I Can Do HeavyBy Emma Pearson
May 29, 2023
Image by Stephen Mabbs on Unsplash
22 October 2021
Today I had a two-hour slot scheduled with a man called Simon Geoghegan, who, like me, is a participant in a learning programme. We are learning to facilitate Systemic Constellations work in organisations, led by the formidable Caroline Ward.
Simon and I first met at a one-day “taster” programme back in March. He lives somewhere better suited to participating in an altogether different programme, for showing up at this one requires a 4 am start for him. Day after day. A lazy, or at least civilised 10 am for me. I am in awe.
The luxury of sitting in a European time-zone has been a blessing time and again these COVID-times, as I reap rewards of learning programmes, conferences, webinars and more on New Zealand-friendly, Europe-friendly, and Americas-friendly time-zones. COVID-times has done wonders for my professional skills.
Despite the intensity of the Systemic Constellations programme so far (a full week in June, then a slightly shorter week in September), I hadn’t had any 1-1 time with Simon. I was keen to work with him between sessions and that time was scheduled for today. My Friday pm. His Friday morning.
As always before this kind of session, I check in with myself around, “What am I prepared to do, say, ask, reveal… in terms of authentic introduction?” (i.e., Where is my energy at, and do I want to answer the inevitable, “How are you?” with a quick “Fine”, or will I share more, and if so, what?)
In 2017, after Mike died, any round of introductions resulted in me blurting out “I just lost my husband, Mike”. It didn’t always go down well.
In 2018, I was conscious of a shift. I only mentioned my “status” when I’d be working with people (fellow learners or clients) over the longer term. Months, or more. Otherwise, I’d keep schtum.
Then 2019… oh crap. I can’t remember anything much about 2019. Except that I remember so much. But learning-wise, my mind is a blank.
Then 2020 came, and everyone had crap….and oddly, I had energy! COVID as a disruptor? Give me COVID any time! A walk in the park – relatively speaking – compared to my previous 4 years of care and death and care and death and care and death and grief grief GRIEF….
Then as 2021 began…. I started to go silent personally and focused my introductions on “Why I am here, professionally? What do I want to learn….?” (Though there are exceptions. Waking from yet another nightmare, or vivid dream, just before starting my day might do it).
So in March 2021, for a 1-day programme, I didn’t say anything much about the fuller Emma. At least nothing untoward.
Just, “Hello, I’m Emma and I live in France, and I am a bla-bla, and I work with organisations and teams who bla-bla – and I am curious about learning bla-bla, and I am really looking forward to learning with you all…”
And then in June 2021, at the start of the 7-month programme, I also didn’t say anything. There were new faces. It felt intimidating. There were 15 or so of us, after all. Lovely people. Just strangers-to-me.
Sometimes it came out in the 1-1 work – during the programme or between sessions. (Constellations work is about the unseen, after all).
But sometimes it didn’t.
“It” being “Me. My life. My loves. My losses”.
So when today, Simon said, “So – before we get started… tell me about you, your life in France, why you’re there, your set-up, who you live with, if anyone…”, it was so direct, so clear he wanted to know, so unavoidable, that I just looked back at him through Zoom and said, “Hmm – so that’s a big question. And it’s kind of a heavy answer”.
And I watched him closely.
He didn’t shrink.
He didn’t squirm.
He didn’t say, “Ah – okay – let’s get on with the work then”.
He looked right back at me, and said, “I can do heavy”.
And I told him.
Loss 2. Loss 3. Loss 4.
Bam! Bam!! BAM!!!
(Loss 1 came later in the conversation).
And he held it all.
And after a few long breaths, and appropriate words, he began to share some of his own stories.
For by golly did he also have his own stories and experiences.
Of course. No-one can hold that much coming from another person with such grace and space without already having their own slew of horrors.
It’s so rare.
To have someone just BE there and absorb. Not run away. Not change the subject. Not desperately search for the upside. Or offer a platitude. Or talk about their spiritual beliefs. Or whatever else.
WHY is this skill so rare?
WHY is the impact of people’s often clunky responses invariably worse than the already-existing pain?
Why does it often fall on me to protect other people as they hear about my life? To pick up their broken pieces after they hear about my broken pieces?
(And please don’t call it empathy or compassion. It’s just not. It’s neediness).
I have no answers.
Just gratitude when I come across someone like Simon with the finesse and strength of delicate ironwork.
Thank you, Simon. We may not have got so much work done, but it was a precious encounter.