Around nine years ago, a classmate of mine died in a tragic accident. Nearly everyone at my school was devastated—but not I. My reactions were pity for those grieving, and guilt for not sharing their grief. I had known the victim, but we had never been close. I wasn’t deeply affected by his death, which led me to a painful question: How can I respond to those who are?
I am grieving for my friend Nick, who recently passed away. My grief has taken the form of dull, aching resignation. Nick is gone. That is all. I cried once—the first time I had really wept in years—and have not shed a tear since. Since that early storm of emotion, my reaction to losing a dear friend has been calm acceptance.
A memorial service was held yesterday for Nick. I couldn’t go. I’m sorry I wasn’t able to make it, yet part of me is glad I wasn’t there. It would have been so hard to sit, mute and helpless, as Nick’s friends and family wept around me. How could I have borne their grief? I hardly know what to do with my own.
I’m at a loss to know what to do when others are in pain. I want to help, but how? I struggle to respond to people whose feelings or problems I don’t understand. However much I care, I’m about as soft and comforting as a rhinoceros.
Around nine years ago, when my classmate passed away, I had a brief conversation with another student in the hallway between classes. I’ll call him Socrates. He was a colossal young man with a soft, deep voice. I’ve forgotten most of our exact words, but I remember the gist of our exchange.
“Are you doing okay?” I ventured, alluding to the death of our classmate.
“Yeah,” he murmured. “How’re you doing?”
“I’m all right,” I said, looking resolutely at the floor as we walked to our next class. “I didn’t really know him, so I’m not, like, devastated. But I don’t know what to say to those who are.” I finished and glanced over at Socrates.
He shrugged his massive shoulders and mumbled the following words, which I remember perfectly: “Sometimes you don’t have to say anything, y’know? Just being there is enough.”
I don’t have any profound words of peace or comfort today. I doubt I ever shall. To my friends who are grieving—and to my friends who will grieve at some other time for some other tragedy—I can only say this: I’ll be there.
I shan’t have the right words. I may not be able to weep with you. I certainly shan’t be able to fix whatever is wrong.
What I can do is to be there for you, and I’ll try my best to be.
My friends, I can always be reached by Facebook or email. If you visit, I will make you a cup of tea. I will listen to you. I will pray for you. (I may already be praying for you.) If I can help in some other way, let me know. I’ll be there.