David Brooks in an op-ed writer for the New York Times. He is one of two so-called conservative presences in the regular cadre of writers who provide a variety of opinions on a weekly basis. I mention his political leanings only because I happen to disagree with him most of the time. However, in his January 20, 2014 column he described the experiences of a married couple who lost a daughter in her twenties in April, 2008 after being thrown from a horse. A second daughter riding a bike to work in 2013 was struck by a car leading to horrible injuries requiring an ongoing and prolonged recovery. That daughter, Catherine, writes a remarkable blog post inThe Sojourner documenting the ongoing and intense struggle of recovery. Her mother, Mary, has written in that blog-site about the kinds of things someone on the outside of this type of traumatic experience should or should not do to really be of value to those undergoing the impact.
I quote directly from his article:
“Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space to sort things through. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The [parents] say they were awed after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, who showed up and offered love, from across the nation and the continents. They were also disoriented by a number of close friends who simply weren’t there, who were afraid or too busy.
“[The father], Ashley, says he could detect no pattern to help predict who would step up and provide the ministry of presence and who would fumble. Neither age, experience nor personal belief correlated with sensitivity and love.
“Don’t compare, ever. Don’t say, “I understand what it’s like to lose a child. My dog died, and that was hard, too.” Even if the comparison seems more germane, don’t make it. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Each story should be heard attentively as its own thing. “From the inside,” Catherine writes, comparisons “sting as clueless, careless, or just plain false.”
“Do bring soup. 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 Target and got a bathmat. Mary says she will never forget that.
“Do not say “you’ll get over it.” “There is no such thing as ‘getting over it,’ ” Catherine writes, “A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is
“Do be a builder. The couple distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.
“Don’t say it’s all for the best or try to make sense out of what has happened. Catherine and her parents speak with astonishing gentleness and quiet thoughtfulness, but it’s pretty obvious that these tragedies have stripped away their tolerance for pretense and unrooted optimism.
“Ashley also warned against those who would overinterpret, and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Even devout Christians, as the parents are, should worry about taking theology beyond its limits. Theology is a grounding in ultimate hope, not a formula book to explain away each individual event.
Brook’s sums it up beautifully. “I’d say that what these experiences call for is a sort of passive activism. We have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness — to propose, plan, fix, interpret, explain and solve. But what seems to be needed here is the art of presence — to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the elemental situation. Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Let them define meaning. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.”
Just saying . . .