A friend recently asked me about firefighters and rebuilders in the aftermath of Loss. She had been reading a blog about infant loss, and how tragedy reveals the true nature of ourselves and others. In particular, there are certain people who rush in immediately and try to help put out the fire and control the devastation, and there are certain others who show up later and help rebuild. She wondered if that had been my experience.
My initial reaction was vague. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized how it was also true in my case. Firefighters had swept in to do damage control. There were meals and flowers and cards. There were concerned friends stopping by just to check on us. They surrounded us when we were too stunned to move, and they worked quickly, but they didn’t stay long.
The rebuilders, however, were fewer in number. They arrived slowly, one by one, over the course of many months. They brought movies and games and laughter. Sometimes they brought small gifts or just their company, which is the same as gifts. Some of them just sat in silence with us. They helped us rebuild the foundations of our selves, and helped us create a “new normal,” a new status quo of being.
At first I was inclined to feel more affection toward the rebuilders. After all, their presence was usually longer, and therefore felt more. But then I realized I was doing a disservice to the firefighters, who came in at the most dangerous point in the game and did whatever damage control they could. Both parties were essential to our survival, and I am grateful for the love we have been shown.
But there is another group for whom I am grateful. They are the rebuilders who continue to come back years later. They know this is a long term project, and we will never be able to completely rebuild on our own. They don’t come with judgments and time limits over how long this is going to take. While others have grown frustrated over never seeing a finished product, wondering why we are still not “over it,” they understand our hearts will never be completely healed at this time. Neither do they reminisce about the people we once were, or seem shocked that we cannot and will never be those people again. They accept us for who we are today, as angry or as miserable or as devastated as we might be. They don’t mind the scenery of broken souls and stunning ruins.
It’s those people that make me a better person, not just in healing, but in the work of helping to heal others too. There isn’t much fanfare and you don’t get a medal, but the grueling work of healing hearts and being there for people has a reward of its own kind, a healing change within yourself that you don’t even know is happening until one day you realize that giving of yourself and your time has sealed some of the cracks in your own heart while you were busy collecting pieces of theirs.
Whether firefighter, rebuilder, or friend, we all need each other, and we will all be called upon to help our loved ones if and when disaster strikes. There is wisdom in knowing that one day we will all face tragedy of some kind. And in the face of tragedy, whether it’s our own or that of someone else, we all discover who we are and what we’re made of.