Presence and Shiva Calls
In Judaism, sitting shiva is the seven days of mourning following a death. The family focuses on mourning during this time, and friends make shiva calls. Thank you to Dr. Ron Wolfson and his “How to make a shiva call” for the following:
- You are not alone is the fundamental message to be shared.
- Comforters are obligated to tend to the needs of mourners.
- What do you say? The tradition suggests being silent, allowing the mourner to open the conversation.
There is much to be gleaned from this beautiful tradition in living life with a child who began life in a difficult place. We need to learn how to make shiva calls. Often in our own discomfort, we rush to say things, dismiss emotions, try to fix things or reassure our children. Silence and real, genuine presence with someone in emotional distress is often best. I am here, truly here, with you in your deep pain. No words are necessary.
How do we practice genuine presence? Now that is a difficult and complex challenge – especially in the midst of a child’s behavioral outburst or emotional shutdown. In the heat of the moment, it involves suspending our own fears and judgments – in short, denying our self. It involves taking deep breaths and truly engaging right alongside and with our children. Jumping ahead to “if this is what is happening at age 6, what is it going to look like at 16?” or behind to “If I had only _________, I am a miserable failure as a parent” are completely paralyzing in the midst of emotional upset.
Beware. There is a counterfeit to presence. Emotional detachment is not true presence. It may appear as calm on the outside, but internally, we have checked right out of this scene. The reasons are myriad – we, the parent, are now triggered by our own pain or hurt and in a very fearful place; we have learned somewhere along the way that strong emotions are dangerous, and detachment is our habitual place of safety; our own fear has led us somewhere other than in the moment.
We all have experienced talking to or being with someone who just “isn’t really there”. Children who have lived early relational trauma have an incredibly sensitive radar system. They can sense and feel the radical difference between true presence and detachment. And when they do, their response can range from a silent cocooning shutdown to a raging behavioral outburst. The only way to slow and calm this cycle for our children is to be genuinely present with the child wherever they may be.
As I write these words, I am personally challenged and reminded of my own shortcomings. There are so many examples of when I fail to be present. I have heard “stop saying so many words” and “you aren’t trying to understand” more times than I want to admit. But being mindful – a topic for another day – of myself and what I am thinking/doing/experiencing in the midst of emotional turmoil is a first step. It will begin to lead me along a path of making compassionate and helpful shiva calls, offering life giving presence, to my children and others.