Monday, January 18, 2010

Being the Witness

“Life really sucks here” she says.

“I am so sorry”, I say.

She says, “I cry every day and I spend the rest of my time trying not to cry.”

I say, “It sounds so hard.”

Our lives are so far apart. Hers full of regret and pain. Struggling every day to breathe in a single molecule of hope, grateful for the smallest ray of light.

Mine is the happiest that I have ever been.

It’s not fair and I try to make sense of it. Why can’t I just give her some of my happiness? A little piece of my hope?

Once, I sat at the bedside of my Granny, watching her die. She had slipped off into some in between place deep inside herself to do the work of dying. There was some sort of process that she had to navigate before she could leave. It was a painful struggle. As she cried out and fought with an unseen enemy, I was her witness. I sat by her bed day and night for 3 days, holding vigil, experiencing some of the deepest pain in my life, because I was helpless to save her from this journey. She had to walk this dark way and I couldn’t go with her. I stood just off of the path, watching.

I stroked her hand. I combed her hair. I sang sweet songs into her ear. I accepted the fact that it was her journey. But being the witness to that journey hurt. It hurt like hell. Watching the suffering of someone that you truly love is often worse than doing the suffering yourself.

In the end, I knew that my presence and my witness mattered. Somehow I had been a midwife for my Granny's death. Standing witness to her journey was one of the most sacred acts of my life. Not so different from watching a life enter the world rather than leave it.

Today, I watch my friend live the darkest time of her life. And I long to wrap my arms around her and fend off everything that is hurtful and ugly. To bring blessing, abundance and happiness back into her life. And if there is anything at all that I can do, I will do it in a moment. But, it seems that in this situation as in that other one, I am called to be a witness. To not look away if things don’t get better for a while. To keep inviting her to tell the same old story, even though she is sick of it. To participate in the glorious act of observing a sacred journey, even when it is through the valley of the shadow of death.

**I wrote this a few days ago, but didn’t post it. I see how much it also sums up the helpless feeling that I feel in the face of horrible disasters such as Haiti.

15 comments:

The Pollinatrix said...

I've been experiencing something similar, but different in the sense that it's someone close to me "messing up" rather than simply suffering "innocently". This is definitely self-created suffering, and it's even harder when you can't even be there to share the suffering because the person won't let you and is too far off in their own little bubble. I keep thinking of something I read once, a quote from a woman from the Gullah culture, I think: "Sometimes you just gotta leave 'em where the good Lord flung 'em." It's definitely an exercise in faith like no other.

smiles4u said...

Wow. I just want to soak in the beauty of these words. I have never heard of going through the death of a loved one described this beautifully and I love it. As I read this, I thought, this is describing in many ways what it's been like going through some tough times with my friend/woman I am PCA for. And you a so right on...it describes how I feel in the face of Haiti. Thank you for sharing this. I feel very blessed in having read this tonight.

Sulwyn said...

Such beautiful and honest words. I, too, am walking a painful path at the moment, but your words have given me a connection to the times when I was the witness to the suffering of another. Thank you for sharing your hope.

Nichol said...

Rebecca~ Your friend is very lucky to have you.
love you....

Jennifer said...

I have just completed a book about the reconciliation work happening in Rwanda after the genocide. The book is about forgiveness.

It explains that one of the greatest gifts we can give to someone in their suffering is active listening. It goes onto examine the process of telling one's story within traumatic circumstances and the benefit of the retelling helps to piece it together, growing, learning, examining and transitioning into another place from within the circumstance.

I can relate to this process of which my own healing has come and now observing a loved one going through the process of grief with a death of someone she loved dearly. She retells the events of the death over to me a lot. I realize now there is a great need for her to do this.

Your place in the life of your grandmother and in the life of your friend, I would stand to say, was then, and now is a gift far reaching any sum of currency known to man.

I would venture to say that a safe presence in your friends life is an element of salvation to the soul. Bless you as you move through this time.

Roy said...

This is so tender, the essence of spiritual direction... your heartfelt writing makes that come through. And I am glad to hear you are at one of the happiest stages of your life. If only folks would stop and drop everything just for this moment, maybe they will feel the happiness you feel right now.

Because it's only One Joy who embraces us all. Happiness is a river that flows through everyone's heart, non-stop.

Stay gold, my friend.

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Rebecca Johnson said...

Polli, The plight of you and your love one IS so difficult. It is hard to see someone making more choices that then brings pain down on the both of us. (And all of us, really.) I know that it will be true as we navigate this parenting thing.

The quote is SO, SO perfect. I love the way your brain can hang onto quotes and phrases like that.

My thoughts and prayers are with you and your loved one.

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Hi Smiles, Is PCA a personal care assistant? What an opportunity for loving care that must be.

In regard to my experience with my Granny, I never expected it to be like that. Going in, I did know that being present to her dying was not something that I just needed to survive and get over. It was something that would teach me and change me. It did. Thanks so much for visiting.

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Sulwyn, I am hoping that you will find those that will be the witness for you as you have been the witness for others.

Think of you out there on the moors....

Love...

The Pollinatrix said...

And my thoughts and prayers are with you and your friend, as well.

When I read this post, my mind immediately jumped to my own troubles, and I neglected to appreciate or comment on the beauty of your writing here or to move in a compassionate direction toward you and your friend. Guess I haven't completely transcended my self-centeredness just yet :)

I guess I do have a knack for remembering quotes. Maybe I should change my name to the Quotinatrix.

Rebecca Johnson said...

Nichol, And I am very lucky to have her. : )

Love....

Rebecca Johnson said...

Jennifer,

The idea of telling the story: Yes, I did it over and over again with my Granny. I just kept telling it to anyone who could truly hear it. I still tell it.

A couple of years ago now, a couple of friends of mine starting an amazing ministry called the Listening Post. It is a place for people to simply be listened to with acceptance and respect. That is the only mission. It is located in the downtown bus station and that get people from all walks of life. Google Listening Post Anchorage to see more. There is not a lot of info there.

Love...

Rebecca Johnson said...

Roy,

Thanks for reminding me that the river is always flowing. While this is the happiest time in my life, there also continue to be the challenges and sometimes I get rocked and I feel quite unhappy indeed. This is a reminder to check in with the river. It's always there.

I'm always so happy to see you when you "drop in".

Love....

Jennifer said...

I love the listening post. Thank you for sharing this. How beautiful!