Posted by: eranmagen | May 10, 2009

Let Them Hurt

My grandmother recently moved to a senior citizens home, and is not very happy about it. She misses her old apartment (where she lived for the past 2,000 years), she misses knowing that her old apartment exists as it used to (it was renovated by the people who live there now), she misses her autonomy, and having a gas stove.

She’s doing okay; she’s just not happy.

I visited her a little while ago, together with a few other family members. When, at some point, she mentioned how much she misses her old apartment and how unhappy she occasionally feels, one family member jumped in: “Well, You have to realize, You’re getting older, and You can’t do things as well as You used to. It’s not safe for You to live alone. Your apartment is gone now – there’s really nothing that can be done about it. You are not in a position to take care of yourself, and-”

I had to intervene.* I could see my grandmother growing more upset, feeling alone in her misery. I stopped the person who was speaking, quite forcefully, relative to me (“enough! There’s no need to twist the knife. Really”)and then turned to my grandmother and said “You really miss your old place, huh?”

She relaxed. A tiny, precarious smile flickered across her mouth. And she said “yes.” Then she straightened up, said “but this is how things are now, and I must take it as it comes.”

This, to me, is such a clear example of the danger that lies in trying to take someone’s pain away too quickly. My grandmother, for better or worse, has most of her mental faculties left intact. She knew what her situation is, and how she got there. She didn’t need explaining. She needed sympathy, someone who would understand how she feels and accept it, without trying to change it.

It was that simple.

When someone tells You about the pain they’re experiencing, don’t rush in to fix it. Let them hurt. It may feel strange, it may be counter-intuitive. Do this as an experiment. Try being present to their pain, acknowledging it and WIGing it back at them. Who knows. You might just help them feel better by not trying so hard.

____

* Was I jumping in because I couldn’t bear the distress I thought I could see? The intensity of my speech to my family member suggests that this may have happened; be that as it may, I still feel good about intervening, though I wish I were gentler with the other person

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Responses

  1. I can totally relate to that. My grandmother, who lived to 96 yrs of age, had trouble with her hearing sometimes showed her frustration. We all tried to stay as supportive we could be, but it was difficult.

    On another matter, when I was in so much pain, one of my close friends lost her patience with my slow recovery which led to end our 10 yr friendship.

    What I want to point out is that it’s challenging to be a good listener, be sympathetic without judging them and losing patience. Our emotions can’t quite catch up with logic and it’s always challenging yet fascinating.

  2. I’m with you on the point about the lag between emotions and logic.

    I like to talk about the “mountain of intensity,” with the idea being that when the speaker is “climbing” that mountain, it’s a time to just support, and not try to “talk sense” into them. It just won’t work; they’re not ready, they can’t hear it. This is the time for just listening.

    Perhaps later on after they’ve “gone over the peak” of the mountain, and had some time for the emotion to pass, then they’re ready for a different kind of discussion. But that can take a while, and for a listener, it can be challenging to just wait. I don’t know that there’s a shortcut around this wait–just a matter of letting time pass.


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