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Companioning

While dining out with family, I was inadvertently part of a larger, unfolding drama. The restaurant was filled with people and bustling with activity. Wait staff members were carrying meals to tables, delivering beverages or clearing tables for another seating. Meanwhile people of all ages were gathered for a Friday evening out.

Suddenly paramedics rushed into the room. Until that moment, we hadn’t realized someone in the facility was in need of medical attention. That person had been helped to a quiet corner of the restaurant—out of view of most of the people in the main dining room. The person was receiving just the care he or she needed most.

And yet, someone else in the room was distraught. A woman stood near the table where family members just a moment before had been enjoying their meal. The corner where her dad was being treated was crowded with emergency medical personnel, their equipment and another woman who turned out to be her sister who was responding to questions for the elderly man. But this woman, a second daughter as it turns out, stood crying loudly. Alone.

A patron near her began to shout things like—”Just sit down!” “Get a hold of yourself.” “Be quiet.”

But none of these things appeared to be particularly soothing to the distressed woman.

Moving into the gap

Suddenly I found myself standing beside the woman. I asked her how I could help.

She turned and yelled at me—”You can’t possibly know how hard this is. My mother just died and this is my father—he seemed fine and then he wasn’t! I can’t lose my dad this soon!”

But you see, as it happens, I did know. I knew exactly what it was like to lose one parent and then be confronted with losing the other. Quietly I replied, “Both my parents have died. I do know how hard this is.”

She literally threw herself into me then. I wrapped my arms around her sobbing shoulders. We had become, in an instant, soul sisters sharing a dreaded journey. I was just one tiny little bit ahead of her in this particular journey of loss. My mother, my last remaining parent had died months before. When I approached her I had no idea what I would say, what was going on or why I even found myself stepping into the scene of her drama. Somehow what I sensed was that we might be just a little bit stronger if we stood there together.

What I didn’t know

When I stood in that crowded restaurant, I didn’t know that I was gently bearing witness to this woman’s pain. It didn’t really seem like I was doing anything—just standing with her. That was it. I couldn’t fix what was unfolding in that moment. I didn’t find a lot of words to say. I just stood there with her—waiting and watching as medical professionals did their jobs. Bearing witness with her in the midst of her trauma was all I had to offer.

And, I didn’t know that sometimes that is all there is. And it is enough.