In life there are times and events where we find our own pain triggered by someone else’s. Witnessing their sorrow rekindles the tender place inside us where our own sorrow is held. For me the event today was the memorial service in the hospital for a young nurse killed by a random shooting in New Orleans. I sat with her parents and her teenage daughter in the front row. The daughter was handling the moment well, sharing video clips of her puppy before the service began. Her grief remained hidden for the most part. Too intense to process publically, perhaps. Her parents were more in touch with their grief and that is why, after the service, I went to my office and cried. I too have lost an adult child. I wanted to tell them, “me too.” But that wasn’t appropriate. No one can ever know the actual pain of another’s grief, however similar the cause. And it wouldn’t be of any comfort to them to let them know that they will still be hurting after 12 years.
This is one thing that chaplaincy has taught me: when someone else shares their story we should not take it as an opportunity to share ours. The problem is, this is the default response most of us have in our conversations. We wait for the tiniest of pauses while the other person takes a breath and we jump in with our tale of woe. That is not to say we don’t have legitimate pain, but we need to respect the person who is opening up to us in that moment and give them the space to share their hurts. And when the time and context is right we need to share our story, but with someone else who is not in the midst of new grief.