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Some things should be sacred. I would like to believe that at some point a marriage has lasted long enough that one partner should be free from the fear that the other would suddenly end it.

After my mother died, a family member became like a mother to me. We always had a special relationship, but it became even more so after my mother was gone. And now, my heart is breaking with hers at the news that her husband of 35 years has suddenly decided that he does not want to be married any longer. Her heartbreak is compounded by the fact that he has chosen to pursue a relationship with someone who came between them 22 years earlier. Wounds that she thought were healed have been ripped open anew.

I am also grieving with her children. Although I have never suffered through a divorce, I know full well the sadness that comes from having your family ripped apart. I understand the death of the dream of happy future gatherings with both your parents and your children. I comprehend the pain of knowing that your life will never be as it was only a few moments before.

Once again, I am asking myself, even though I know, what can I say? Words seem so insincere, even though they are far from it. There is nothing that I can say to rectify this wrong. There is little that I can do beyond just being. I can let my family know that I am grieving with them. I can listen when they want to talk. I can be with them when they are ready for company. And someday, when they are ready to hear it, I can tell them that it is possible to accept a new reality – even one that you don’t want – and move forward.

How are you feeling?

In the dim light of my sunrise yoga class, I watched the instructor direct her question toward another regular student – a woman about my age.  This woman’s eyes shifted downward.

Well, I miscarried, she responded.  Her voice wavered.

Our instructor responded quickly with an obligatory “I’m sorry.”  Without looking up, the woman replied bitterly; sarcastically.

Well, you didn’t do it to me.

The only other regular student in the class, this woman’s mother, walked quickly away.  The woman pulled out her phone and began typing on it, attempting to ignore me and clearly trying not to cry.

I didn’t know what to say.  I don’t know her name, but I see her every Thursday morning.  I know that she is a lawyer, like me, but I’m not sure that she realizes that we have that connection.  I know that her mom comes with her to every class, and I know that she lives in a house without an attached garage.  But, I don’t know her name, and I didn’t know what to say to her in that moment.

Instead, I looked at her apologetically and squeezed out the door.  What could I say?

My mother died five years ago, and I that time after she died was the darkest time that I have lived.  To escape that darkness, I found a quiet little place to put that hurt, and I let life’s layers cover it, so that I didn’t have to experience it anymore.  However, with this conscious attempt to ignore my pain, I find myself ignoring the pain of others too.

Occasionally, this hurt works its way back to sunlight, and I find myself dealing raw grief – both mine and that of others.

In church several weeks ago – only a week past the five-year anniversary of my mother’s death – I found myself sitting next to a very well-put-together older woman.  We spoke briefly several times throughout the service, and by the end, I realized that I knew who she was and that she had recently lost her husband to a heart attack.

After the service, I introduced myself, and she told me that she had been recently widowed.  I could have offered her an obligatory “I’m sorry,” and escaped back into anonymity but instead, I told her that I knew.  I quickly explained that my mother had died five years ago, and even though it wasn’t the same, I knew how hard it was to lose someone you loved.  We both left that service crying.

These two experiences have left me wondering if there is any sincerely, compassionate way to handle the grief of others without diving into yourself.