When a loved one is in a dark place, how do we help?
Perhaps an answer comes from contemplating this: When I am in a dark place, what helps?
In that question is the truth that many times, the work to do has been my own. Yet my strongest desire is to rush in and help others. So today, I would like to contemplate help in its rich forms, to remind myself that there are far more interesting ways to be of service than my traditional strategies.
The most essential help, that which every sentient being needs to survive, is to belong. We each need to know that our truest selves are loved and part of the collective. So, fundamental to helping a beloved mourn, have a temper tantrum, stretch to a new uncomfortable place, or pull away for time of solitude is holding the space and truth that there is a place for them when they emerge. What’s lovely (and frustrating?) about this type of help is, it appears there is nothing to DO. Ha! As if unconditional love isn’t a doing?
Reminding myself of this helps me recognize that giving space to someone in a dark place is not the same as abandonment.
On the topic of doing, even when a loved one isn’t in a dark place, there is still the balance between helping and allowing them to live their own lives. I can’t go to the gym for my sons so that they will have healthy bodies. I can accompany them there, notice and call out their progress, model self care, and so on, but the real work is theirs.
With bodies, that seems easy, but hearts and minds are a different matter. How much I want to fill out the college application for him, speak on his behalf, shield him from the painful parts of the world. With partners too. At least I can now recognize this as a distorted version of trying not to abandon. So perhaps I should keep with the physical body analogy… If my beloved has his or her own work to do or place to go or goal to accomplish, I can offer to accompany them, notice and call out their progress and model good self care.
And love them unconditionally so that they stay rooted where I need to be rooted… In the deep knowing that we all belong.