This past year has pushed a lot of us to the edges of what we are comfortable with enduring. This has been the year of uncertainty and overwhelm as well as resilience and community. As we start a fresh New Year, it is important to take some time to reflect on what has been helpful for you to get through the feelings of uncertainty, fear, and collective trauma of living through a pandemic.
One thing that has helped many of us is the connection to community. While we were told to shelter at home, physically distance, and stay apart, we also found creative ways to stay connected. As social creatures, we need to be in closeness to others. This connection and attunement helps our bodies rest, regulate, and be resilient with adversity. Our brains and bodies both have built-in systems that rely on social engagement to help us get through hard times. We are more alike animals such as wolves and elephants than we realize.
With the arrival of 2021, it’s important to take pause and hold space for our loved ones, especially those of us who have experienced further hardship due to the pandemic. For instance, do you have friends who just had a baby? They cannot get the support that others have in years prior – they don’t have access to community programs, extended family or other support. Some new parents have not introduced their sweet newborns to their families. Or, maybe you know someone who has lost a family member this year. In the context of the pandemic, they have not been able to grieve with the traditions that help us get through such a painful time. Other families have gone through separation/divorce or loss of a job or moved during this year. They are starting a new phase in their life without the community support that others have relied on for years.
This is where holding space is so important. What does that mean? Well, when we ‘hold space’ for someone, we are literally there with them and their feelings. We do not have to be in the same room as them, but reaching out regularly with calls, emails, porch drop-offs, texts, or deliveries. We need to show up for our loved ones consistently and often, to let them know that they are not alone with their suffering. We are showing support with loving-kindness, presence, and non-judgment. There are ways to do it still, even while physically separated.
Here are some ways you can offer this support:
1. Contact the person to say you are thinking of them today, and wanted to see if they need anything. A lot of us suffer in silence as we don’t want to burden others, so this offering alone can be so helpful. Do not offer more than you can so have a list of suggestions; it can be just to listen to them, send them a hot meal, laugh together to a show, or share a great book title.
2. Saying something is better than not saying anything at all – we don’t want to hurt our loved ones, so sometimes we don’t say anything inc ase we say the wrong thing. Saying “I’m sorry for your loss” or “I was thinking of you today” is so comforting. Of course, there are a few things NOT to say. For instance, if your friend just had a baby, don’t say “you’ll bounce back in no time” or “at least you are all healthy” if the birth didn’t go well or as planned.
3. Let them know they are not alone – Kristen Neff defines “self-compassion” to include kindness, mindfulness, and common humanity. When we know we are not the only ones who feels this grief, than we feel more compassionate towards ourselves
4. Sit with them – tend to yourself first and offer your ear. They may want to share a story about their loss or experience and assume no one has time or wants to hear. Ask them about a happy memory that includes the loved one they lost.
5. Ask them what they need – we all love flowers and cards, but some of us may struggle with asking for what is more helpful. It might be someone to walk our dog as we are too drained, or a hot meal that is delivered. This too comes from the heart!
6. If they need more support than you can offer – it’s okay to know your limits and find a helpful resource. Let them know you are worried about them. It’s okay to say that! Tell them you will look at some resources, then put together a few names and send it to them. The following up of a promise means a lot. Maybe you can reach out to a therapist for your loved one who is struggling with grief or mental health concerns. That support can help them take the necessary steps to get the help they need to heal.
7. Learn more about what they are going through – if your loved one is struggling with loss or mental health concerns, it helps them to know that you took time to learn about what they are feeling. When we know what to look for, we can offer better help
One beautiful way you can hold space for someone you love is to gift them with Three Hearts. This is a powerful and kind-hearted program that helps you provide a meaningful gift. It would be so lovely to offer the support to a new mother and family, a friend or someone who needs some extra kindness. All your loved one has to do is choose from a list of local services like restaurants, therapists or dog walkers.
I chose to be a partner with Three Hearts as I am a big believer in community and being vulnerable by asking for support. None of us were meant to do life alone, and we see evidence of that now especially. Living through this pandemic has taught so many of us the importance of these resources for our health and well-being. We don’t just need beautiful things but also help and support. The gift of Three Hearts is important now than ever before.
For instance, if you have someone you care about who would benefit from therapeutic support, they might learn tools and resources to help with the postpartum adjustment and life as a new parent, or maybe they might benefit from some healthier coping strategies to deal with stress and overwhelm due to Covid. That might be where I step in to offer support.
Ram Das said it best when he reminded us that we are all here to companion each other – “we are all just walking each other home”.