This week my planned post was derailed by a tragic event. By my intuitive nature, by my spiritual gifts of mercy and helps, by my faith training as a Christ-follower I tend to be an early observer and early responder to people in trouble and distress. Sometimes the signs of distress are quiet and barely perceptible and other times they’re loud and horrifying. There are occasions when it seems that God himself has orchestrated the situation for me to be in the right place at the right time–whatever the case I am compelled to run toward the trouble to offer anything I can to bring comfort and to in some way alleviate suffering. Mercy is not an easy gift. There is a cost for expending the energy and care required in the moment and in the time that follows. I know that everyone who is made this way experiences the physical and emotional fatigue that follows a helping experience; that’s what I’m recovering from today.
One afternoon earlier this week I was at my office with two coworkers—we were the only ones there. The phone rang, Joyce answered it and said, “Oh hi, you don’t call me very often….” And then the shrieking and wailing began. Shock and grief produce sounds we don’t usually hear, the body often moves involuntarily as a physical response to the shock, the person you know can seem unrecognizable in this wildness. It is a powerful and awful thing to witness, made worse because there is so little to do to help.
I will tell you less than what the newspaper accounts and the published coroner’s quotes said and will simply say that Joyce’s 15-year old granddaughter took her own life. We heard all the details as they went from the phone through Joyce’s mind and then came straight out of her mouth. She put the phone down and as soon as I could get close enough I wrapped my arms around her and held on tight, simply whispering the name of Jesus in her ear. I didn’t know what else to do. I held on until her breathing started to slow to a more normal level, gave her some cold water to drink, and then let her have some space. Then it was time to listen.
When it was clear that Joyce was calming our other co-worker left and there we were. What a completely vulnerable moment. I already knew her as trusted co-worker and friend, but I had just seen her completely exposed and raw and it was not the time to turn away so I could go on with my life.
A couple of hours later we had worked through several decisions that needed to be made and we worked out a way for her to get home safely. We turned off the office lights, locked the door and left.
In the days since there have been emails and calls that are still part of the shared experience. I saw the shock and grief unleashed and now I’m hearing the peaceful and calm recounting of how lovingly she tended the beautiful body of her grandchild. It is so important for her to tell these precious details.
There many more vulnerable moments ahead and we will face them when they come. For today I’m glad I can offer comfort, and I’m very grateful for the time and space to rest.
(If you’d like to know more, here is good information about the gift of mercy.)