For the past few months I've been thinking a lot about support -- what it is, why we need it, why not having it is so painful. One of the things I've realized is that though there are many different kinds of support, they all seem to have a couple of things in common.
Financial support, clerical/administrative support, emotional support, even the physical support provided by things like sports bras, jock straps and orthotics -- in each instance, what underlies the support itself is acknowledgment of a need, a lack or a place of pain, and what the support does is address that need, fill the lack and say "I know that hurts. I know that's hard."
Support around an issue is not the same as fixing a problem. Just before setting out to write this post, I reread my last entry, which contained a reference to the traditional Jewish mourning practice of sitting on the floor during the week of shiva. The part of that practice that I did not previously mention is that those who come to comfort (ie, "support") the mourner are instructed to come in quietly and sit there, waiting for the mourner to speak or not, as s/he needs. The task is not to make small talk, not to make the person grieving feel better or move past grief, but to acknowledge that grief and give the mourner an opportunity to share memories, to cry, or simply to rest in the company of people who understand. When I was sitting shiva for my father, many friends and colleagues came to be with me, most of whom did not know about that traditional practice. While I appreciated their love and concern, I got the most comfort from the few who simply came in and sat silently on the floor next to me.
Using mourning as an example is particularly fitting, as what I've been going through lately has been very much about the lack of true support I experienced after my mother died. There was so much focus on getting on with life and the need to be "strong" that no one ever acknowledged that the bottom had just dropped out of my world. At the age of 13 I was, in essence, told to be an adult and take on whatever responsibilities were thrown my way without question or protest.
For the past two weeks, we've been living in chaos caused by household renovations, and I have been totally thrown by how disconcerted I've been. Part of me is dealing with it,as I must, but another part of me wants to curl up with a blanket over my head. Part of me wants my mommy. Since that is never going to happen, I have to learn to sit quietly on the floor with my self, acknowledge my feelings and give them -- and myself -- space to breathe.
The other day, when I posted on Facebook a brief comment about feeling overwhelmed, a bunch of friends from all areas of my life posted comments essentially acknowledging what I had said, and it was actually kind of astonishing to me how much better I felt after reading them. How different would my life have been if, 47 years ago, one of the adults in my life had sat next to me, put a hand on my shoulder and said, "I know how sad you are and how scared, and it's okay to feel those things. Life is going to be different now, and maybe it will be hard for a while, but eventually you'll start to feel better. That doesn't mean you didn't love your mommy or that you don't miss her, but you'll start to feel better because life does go on and is full of wonderful experiences"? Would I have avoided needing to be always competent? Would I have avoided stuffing down emotions with food? Would I have had an easier time asking for help?
I don't know the answers to those questions, and in a way, as interesting as they are to contemplate, the answers don't matter. I think that my task, now, is to say those things to my self, to my young self and to my current self, until I come to believe them. I have to be to myself the loving adult who was missing from my life all those years ago.
It isn't easy, inhabiting these deep places of pain. It isn't easy to sit quietly in the face of grief. But I'm very glad to be here.
A hui hou.