I have been struggling to know what to write about this week; so much has happened that I keep finding myself unsure of how to approach such a tender subject.
Last Wednesday, Kohl’s dad passed away unexpectedly. I found myself suddenly switching roles with Kohl, as I tried to take care of him while he navigated territory that I knew nothing about. I had no idea what I could say or do that might help him, so I tried to say as little as possible and just be there with him and for him as much as I could. Now, a week after the funeral, I’m finding myself with several disparate thoughts all jostling around in my head, and I’ve decided to just let them fall out onto the page and hope someone finds them helpful.
Firstly, I need to express my gratitude for Kohl’s father. He was a genial, warm hearted man who loved music, technology, and sweets. He also struggled with health problems for most of his life. I think part of the reason Kohl is so patient with me as I go through my own struggles, is because he grew up seeing his mom take care of his dad. That patience and knowledge is only a small portion of the legacy that David passed to his children, but it has affected my life immensely.
Secondly, I have been putting a lot of thought into how we all experience such different trials. As I sit helplessly among my in-laws, wishing I could comfort them, but unsure of what to say or do, I have realized that what I have experienced has given me the ability to recognize and feel true compassion for others’ suffering, but it has not provided me with a true understanding of their pain. We are all surrounded by people with vastly different hardships than our own, and I have two very strong beliefs about that.
The first is that no one has it any tougher than anyone else, not really. We are fundamentally unable to feel exactly what anyone else feels, so we have no way to know how hard any one trial is for another person. What would be difficult for one person may not be very hard for another to deal with; likewise, what may be a simple hurdle for one individual may feel completely insurmountable to me. For instance, as lame as having a kidney disease is, and as frustrated as I get sometimes, it is a physical ailment, and I am not afraid of physical problems. My will has always been stronger than my pain. The most difficult thing I deal with, my secret trauma that rips me into shreds inside, is my inability to have children. It’s not as obvious as my kidney problems; in fact, no one meeting me would even know that it is an issue, but the aching pain of that wound makes my organ failure feel like a small thorn in my foot. One of my favorite sayings is, “Be kinder than necessary; everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” We should never make the mistake of thinking we are better or worse off than someone else; life is going to test and teach all of us, and we don’t have the right or the responsibility to compare hardships.
The second thing I believe strongly about trials is that there is recompense attached to suffering, and I am not only talking about the blessings that various beliefs promise to those who are patient. There are blessings we gain in this life that are the direct results of what we go through. Our burdens give us the ability to feel sympathy, and sometimes even empathy, for others who hurt. As we struggle, we begin to see through different eyes. Sorrow provides wisdom, grief teaches compassion, and pain clarifies how to be truly grateful. This last week of heartache, I realized again that although I can’t always understand what the person next to me is feeling, I have learned enough to know that offering my unconditional support is often sufficient. I am here for whenever Kohl needs me, and because I am more familiar with sorrow, grief, and pain than I was, I will be able to recognize when that is. This is one of the ways that shadow enriches the light, and I am grateful for the eyes I have to see that.
I’m still feeling jumbled by this experience, and I know there are lessons I haven’t sifted out yet, but I hope I’ve made some sense. What are your thoughts about grief or trials? I would like to know how other people deal with helping loved ones through painful times. Does everyone feel as inadequate as I do?
i attended the funeral and it has changed my life. i think i refer to the things i felt and learned there at least 5 times a day. i am so thankful for the Glass family, and appreciate your thoughts on grief, especially what you said about the immediate blessing of empathy. lovely blog, lovely words. lovely lady.
ps, i am angus’ sister in law and amy’s sister.
I remember you, Holly! I’m glad that the funeral was such a positive experience for so many people; David would be (and is, I’m sure) thrilled. Thanks also for your kind words.
I am going to ditto Holly’s sentiments. Chris you are a wonderful girl. It breaks my heart to think of your loss. xxoo
I whole-heartedly agree with your thoughts and actions when dealing with grief. At the ripe old age of 25 I lost my first husband mentally due to a catastrophic brain injury, although he was still physically present. I was so grateful for the loved ones who showed their support by simply being there to support me while I grieved my loss. I remember how comforting it was to be surrounded, completely engulfed actually, in quiet strength offered by my loved ones. I’m so sorry for the loss of your father in law.
Kim, I had no idea you had been through that. One of the blessings of this experience, in the words of my sister-in-law, is that people are “letting down their shields” and allowing us to be a part of their own personal tragedies as well. It has given us the chance to not only see how much we are loved, but where our love is needed. Thank you for your comments and your support.
The best thing I could have read on a Sunday morning. Even having been through a death of a parent myself, I still struggle to know what the best way to support someone else is.
Kohl has told me many times that it is his friends who have been through this experience whose words are really resounding with him right now. I think everyone has a different way to grieve, but even just the simple knowledge that someone knows how it feels is comforting.
I appreciate everything you said. We lost Jay’s mom this past summer after two very long years in the ICU most of the time. It was so hard to know how to comfort my family. I felt loss, but as overwhelming as it was it didn’t even compare to the feelings they were having. Jay and I have been it the same type of relationship you and Kohl have… Jay always comforting and taking care of me through all of the medical drama. It was very surreal to switch roles. Especially because Jay just wasn’t showing any emotion. It finally hit him a few months ago. Longer than I expected, but the breakdown finally happened.
I think of you and your struggle to adopt a baby often. For me, that hasn’t been a struggle. In fact, having our baby boy after years of thinking we were done and not able to have more was the biggest blessing our family has experienced so far.
You have always been my example and the person to whom I look for strength in my trials. The things you taught me as we would drive home from ASU are constantly on my mind. Like a big sister, you have influenced me more than you will ever know. I love you and know you will come out of this on top. Once again, I have been taught by a master teacher… you. Thank you for sharing your feelings today.
Thank you so much for saying such sweet things. I have also kept tabs on you through the years and been so impressed with your attitude and sense of humor throughout your own difficulties. I’m glad that some of my experiences have helped you; I certainly feel that one of the major purposes of any of our struggles is to be there for others when we can. I appreciate you doing that for me now.
I never know what to say in these situations. But that in itself helps me to have empathy for all the people who are made uncomfortable by my situation. I hate the platitudes, so I try not to use them ever. I think the most comforting thing to me is just when people say “I cannot begin to imagine how hard that is.” For some reason this is far more comforting than trying to draw parallels between what they have experienced and my personal suffering. It is always amazing to find people who have been through what you have been through but it means a lot when people who haven’t just acknowledge the gravity of it. I had a friend whose dad just passed this week and I actually saw him and Kohl for the 1st time since on the same day and didn’t say anything about it to either of them because I know when I am on the edge I just hope no one brings it up so I don’t break down in public. I am sure he is sick of hearing all of it and just assume he knows we are thinking of him.
I think our family’s first response tends to be respectful silence; I’ve certainly been using that approach with the Glasses. I’m trying to be more openly loving with them, because that is how they are naturally, but I also think that I can help by just taking over some of the day to day tasks that feel like a burden to them right now. I’ve been wondering a lot whether it is better for me to be vocal or reticent about my own feelings, and I think my ultimate thought on that is that the appropriate response varies depending on the person who needs to be comforted. It’s another one of those instances in which I need to be more aware of and willing to accommodate the needs of someone other than myself. Curses.
Just be you. That’s all anyone would/should want. Most take comfort in familiarity. When those we love are faced with a big change, they appreciate the things that stay the same.
I think you are right that it depends on the person. I am a crying freak show so for me, I really appreciate when people kind of treat me the same and talk to me like it’s any other day. I like to get my mind off of it first and then maybe we can delve into my feelings and I can cry and it’s not so freak showish. If that makes any sense. I have a really hard time being a comfort and a strength to others because of the crying thing. In recent years I have come to terms with that though and it’s actually been more of a blessing than I previously though. I have wept with those that weep and (I think) what I had always felt was such a weakness has become a strength when I have allowed it to. So much depends on following the spirit. I think God leads us to use our gifts to help in a way that we may not even know can make such a difference and be such a blessing.
I am so sorry for the loss you and Kohl and his familly have suffered. He sounds like he is a wonderful man, and I am sure that your love and support mean more than you could ever know.
It’s a very helpless feeling to see someone you love suffer. It would be so nice if we could take that burden even for just a little while and give them some relief. I am sure you would if you could.
I love you and I pray all the time that your family will come. I know it will. You are so loved and I hope you feel that.
Chris, I love this post. You said so many things that I feel as well. I think of you often and am grateful for your example in my life. It has been a blessing to me, especially recently with my own health issues. You are such a great friend and support and I am so grateful for you.
As one who has lost my own Dad, I still find it hard to know what to say. But just allowing the person to know you are there and love and support them, for me, was the most helpful.
You continue to be in my thoughts and prayers.