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Friday, January 6, 2012

A soft place to fall.

As far back as I can remember I have been a sounding board.  By this, I mean that friends, family and even strangers confide in me.  I clearly remember being in preschool when the boy sitting next to me spilled his gut over the anguish he was feeling about a fellow student's resistance to share any other crayon then the white one.  We all knew that the white crayon didn't work, and it hurt his feelings.  I listened, and traded my crayon with his and made a nice invisible drawing on white paper.  In grade school I needed tutoring and by the end of the hour, I knew more than I cared to about the teacher including her spouses name and husband's daily ritual of leaving the shampoo lid open in the shower.
Cyber space isn't big enough for all the information I have soaked up in my sponge.  My problem is, is that I cannot just wring out everything I have heard.  When I was 13  a my "boyfriend" told me that he loved my eyes because they reminded him of  big brown cozy sofas.  I think he was right, and so comfortable that people see them and want to take a load off on my face. And they do.  It can range from useless information from the checkout person, to a deeply personal crisis from the Starbucks lady.  My mother has told me it is a gift, but if that is the case, there are days I would like to return it.  Is there a group for over-empathic's? If not, I may start one, but then again we may never leave the church basement.
Just today (and its only noon) I have had an email therapy session with a friend, heard about a my son's pre-school teacher's struggle with dyslexia, my mom's distress over her friend who is old and dying and her kids won't care for her, (my mom also needed cell phone assistance to set her phone to vibrate). An exhausted friend sought "veteran" mother advice because her son won't sleep through the night.  A co-worker who was at the receiving end of our bosses wrath needed reassurance that he did not deserve it. The lady who walked in ahead of me this morning shared her distain for the sidewalk salt and lastly I listened to a friend who just two months ago lost her 11 year old daughter.
This is where my "gift" becomes more of a curse. I don't even know if I would have called her a friend prior to this conversation.  She is a woman who works at a place that I get coffee everyday. She just returned from a bereavement leave.  I cautiously approached her to acknowledge that she was back and that I was happy to see her.  There was a brief moment when I was teetering on the next question. Her eyes seemed to be pleading with me. So rather then avoiding a huge elephant in the room, I asked the dumbest question I could. "How are you doing?"  What a stupid question.  Obviously she couldn't answer me and asked if we could go talk somewhere.  Prior to this I had only spoken to her for 5 minutes at the most. I followed as she lead me to a table.  Like some people view men who have been prisoners of war and returned, I view her as someone who is experiencing a hell on Earth, which is also my biggest fear. There is a sick curiosity that I need to know how she is still surviving, because she has been to a place that I don't believe I could go and come back alive.  As she was sharing how angry she was I could feel her pain.  I wanted to cry too, but I felt that I had to be a sponge and absorb her anguish, in hopes it may give her some reprieve, even just for a moment. I had a flashback of the way I felt when I thought I lost Jack and how the hug of a neighbor had made me feel a brief solace. That was nothing like this and I soon realized that there was nothing I could say that would give her any relief and that my purpose was just to listen. I lost track of time and 30 minutes had passed, it would have gone on but I told her I needed to go back to my office. She understood and I left, now with the elephant that was in the room, sitting on my chest.  I felt guilty that I would get to go home and hug my boys and she couldn't.
What do you say to someone who has lost a child? I thought back to another friend who had a lost a son at an early age.  He was an adorable toddler when he died in an accident.  I remember avoiding her because seeing her caused me so much pain. At one point I had pulled the car over and sobbed because I couldn't imagine how she was feeling, especially because my first son hadn't been born yet.   Finally, after several years we sat down and talked.  She told me that she knew I had been distant. She moves through life now on a day to day basis, has faith that God would not give her more than she could handle, and she is certain she could not handle losing another child.  Her strength was admirable and I think of her as a solider also, but fighting extreme despondency that could never be measured with rank.
I didn't want to be distant this time, selfish because the mere thought of losing a child made me feel uncomfortable. Like the hug from my neighbor, nothing was spoken but standing heart to heart I knew she understood. And that is the simple reality.  There are no words that exist that could console someone dealing with such a tragedy and there is no reason to try and find them. Its far better to just be there and listen.
Sometimes gifts don't fit, or you don't like them, but in my case some people just need a soft place to fall and I will offer my cozy brown sofas any time.


  1. I would say, "What a great gift to have" It means people Trust you and that means a lot now a days.....So many back stabbers and people that are only into themselves that they don't have time or even care to listen to other peoples problem.....With that said, Can I have your number...I have some things to get off of my chest....LOL, Just kidding!!! Hope you have a Great Day!

  2. This person that you listened to is a beloved friend of mine and I want to say thank you. She hasn't really talked much and feels that she needs to be strong for everyone else so for her to feel that she could talk to you was a true blessing. Thank you again :)