I love reading the CreakyJoint blogs. There is no better collection of writers who make me laugh out loud, wince, and shake my head in affirmation at the truth that’s told.
But a blog has stayed with me through the past weeks. Katherine Macfarlane wrote a searing description of her rock bottom pain and the despair it brings. It was an honest and deeply difficult piece to read, and to think about.
I don’t presume to know what Katherine needs – or anyone else for that matter.
What I do want to share is what I have learned about being with others who are in unending pain – physical and emotional. That the most precious gift is being present. And there are at least three important elements in that presence.
Too often when we see or hear about someone’s pain we start to skitter away. We don’t want to bear it with them. We feel helpless or guilty or upset that we can’t do anything.
Too often that means we start to leave. We may physically move away from someone in pain because they are so angry! Or we may change the subject, or let our eyes wander, or stop reading the difficult post.
The first thing we can offer those who are suffering is our presence. Just being there.
Not trying to fix it (Take a hot bath! Meditate! Stop thinking about it so much!) Not trying to make it better. Just being there.
This is incredibly difficult. Because when I am “just” being with the person who is suffering, I also have to be with my own sorry self. I have to deal with the parts of me that want to distance from what I cannot understand, or cannot imagine dealing with. I have to be with my own guilt that I’m not in pain, that pain scares me, that I would never want to be in that person’s place.
I have to allow myself to feel as helpless as the person sitting across from me, as sad and angry as they are that they have this lousy disease.
It is not easy. To stay put. To feel what you feel, and to allow someone to feel what they feel, and not to defend against. To agree – this is real awful stuff. And I know that, and I care and I’m here.
But that’s the only path to healing the heart and soul.
Let your heart be open to the pain you are hearing.
This too can be difficult because our culture tends to diminish and judge pain.
Caring is allowing the person to be where they are. Caring is asking, ”How do you want me to be with you?” and letting the other set the pace, ask for the cold drink or the hot compress or the quiet.
Caring is noticing when someone is having a bad day.
Caring is not getting numb or immune to the story of how hard it is.
The third part of presence, along with staying put and caring, is witnessing. So often those who live with pain feel invisible. They wonder if they are making up how hard it is – making too much of it.
A witness helps validate that what you feel is real. You don’t have to pretend, override, or make light of it all.
When we are witnessed, there is a relaxing of the clenched heart. We feel we can breathe and not work so very hard. Someone gets it. Someone gets us.
We witness when we say, “You are so brave.” “Getting that done was amazing.” “I am in awe that you made those calls, got out of bed, continue to push through at work.” or a thousand other daily things we observe.
“Your perseverance is inspiring,” I told a client once.
“Really?” she answered. “I don’t see that.”
“Well, I do.” I countered, and I gave her several examples of ways she had hung in to make something work.
Being witnessed allowed her to see her self as powerful and able to take charge. It was a perspective she needed.
We witness when we say the pain is so hard, when we suggest that it’s time to take a break.
To witness we speak up, speak out and notice how much effort and time it takes just to live when you have these diseases. We don’t take it for granted.
There are heroes among us who live with unimaginable pain every day. They are managing and living with grace and with effort.
For those of us who share their lives, our work is to be as present as we can.
In that way, all of us find healing.
Read Katherine Macfarlane’s blog, “RA pain’s rock bottom: NOT a ‘pain made me a better person’ story,”: https://creakyjoints.org/no-good-lessons-learned-hitting-ra-pains-rock-bottom/