When walking through another’s pain

mr frumbleOh my soul.

I’m discovering one unexpected risk of loving again…the full complement of feelings and joys and pains when doing life with another. I’ve got kids, pals, and sisters; shared pain is life. But I have not been prepared for this walking through familiar heart wounds with my heart open-in-genuine-tested-love.

A few things I’m learning/re-learning:

My job is to love; not to fix. Folks don’t want to be projects and I just want to be a friend – not a coach, mum, or therapist. The fella and I have learned to be very clear about boundaries and current capacities to listen to the fullness of grief experienced. He listens to me, too, and will draw a brightline where our rehashing or working-it-out-aloud unnecessarily nears a nerve (or bundle of them). Some days, I’ve got one nerve left and it’s pinging long before day is done; all I have to do is raise the signal and we’re good.

We are a team; two people in one relationship living autonomously. Years ago, I heard a quote about healthy relationships which I’ll paraphrase here: “People love chocolate fudge ice cream and they love vanilla. If you swirl the two just so, you get ‘SuperFudge Marble Swirl’ which is delicious and worth the investment. But if you mix the vanilla and chocolate goodness too much, you’ll end up with dirty vanilla or blech-late; neither tasty nor valuable.” We encourage one another, we talk things (thinks!) through, set boundaries, faceplant and restart; forgive, and hold one another loosely. I make no expectations of a future nor feel entitled to his time or to extend my time. I choose to invest in our relationship and follow where it goes. I guard my heart while opening it to him. He is among my favorite people.

I can feel angry about someone else’s experience; but I remember it is not my monkey, not my circus. After years of working with an accredited Zoo, I know that tangling with someone else’s great ape is an invitation to great harm and dismemberment. Don’t do it. Love invites shared sorrow and joy. Own what is yours, be patient with what is not. Speak life or be quiet. Do not be Mr. Frumble (who wants to help, but… https://youtu.be/cKELTNVsbqs).

Speak Life or Be Quiet. No one needs someone to stir their pot of disappointment or anger. Stirring someone’s  anger and pain is manipulative and only makes things worse. Often, pot-stirrers are gossips and/or attempting to ingratiate themselves into a vulnerable situation for personal gain. Don’t do it. Quietly listening, holding a hand, offering a meal, speaking truth, giving space, moving boxes are all helpful alternatives to pillaging another’s pain.

Unless they are physically drowning, people rarely need a full-on rescue. While in a restaurant with my  kids years ago, I began choking and needed that Heimlich maneuver. Unfortunately, folks nearby were too embarrassed to help. I self-rescued on a chair and eventually dislodged the bite of food as I began to lose consciousness. The experience jaded me a bit, but serves as a reminder to allow folks to gain the strength of their own character as they face pain and uncertainty. If you want people to be dependent upon you – solve all of their problems and protect them from unpleasantness at every turn. If you want people to grow and develop as human beings and not giant entitled toddlers, help them learn to stand, crawl, walk, and run on their own. You can always run beside them for fun (thanks Katie & Dave).

What can we do when people we love are suffering of heart? Offer resources, connections, and practical help (babysitting, time, grocery/gas cards, dish-washing), an occasional ride to the store, and listening ear.

Do not attempt a rescue unless you are trained and it is your job with that person. As a lifeguard, one of the first rules we learned was: often, a single drowning becomes a double-drowning if the rescuer is untrained, unprepared, and over-powered. I’ve been a lifeguard and pulled a few people out of pools. Most often, I tossed a floatie or offered a shepherd’s crook. Nobody died.

Encourage folks to seek help and do the hard part of making the call, visiting the office, etc. You can help find the number or drive them to their appointment, but if they are physically able to relate their ills, it’s their job. Not yours. You’ve got your own strength of character to cultivate.

Not too long ago, my family and friends lived these truths out towards me. They reminded me of my strength, spoke fresh life into my shattered bones, and walked/ran with me as I went from shock to numbness to searing pain and back again.

No one could take on the pain and subsequent healing for me. They heard my stories again and again and gently pointed to joy and life on the horizon. We drank coffee, shared meals, and walked in the wind. We read the paper together.

These folks would not stand by while I drowned nor did they allow me to martyr myself. They respected my need to fall apart, sort out, fail, and learn to get back up. They even called me on my self-pity and circuitous thinking (Dr. K).

The fella gently asks me to wait for him to finish his thoughts before I speak.

I am learning to listen with the intent to hear rather than pontificate or fix. I am enjoying some of the healthiest relationships of my life. I surround myself with people too engaged living their own lives to try to squish into running mine, too.

Again, our buildings, business, and busyness will one day fade. Our relationships and the lives we build will last longer than any stuff. Derring do is required. Long-term thinking, too.

We’re in this together. Frumbling foward in good company.


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