You do not see the world as it is. You experience the world as you are.
Driving to Columbus, Ohio on a crisp autumn day, I needed to make a quick bio stop. I pulled into a Pilot station and jogged to the women’s restroom. I waited for the next available stall. The stall door opened. A sobbing woman walked out. Her false eyelash on her right eye had come detached. Tears streamed down her face.
“Are you okay?”
“My son died last night. You’re not supposed to bury your children. He was 30 years old, a basketball player-stood 6 foot nine inches. I’m on the way to the morgue in Atlanta. He’s been talking to me. His son, my grandson, found him. He died in his sleep. I don’t want to go to the cemetery. My sister died last August. Oh, I can’t do this. My boy. My boy. Oh, God!….”
The words tumbled out of her at the pace of her tears streaming.
“Can I give you a hug?”
She opened her arms. We hugged, held each other as she continued to pour out her grief in sobs, words.
Softly I shared,
“I almost lost my son twice. I can only imagine what you are actually living through. Oh, God, I’m so sorry. I’m here with you. You get to grieve. You love him so much. You will always love him. Love never ever dies. He loves you so much. He won’t ever stop loving you. I know this.”
“Thank you. I’m glad your son is alive. I don’t even know who you are. You are being so kind. Oh, my son. You must go pee. I’m a nurse. Go pee.”
In the stall, I continued to speak to her.
“You are so brave. You are a brave Momma. I know you can do this. You must grieve. You are so brave. You are here, alive.”
I finished, washed my hands, and hugged, held her several more times while she poured out more words about her son, her sister, her job as a nurse, her nurse friend who was driving her to Atlanta. I barely noticed the other women who quickly entered the stalls and disappeared. I pushed the heavy door open for her as we exited the restroom.
I immediately saw a young man moping the floors right outside the restroom area. He saw the grieving woman and asked her,
“Are you okay, Ma’am?”
I knew she hadn’t heard him. I gently looked at his concerned eyes.
“Her son died last night.”
“Oh, I am so sorry, Ma’am!”
She didn’t hear his words, but I did. His empathy wrapped around his spoken words, an energy balm like a sun-warmed sandbag in the midst of her grief flood.
I held her hand as we walked by the aisles of colorfully packaged snacks. I opened the glass entrance door. She continued to cry and talk. We hugged one last time outside in the bright sunshine. I wished her courage, safe travels. I promised I would pray for her, her son, and her family.
Back in my car, tears welled up in my eyes as I shared briefly with my significant other what had just transpired.
I realized I had held space, that I hadn’t internalized her grief, which is what I would have done in the past as the unhealthy empath I used to be.
I noticed that my practices of flowing through my own grief waves allowed me to embrace a complete stranger with much compassion.
Inside each of these interactions including the young man who shared his heartfelt condolences with a stranger, God gave me beautiful signs that I actually matter, that I belong to the human family. I’ve struggled with doubts about my right to exist, my sense of value, for too long. Centering in faith and love, I ask to be humble enough to finally hospice my worthless piece of s*&^ self, along with her body postures, and midwife an enduring, unshakeable inner experience of being enough.
The tenderness and grace gifted to me by a nurse in the ER who hugged/held me when I wept with a grief-terror for my own son flowed freely forward to this beautiful, grieving nurse, a mother, a member of my ever-expanding human family. Her raw, vulnerable, grieving heart connected with mine in the very core of our shared humanity. I live utterly grateful for these blessings.