Saying goodbye to someone is hard, and watching someone you care about telling a loved one goodbye is harder still. In the past, I’ve cried my tears over love lost, friends left behind, and family members who have left this world. Dealing with my pain is easier to bear than witnessing the people I love and care about suffering.
Who wouldn’t want to erase the sadness in the eyes of a sibling whose marriage has fallen apart? Or mend the broken heart of your child when they are feeling the sting of rejection? How best to comfort a childhood friend whose parent has fought against the ravages of illness and age, but lost the battle?
I’d gladly take on their suffering for them if only to see their smile again. But I know I can’t. I can only be present for them during this time. Ready to offer a hug, get them a cup of tea or sit in quiet companionship as their tears wash the sorrows away.
I am not new to this vigil. As a nurse, I’ve held the hands of dying patients and have spoken softly to them while I strived to make them comfortable in those last hours. I’ve hugged family members seeking solace from another human being when their loved one has passed. I am powerless to do anything in these circumstances except to give them the comfort of having someone there to bear witness and share in their grief.
Our power lies in our silent presence, in a caring touch and a gentle word for those who are suffering loss. We gain strength from knowing we are not alone in our depth of feeling, and it is in understanding that what we are enduring is a necessary part of our collective human experience. The statement — “I’m here for you if you need me” — is a proclamation of our shared humanity.