When All You Can Do Is Just Be There
I rub her back and take a deep breath in and out, motioning her to do the same—slow breath in, slow breath out. She sits, eyes closed, and I sit too, silent. We don’t share the same language, so what can I say to ease her anxiety? But I know her feelings of panic, the way you mind spins and everything seems out of control and it’s all you can do to just sit still and be. And all I can do, all I can offer her in this moment is to sit and just be there with her.
She’s crying on my couch. I listen. Because what can I say to a heart broken so deeply? And though I long to speak words that can mend this hurt, I know how futile my desire is. Words can’t heal a broken heart. And so all I can do in this moment is sit and just be there with her.
I struggle with just being. I want to be doing, always. I want to be a go-getter, problem solver, broken fixer. I want to bring you that pint of ice cream and that bouquet of sunflowers and I want to send you cheery texts and encouraging letters and I want to do this relentlessly until you feel better. And all of these things are good, really. “Love does,” after all.
But I’m learning more and more that sometimes you can’t do anything at all; sometimes all you can do is just be there.
Once on a cold February night, I cried in my cozy reading nook on the phone to my best friend. Life had pulled the rug out from beneath me, bringing down my plans and my pride in a messy heap, and I was struggling to pull myself from the ruins of my own making. So I called my best friend. And what could she say in that moment to her friend crying on the phone hundreds of miles away? She said little, she prayed, and then she cried with me; she saw my pain and instead of shying away from it or trying to fix it, she sat with me in the thick of it and took my pain as her own—a challenging and incredibly vulnerable thing to do. But I guess that’s what love is, too: sure, love does, but sometimes all love can do is just be there.
Whenever I am put under anesthesia (the perks of intestinal diseases: yearly endoscopies!!!), I always ask the nurse to hold my hand—from motherly older ladies to middle-aged men to girls my own age, the request is always the same: a “this might be silly to ask” and a “but will you hold my hand as I fall asleep?” And these strangers whom I met not two minutes earlier always take my hand in theirs, holding tight until the chemicals wash me into a slumber. I’ve been under anesthesia several times now, but every time I need that simple offer of a hand held; I need to know that someone is there.
“I’ll always be there for you,” we so often tell the people we care about. But how often do we hold true to this promise? How often do we shrink away from the pain of others, too uncomfortable to listen to their tears, too uncomfortable to sit in the grief with them?
“I won’t know what to say to make things better,” has always been my easy excuse to avoid someone’s pain. And as someone whose love language is carefully-crafted words, this inability to soothe a suffering soul with the balm of my words can make me feel helpless. What good can I offer when words are moot?
But maybe attempts to do and fix aren’t the point at all. Maybe those times when all you can do is just be there—offering a back rub, a listening and patient ear, your own tears, a hand to hold—maybe that’s what a broken heart needs: not words to mend the hurt but the assurance that this person is not alone in their pain. When all you can do is just be there might be exactly what a broken heart needs.
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