When You Can’t Offer a Guarantee, Cry About It

Her Grandson Was Murdered

As we chat on her balcony, I see the tears pooling in my friend’s eyes. She’s worried about about her adult daughter, the one whose son died a year ago because another boy shot a bullet instead of throwing a fist when he got annoyed.

My friend still feels the heavy grief herself. The teenage boy was her only grandson.

But the most urgent emotion rising in her throat this afternoon is helplessness. She knows her daughter is struggling hard with the absurdity of her son’s murder. Of the lack of quick justice in the courts. Of her searching but finding no meaning through it all.

As the mother of this daughter in pain, my friend doesn’t know what to do.

As she pauses her story, I want to fill in the gap with a guarantee, that everything will be okay, that this will work out fine in the end.

But I can’t do that.

I feel helpless, too.

Things We Can’t—and Can—Do

I have no fix for her pain. I have no solution for her daughter mourning her son fresh in the grave. I have no words that can explain why this happened and what will happen next.

In moments like these I am most aware of our shared humanity. Here we stand, my friend and I, fellow survivors in the messy middle of other humans also trying to survive.

So I simply bear witness to her pain. I see her wounds. I allow my eyes to weep, my tears to blend with hers.

Humans need to be in the presence of other humans as they hurt.

The Gift of Shared Pain Is Connection

See it as a gift when someone shares their pain with you. Hold their burdens with tenderness, with holiness, with care.

Yes, it might make you sad, too, as you validate another person’s aches. But it will also connect you. Allow it to fulfill one of your missions here as a human being: to connect with other human beings—through kindness and grace and compassion.

Connecting with others strengthens us to walk through our own sadness, too. Connecting is one of our most valuable powers to heal our breakings.

And sometimes, connecting is the most human thing we can do.

  • We need human hands to rest on our shoulders with a gentle squeeze.
  • We need human faces to turn toward ours as they listen.
  • We need human eyes to to leak salty water as they mirror our own wet eyes.

Being together feels better than being alone. We need to know we’re not the only human in the room.

Hold On to That Wispy Thread

After a bit, my friend’s mood shifts ever so slightly. She still remains worried, sad, even fearful of what she might have to face in the days ahead with her daughter as they both continue to grieve.

But my hope is that she feels a little less alone today in those emotions. Presence is more authentic than any false guarantee I can offer.

At the door, we hug goodbye. I step away from this holy moment. But I’ll keep holding my friend close.

In the crisscrossing of thin places, the wispy thread of connection is stronger than it looks. It bears weight.

Hold on to it for dear life. Because all of life is dear, even in our sadness.

I continue to ponder on my One Word of the Year, Human. What does human connection mean to you?

Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more:

  • Sit with the Pain
    Those who sit with us as we sit with pain are those we remember. Pain will never be my best friend, but it leads me into the presence of those who are.
  • Camera On or Off? How to Bear Witness
    I search for the “camera off” button. I don’t want to be seen today. But her plea changes me.
  • How Does It Feel to Be Alone?
    My grandson is about to be born. I feel alone. Until I hear footsteps. I look up. It’s not who I expect.

27 thoughts on “When You Can’t Offer a Guarantee, Cry About It

  1. Kathleen Cole

    Hi Lisa,

    Healthy human connection for me means comfort, compassion, aand a reminder that I’m not alone, when it’s someone who cares about me, who loves me. Seeing it in their eyes, feeling it in their hugs or maybe a hand on my shoulder or the grasp of my hand with theirs. it means shared tears, laughter, stories. It means reciprocal relationship, giving and receiving. It means daring to be vulnerable, sharing your sorrows, fears or pain with another and discovering common experiences as they their own stories. For me, human connection is necessary, vital, life-giving, life-transforming. I am grateful for each person God has brought into my life. They may not understand perfectly, but that’s okay.

  2. Martha J Orlando

    Sometimes, just being there for someone else is all that’s necessary, Lisa. So very, very sorry for your friend’s pain and that of her daughter. For those of us who have never lost a child may have trouble identifying, but we can connect with the sorrow. May God bless and comfort them.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for your kindness, Martha. We all may have different situations, but everyone is eventually touched by deep pain. Being there for each other goes a long way in our healing.

  3. Barbara Harper

    What a horrible situation your friend and her daughter are going through. We want to “fix” things or at least make the other person feel better, but so often that’s impossible.

    I’ve often thought Job’s friends did the most for him when they sat with him in silent comradery for a week rather than when they offered all their not-so-helpful counsel. Sometimes just sitting and listening and connecting is the hardest thing to do, but the most helpful.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Yes, the Job story is a good analogy to this. Our first instinct is to offer fixes, but some things we just can’t fix. I agree with you that just listening and connecting feels harder but it is often the most helpful.

  4. Lynn

    That is a very hard, hard thing your friend is going through. The best things we can do when someone is going through the hard stuff? Show up, and be present. I’m glad this friend has you to be present with her, not judge her pain, and to pray for her.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thanks, Lynn. And likewise I’m thankful for my friends who have remained present with me in hard times, not judging my pain. They can feel rare sometimes, but they do exist and are priceless!

  5. Aritha

    Thank you so much. From start to finish, captivated by your blog post. It was raw, well-written, helpful, and informative. Thank you for writing it. I’m glad I stopped by your blog

  6. Trudy

    I’m so, so sorry for your friend and daughter, Lisa. The manner of death and lack of justice makes it even harder. I’m so glad she has a friend like you to lend a compassionate ear and pray for her. We just need others to listen to us and cry with us without any Christian cliches, don’t we? I remember a friend losing a son years ago through a car accident. He had just finished all the schooling required to be a doctor, and it was so hard to understand why God wouldn’t allow him to live and fulfill his desire to do some good in this world. When someone quoted a Bible verse about all things turning to good, it was more like a knife turning in her heart. Though true, it’s not helpful in a time of deep grief and when one is struggling with all the whys. Thanks, Lisa, for this needed post. Love and blessings to you!

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      Thank you for your compassion for my friend and her daughter, Trudy. I’ve never met her daughter but we are attending a candlelight vigil next week for those lost to homicide and I would be honored if her daughter came and I got to meet her. It is definitely hard to make sense of so many incidents in life.

  7. Nancy Ruegg

    Wonderful wisdom shared here, Lisa. I’ve been guilty of trying to say something that will alleviate another person’s suffering, and of course failed. In tragic circumstances as you describe in this post, there are no words that will provide instant-healing. You are so right: grace, compassion, and the kindness of a listening ear do more good than platitudes.

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m guilty of doing the same thing myself, Nancy. Our longing is to provide relief for our friends so the words often tumble out, but yes, they also often fail. Words can’t fix some things but ears can help.

  8. Cecelia Lester

    Michele: I have learned it is best not to say anything, just be there and listen to the one in grief. Some people have been known to say the wrong thing to one who has suffered loss. Unless we have been through a similar loss, we have no idea what that person is going through.

  9. Michele Morin

    The right post at the right time for me! I have a friend who’s children are off the rails and she is devastated. I wish I could promise that they would hear the voice of the Spirit and come back to faith, but they are adults and years are flying by and consequences of their actions just keep piling up. You have reassured me that I am simply to bear witness to her sadness—to BE with her in it. (Yet another overlap of our words!)

    1. LisaNotes Post author

      I’m sorry that your friend is experiencing that, Michele. But I’m glad she has you to BE with her.

      Yes, the overlap of our words this year has been fascinating. I shouldn’t have been so surprised by it since Human BEing is the fuller phrase for my word, after all.

  10. Barb Hegreberg

    Oh Lisa, too often when tragedy strikes we are left bereft of how to help the hurting. The hurting may be myself, a loved one, or a stranger. I have found that the only answer is to step outside myself and let God guide my actions and reactions. Otherwise, I will put my foot in my mouth for sure.


    One Word #6

  11. Joanne

    Oh Lisa, this story makes me so sad. I always feel so helpless when faced with human tragedy because I know there is no way I can fix it or take away that other person’s pain.

  12. Paula

    Lisa, what a tenderhearted poignant message. I think one of the most important things we can do is show up and be present.
    I appreciate you sharing this with Sweet Tea & Friends this month.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *