Sobrina lost her husband, Alan, just over two months ago. They are both dear friends of mine and I have been processing his death alongside her. In absolutely no way am I living through it in the same way (honestly, I cannot imagine what the tremendous grief she is experiencing must feel like), but I am doing my best to love and support her, while allowing her to really experience her sadness. As much as I want to take her pain away and "fix" this for her, I cannot.
I've been trying to read as much as I can about the grieving process in hopes of being a better support to my friend. I came across an article written for the New York Times by David Brooks. In it, he describes lessons that can be learned by one family's trauma. The part that really stuck out to me was when he talked about the difference between people who are fire fighters and builders in a time of tragedy. "Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world... Be a builder."
I've been wrestling with this idea for the last few weeks. I think I make a great fire fighter for the people around me. I know how to be sensitive to needs in crisis situations, I am not afraid to step up when people can't find it in themselves to make decisions, and I'm not afraid to be a buffer for awkward conversations or relaying messages. Doing this allows me a tangible way to support someone I love. But am I builder? Do I have it in me? I sure hope so.
It's not a new thing for me to live life next to people; we've modeled our church community in that way for the last several years. However, I've never had to see a friend through this kind of tragedy. It's not that I'm finding myself tempted to run away from this kind of commitment, I'm afraid I won't be good at it. How do you know what to say? Is there ever a "right" thing to say? "No. Because nothing you say can bring Alan back. You just need to be present and love Sobrina in that presence."
Those are the words a dear friend, and mentor, provided when I expressed my doubts. She's right. There's nothing I can do to take away her pain, speed up her process, or bring Alan back. That's scary. It's scary to think about helping my friend in a way that is so unfamiliar and undefined. Do I know what I'm doing? No. All I can do is love my friend and not be afraid of what Alan's memory brings.
Man, I sure do miss my friend though.