I listened to a song by Florence + The Machine this evening while working in the office at the chapel. Usually, the pulsating drumbeat and flowing melody of this song let me relax and clear my head for a while. But this time, the lyrics felt more melancholy than usual.

“She can’t see the landscape anymore
It’s all painted in her grief
All of her history etched out at her feet

Now all of the landscape, it’s just an empty place
Acres of longing, mountains of tenderness”

A few days ago, I ran into one of my friends as he was exiting the stairs. When he waved, for a brief instant I noticed something different about his demeanor. I couldn’t quite tell what it was, but something seemed off.

Some time later, another friend texted me saying he needed to tell me something. When the two of us met up, he explained that on Sunday, the friend I saw had lost a family member and had gone home for a few weeks. As he said these words, an emotion that I have some familiarity with settled in: grief.

Compared to previous instances where I’ve felt grief, though, this one felt very different. It was detached, yet heavy; distant, yet ominous. It was a grief that wasn’t entirely mine, and in that moment my friend and I seemed to carry only a fraction of it.

I’m reminded of these lyrics now because at that instant, my ability to empathize with what my friend was going through, or could be going through, fell short. Because at that moment, the landscape of human emotions, which I’ve spent so long trying to find a clear path in and navigate, began to blur. And the compassion and care that I felt for my friend, who was already at that point many miles away, was tenderness given too late to be helpful.

“She wants the silence but fears the solitude
She wants to be alone and together with you
So she ran to the lighthouse, hoped that it would help her see
She saw that the lighthouse had been washed out to sea”

When I saw my friend a few days ago, I asked him what was going on. He told me that he needed some time alone, as he had a lot going on in his personal life. I let him go, telling him to hang in there. Perhaps part of me could understand that need for solitude. Perhaps part of me understood that the support he needed at that point was time and space, so I gave it to him. Although hindsight is said to be 20/20, in this case it doesn’t shed any light on why I acted the way I did–it only raises more questions as to whether there was something else I could have done.

For now, I have to tell myself that those questions are less pressing at the moment. I can only offer what support I can, to myself, my friends who heard this news, and my friend who is currently living through it when he gets back. As I look out at the landscape of emotions I’m so accustomed to exploring, I’m realizing it has changed. Hopefully, I will be able to navigate it again when I’m ready.

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