I want to make sweeping statements like, “the first time you lose someone you love, it teaches you how to lose everyone else” or “the first time you lose someone you love, you learn what to do and not do the next time.” But I don’t necessarily mean “everyone” – because everyone deals with things in different ways. What I face, you might hide from. What I consider heavy, you might not consider picking up at all. So what I really mean is, specifically, losing people in the past has taught me what kind of person I want to be when faced with losing people in the future.
Death – well, any kind of crisis, actually, because I’ve seen this happen around weddings and big moves/job changes as well – brings out the best and the worst in people. As if… wherever they’re already headed, wherever their spirit is pointed, it suddenly gets laser-focused and directed a thousand percent tighter and harder. Busy people get busier. Bossy people get bossier. People prone to depression get more depressed. People who deflect and sublimate behave as if nothing is wrong. Helpers help even more. People who already make everything about them are annoyingly amplified, and people who prefer to stay in the background and help become both more valuable but also less seen.
Are any of these things better than the other? Well, of course. I mean, who wants even more bossy, self-centered people sucking the energy out of a room when they’re not really the person going through it?! But we all deal with different things in different ways, and to me it seems like one of life’s many repeating lessons to learn is how to deal with how people deal with things.
Losing my dad, and losing Bill, taught me a lot (most of the posts I’ve written about those particular journeys can be found in the Souvenirs category, where I write the hard stuff). Losing my grandparents taught me some as well, but honestly, I was so young that the first few lessons didn’t stick as well as they should. So, thanks, I guess, life, for the repeats?
What did I learn?
I learned I wanted to be the person who showed up. Lots of people say “oh, that’s terrible, let me know if there’s anything I can do to help” and then they disappear, waiting for the person in crisis to reach out. Pro tip: what is more helpful than “let me know what I can do” is being specific. People in the midst of crisis, if you ask them what needs to be done, are going to think “everything. Everything needs to be done.” When in crisis, it’s too hard to delegate. There’s just too much. Offer specific help. Offer to pick up groceries, to bring cooked/frozen food over, to walk dogs, to clean cat boxes, to take dry-cleaning or do laundry. Offer to do yard work, or clean, or take kids to a movie or the park, or take the car in for repairs. Whatever your specialty is, whatever you’re good at doing, offer that. Specifics are better than general offers of help.
So. Loss, stress, and crisis have revealed to me that I want to be the person who shows up. I want to be the person who doesn’t have any regrets about things unsaid. I want to be the person who waded hip deep into the river of love and not just stuck her toes in the shallows. I want to be the person who makes whatever it is – the loss, the grief, the transition, the hard time – easier for the people involved to carry it all.
But is it really a want? Do I “want” to be that way? Because sometimes it feels more as if … I can’t NOT be that way. This is the way I am, I know my true nature, I can’t go against it without hurting myself, and I have no desire to put myself through the pain of trying to be someone I’m not.
So I help. I support. I do dishes and I put laundry in the dryer and I take the trash and recycling out. I bring groceries and I cook food and I run errands. I’m here if people want to talk and I’m here if they’re not ready to. I watch, and pay attention to what people need and try to give them that. I listen. I hear. I see. I love. I show up.