I worked as a volunteer at the Center for Grieving Children for about five years. The Center is a place families go to help express their grief in a safe and kind setting. Families go on a specific night each week and each member of the family meets with an age-appropriate group. Families attend for as long as they want – which is sometimes a few weeks, and sometimes over a year.
One adult who was in my group for a long time told me her time at the Center was the only time all week she was herself – the rest of the time she was faking it, even with her kids, trying to seem happy and “get over” the death of her husband.
Some weeks at the Center she had no words. Other weeks she was depressed. Sometimes her issues were the loss. Other times she needed to talk about how hard it was to suddenly be a single parent. And some weeks she was happy and didn’t feel guilty about expressing that.
My job as a facilitator was to hold space for her, to make sure she, and the others in her adult group, were heard if they chose to talk, and to make sure there was no judgment or advice from me or within the group. There are no demands on participants at the Center, just warm listening.
I learned so much working at the Center, but my biggest life-long lesson was how important it is to be present with the people around me no matter what they’re going through. Being present means listening with warm eyes and an open, accepting heart. It’s about not offering your own story or well-meaning advice.
Being present means staying in the moment and staying focused on what is said – and not said. You breathe in the words, listening with your head, and your heart, and your hands. And you stay with that person until they’re done.
When you’re trying to be organized and efficient, especially this time of year, it’s easy to miss the quiet moments when someone needs a good ear. Listening is important work – whether it makes your to-do list or not.
This holiday season, however you celebrate, I hope you give the gift of presence to those you love, and to strangers on the street.
Cheers to you to this final week of 2016.
Sending you love and warm holiday wishes from the beautiful coast of Maine.