When my mom was sick she once made a comment to me that everyone comes out of the woodwork when someone is sick and dying. She had lived through this with my dad’s disease and death, and at this point she was experiencing it through her own. What she meant was that everyone seemed to contact her and want her time (unfortunately, before her predictable ending), even if she hadn’t seen or heard from this person in years. This forced her to put up boundaries and reserve her small amount of time only for those she truly needed to be with. I think it is wonderful that people, whether they were in my mom’s close circle or not, reached out with a card, gift, or meal. However, to expect something from my mom or some of her time reveals that they were making it more about them. They felt sad and needed a sense of peace with that sadness, rather than be sensitive to what my mom needed most. They were pushing their way into her pain, into a very scared space and time in her life, when they were not invited.
After my mom passed, I also experienced this from a woman at church that I did not know well. She came up to me to ask how I was doing. I gave the simple answer, “I am doing ok.” I didn’t want to tell her more. She didn’t hold a place in my life that deserved a deeper answer. She continued to tell me that I just needed to cry, and she proceeded to try to convince me to cry right there with her. I will tell you one thing for sure. I didn’t want to cry at that point, but more likely punch her in the face! I walked away angry, deeply hurt, and convinced that no one really understood my grief. I believed once again that I had to close down my pain in front of others.
When we push our way into someone’s pain we are giving that person the message that we have the right to be there. No one has that right. We must be invited into this space. To be invited, you first have to show up, feel their pain, and continue to be a support in their life. Often we have to take small steps to prove we can handle their deepest grief. Pain cannot be rushed, and true empathy cannot be forced. There even are times when we can do everything right, but the grieving person will not invite you into their pain. If we are truly for that person and we are not making it about us, then we have to be ok with that. Sometimes we are not the right person for their pain at this particular time or maybe never. They may already have safe people to share their grief with, or they simply are not ready. We can never run and push our way into people’s lives, but humbly and slowly walk toward them.