Vanya Erickson - What We Can Do

What We Can Do

What We Can Do

My dear friend Marni lost her big brother to brain cancer this week. In my experience, there is nothing as devastating than watching someone you love crumble under the weight of loss. The ripple effect of his death sent shockwaves through me, and I shuddered at each successive text from Marni.

First, the news that Tom had a mysterious medical emergency and was flying home from Europe. Then came the upbeat news about his arrival in a Chicago hospital and although the diagnosis was brain cancer, the doctors held some hope to slow things down with a new medication.  This was followed blisteringly fast by the news of his death. Each time I was riveted by Marni’s words as they forced me closer to my own experiences of loss, and my devastating inability to help in her in any way.

I consider myself an expert at this untimely death thing.  Hadn’t I lost my daughter, my niece, my nephew, my brother-in-law, my sister-in-law and both of my parents to untimely death?  How is it then, that no matter how many hours I spend attempting to conjure up that perfect passage to help my friend, my words fell short of their mark? Where were my words?

I thought back to a warm spring day in Arizona, sitting with my nephew Drew days before his death, his James Dean shock of raven hair perfect on the pillow, his belly distended from liver disease. I was there to listen.  So I set aside my judgments, my schedule, and my desire to run outside and scream. In between tears, with his hand in mine, he spoke of his own loss. He talked about fears and hopes and the irreverent nurse he liked so much.

And so now for Marni so far away, I carried on by performing rituals because it was at least something I could do: I lit candles; I meditated; I paused midday in my classroom to visualize Marni bathed in light. I bought flowers.

And then it hit me for the millionth time. Humans have to fall into the abyss of loss and rise out of it when they’re ready.  They have to figure it out for themselves.  And this, dear reader, is what we can do: we can witness their pain; we can, with the whole of our bodies, listen to their stories; we can just show up – reminding the grieving that they’re not alone.

Do you have any words of wisdom for others moved by loss? 

Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.

For more information on grief/loss, visit my resources page: Helpful Books on Loss Grief


  1. Julie Miller on November 20, 2016 at 7:37 pm

    Vanya, you really captured how people feel when dealing with loss. Your words are so real, sensitive and powerful.

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