After my father’s death, I hid. I am not sure why at seven years old I felt like I needed to hide. However, I have a clear memory of my house being full of people, but I withdrew from the crowd. I went to my bedroom and crawled deep into my closest holding a picture of my father. In the picture, my father sat on a couch with a denim shirt on. His dark hair and blue eyes were striking, but he wore a somewhat sad expression on his face. I believe the picture was taken while he was sick and fighting heart disease. As I stared into his face, I tried to wrap my young mind around the fact that I would never see him again. I quietly wept alone.
A family friend soon interrupted me. I remember her acting a little awkward to what she walked in on. She mumbled she was sorry, and I don’t remember much else she said or did. She may have encouraged me to come out, but I felt my tears weren’t acceptable in her presence. I remember feeling embarrassed by the interaction, and then she left me. She left me alone. She left me hiding. I quickly wiped my tears away, put the picture of my father back in its place, and joined the crowd of people again. I kept going, and this began a pattern in my life to hide my pain.
This moment, this small interaction in my closet has been a defining moment in my life. It is a memory I can’t quite shake. It has been a driving force in my life more recently to be an advocate for grief. As I have grown, I give grace to people on how they react to others’ pain and grief. It is one of the hardest areas to enter into. This sacred space is even harder to enter into when your own experience is limited or when you are hiding yourself. Even though I have experienced pain in my life, I still get anxious every time I enter into this space with someone. It is extremely scary and hard!
The reason I am writing and sharing my stories are to encourage people to crawl into the closet with a grieving person and simply sit with them. I want to bring about awareness and understanding that you don’t need the perfect words, but your presence is more powerful. We need a generation of people that show empathy. Empathy is feeling with people. It is carrying the weight of their pain. It is allowing that weight affect you and your life. It is not saying you are sorry and leaving. It is not offering a few encouraging words, advice, or an explanation why this horrible thing happened.
We all hide in some way or form. It is terrifying to reveal our true shelves. When loss and grief enter into our lives we often get messages, sometimes in the subtlest ways that we are unaware of, that our pain it too much for others. Know your grief is not too much. Sometimes we just need to find those people who are willing to crawl in the closet to weep with us. What part of your pain are you hiding?