With the holiday’s fast approaching, we must remain mindful that this is a time when many experience a sense of loss and grief rather than joy. The holidays can be a lonely time and they may deny how they feel for the sake of putting on a brave face. One of the greatest gifts we can offer them is the gift of bearing witness and holding space. As a physician who has the sacred responsibility and honor to do this for my patients, I am poignantly aware of how powerful this can be. For many, it can be the greatest gift of all.
I have been seeing a patient, who I will call Ann, for 10 years. She is a therapist who is a gentle and sensitive soul. I can only imagine the gentle yet powerful space she is able to hold for her clients. As she bears witness to the many facets of their lives, they have a powerful witness to their process. They have her love, guidance, expertise and strong arms that hold them through their journeys. They are fortunate to have her in their lives. With the space she holds they know they are not alone.
I saw Ann the other day when she needed me to bear witness to her process. She had to hold space for a mother who had lost her daughter. She was not sure what to say to this mother to help her pain. It rattled her to her core.
As I sat with her and held space for her, all I could do is bear witness to her process. I told her that the most powerful gift she could give the grieving mother was her presence. Bearing witness is a gift we can offer each other at any time. In a world that is moving at warp speed, it is easy to forget that we matter. Since we don’t live in communities like we once did that marked our passages and witnessed our lives, it is common to spend our milestones alone. Once they pass, people get occupied again with their busyness and forget that we are in process. When a person experiences a loss, the process through grief takes time. It is important for them to be supported through its different stages.
Bearing witness is a sacred act. It even changes the one who bears witness. It deepens and fortifies one’s soul. It makes one trustworthy.
As a person’s grief transforms and shifts through its various stages, one gains access to the inner endurance that lives within. The vacuum that is left in one’s life is somehow filled with memories and a deeper level of wisdom. This is an alchemical process. The pain of loss never goes away, but it changes form and also changes the griever in profound ways. Without bearing witness, one could never experience the power of Soul in process.
Many of us feel alone in our process. This is not good for our health. We feel isolated. We may feel that our process is a burden on others. Isolation is one of the most profound stressors on Earth. Being witnessed, on the other hand, makes us feel like we matter. Mattering is good for our health. It makes our life worth living.
Mattering is a form of love.
As a physician, I feel that bearing witness is the most sacred part of what I do each day. Holding space and bearing witness to sometimes unbearable suffering deepens my heart and fortifies my soul. It makes my patients feel that they matter, that their pain and suffering matters. To be asked to bear witness for another is a profound honor. Life presents us with so many ways to bear witness to each other every day. We must embrace these opportunities for loving.
Like Ann, who will be changed forever by her witnessing, we must hold our strong arms around each other with open hearts. As Ann bears witness to a grieving mother, I bear witness to Ann. Somehow, I feel that my arms are around her and this mother, all at the same time. My heart is open to holding space for all of this. For me it is a great honor and a blessing.
Making another feel like they matter also makes my life matter. Isn’t this ultimately what we are on Earth to experience? For me, this is one of the greatest form of love.