One cold February day I hurriedly took out the trash. A bag in one hand, the recyclables in the other hand, I took a fast slide on the slippery sheet of ice on my driveway. I ended up lying there with my left ankle twisted under my other leg, feeling the sharp and sudden pain of the fall. I had screamed quickly and loud as I fell, the scared feeling and surprise in my yell.
My son just leaving for school with his Dad ran out. Then my paramedic husband came next. “Alright what hurts,” he says as I lay there. My pride was probably wounded the most. I fell. I hurt myself. I could barely get any words out. I think I finally muttered “I twisted my ankle” grumpily, then got up abruptly put most of the pressure on my other foot, quickly got into the house, grabbed an ice pack, sat and iced that ankle. I had left them standing there. (I think I heard “whoa Hun take it easy, slow down.” As I made my way to the safety of my home.) I did want help but I just wanted a do over. I wanted to not have fallen and been laid out on my back, hoping someone heard me yell.
As I sat on the couch, icing my ankle I cried. Yes it hurt, I’d be okay but it hurt. And my morning now had to be figured out. This was not the day I had planned. I remembered this is vulnerable.
Vulnerable, when you feel weak and helpless. When someone offers you help and you can’t respond. You don’t know what you need you just know you are hurting. You need something but it’s either too hard to ask for help or you really have no idea what you need. The word vulnerable stems from the Latin roots vulnus meaning “wound”.
Have you ever been there? Feeling wounded sucks. Being a strong independent woman I can count on one hand the amount of times in my life I truly felt completely vulnerable. For those of us warriors where life gave us obstacles to overcome, we know how to fight back. We know how to stand strong on our own with little help. However there comes a few times in life when even the strongest warrior needs an army.
Grief is something many in our American society steer away from discussing. Death and dying is a topic we don’t casually bring up in conversation either. Most of us are not fortunate to have taken a class on the hardest stage in life death and dying. When each of us gets to that moment in life when we lose our closest person, can we ever be prepared for that? Will each of us know how to help our people when they experience close loss and are feeling vulnerable.
To be that person trying to outstretch your hand when your friend is falling deep into the darkness of grief, what can you do when they won’t accept your offer? You’ve called and they are not taking your call. You’ve said, “call me if you need anything”, and meant it. It’s got to be tough being that friend and feeling pushed aside when you truly want to do something to help and just want to be there for your friend.
What you can do is simple: Just keep trying! Be right by them when you can. When they let you in and you have time to be with them be there without judgment. Everyone responds in his or her own way to loss and death. We all have our own unique journey. Let your friend travel their journey. Tell them you can listen or just sit quietly with them in their sadness. Go cook a meal at their home. Really, food brings people together, and a good home cooked meal can nourish their soul. Help them find resources that may help them. But allow them to feel in control. Vulnerability is tough because you have a sense that you have lost control of your life. Not being in control is hard to feel.
If you are that friend reaching out be compassionate and kind. Look around and see what needs to be done, and just get it done. When a person feels in despair even the simplest of tasks can seem like climbing a mountain. Help your friend be ready to climb back up to the top, at their pace. At times they might need a piggyback. Other days it might just be a snack break they need to just keep climbing. Other days they might surprise you and themselves and be capable of so much. Offer your friend hope that this vulnerability won’t stay forever but you will.