By Anne Gresinger, SMCC Chaplain Intern
On the morning of the fatal accident, as chaplain, I was called on to be there for the SMCC students facing this tragedy. However much help I might actually be was unclear. It is always challenging to discern when to step in and when to just be a supportive presence. How can any one of us best support those deep in pain and crisis? There are times when just being a compassionate witness, honoring that there is a quality of beauty in the truth at hand, even in deepest grief, without judgement, is a way of bringing love and grace into the picture.
At Surfsite, I was able to witness the shockwave of this tragic loss unfold as more students woke up to the reality of Pat’s death. I was most blown away by the profound strength with which the students navigated this devastating reality. Their tenderness, kindness, pain and solidarity created a vessel for the shattering of this trauma and grief to be held, with love. Some lyrics from Paul Simon’s song “Graceland” keep running in my head.
And I see losing love
Is like a window in your heart
Everybody sees you’re blown apart
Everybody sees the wind blow
In Graceland, in Graceland
I’m going to Graceland…
Maybe I’ve a reason to believe
We all will be received
These pieces of the song resonate with the healing embrace I was so honored to witness.
A student who didn’t know Pat, but who was also a Surfsite resident, had been creating a picture of a red panda right about the time of the accident. As the different facets of how this devastating reality would be affecting those close to Pat unfolded in this student’s mind, a touch of grace also surfaced. The clear joy of the personified panda, running straight toward the viewer, arms stretched wide, the hands extending outside the frame as if the viewer is about to be embraced, running through an ideal field under the sky of a gorgeous day, could represent the freedom that Pat now knows. And in a gesture of heart-centered sympathy, the student decided to name this panda Pat.
This gesture is just one of the many acts of kindness, concern and support that I witnessed on the day of Pat’s death. For those of us who are aware of this painful tear in the fabric of our community, I would say that every tender honoring, even just through thought, of how deep this cut goes into those close to Pat, adds to the vessel of grace and support we can provide for them.
In a situation where someone is faced with crisis and soul pain, we are often moved to try and fix things: to take the pain away, pick up the pieces and put them back in some order. Inner pain is somewhat different than physical pain. When it comes to grieving, it’s actually better not to try and fix things. It’s important to let the grief and the truth of what a person is feeling move at its own speed and speak for itself in its own way.
Confirming what a person is going through by compassionately reflecting back to them what they offer you can help their process. Just sitting quietly with someone who is in pain and grief can be just what’s needed at times. Whatever the crisis, near or far, an honest response is essential. Lean into, be aware of, the vessel of support that is here for all in the SMCC community.