The Frustration of Helpless Hands

7 Aug

I’ve never been one to lurk and wallow in bad, scary and otherwise stressful situations. It’s just not my style. I’ve always been more of a fixer. I like to lay out the facts, logically think through what can be done, weigh the pros and cons of each option, and then make a choice. If things aren’t going my way, I change them, and if you know me even a little you know how much I love plans and lists and spreadsheets. I’m not used to having to accept situations for what they are, and the concept of there being no other options is generally foreign to me.

It’s for these reasons that I’ve never been particularly good at dealing with grief. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have a lot of situations in my life in which grief was called for, but I do have friends who have experienced tragedies both great and small, and it’s in those situations that I flounder. I smile awkwardly, give condolences and hugs, and provide mass amounts of wine, coffee, chocolate and whatever other vices are needed to lift the spirit as little as those superficial things can. But, it never feels like it’s enough. What I can provide doesn’t make things easier, it doesn’t bring back what’s been lost, and it certainly doesn’t fix anything.

These situations are magnified exponentially when the friend in question is hundreds of miles away. I can call, text, email my supportive thoughts. I can send cards, flowers, and little trinkets of sympathies, but eventually the electronic hugs and long-distance empathy seem redundant. Useless. My hands fall idle, helpless, at my side and I’m forced to do the one thing that pains me the most: nothing.

Because, really, that’s all anyone can do. They say that time heals all wounds, and perhaps that’s true, but try as I might I can’t speed time up. Even if I could, time can’t make what’s broken whole again. These situations change us, for always. We deal with our grief, become accustomed to the way things are now, and eventually smile at what still makes us ache on the inside. I know that this is the natural cycle of things, this is how grief works, but it’s that feeling of helplessness in the meantime that kills me.

I know in my heart that I’m doing all I can do. I also know for certainty that it does help, even if it’s in the smallest of ways. It’s never a bad thing to know that you’re in someone’s thoughts and prayers. Still, my heart breaks for what I cannot do and the situations I cannot fix. Just know that I would, in a heartbeat, if I could.


One Response to “The Frustration of Helpless Hands”

  1. simplyblake August 7, 2012 at 2:15 pm #

    This is a beautiful post. I don’t know her like you do, but I’m very empathetic to what you are feeling and my heart hurts for her too.

    Though not in the same way, I have been on the other side as well. The loss I experienced dragged me to depths of pain that I would not wish on another soul. Thankfully, I have some dear friends who served as lifelines by their extraordinary acts of simply “being there” for me. They weren’t available in the physical sense (though it would’ve been nice to feel the comfort of their hugs), but they were there for me emotionally. They avoided offering clichés; those do more harm than good; oftentimes, there are just no words that will do. They made themselves available to just listen. They acknowledged my loss and appreciated that life for me would never be the same. The death of a loved one is not something one gets over. It’s not something one WANTS to get over. It’s something that, with time, one learns to live with.

    Below is a mediation that, from my perspective, seems appropriate. I hope it provides you some comfort. It comes from a book that helped me through my darkest days. I will be sending a copy to our friend.

    “Pain is the most individualizing thing on earth. It is true that it is the great common bond as well, but that realization comes only when it is over. To suffer is to be alone. To watch another suffer is to know the barrier that shuts each of us away by himself. Only individuals can suffer.” – Edith Hamilton

    It is all very well to talk about the universality of grief. But at the time of our loss we feel as though we are the only person in the world who has the feelings we have – and we are right. If well-meaning friends say to us “I know just how you feel”, we inwardly bristle with denial – No, no. You couldn’t know what this is like.
    Even our closest family members have a different experience than we, and sometimes we stumble all over one another, hurt one another, and feel hurt ourselves because we assume that since we are grieving for the same person, our grief is the same.
    And yet . . . and yet . . . At no time do we need other people more. There is a fine balance called for between our need to honor the sanctity of our own inner space and our need for others to be present – for love, for company, for understanding support.

    I would say to friends – when I cannot come out from my house of grief, put your hand to the open window and I will hold on for dear life.

    HEALING AFTER LOSS: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief by Martha Whitmore HIckman

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