Burdens that aren’t Brief

Posted on July 4, 2012


A dear friend of mine is very sick. She sleeps 20 hours a day on her couch and has for 6 weeks because she has little energy to do anything else. Many of her other friends are deeply worried about her, and their worry is exacerbated by her choice to pursue a healing method unfamiliar to them. Her emphatic statement that she’d rather die than go to a medical doctor is small comfort, but does establish a clear boundary. They are left almost entirely helpless.

I’ve thought often of this quandary over the years. How do we help someone we love whose hurt doesn’t go away fast?

Often, people seem to place themselves in difficult situations, when from our perspective the solutions are simple. Do X and Y will happen, and then we will all feel better. Why does X feel so impossible to them?

I read the following at a large blog the other day and my heart melted inside.

A handful of years ago her 17 month old baby boy died. She had several other children, the oldest of whom was only nine. Her Relief Society sisters did not deliberate long. Three of them simply showed up with faces full of concern and began to clean. Sitting on the stairs, she watched them, not really comprehending why they were there. She hadn’t processed it yet, what she had just been through, what had just occurred. All of a sudden it hit her like a wave, all of it at once, and she fled upstairs to her room, collapsing on her bed in uncontrollable sobs of despair. It wasn’t long before all the cleaning tools were found abandoned. The women had made their way upstairs and all lay down on the bed beside her, silently weeping with her and holding her close.

A woman in my ward related this story today. Her story of personal salvation. The body of Christ, in all its beauty, majesty, and glory.

It’s hard to weep. It gives me a headache. Especially if it lasts a long time. I’m impatient with my own difficulties that sometimes last much longer than I’ve scheduled for them. It’s natural to be impatient with others and their sorrows. Especially when we are powerless to affect a change in their lives.

Another friend, much younger, has written about the difficulties of the stage of her life and how those difficulties don’t go away, likening the experience to a being in a hurricane when a helicopter swings in to offer help but the proffered rope is out of reach.

I’m convinced that this is the meat of mortality. This grinding difficulty of too many plates in the air, as another friend who is dealing with rebuilding after divorce calls it, that forces us to set priorities and to decide what we can do. This choice to reach out to others or not, to receive the assistance of friends or not, to lie on the bed with someone and cry – this seems important.

In any choice, we are left realizing that we can’t control anything. Another friend is trying to come to terms with an accident that replays in slow motion in his head. He wasn’t distracted. He wasn’t tired. He was in complete control until he … wasn’t. There was no reason to roll his dump truck. He’s not just accepting his own mortality or his body’s refusal to heal on his 3-day schedule; he’s dealing with the randomness of his own experience. We don’t like thinking our life is out of our control.

Stuff happens. It doesn’t make sense. Sometimes it’s not about preventing or shortening the experience. Sometimes I think it’s the chance we so desperately need to set aside our illusions of control and independence.

Something happens to us and others when we lie on that bed and weep silently. Something good.

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