I have a long ago memory—a snapshot really—of a family road trip to Cape Cod. I suppose I had gotten tired and cranky, so I was moved from the back seat to the one in front between my father and mother. I curled down onto my mother’s lap and fell asleep. I am pretty sure all that happened. What I really remember, though, is waking up, still sleepy, still not moving, and listening to my mother’s heartbeat. It was a sound of pure comfort and I just listened and soaked it up.
Those simple, beautiful comforts of childhood were so powerful, weren’t they? They soothed away tears and enfolded us in love. It is hard, though, to see how childhood comforts can take away the adult stress and helplessness, and grief we all inevitably face.
My mother passed away over five years ago now, unexpectedly and far too soon. Marc’s mother unexpectedly passed away four days later, as we started the drive home from my mom’s funeral. Our grief was overwhelming, coming in waves at unexpected moments over those next months (and yes, years.)
Nothing can erase that grief. Nothing can eliminate fear when facing serious illness, or the worry of a parent for their child. Our emotions are a process, something we have to work through over time, and often repeatedly. When faced with the inevitable and well-meaning question, “Is there anything I can do to help,” it is hard to think of something someone else could do to ease the hole in your heart.
Yet, I think all of us can learn from our childhood the value of simple comfort. No, it doesn’t erase pain, but it can ease it, and that is, oftentimes, just enough. A hand quietly held, a shared cup of tea, short weekly notes sent to someone going through a rough cancer treatment.
Music is my comfort. I can feel my breathing slow when I hear beautiful music. For weeks after September 11, 2001, NPR played nothing but cello music between their news stories. It was so exactly right, it so reflected the somberness and grief we felt as a nation. It helped me in its healing notes.
I have a friend who has an artist’s heart, and you can see her absorb a beautiful painting into herself, taking in its beauty and its narrative. I don’t have an artistic eye, but she can describe to me what she sees and build a bridge for me to walk into the painting with her. There is both comfort and friendship.
Yes, food is still comforting to me. The preparation of it, the care that it takes, the gift it gives to others, the love it implicitly holds—all leading up to that first taste. It is more comforting to me when we sit down together to eat, when we light candles, when we listen to our loved ones stories of the day. Food is a comforting experience—much more so, now, when it isn’t dulled by guilt and shame.
I guess comfort is, at the base of it, sensual. But, it can only reach us, it can only give us ease, if we try to look outward, even when our grief or worry or fear is at its most acute. When we intentionally look for ease, it is often right there. Not much, but just enough.
Annie Hoffman, a Facebook Friend, has issued a challenge to hand write a note to someone you care for and let them know how special they are to you. It’s a lovely, comforting thing to do, don’t you think?