My dear friend-turned-brother, Asa, knew there was nothing he could say to take away my pain and anguish in the days, weeks, and months after my daughter Jenna died in 1996. At the end of every phone call or visit, Ace would tell me to “keep on keepin’ on.”
Ace’s years as a special-ops Marine had taught him that there are times when we experience a degree of pain or sorrow for which there is no religious or psychological spin, no quick fix and no escape. We’re left to summon newfound strength, courage, and faith to fight through waves of hopeless despair. And to hang on in the hopes of a better day.
Having taken Ace’s sage wisdom into hundreds of horrific tragedies over the past 24 years, including 9/11, Sandy Hook, and, most recently, the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve learned the “do’s and don’ts” of lending support (listed on my website, www.kendruck.com) to those in dire need. At the top of the “do’s” list is something Jenna taught me when I was a young father. She would say, “Daddy, be with” when she wanted my undivided attention. I would usually smile as I put down the newspaper, turned off the TV, and looked directly into her eyes. This not only set the standard for how we would communicate throughout her 21 glorious years, it’s the basis for a special closeness I have with her sister, Stefie.
There are few more powerful experiences we can have than the feeling of being understood. Being listened to in this way is the very basis of love and trust—and perhaps the most profound way we show up for one another. Being with someone who is suffering a moment of infinite sorrow, pain, despair, or desperation means uninterrupted listening, compassion, quiet encouragement, sustained patience, and true understanding. It does not mean coming up with questions, comments, judgments, or answers, or giving unsolicited advice or opinions to “fix” them or take away their pain.
Whether you’re facing a “dark night of the soul” in your own life, learning to compassionately “be with yourself” at a challenging time, or supporting someone else who is, may the messages “Keep on keeping on” and “Be with” help you fight your way back into the light and summon the strength, faith, and courage to go on.