When we honestly ask ourselves which people in our lives mean 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.
The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness–that is a friend who cares. – Henri Nouwen (emphasis added)
This quotation from the Dutch priest Henri Nouwen holds the key for relating to a friend or family member in pain. A core group of support, the real friends I could ask for, the family members I always count on–they get it.
1. They mean the most because they stood with me when I had nothing to give. They stayed on principle, not for profit. The people close to me are a priceless treasure because they didn’t slip out when the opportunity presented itself.
2. They touch my wounds instead of handing me a prepackaged Band-Aid. When advice burned the wound and solutions intensified the pain, my friends forsook fixing things and focused on acknowledging the agony.
3. They are silent with me when the darkness is too deep for breathing. Words are cheap when you are bleeding out from a leg amputation or a gunshot wound. Inspirational quotes ring hollow if you can’t take a deep breath because of a panic attack.
4. They stay with me when I cannot endure being in my own head any longer. When the scariest thing in the world is having to be me, they choose to be with me.
5. They face the deepest fears with me: that I cannot control my mental illness or my physical health, that I will never be free from the darkness’s influence, and that the pain will always be on the brink of unbearable.
A real friend.
- Not necessarily the one you’ve known the longest, but the one you can–and do–tell every gruesome memory and detail.
- The one who visits you multiple times in the hospital, even when you are too sick to be good company or remember that they came.
- The one who holds you while you cry night after night and doesn’t get impatient or patronizing.
- The one who remains constant even when it’s not beneficial, pleasant, or easy.
- The one who will listen without having to understand everything.
- The one who waits days or weeks to hear from you and cheerfully picks up where you left off.
- The one who disagrees with you on fundamental issues but focuses on your value as a child of God.
Thank you for caring instead of leaving and for touching me instead of trying to fix me.