I am a certified grief specialist. John James, who started the Grief Recovery Institute over thirty years ago, taught my training program. During my training, he was insistent that most adult pain comes from unacknowledged, unfelt and unresolved grief. The process the Grief Recovery Institute taught, and that I use, works. They teach that it is never too soon to heal ones heart after a loss. I have been thinking it would be helpful to use the process on an ongoing basis for the grief of my body betraying me in this chronic auto-immune illness, so this method was on my mind this morning.
This morning, I took one of our smart cars into my neighborhood auto mechanic. There was a plastic part on the bottom that had broken and I wanted a trusted expert to talk with about what needed to be done. I handed Doug the keys, and he told me he would put the car up and take a look.
I turned to the waiting room. Three chairs in front of the window fronting the street. One chair off by itself. A middle aged white man planted in the middle of the three chairs. I knew which chair I wanted to sit in, my energy was low this morning, my pain at a tolerable 4,and I did not feel up for interaction. As I started to head for that lone chair, I felt that nudge. No, pick that chair. By that man. So I did.
And immediately he started talking. This and that. Here and there. I made myself look into his eyes, again and again, and keep asking the question “What am I here for?” internally. Listen, came the response. Practice listening.
Soon, he made the statement, “friends are what get you through when the times are tough. Family not so much.” I looked him in the eyes, they were green, with brown flecks, like my grandma’s, like mine. And then he started the story.
Whenever I hear someone start the story, I am usually mindful that there is the story the teller wants me to know, there is the story another participant would tell, there is the story the teller actually knows, there is the story that none tells, and there is the story noone knows. I thought of all of those other stories as I listened to his. The details mattered to him. A single mom working multiple jobs to feed and clothe and house her children, same mom growing old, suffering in ill health, this son by her side, all other siblings not available, not present. And finally her death. And his grief.
The details mattered to him, not so much to me right then, and I couldn’t help but wonder as I heard him tell the tale, why the eyes I were paying such attention to teared up at the story of the death. Not at the umbrage at the actions of the others. The heart will always note what is important.
I didn’t have much to say, we were in the front office of a auto shop. If I had felt moved to ask questions, I would have. If I had felt moved to pray, I would have. If I had felt moved to move, I would have. I felt moved to listen and watch his eyes.
We moved quickly in the story from his grief, to his anger at his relatives judging of his politics. To his anger with the current administration. That was when I needed to speak. And I said what I needed, said I didn’t want to fight and I disagreed with that part of his story, and that there was more that needed to be said. His turn to listen for a bit.
I know how to redirect a person back to their emotion, back to their discomfort, to be with them in a way that gives courage to face what feels unbearable. But here, after I had said what I felt needed to be said, I was only moved to be present. No heart surgery invited, and trust me, I have been involved in heart surgery in stranger places then the mechanics front room. We meandered out of politics into his disappointment with his son. I listened.
Doug came back and wanted to show me my cars under carriage. I love being in that part of the shop so I said ok, and we walked out to where all five mechanics were gathered under my car. I think they enjoy working on my smart car. He showed me what they had done, I asked a few questions, the oldest guy answered me, and we agreed I was good to go with nothing more that needed to be done.
I went back in the waiting room, as Doug got my car down and wrote up a complimentary ticket that explained the time spent and that no payment was required. I went back and stood by the man I had been listening to and watching. He stood up and shook my hand, told me his name, and I told him mine. He thanked me for the conversation and wished me a good day.
On the way home, I thought of John James and his insistence that adult pain comes from unresolved grief.