“Be kind and compassionate to one another." ~ Ephesians 4:32
Cancer delivers two types of pain. They’re both bad, but one’s worse than the other.
The first pain comes from the organ that’s been most affected. It’s like a knife stabbing every part of your body. For Donna’s Mom Anne, it was her abdomen. Pain shot through Anne’s stomach, causing frequent nausea, bloating and occasional vomiting.
Cancer’s other pain is the mental; like running out of time and not knowing what to do. Anne’s fear was paralyzing, exhausting and dark.
When she got sick, Donna became what psychologists term the person who “held space” for her. Holding space means walking side-by-side with them on their journey without judgment or expectations. It’s the deepest form of listening.
Donna accompanied Anne throughout her journey, seeing the world through her Mom’s eyes; allowing space for panic, confusion, and expression without trying to “fix” anything. Donna didn’t try and cheer Anne up about her illness or deny what was happening in her body. She held space by allowing the situation to unfold without fueling the emotions that were part of it.
While Donna was holding space for her Mom, others were holding space for her.
Her children and closest friends were holding space for her as she walked the difficult path with her Mom. When she’d come home at night they’d encourage her to rest and assured her with their calls, cards and prayers.
The hospice nurse was holding space for Donna and her Mom, guiding them on what to expect next. Their home nurse Amy held space for the family, quietly resigned to the background, as people came and went to say their last good-byes.
The day she began transitioning, she fell into her daughter’s arms and softly said “I’m ready to go.” Donna was heart-broken inside, but calmly replied by saying “Ok, mom. I’m here.”
When Anne took her final breaths, Donna sobbed hysterically as she gazed out the hospital window. Her life was falling apart. The thoughts driving her meltdown were unintelligible due to the crashing waves of emotions.
But somehow, she found herself able to clear her head and stare at her disheveled reflection in the window. Bob stood silently behind her. Her husband of 37 years was holding space for her.
Holding space means acting as God created us to act. It may be as practical as going grocery shopping for someone who is sick or shut-in. It can also mean keeping that person alive in your heart throughout the day and sending prayers on their behalf.
It develops in us the capacity to care for someone without determining what’s best for them, to be present without judging, to hold but not control. That’s the way God loves us; and so holding space becomes the chance to try to love like God.
“Open the eyes of my heart Lord, that Your light will flood our hearts and that we will understand the hope that was given to us and the glorious blessings You’ve bestowed upon us.” ~ Ephesians 1:18