sisters, as we call each other, have developed a conscious practice of supporting each other in difficult times and celebrating the good, mostly via email given our geography. (Another dear one and I reach for the phone and prayer across the miles when things get rough). Here is some of what we’ve written to each other in the past eight months that inspires me, and will, I hope, inspire you, too:
A dear friend whose husband was in his final days with brain cancer said she would hold her husband's hand until Jesus came to hold his hand. And that's what I'm gonna do…
Cried when Carrie Newcomer sang the song, "You Can Do This Hard Thing," as I am doing this hard thing...
I appreciated your words about needing to identify your own emotions/process before talking; so helpful to understand “where we go” when stressed and own that part of it.
I have little time to catch up on email replies. I do read as much as I can; when I do, I don't feel so isolated.
It was a bittersweet visit, thinking of memories of our life there in the past, and inability to travel now…
To let go I need to do a little whining, thanks.
I was so freaked out I didn’t know what to do…. I hope your week has been less dramatic than mine.
The affirmation card said, “I do the best I can, and then I don’t worry about it.” Well, I’ve been doing the best I can and then worrying constantly about it… I’ve definitely got some healing to do from old wounds around the need to be perfect.
Praying for light along your pathway.
As you walk in the dark, may you know that God is present to and with you, even when it may feel otherwise.
Even though I've been rather self-absorbed, you have been on my mind and in my heart. I think of you daily and try to imagine what your day is like.
Thank you for your wonderful words of support and encouragement. I must admit that there are times when humor escapes me and I get down in the dumps discouraged. But I think I have my dad to thank for the humor that returns to me when I remember to keep focused on the light and lightness within.
You are incredible! With serious illness all around, you manage to hold on to humor.
Honestly, I am grateful for sharing each of your life's challenges. Your friendship and deep sharing gives me hope, grace, companionship, for the long days and sometimes sleepless nights.
Hoping you are receiving the soul nourishment needed to sustain you…
I’m just a bit tired and punchy, and mentally more-than-ready for life to move forward and onto the next right place and bright season.
I am learning to see my faux pas, to apologize, and respond more appropriately. So I celebrate that growth in my life. It wasn't expected, but it opens me to another dimension of honoring the dead by honoring her beloved living ones.
It’s such a long process of loving detachment, and it’s so hard to do. I’m hopeful that time and distance will help you to come to a feeling of peace, knowing that you’ve done you’re part in the relationship, and to, as you say, move on with your life.
I’m holding you in my heart as we wait in the darkness of the solstice and of wondering what is next for each of us. In the meantime, may you find moments of joy in the coming holidays.
Thank you for bearing witness to the struggles our family is faced with. No words are necessary although knowing that I can share this darkness with you lightens my burden greatly.
I am a writer who, in December 2011, fortified by a new MFA, empty nest, and changes in my husband's employment, relocated from my native California to Washington state to see what would unfold next.