My young traveling companion poked me on the elbow with a request I didn’t see coming.
From the moment Kim and I made the decision to move ahead with taking Ginny on her first Daddy Daughter trip despite the storm that had wrought havoc on our home, my mind was in overdrive.
From forcing it to focus on what needed to land in my suitcase, to finding a gas station that had power so we could refuel, to asking the gate agent if he could make sure our seats were together, my brain was busy anticipating and solving every challenge that presented itself on our journey to Tennessee.
Finally, we were on the plane, seats together, and her seatbelt was buckled. (Good thing they still have those important safety messages; the break from traveling left me rusty on knowing how seatbelts work.) Everything was going smoothly. Our first leg was almost over as we started our descent into Detroit.
Then came the gentle poke and the unexpected request.
“Can I hold your hand?”
She didn’t need to say anything else. The look of concern – but not panic – in her sparkling blue eyes said enough. It wasn’t her first flight, but it was the first in a while. And the landing part was giving her pause.
“Of course,” I said, as a I grabbed her hand.
No other words were exchanged, but during the descent, every time her stomach sensed a sudden drop in elevation, she squeezed a little bit tighter. It made my Daddy’s heart swell.
In the aftermath of dealing with the losses dealt by the storm, it’s been interesting to be on the receiving end of people trying to help us as we grieve. As far as I can tell, everyone is well-intentioned. But their level of effectiveness…varies widely.
The truth is, helping someone who is grieving is incredibly hard. Especially when it comes to knowing what to say. We want to provide comfort, we want to take away the pain, we want to say the right thing.
It’s hard. But Ginny helped me to see that maybe we make it harder than it needs to be.
When she meekly reached for my hand, she just needed me to grab it.
She didn’t need me to tell her her feelings were wrong.
She didn’t need me to explain the physics of aerodynamics and how we were perfectly safe.
She didn’t need me to remind her that other people are dealing with even scarier things.
She didn’t even need me to tell her it was going to be ok.
She didn’t need me to say anything.
She just needed me to hold her hand.
She just needed me to be there.
On a day that had me feeling overwhelmed, overmatched, and out of my element, it was the one thing for which I was totally qualified.
Maybe you’ve been given the opportunity to come alongside someone who is grieving. Maybe you will be soon.
It’s not an easy task, but you are plenty qualified for it. Don’t worry so much about what to say. They don’t need you to tell them their feelings are wrong, or how things could be worse, or about someone you know who went through something even harder, or even that everything will be ok.
It might be better if you don’t say anything at all.
Just metaphorically (or literally) figure out a way to hold their hand or give them a really big hug.
It doesn’t seem like much, but trust me, just being there matters.