Do you want to be there for the people who need you most? Learn what it means to hold someone’s space and the ways you can master the art of being an empathetic listener.
When my mother was dying, my brothers and I gathered to be with her in her last days. Neither of us knew anything about supporting someone in her transition from this life to the next, but we were sure we wanted to keep her at home, so we did.
While we were supporting my mom, we were, in turn, supported by a talented palliative care nurse, Ann, who comes every few days to take care of my mom and talk to us about what we can expect in the days ahead.
She taught us how to inject the mother with morphine when she became anxious, offered to do difficult tasks (like giving my mother a bath), and gave us just as much information as we needed on what to do with my mother’s body after her soul had passed.
“take your time,” She said. “You don’t need to call the funeral home until you are ready. Gather the people who want their final farewell. Sit with your mother for as long as you need to. When you are ready, call and they will come to pick her up.”
Ann gave us an incredible gift in those last days. Although it was a agonizing week, we knew we were being held by someone who was only a phone call away.
In the two years that followed, I thought a lot about Ann and the important role she played in our lives. It was much more than could fit a title Palliative care nurse. She was a facilitator, trainer and guide. By offering kind, non-judgmental support and guidance, she helped us walk through one of the most difficult journeys of our lives.
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Ann’s work can be defined by a term that has become popular in some of the circles I work in. She kept space for us.
What does it mean to hold a space for someone?
This means that we are willing to go hand in hand with another person on whatever journey they take without judging them, making them feel incompetent, trying to fix them, or trying to influence the outcome. When we reserve space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgment and control.
Sometimes we find ourselves making space for people while they have space for others. In our case, for example, Anne was keeping a space for us while we were keeping a space for my mom. While I don’t know anything about her support system, I suspect that there are others who are keeping space for Ann while she does this challenging and purposeful job.
It is almost impossible to be a strong space owner unless we have others who will provide us with space. Even the most powerful leaders, coaches, nurses, etc., need to know that there are some people who can be weak and vulnerable with them without fear of being judged.
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In my roles as teacher, facilitator, coach, mother, wife, friend, etc., I do my best to make space for other people in the same way Ann framed me and my brothers.
It’s not always easy, because I have a very human tendency to want to fix people, advise them, or judge them for not being more in the way than they are, but I try constantly because I know it matters. At the same time, there are people in my life that I trust to make space for me.