To share our pain

Photo by Milada Vigerova via Unsplash

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand.”
β€” Henri Nouwen

“…losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow.”Paul Simon

The past six years, and really the past 32 years, have left me with far more questions than answers, but observation has firmly established the truth of some generalizations about humans. Among them is the unmistakable tendency for people to shy away from anything that can’t be easily fixed. We live in a throwaway culture where objects, animals and even other people are discarded or disregarded when they lose their practical value or don’t perform as expected.

Because of this I spend almost all of my days and hours alone, seeing nobody who isn’t paid directly or indirectly to be in either Matt’s life or mine.  Matt is the only person who is reliably present face-to-face in my life, and of course, his ability to communicate well enough to share my pain (or his own) is sadly limited. I miss countless things about Jeff, but losing the gift of his presence in daily life is the greatest sorrow of all. His devotion to us manifested itself on many levels, but the most profoundly beneficial was his steadfast proximity to all the details of our lives. He never needed a reason or an occasion to be there; he chose to be with us, as we did him, over and over again.

If you have known the prolonged isolation that too often accompanies chronic or catastrophic suffering, you will understand what I am talking about. Most people my age or younger don’t know yet what that particular form of alienation is like, but I believe almost everyone will experience it if they live long enough.

Meanwhile, even if you have no clue what it’s like– even if you feel impatient when your well-intended suggestions aren’t adopted, and you just want to shake that despondent individual and tell her to SNAP OUT OF IT– realize that nobody expects or even needs you to solve an unsolvable problem. Sometimes, all that’s needed is someone to be there.

Chances are there is a person in your life right now who might like to hear your voice or see your face, and it wouldn’t have to be more than a brief visit. It won’t pay your bills or raise your social status or get your to-do list checked off. It’s almost certainly not a priority with you. But it might change someone’s life. Maybe even your own.

63 Comments

  1. Julia, your sense of isolation is palpable. I wish I could disagree with you, but I’ve seen this play out before. People are often afraid of another person’s grief, or they simply don’t know how to reach out without, as you say, offering advice.

    I’ve been volunteering at a food distribution site once a month and I’ve put in a few shifts at a respite place for homeless women in my community. I’ve met wonderful people along the way, some retired and single (widowed or divorced). It’s been a great way to meet new people with kind hearts in this crazy, mixed-up world of ours. And to your point, it makes a difference in these women’s lives as well as my own.

    No one will ever replace what you had with Jeff. It must be unbearable at times knowing he’s gone after all those years you shared together.

    • Alys, how wonderful that you are helping out with these programs. You’re right, it’s a win-win for everyone. I remember going with my friend Myra (the mostly unseen one singing along with Robert on my Happy Birthday video, and the one comforting me at Jeff’s graveside) to the Newport News maximum security jail where she taught faith-based recovery classes for women with substance abuse issues. WOW, what a wonderful and life-changing experience it was for me just to tag along with her. I loved being with the women there. They were unfailingly gracious and supportive, and always thanked us just for being there and coming to see them. Nobody came to the classes unless they chose to come, and in fact, they were not allowed to come unless they were in good standing with the jail program. Myra’s soft-spoken strength and encouragement were so needed by me and by the women serving time. Even though I’ve never had any substance abuse problems, I got more out of those classes than I did from many other groups with whom it would have seemed on the surface that I had more in common. It was equally rewarding to work during our church’s shifts at the community homeless shelter. Again, I was always humbled by how cheerful and grateful people can be under the worst of circumstances. Inspiration often comes from unexpected places. And I know that you are a gift to all who are lucky enough to meet you. Thanks for sharing with us about your experiences, and for understanding where I am right now. It means so much.

      • You’re right, Julia. Inspiration does come from unexpected places. I’ve continued to enjoy the time I can spend there and I also like the flexibility of being able to drop in, as my schedule still doesn’t allow for a regular shift, though I hope that will change soon. Your friend Myra sounds like an amazing woman.

        • The great thing about a volunteer position is that it does allow a lot of flexibility, which benefits everyone. As necessary as structure is, every person and place also needs a bit of variety in staffing and schedules. I think it keeps things from getting into a rut. Yes, Myra is quite remarkable and because she is quiet and never shines the light in her own direction, she’s one of those people whose gifts become more and more apparent the closer one gets to her. She’s a wonderful example to me of how not to get dragged down and defeated by catastrophic trauma and loss in life. She’s the sort of person who renews one’s faith in humanity.

          • I hope to meet her one day, Julia. I hope the packing and planning continue to go well. I can hardly believe June is just around the corner.

            • Alys, neither can I. It’s sort of scary how quickly time passes, because I seem to get slower with each passing day. I do hope you can meet Myra. You’ll love her.

  2. Chris

    Hi Julia,
    Well, if I lived closer, I’d come right over! 😊 I understand what you’re saying about present day culture. You’re right; many things are better discarded and replaced than “fixed”. I think this has more to do with “economics” than with human nature. Read a bit about Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction”. The concept of the old being swept away and replaced by the new is a dynamic and evolving concept. This wide ranging concept has philosophical adaptations as well. Perhaps to your point about people, and our culture. However, the thing that hasn’t become outdated and swept away is the human condition. For the most part, I’d like to believe that altruism exists; and that faith, hope and love still abide.

    I think I’ll go visit a friend today, and I hope one of your friends stops by to say hello to you and Matt today! Have a wonderful week!

    • Hi Chris, thanks for stopping by to visit here. Like you, I’m counting on the continued existence of faith, hope and love even when those traits seem in short supply. It’s always a tricky balance between welcoming the new and exciting, without disregarding the better aspects of past traditions and the wisdom of experience. And humanity never seems able to advance to a point where the essential challenges are eradicated. New diseases keep appearing, formidable old ones such as cancer prove largely elusive to cures, fresh discoveries shed light on past mistakes that were once considered progress, and despite the many ways we have of keeping in touch, people seem to feel more disconnected from each other than ever. So even with all the creative destruction and shiny new replacements, some underlying needs and deficits never change. I hope you had a lovely visit with your friend! Have a great weekend.

  3. Ann

    Dear Julia, how about a virtual visit? We are sitting on my back porch despite the pollen! My dog Bolt has sniffed you but prefers my lap. You laugh at that. We discuss tea, I am still learning but am proud of South Carlina grown tea. We discuss the value of librarians since my mother was one and so are you. We’re just slowly rocking in our chairs enjoying the greenery, Bolt is snoring. Time to go but I enjoyed our time together πŸ˜€ your friend Ann. P.S. I can’t leave yet, this just came to me. Have you read any books by Lewis Grizzard? He was about my age, a little older than you, and was raised in small town Georgia, not far from Atlanta. His books rang so true to me that I felt like I knew him. Wonder if you had the same reaction. Okay, really going now, see you soon!

    • Ann, this little visit was delightful. I need to get out my tin of South Carolina tea and enjoy some soon. I had forgotten– or maybe never knew– that your mother was a librarian. Lucky you!! πŸ™‚ I love rocking chairs and watching Bolt snore. I feel like nodding off myself. Luckily pollen doesn’t bother me much. BTW I have had one of Lewis Grizzard’s columns hanging on my wall for many years. It’s an old essay about the 1991 Braves, and I have it displayed in my collage of memorabilia from the World Series which we were lucky enough to attend for Game 3, a late-night extra-innings nail biter that ended in jubilant midnight celebration. We flew all the way from California to Atlanta to attend the first-ever World Series game in my hometown, and it was well worth it. Somewhere I think I still have one or two of Grizzard’s old books. He was a jewel for sure. Have a great weekend, and I’ll look forward to our next visit. πŸ™‚

  4. Below are three links to connected Tweets, I posted this morning. I was prompted by an out-of-the blue phone call to my home phone, asking for Carlyle Hedden. As far as I know that phone has never been connected with that name in ANY database.

    • Eric, for some reason when I tried to click on those links it told me I was blocked from your account and not allowed to see them. Re: the phone call, I imagine someone looked up Daddy, happened to find your name, and just figured you might be related, especially since our surname is not that common. Sometimes people find each other that way. Whoever it was obviously had not heard that Daddy died.

      • Hey! I just now went back and saw where they were posted here on my page I couldn’t see them in my comments page when I was reading and answering the comments. COOL!

  5. Nephew

    I’m sad for you. As trite as that is.

    • Ryan, true sadness for another is never trite. Many other superficial emotions may disguise themselves as sadness for another, and these probably are trite, but I believe what you feel for me is not trite. Here’s a quote that rings true for me, from one of my favorite books: β€œWhen you’ve suffered a great deal in life, each additional pain is both unbearable and trifling.” ― Yann Martel

  6. Dear sister, I feel your pain of loneliness and isolation today. I have been there. There never has been anyone in my life but Ron who would be that for me. I wish I was closer just to stop by and share a cup of tea and listen. Please know I always keep you and Matt in my prayers. I love you both!πŸ’Ÿ. I send you much light in your life today!πŸŽ†

    • Thank you Cherie. Though you are miles away, you are close to me in heart, and just the idea of that cup of tea and listening ear give me comfort. I am blessed to be in your prayers, and to keep you and Ron in mine! ❀

  7. Harry Sims

    So it’s a we program.
    Thank God for we!
    Nelson Mandela said, “I am because we are!

    I’m Harry, I’m grateful.

    • Harry, this reminds me of a quote I’ve loved for years, though I never learned who said it first: “Without me there can be no everybody.”
      Stay grateful! It’s the answer to so many sorrows.

      • WHOEVER said that, was right! πŸ™‚

  8. Mike

    Wonderful quote from Nouwen.Spot on again. We went on a tour Friday with the Canton Methodist senior group to the Williams dairy farm in Madison, Ga.. On the way back we went to the Blue Willow Inn in Social Circle, GA. Wonderful buffet with you guessed it- fried green tomatoes and some kind of chutney. These seemed deep fried. Wonderful fried chicken. They also had a cabbage casserole which I did not try. For dessert they had several items, including strawberry cake, coconut cake and peanut butter pie- my personal favorite. Supposedly Margaret Mitchell owned this property at one time. Beautiful grounds and many special plants including one majestic magnolia now in bloom with huge saucer like blossoms. Have you been there?

    • WOW Mike, that buffet does sound wonderful. My sister and I are thinking of making a trip to Atlanta sometime this year, so maybe we can go there. Maybe you and Verie can even meet us there. I’ll let you know if we manage to get there. I always thought Social Circle was a lovely name for a town, though I don’t remember ever going there. Like you, I’d bypass the cabbage casserole, but the peanut butter pie would disappear quickly if I was around. Here in Virginia they have peanut soup which I keep saying I want to learn to make.

  9. Mike

    Some people might become embittered after what you have gone through. I have seen that happen.

    • Mike, I’m one of the people you’ve seen it happen to! I struggle mightily with bitterness, resentment, anger, anxiety, etc. and in my mind I sometimes think of myself as Mara, echoing the words of Naomi in Ruth 1:20. That, along with Junaluska, is my secret name for myself.

  10. Sheila

    Good morning, Julia. Were you as surprised as I was that our Verandah didn’t have a single flower? But yet the words were so fitting for the photo/porch! I suppose we’ll bring our own flowers and happiness and tea. Your words here match the photo that you’ve chosen so perfectly. I can only IMAGINE your sadness and the level of your grief. I am so sorry for your heartache! My love, thoughts, and hugs cross the miles, dear friend! πŸ™πŸ’›β˜€οΈ Sheila

    • Sheila, the flowers are always there (even in winter) but sometimes we have to go looking for them. πŸ™‚ They are probably right behind whoever took the picture, hee-hee. Besides, as you say, tea, flowers and happiness are always portable. Lucky thing, too. Thanks for being with me all these years, through tears, laughter and everything in between! I send you my love, thoughts and hugs too!! πŸ’πŸ’πŸ’

  11. Jack

    My wife’s sweet mother is at the end stage of her life. Her mind and her ability to communicate are compromised to an extent that she can’t make new friends, can’t meaningfully socialize with any in her new community. Her devoted daughter (my wife) and I have been discussing for well over a year the appropriate response should she become ill with something that would end her life. With great difficulty, she intellectually agrees that she and her siblings should allow her to move on. Despite that, over the weekend her health deteriorated rapidly and a decision was made to do a multi-procedure stent, risky in every sense. The best of outcomes offers only the chance of a few more weeks or months or maybe a year. And that’s the best of outcomes.

    This is proof positive of the fear of alienation that you so poignantly write about, granted of a different kind. I don’t know how this will turn out, or whether the decision will be regretted. I know for certain that I need to update my medical directive such that I’m allowed to go be with the One who promises eternal life.

    • Jack, I’m so sorry about your wife’s mother. These vigils are so hard. So often, medicine in its many forms creates nearly as many dilemmas as it solves. Jeff and I updated our advanced directives several months before he died, and we were surprised at how much more complicated they have become, assuming you have an attorney who makes sure to cover all the bases. I’m sending prayers that this time of transition will be eased for all of you.

  12. Julia,
    I find solace in knowing that Christ promised that He would not leave us alone. And when I find myself somewhat isolated by the trials of life I am at peace. For the promise He kept on the cross only proves that all His promises are kept. In that, I must then realize that although it may appear that I am alone, the truth is, I am quite in the best of company.
    -Alan

    • Alan, it’s really neat that you sent me this comment today, because this morning I was talking on the phone to my sister, and I said the following: “Recently I was thinking, I’ve never before been in a position where so much of my time was spent only with God.” And then I thought, “Lucky me.” πŸ™‚ The best of company, indeed, and so often we are too busy or distracted to even notice divine presence. Solitude is rich with gifts that are unavailable to us when we are surrounded by commotion, even when the din is happy and festive.

  13. Julia,
    It seems we are on the same divine wavelength. To have God with us always truly makes us lucky.
    -Alan

    • This morning in church we were singing “Be Thou My Vision” (based on the ancient Irish hymn) and though I have loved this song for many years, this line especially stuck with me today: “Thou mine Inheritance, now and always.” I thought of the great faith of my Mama, Daddy and Jeff, and the legacy of their devotion which remains an anchor for my soul.

  14. Judy from Pennsylvania

    Dearest Julia,
    Your name for yourself, Junaluska, rang a bell with me because it’s the name of a Methodist center that my husband and I briefly visited years ago. We were trying to trace down another copy of a powerful recording about the life of John Newton because we had borrowed the tape from a friend, and then it got erased. We thought they might have one in the library at Lake Junaluska. They didn’t, but they gave us the name of the man who made the original recording and we got a copy from him.

    Anyway, you might want to take a look just in case it’s a place you could visit with Matt sometime: https://www.lakejunaluska.com/
    “The mission of Lake Junaluska is to be a place of Christian hospitality where lives are transformed through renewal of soul, mind, and body. This hospitality is provided to ALL persons, without discrimination.”

    While the link you provided gave a sad association to the name Junaluska, that name has also become the name of a place of hope and renewal. We’re told that it is through trying, failing and falling into a dark place that we meet grace. John Newton lived this and wrote the song that has touched us all for almost 300 years. I pray that your place of sorrow, anger and deep tears is soothed by God’s grace and by time. You are so loved by Him.

    • Judy, thanks so much for your kind wishes, prayers and understanding. Lake Junaluska is lovely and it might make a perfect halfway point for my sister and me, to meet up and explore the Smoky Mountains. I love that area but am not crazy about the touristy aspects of Gatlinburg and places like it. The retreat center would give us a feeling of being away from it all without the scarier aspects of isolation that can go with being out in the country. Thanks for telling me about it. How fitting to have it named for the great Cherokee leader Junaluska, whose story (like his name) is full of sorrow, but also of hope. I am very grateful for your friendship and presence here!

      • Ann

        I can attest that Lake Junaluska is a lovely place whether or not you stay at the Methodist Retreat. Lots of folks from SC go there.

        • It’s definitely on my “must visit” list now! πŸ™‚

  15. Raynard

    Julia,I guess there was a reason Virginia Beach popped in my head today. I was asking myself When was the last time I heard from Julia? Along with the Conjunction Junction What’s your function song and the song that never ends..I digress. We are still hear if you need us..

    • Raynard, it’s always a joy to hear from you. I am hanging on and getting by. Lots to catch up on but it can wait until you guys come back down this way again. Please do let me know if you head to Virginia Beach anytime soon; I’d love to come meet you again and this time maybe we could even get over to the Belvedere assuming the traffic cooperates. Matt and I pray for you and Mary and hope you are having a nice springtime.

  16. Mike

    I think I would also be embittered, if I had gone through half of what you have eperienced. Sometimes my wife says to me about me, “I am becoming a curmudgeon.” about me. So be it.
    So where does your sister live?
    OK Social circle it is – Blue will ow in.n Actually I thought it was pretty reasonable. We are also planning a trip to GA st Botanical garden in Athens at UGA- in two weeks. Maybe Raynard can join us at the Blue Willow inn.

    • Mike, I have decided that curmudgeons are given a bad rap. I often accused Jeff of being a curmudgeon, but he was one of the most generous and kind people who ever lived. My sister lives in north Alabama, so Atlanta is a great meeting place for us. I’ll try to get Raynard and Mary in on the Blue Willow Inn plan, but if they can’t travel that far, we can all meet them at the Shady Maple sometime. It’s in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, which is another place my sister and I plan to visit together.

      • Judy from Pennsylvania

        Julia, let me know if you’re headed up to Lancaster County, PA and Shady Maple restaurant sometime. I’d love to meet up with you and get acquainted in person.

        • Judy, I surely will! We were planning a fall trip, but maybe I can throw a birthday party for myself since Thanksgiving falls early enough this year that it wouldn’t interfere (the Shady Maple, as you no doubt know, gives people a free dinner on their birthday– or at least, they used to). Maybe we can get several people together there. It would be great fun. In any even, I will let you know when we are headed that way. Thanks for asking!

  17. Mike

    Where is Lake Junalaska?

    • It’s in North Carolina, in the region the Cherokee nation called home until the double-crossing Andrew Jackson forced them to Oklahoma via the Trail of Tears. No wonder Junaluska regretted saving his life. Incidentally, Junaluska eventually walked– literally– all the way back to North Carolina.

  18. Michael

    Again was a real work of art is Sarah vowel “why I hate the 20 dollar bill”.

    • Mike, I tried to look that up, but couldn’t find it. Do you know whether it’s online someplace?

  19. Michael

    I read that about him. Might be a good movie script?

    • I think it would be. Or maybe they should just make movie of “Unto These Hills“using the indigenous cast that has been performing the play for years.

  20. Mike

    Again the Kindle has betrayed me. I meant Andrew Jackson. I just read a harrowing, heart breaking renditon of the Komaya school-Japan- during the 2011 Tsunami/ Earthquake. 78 children lost at that episode. Basically they were told to follow ‘:the school guidelines for evacuation.” which they did. I can send you a link. The case- brought by the parents -just went to trial. I can send you a link.
    Friday we go to Athens to see the state Botanical garden. Supposed to be a great time to check out the wildflowers. Lots of different kinds of Trilliums here which are pretty amazing. We saw a couple last week on the Hightower trail ouside of Canton which apparently goes from Augusta to Cartersville and we saw an old stone bridge that was built for Model-T’s Also saw an indian “paint mixing bowl” carved into rocks by the creek.

    • Mike, I had not heard the Komaya story, but I googled it and couldn’t find anything about it, so do send me a link if it’s handy. On a happier note, let me know how you like the Athens Botanical Garden. Growing up with a brother at Georgia Tech, I never went to Athens and the U of Ga was considered enemy territory, hee-hee. Seriously though it might be a lovely town. I don’t see many Trilliums but they definitely are striking. Your remark about the Indian paint mixing bowl reminded me of the wildflower “Indian paintbrush” that grows all over Texas. I loved that flower even better than the bluebonnets which are also gorgeous.

  21. Mike

    Probably the most amazing garden- I have seen. Amazing.

    • That’s good to know. I’ll try to go there sometime. I really do need to see Athens, even as a Tech fan.

  22. Mike

    Let me find the link for the story. The title “Why I hate the 20 dollar bill” is in Sarah Vowells book “Shady?? Patriot.” (sp).She has several Cherokee ancestors.
    The Shady Maple is in North Carolina?

    • Mike, the Shady Maple is in the Amish country of Pennsylvania, about 3 hours from my NoVa home. This means that if we do get some sort of party going there, you and Verie will need to stop off at our York Co. home to spend the night en route, if you drive, because it would be a long way from Atlanta. But it might be worth it if Raynard and Mary will be there. πŸ˜€

  23. Mike
    • Thanks for this link! I will plan to listen to it soon.

  24. Mike

    Book is “Partly cloudy patriot.” Pod cast may be 107.in This American life.

    • Believe it or not, I saw that very book at the friend’s book sale at the Williamsburg Library just a few days ago. I almost bought it, too. But I have way too many books I haven’t read yet.

  25. Mike

    She also has a pretty cool book out about Hawaii, “Strange Fishes,” You might enjoy. Sarah goes to Hawaii and spends all her time inside the Hawaii history library. Imagine that. In her pictures she does not seem to have much of a tan line.
    I am finishing up Macy Halford’s “His Utmost” about her histroy and present time with Oswald Chambers book of same name.

    • Well, as one who spent much of my time in Hawaii at the wonderful Hamilton Library at the University of Hawaii at Manoa (where the library school took up the entire basement and the temperatures were kept at about 60 degrees to protect the books from the ravages of a tropical climate) I can attest that spending time in Hawaiian libraries is not as crazy as it may sound. Jeff read the Chambers book, though I never did. Somewhere there is a copy of it in one of our homes.

  26. Mike

    I hope you did get a little beach time there.?

    • Oh, yes, more than a little. I used to ride my bike to the beach on base, and we spent every Christmas Eve (I think) at the beach. It was in Hawaii where my sons amused and exasperated me with their over-privileged complaint: “Do we HAVE to go to the beach AGAIN?”

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