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Reflections on South Carolina Tragedy

When tragedy happens, can you just do business as usual?  In the life of a coach, and anyone in the helping professionals, doing business ‘as usual’ is not really possible.  Companies who have employees that suffer sudden loss need to grant some emotional space in times of need.

Being from the South born in Georgia and raised in Virginia, it was clear to me at an early age that the environment we lived in was different…different in a lot of ways that are cherished – for instance we enjoyed heritage landmarks of our great nation within close driving distance (i.e., George Washington’s Birthplace, Jamestown, Stratford Hall Mansion, Williamsburg) – But, also a divided culture grown from strife, slavery, and suppression of group worship.  If I had been born male 200 years earlier, my destiny would have been to take up arms against my own family members to fight for the rights of human freedom.

During the coming days, months, and years ahead mourning the very recent tragedy in South Carolina — the senseless violent murder of 9 innocent victims, one of them a respected leader communing with his flock while in fellowship and worship– we have much to come to terms about what this means, and has meant for so many decades of our great nation’s history.

When the coaching hat needs to change to a counseling hat, there isn’t much one can do to help someone who is in such devastating grief.  People will not just get over this.

I’ve been able to find some meaning in that the fact that all human bodies have eyes that weep salty water– tears of mourning as we cry and cry and cry.  Then, suddenly there can come a moment of relief.

Why do we have tears?  Why is it so imperative for us to cry and weep?

My answer is because if you don’t our hearts will close, shut down, shut off, and shut out.  When we don’t cry, our hearts close and for some people, it can stay shut forever.

When we are faced with tragedy, tears are our physical relief, a miracle and gift for the heart.   Tears make our hearts become a vessel that holds feeling, love, compassion, and yes…overwhelming grief and pain.  When hearts are breaking, tears will keep our hearts open, no matter how much we may want to shut it down and not feel anymore.

We have tears for a reason.  The human body has parts with a purpose.  We have tears to soften our souls, even when circumstances seem too much to bear.  Tears express the magnitude of grief, soften our hearts and help us remain open to love, even in a world of hateful acts.

When I’ve had someone who is suffering from grief and loss (though I’ve never assisted anyone who has suffered such sorrow as these families and community in South Carolina are suffering today), I share the following story:

There was a man who lived in the neighborhood who had lost his wife recently but much of the busy visitations of friends in the community have ended and other people were “back to normal”.  Mr. Smith was now quite alone for the first time in 50 years.

Mr. Smith’s neighbor family had a little boy who was 5 years old named Billy who used to come over to visit the couple from the time he could walk.  Billy would spend mornings helping the Smith couple work in their garden and for his help he would bring home some ripe fruit and veggies to share with him mother at lunch.

These days though, Billy’s mother had to look for Billy to come home for lunch.  She would look out the window for him and wonder, “Now, where did he go?”  Inevitably she would see him over at Mr. Smith’s house visiting the new widower.  She watched Billy from the kitchen window stay over there about 15 minutes each day right before lunch, and then he would come home…his head hanging down as he walked slowly to the house, not quite the cheery skipping little one she was used to see rushing home for lunch when she called him..not like he used to do before Mrs. Smith passed away.

The mother was sensitive to the fact that Billy’s good friend and neighbor was missing his wife.  She didn’t want to intrude and ask about his visits, but by the end of the week, she couldn’t stand it anymore.

So this she asked, “Billy, you’ve been over there every day all week! You know how much Mr. Smith doesn’t like to talk very much, he just used to like to have you help him and Mrs. Smith take care of the garden. Now you are not gardening at all.  All I see you doing is sitting on his lap!  What are you talking about?  You know Mr. Smith is a man of few words.  Can you tell me what you are saying to him and what is his saying to you?”

“Mommy, we’re not talking at all.  We don’t have anything to say.  I am just sitting there on Mr. Smith’s knee.  We aren’t saying anything.”

“Well, then Bobby what are you doing?”

“Mommy, I am just sitting there.  We’re not talking at all.  We are just sitting there really, really quiet”.

Then he blurted out, “I’m helping Mr. Smith cry.”

Like little Billy, you may need to help someone cry some day.  If you are in the South or from the South or have a heart for life, you may have opportunities to help someone cry today.

Billy knew how important it is for us to share our sorrow and tears together.  We may not be able to bear it without the help of each other, without the simple wisdom of a child who knows how important crying is to those hearts and souls who grieve.

Be present to others in grief.  Help them shed their tears of sorrow.  Be present to yourself as you mourn; it will make the road of sorrow just a tiny bit easier.  Let your tears soften your soul.  If you face senseless loss, your waves of ocean tears can help you keep your heart open to goodness and love.  If you don’t cry or can’t be there for others who need to cry, you take the risk of indifference and apathy infecting your heart.

Give the gift of your presence in times of great sorrow, not just in times of joy.

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