Several years ago, my wife and I went through a very hard season after a sudden, shocking loss. In the aftermath of the loss, we entered into a time of deep grief and confusion. Those days were some of the hardest of my life, of our lives. When we were in the midst of that season, the comfort and understanding we found from other people, some of them longtime friends and others who were strangers to us at the time, were instrumental in our healing.
Right now, India is experiencing a time of deep trial due to the Covid-19 pandemic that has dramatically escalated across the country in recent weeks. Many people are dealing with sickness amongst loved ones and families, challenges in accessing healthcare, and grief in the death of close friends and family members. Earlier this week, when I was speaking to a friend in India, he told me, “We’re the only family I know of that hasn’t been affected in the last two weeks. Everyone else I talk with has experienced the death of someone close to them.”
The Indian diaspora, amongst whom many of us live in North America and around the globe, is also deeply connected to the spiraling situation in India. Last week I spoke with perhaps 20 Desi neighbors of mine, all of whom have strong connections to India. About a third of the neighbors reported a death amongst their family or friends in the last several weeks. Almost everyone said they knew of a close neighbor or relative who had become sick or hospitalized recently. And beyond the health worries for loved ones, there are consequences from the various responses by the global community. For instance, the US government’s order to restrict entry to the United States for many Indian citizens has meant that one neighbor must continue to be separated from his wife and son. They had been visiting family in India for a short trip when the Covid situation rapidly developed and are now stuck there waiting for travel rules to change and the embassies to reopen for visas. Another friend of mine’s wedding has now been postponed for the fourth time due to the recent surge.
These are hard days, and during hard days, emotions and hurt can multiply. During my season of loss, I felt most comforted by the attention and thoughtfulness of caring friends. Friends who took the time to seek me out, and ask how I was doing, and to care about what emotions I was feeling. The depth of healing I found through those conversations was significant. And as I’ve reflected on those who were most calming to me, I discovered two lessons from that time.
One lesson I learned from that season was the power of presence. By this I mean when someone took the time to seek me out and be with us. Simply being present with me, with us, as we worked through the loss was amazingly helpful. First, reaching out, asking how we were doing. If the time was right, or if there was space, asking to hear more about what happened. What emotions were we feeling? What scared us? What disappointed us? What angered us? Asking those kinds of questions and making the time to hear our answers, without pulling away or trying to “get on” to the next thing, was so valuable.
Alongside of this, I learned that those people who care for others don’t need to have the perfect response. There always seems to be a lot of pressure, if someone is sharing their emotions of sadness or grief, to give a spiritual platitude or pithy statement. The people who meant the most to me were those who didn’t try to “fix me” or give me the perfect “spiritual truth” to change my attitude. There would be a time for hearing and meditating on God’s promises and addressing the pain (and there needs to be), but it didn’t have to be right then, at the moment of loss. The people who were most comforting to me were those who listened to me empathetically, reflected my emotions, and validated my hurt and confusion. Those people made me feel understood and known. They were a big blessing to me.
Since then, I’ve learned to listen with love to people who are hurting. Right now, there are many people both in India and connected to India who are hurting. When you get the chance, if you’re so lucky to know someone like that, reach out to them and ask how they’re doing. Ask about their family and their friends. Listen with empathy as they share their own reality. And practice the art of being present for them as they share their stories, particularly if there is a lot of pain or grief. As we all pray for the end of this terrible pandemic, let’s also help love each other as we get through these hard days.