Guest Writer Wednesday: Feeling helpless? Maybe I can help
She’s always been there in my life
My oldest daughter, my best friend
She made her glorious appearance
When I was 23 years old
When I became a mom
But even before that she was there
I’ve somehow always known her
From the time I was a little girl myself
I dreamt of her as I played with dolls
And even still before that
Before I came to be on planet earth myself
When my subatomic particles were engulfed
In the ether beyond this physical plane
Her presence was known to me
Even as much as I was known to myself
That would be the poetic way I would describe how I feel about my Kristen—about all my daughters. I’ve always known I wanted to have children, to be a mother. I’ve known it the way you know the sun will set tonight and then rise again tomorrow…the way you know your thirst will be quenched after you’ve drunk a cool glass of water…the way you know a kitten’s fur is soft without even touching it. It just was. And I just knew.
And I’ve watched Kristen have that same foreknowledge about her future children. I’ve heard her talk about wanting children since she could formulate sentences. I’ve watched her joyfully play with babies since she was just out of her own baby phase. When she was a teenager, she gleefully babysat. She’s always gone out of her way to interact with children she encountered at the market. She was a nanny throughout her college years. She would constantly think up fun games to play with her charges. She has sent me pictures of all of her friends’ babies whenever she visits them. Her face lights up whenever she sees a baby, or talks about a child or hears about the antics of some kid or sees an instagram photo of a random baby. I just know she was meant to be a mother…the way I have always known she would be my daughter.
So to say my heart was broken for Kristen six weeks ago when she first discovered her uterine anomaly and all that went along with it would be the most enormous understatement I could ever make. I felt the crushing weight of grief and despair as I watched my daughter absorb the news that she may not be able to carry her own baby to term. And it was worse than if it were happening to me. In fact, the first thought I had was that I wished I could take this away from her and carry this burden for her. I wanted to eliminate her pain. I wanted to infuse her with hope. I wanted to make it so she could feel better.
But I couldn’t do any of those things.
There were times that were hopeless. There were times that the grief was so thick in the air around her that I almost couldn’t see through it. There were times when my own powerlessness for her overtook me and I wailed for seeming hours in despair.
Nothing I could say or do could help. Everything I thought to say seemed superficial…fanciful…or just vacuous. And the reason was because there was literally nothing I could do to fix the problem. Nothing. Nada. Zip. I was impotent. And so are some of you reading this blog. This is for us on the periphery. This is for the helpers looking in.
I’m a helper. I’ve been a mom, a teacher and now a counselor. It’s what I do. I help.
One of the biggest lessons I had to learn becoming a counselor was a new definition of the word “help.” What it means to help someone. I had always thought “helping” was equal to “fixing.”
Mom! My shoelace is in a knot…Oh, let me untie it for you.
Teacher! This sentence doesn’t sound right…Oh, let me help you develop your thought.
Doreen, I can’t break up with my abusive partner…Oh, let me help you get out.
But very early on in my careers, I had to realize that I was not there to “fix” people…that “helping” did not equate to “fixing.”
It was when I came across a quote about helping by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest, theologian and professor, that the concept really started to gel for me. Let me share the quote with you now. He said:
“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who instead of giving advice solutions or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
At first when I read this, I had a warm glow in the pit of my stomach that radiated up through my entire being. Yep. That was it. That was the path I needed to follow…the philosophy I needed to adopt. The words were the truth, and I could feel their power.
But then, it came time for me to apply this newfound ideology, and I quickly discovered it wasn’t so easy. Time and time again, my mind reverted back to thoughts like, “What can I do?” “How can I fix this?” “What suggestions can I make to make this situation better?” The learning process was wearisome. Not only was it ‘not easy,’ it was plain and simply incredibly difficult. It nearly felt impossible.
But then I began to notice during the times I was going through my own ordeals in life, people would play the “fixing” game with me. They would say things like, “Well, you should (fill in the blank),” or, “When I was going through that, I thought positively…” or, “God has a plan for you, but you just can’t see it yet.” I realized that not only did those things not help, they were also things that distanced those people from me…especially if I didn’t choose to follow their advice and suggestions, or I wasn’t visibly eased by their words. Their attempts to ‘fix’ me didn’t help.
What did help was when someone could bear my tears with me and it didn’t make them run away. What did help was sensing someone’s strength through their mere willingness to just be with me through my own grief or powerlessness or anxiety. What did help was their presence. Period. Such a simple concept. In fact, it almost seems too simple to be real. But let me tell you now, it is. It’s incredibly difficult. And there is great healing power in it.
"I will be present for her…walk alongside her."
So now what I do for Kristen is let her know I am here…even when I'm out of town on a trip…I am here. I let her know she can call me whenever she needs to…even in the middle of the night when her mind is racing and she can't get back to sleep. I let her know that I can handle her grief, even in the midst of my own…that I will be present for her…walk alongside her through anything and everything, no matter what.
And do you know what? If you really think about it…that’s all any of us can really do.
And it helps.