Skip to main content

Holding space

Photo by Andrea Tummons on Unsplash

I drive to your house. It’s already dark, and my own kids are at home being tucked in by Dad while I deliver soup, ginger candies, a bottle of kombucha and a plant to you.

The small rose plant I’m bringing was bought this weekend with S, and she was disappointed to see me taking it away. She offered another plant, daisies, but I reminded her that you like roses best. 

I take deep breaths at each red light on the way, not knowing how it will go tonight. 

I sit on your bed and you tell me about how your dogs are cuddled up to your stomach most nights, offering their own kind of comfort to the tumour growing there. You never expected to be a dog person you explain, as you pet and play with these little fluff balls. Allowing yourself to be soft and playful with these tiny creatures surprised you. 

We talk about your mother and the circumstances of her death. You had a difficult childhood. Abuse, alcoholic dad, distant pill popping mother. One of seven kids making her way on her own in a rough part of town. You have the ability of laugh and make light of it, despite the pain lurking beneath. You tell me about your mother’s stroke, her move to a new apartment - when she accused you of stealing her stuff, and heartlessly didn’t notice the way my little sister painstakingly folded her nightgown on the end of the bed as we all unpacked her things to make her home for her. In the end, it was the way she couldn’t grandmother that caused you to turn away from her for good. Your therapist told you - If she couldn’t mother you, it shouldn’t surprise you that she can’t grandmother well. You remember a few good things about her too, and remark on her own difficult childhood. This cycle of each generation trying to do a bit better than the one before - it’s still going - and will surely continue when my kids have families of their own.

We move on in our conversation and you talk about your physical pain, your visit to hospital, the way you are considering the assisted death program. I am able in this moment to see you as every and any human on earth - suffering. It’s hard for me to look into your eyes when you break down in tears. I don’t know what to say when you wonder “Is this it? Is it possible that this is it?”. It’s been nearly 7 years of cancer for you, and we didn’t think you would make it this far. The past 2 have been tumultuous and though you are bright and laughing tonight, you have been dark and angry many times as well. 

I find myself being more compassionate with you as you edge closer, even as I reflect on our difficulties throughout the years. I’m reminding myself that you did the best you could with what you had (the terrible childhood etc) and it creates space for me to tell myself that I am doing the best I can with what I have (less terrible childhood, but hard nonetheless). 

Perhaps you are here to teach me compassion. How to hold space for someone to be who they are, to recognize their humanity, but also to protect yourself by drawing a line when needed. I wonder if I could learn to better do this within myself too? Could I hold space for myself to be who I am, to recognize in my experiences the common humanity in it all, and to draw a line when I need to protect myself, or push myself to grow?

There are layers of lessons to be learned in the coming weeks, and it all starts with the simple act of holding space. 

I head home under the light of the full moon. Back to the quotdien tasks of a mother of young children, lunches to make, laundry to fold, foreheads to kiss. Ready to hold space for them, for you, and for myself - even in the chaos to come.

What does it mean to hold space for someone else? It means that we are willing to walk alongside another person in whatever journey they’re on without judging them, making them feel inadequate, trying to fix them, or trying to impact the outcome. When we hold space for other people, we open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control - Heather Plett


  1. Cancer sucks. Friendship is life giving. You share both of those in this post.

  2. Way to capture a tough moment! Well done!


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

The Sweetness of Story

When I started working as an Elementary Teacher Librarian, I held a secret shame.

Although I loved to read and spent many summer days at our local public library, there were many childhood classics that I had missed reading as I grew up. Books that were pivotal for others just never ended up in my hands, and here I was - about to start a career as a librarian without having completely read the canon of Important Children's Literature.

I started slowly reading some of the books I had missed. The first was Anne of Green Gables, and Oh! The joy of reading Anne's breathless lengthy speeches as an adult - I adored the book, and have used the name Idlewild wherever I could since. As someone who loves to wonder at the beauty of the outdoors, the quiet forest where Anne meets with her bosom friend always sounded like a place I would love, and the language reminded me a bit of one of the lines from the famous Mary Oliver poem The Summer Day (I do know how to pay attention, how to fall…