Somebody once told me about the loneliness she felt after her husband passed away, not only because she’d lost her best friend but because after it happened, many of the fellow parents on the school playground spoke to her, because they were too scared to bring it up and upset her. But this isolation made her time of grief so much greater - all she really wanted was to talk to someone, about nothing and everything.
I’ve been thinking a lot about trying to comfort those experiencing suffering and trauma lately.
Catherine Woodiwiss wrote a beautiful article entitled ‘A New Normal: Ten Things I’ve Learned About Trauma’, which inspired David Brooks to write about ‘The Art of Presence' in the NY Times. Whilst we all know that pain is a part of life, we never really expect it will happen to us. Yet when it does, suffering and trauma upends everything we ever take for granted. These are some things she learnt a long the way…
Presence is always better than distance.
Be there. People think that those who experience trauma “need space” to sort things through but assume the opposite, most people need presence because trauma is a disfiguring, lonely time, even when surrounded in love.
Healing is seasonal, not linear.
Be a builder.
Trauma takes “firefighters” and “builders”. Firefighters (the crisis team) drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders (the reconstruction crew) are there for years, who walk alongside as the victim and whose calm, steady care help them regain footing and live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles which is why trauma can be such a lonely experience.
Grieving is social, and so is healing.
Trauma is private and time/self-work bring healing, but ultimately we are wired for contact and it is through relationships that we can be most fully healed.
Don’t compare. Ever.
When someone we love is suffering, we want to comfort them. We offer assurances when we don’t know what to say, but sometimes these are clueless and careless. But each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness and each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. Trauma is terrible and what people need in the aftermath is a friend who can swallow their own discomfort or fear, sit beside the victim and just let them be (terrible) for a while.
Allow those suffering to tell their own stories.
Love shows up in unexpected ways.
It’s strange how different people react after trauma, some near-strangers reach out, whilst close friends barely express care. Ultimately, every gesture of love, regardless of the sender, becomes a step along the way to healing. If there are beatitudes for trauma, I’d say the first is, “Blessed are those who give love to anyone in times of hurt, regardless of how recently they’ve talked or awkwardly reconnected or visited cross-country or ignored each other on the metro.” It may not look like what you’d request or expect, but there will be days when surprise love will be the sweetest.
The non-verbal expressions of love are as healing as eloquence. When Mary was living with Catherine during her recovery, some young friend noticed she didn’t have a bathmat. He went to the shop and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.
Trauma permanently changes us.
Do not say “you’ll get over it.” There is no such thing as ‘getting over it’ - a major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake - there is no ‘back to the old me.’ This is not a wholly negative thing. Healing from trauma can also mean finding new strength and joy. And the goal is to acknowledge and wear your new life — warts, wisdom, and all — with courage.
What doesn’t kill you…
"…almost kills you." Odd things show up after a serious loss and creep into every corner of life: anxiety in areas that used to bring you joy, detachment or frustration towards your closest companions, a deep distrust of love or presence or vulnerability. There will be days when you feel like a quivering, cowardly shell of yourself, when despair yawns as a terrible chasm, when fear paralyzes any chance for pleasure. This is just a fight that has to be won, over and over and over again.
…Doesn’t kill you.
Woodiwiss writes that living through trauma may teach you resilience. It may help sustain you and others in times of crisis down the road. It may prompt humility. It may make for deeper seasons of joy. It may even make you stronger. It also may not. But in the end, the hope of life after trauma is simply that you have life after trauma. The days, in their weird and varied richness, go on. So will you.
All my love, always.
Christmas cake in January. Walks through the park. Exciting stamps when sending post. Pudding dates. Open pasture. Fireworks. Sun-beams in photographs. When something fits perfectly whilst packing. The awkward side step with strangers and the laughter that follows. Ticking things off ‘to-do’ lists. when you get to the counter and something is cheaper than you thought. The smell of fish and chips at the seaside. Christmas lights. Water splashes. Getting a drink in a take away cup. Sun-beams illuminating flowers and leaves. Getting into your pyjamas early. The sound of children’s laughter. Feeling organised. Sunsets. When an ATM gives you £5 notes. Fields of long grass. When the rain holds off until you’re inside. Putting on slippers. Nice smelling hand soap. A city’s skyline at night. Sharing food with friends around the table.
Have you ever been in a room with your favourite people and just stopped, looked around and realised how blessed you are?
I’ve been thinking a lot about it this year, since this day.
According to a 7 year old, love is “what’s in the room with you at Christmas if you stop opening presents and listen”. I love this because there really is so much love in those moments. This year has brought countless times where I have felt that feeling of love, when I’ve stopped to look and listen to what’s around - but fortunately not just at Christmas time!
My Grandparents have been giving us Christmas activities to explain our Christmas presents for longer than we can remember. This year, to mark the final year of doing so, we read back through all of the different diary entries Grandma written over the years. It was lovely to hear of all those times she’d reflected on and was thankful for the days in which laughter and chatter filled the house.
So, this year, as 2013 draws to a close, I’ve been reflecting on the past year and have thought a lot about all of the things to be thankful for. This year has not been easy, it has brought many challenges, with health and family and work stress and lots and lots of change, but, at risk of sounding like a broken record, there have been so many things to be thankful for, too.
I’m thankful for the crunching sound of snow, time spent with friends, a place on the PGCE course, afternoon tea, unexpectedly fun weekends, Easter celebrations, fellowship with friends, being baptised, country walks which are always so good for the soul, going to BCDO, being able to see Ludovico Einaudi concert, weddings of dear friends, visiting Paris, graduating university, PFM and other summer adventures. And of course, the importance of remembering and being thankful for all those little things, which bring great joy.
I can’t say thank you enough, dear friends, for your support and encouragement and kindness; please know it has been such a comfort and I am so grateful. I really hope, and pray, that 2014 brings you lots of love and laughter and that whatever challenges you faced in 2013, propel you to your highest heights and greatest strength this coming year.
All my love, always.
I have recently uploaded a batch of new images onto flickr, which you can find: here!
If you decide to check it out, I really hope you like them.
All my love.
Shiny coins. Full bottles of conditioner. Hot tea and warm toast late at night. Laundry blowing in the breeze. Picnics. The contrast of the colour of flowers against a wall. Still warm cookies. Sun light shining through the leaves of trees. The rainbow colours in washing up bubbles. Girly sleepovers. Whispering in bed before falling asleep. Talks with strangers (which always result in talking of the weather). Petals, like confetti, in the wind. Wild flowers. Fresh linen. Swimming in an empty pool, especially at night. Knitting. Having a goal to work towards (even if it’s a small one). The sense of peace when everything suddenly stops. Games of frisbee. Unbaked cake mixture. (Double!) rainbows.
Summer evenings with friends (hldickerson)
On my post about PFM 2013, I said that another very exciting thing happened too, I was just waiting to share it with you and as I’ve now received multiple texts asking what it is, I thought I should probably get on with it. So, here goes…
This year, whilst I was on mission, I lost my voice, started coughing blood and stopped breathing - this isn’t a new health issue, but it wasn’t very pleasant all the same. Nor was it very practical, when I was supposed to be a team leader and host a roadshow on the beach!
It’s packing time. Again. - (fromhollywithlove)
PFM 2013 was as amazing as ever! I’m not quite sure how it came and went so quickly, but I have just got back from spending two weeks in the wonderful Polzeath for PFM - I didn’t want to leave, it left too soon.
This year, I was a team leader for the 7-10 age group (with the lovely Holly) - having never actually been in that age group before, I was
slightly apprehensive, but I absolutely loved it! And just like last year, I was a ‘house mummy’ and led some sessions and talks too.
Oh my goodness, it was just so much fun; we had such an amazing team, they were the most genuine and caring and inspiring group of people. It was such a privilege to spend so much time with them.
Each year, I have come back and said that although I went to serve, I felt as though I’d been served too. This year, was no exception. A few things that I was reminded of whilst serving…
- The importance of spending time with God. At PFM we have a ‘thought’ for each day (on a particular bible passage), ‘quiet time’ and a team ‘prayer and praise’ and so much prayer. In the hustle and bustle of life, it’s so easy to let dedicated ‘God time’ slide, but PFM always reminds me of the importance of keeping God at the centre.
- God answers prayer! I know God answers prayer and I shouldn’t be surprised, but it was so amazing to see the ways in which He answered it - in the small things and the really big things*. This year’s PFM was the ‘year of prayer’ - in the (7 hour!) car journey home, we were laughing about how we felt as though we must have spent 1 of the 2 weeks in prayer - we were praying at every opportunity - and it was so amazing to see God’s answers so immediately.
- You have a better understanding of what you believe after trying to explain complex and confusing concepts (e.g. heaven, evolution, the crucifixion, suffering) to an intelligent and inquisitive 7-year-old.
- The importance of children’s work. I’ve never really had positive experiences of Christian children’s clubs/activities, but PFM always shows me how important it really is. It was so amazing to see how PFM made the children excited about Jesus and to see the young people’s passion revived. AND would you like to know the most exciting thing? 12 people made commitments! 4 in each age group!
*Another very exciting thing happened too, but I’ll share more on that later..
I hope you are having an amazing summer break :)
All my love to you all.