Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Reunions and Holding Space

The woman had a rapidly progressing, early onset dementia. She was admitted to hospital for assessment and was deemed incapable to live on her own. Her son had power of attorney but lived far away and his work obligations prevented regular visits.  She never mentioned any other family members. 

I saw a young couple standing nervously outside the locked door of the unit. I offered assistance and asked who they were coming to visit. The young man said he was the youngest son of this same woman. He had not seen her in over ten years even though he lived nearby. He was uncertain of the reception his mother would give him. I offered to tell her that he was there and would gauge her response to his name. She was a cheery person who retained her social graces and had no objections to having visitors. I led him to the room for their reunion and watched with emotion as he said anxiously,  

“Hi Mom, it’s me, Kevin.” 
I could tell she did not know who he was but she was able to cover her memory loss well. 
“How nice to see you!”, she said. 
They visited for a while, the conversation superficial and without much meaning.

I never asked what events caused the estrangement between mother and son in the first place. Every immediate or extended family experiences discord at one time or another but it is sad to see ongoing hostility and lack of forgiveness involving a parent and child.

I read an excellent article recently by Heather Plett on What it Means to Hold Space for People. (It is also worthwhile to read the follow up links at the bottom of the page). She writes,

“What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.”

What a beautiful concept! But it can be very hard to implement. Reunions would be so different without the judgements of others, real or perceived, causing us to be self-conscious and uneasy. 

How do I look? 
Am I successful? 
I feel stupid compared to _____! 
Why is that person avoiding me? 
I still can’t stand_______ even though I haven’t seen them in 20 years!

The candle holder in the picture above is from Ten Thousand Villages and is made of soapstone by artisans in Kenya. To me, it illustrates the ability to hold space in spite of different experiences, life choices, ideas and values while maintaining a connected relationship with others. Recently, it feels like our society is moving further away from this concept causing people to feel manipulated, judged and controlled. 

All I can do is work on changing my own attitude, thereby increasing my ability to hold space for others.

1 comment:

  1. What a beautiful, poignant little reunion you witnessed. I'm glad the young man took the step of coming to see his mother. It's heartbreaking to be a family member-bystander to an estrangement like this--I live with that daily, and am so grateful for those people I know who do hold space for others.


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