Mom and I sat in a Panera Bread on Wednesday afternoon sharing a cinnamon crunch bagel and drinking coffee, debriefing on the official CT scan results that arrived in her myChart box earlier that day. I told her how, when I read her email, I had to talk myself down, breathe and weep, again, about the awful reality of what she’s facing and what I’m facing as her daughter.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” Mom said, looking worried, “Maybe I shouldn’t have sent it to you.”
I’m sure she imagined me, bent over my keyboard with the door of my office closed, heaving and shaking. I’m sure she imagined her own helpless pain in the face of another’s and felt remorse that her pain had caused pain.
I had imagined her, staring at those test results, the rush of heat and raising heartbeat, the wave of grief and reality immediate once more, and her pain had made my heart melt all over again.
I blanched at her suggestion. “No! Please. It was only a few minutes, and I would rather know… to walk with you through this…” I stumbled, “than not to know. No one should have to go it alone.” And anyway, I continued throughout our conversation, it isn’t the same as it was a few months ago. The waves aren’t as big or as bold or as unpredictable. A week ago, I felt strong. Like, we’ve got this. And we do. But there will be these waves, over and over, from here forward. We’re going to be pummeled by them. But we won’t be pummeled alone.
I know what it is like to try to go it alone in matters big and small. It feels brave, to walk alone. It feels like we’re sparing other people grief and hurt. It feels like control– I’ve got this, I’ve got this, don’t you worry about me, I’m strong.
After two years going from reading paragraph by paragraph together to long chapters on her own, Lydia finished the final book in the Harry Potter series this week. I’ve learned a thing or two from Harry about trying to go it alone:
- Going it alone does not spare others pain, it only creates a different, additional kind of pain. In the midst of the battles I’ve tried to wage on my own, the energy it zapped trying to keep it all to myself and just handle it killed any reserves I had for the very people I was trying to spare the depth of my pain. Instead of letting that person share the weight of the struggle with me, I dug a moat around me and my grief so no one–no one–could touch me while I was there. And being on the other side of that ditch when you know something is wrong with your friend or your spouse or your loved one is a deep hurt. It isolates instead of embraces. It separates instead of unites. It brings confusion instead of clarity. Sharing that weight with someone else isn’t just good for you, it gives your closest loved ones the opportunity to love you fully, in your joy and your suffering, and that is true communion.
- Going it alone is unproductive for your own growth. When Harry tries to do it his own way, he misses out on the valuable assets he has in his closest companions, insights and wisdom and perspective that, without their presence, Harry would completely overlook. In crisis, all we can see is the pain. We can’t see a way out. But when we have loved ones near to see and hear our pain, they can tell us when to take off the horcrux; they can hold our hand and show us the light; they can guide us through the tears, out of the downward spiral, and into a place of joy once more.
- Going it alone is unsustainable. There’s a long stretch during one of the books where I just wanted to shake Harry. He wasn’t telling his friends what was happening; Dumbledore wasn’t available to confide in; when prompted for information he withheld his true feelings and the reality of his mind and spirit; and the longer he kept to himself, the darker his world grew. That darkness will choke us if we let it, it will pummel us and bury us and break us and we will not be able to withstand it. Not alone. Not without love. Not without friendship. And friendship and love require communication, intimacy, honesty, and trust. No darkness can stand up against love.
- Going it alone is lonely. The longer we try to walk alone, the greater distance grows between me and the rest of the world. I begin to feel, not just alone, not just lonely, but as if I am the only person in the universe who has ever suffered. I am the only person who knows what it is like to feel this way. To live this battle. To carry this weight. To face this struggle. “You wouldn’t understand,” we bark, like Harry. “You don’t even know!” And the more we fail to break open our hearts and reveal the fears, the anxieties, and the pain, the longer the stretch of ocean grows, until we stand on an island, convinced no one can ever reach us.
- Going it alone is directionless. In the last book, Harry, Hermione, and Ron wander on hunches, hunting for something they’re not even sure exists or in what quantities. I don’t know what we are going to face together, my mom and I. I don’t know how long or where or when. But when I am standing alone, without anyone to voice my fears or any right-mindedness to shake me free, I spiral down like a drill bit into the packed sand that cements me in place, and I don’t move from that space until someone shakes me free. Going it alone roots me in the quicksand of “What if…” and “Why…?” and that is where I stay, wandering for days in the full spectrum of horrors and anxieties. Together, we can grieve the what ifs. We can ask the whys. And then we can ask the “What now’s.” Together, we can move forward out of chest heaving grief into sorrow-filled acceptance.
I don’t want to walk alone.
Mom, I don’t want you to have to walk alone.
Friend, you don’t have to walk alone.
Speak up, love. You will be heard.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. – Psalm 34:18