I first came across the phrase “holding space for someone” in a blog post on a website called Uplift, a media channel devoted to wellness, consciousness, Earth, peace, water, and science. Oh, and yoga. The post unfolded in a remarkable manner and brought me back to the week my own mother passed away. Like the author and her siblings, we chose to allow our mom to live her last days at home. We sat with her. Fed her. Cared for her. We were there beside her when she died. And we said our goodbyes the same way Heather Plett and her family did. We even had a hospice care nurse who played the same role in our lives as the one in the blog. I think about how we journeyed beside our mother, unsure of where we’d be at any given moment, but certain of where things were headed.
We were holding space.
We were there loving her, talking to her, showing her old photographs, and sitting beside her quietly. We shared the same space without any idea of what the rules were. We knew three things were true: We loved her. We didn’t want to see her in pain anymore. But we didn’t want to let her go.
Until I came across this article, holding space didn’t have a name. It was just people sharing an experience and knowing that it was okay to just be.
No judgment. No advice. No conditions.
Kay Warren, co-founder of Saddleback Church in California, said it best in 2013, just four months after the suicide of her 26-year-old son, Matthew. Kay said “facing the darkness together is about making a decision. To express compassion is a deliberate choice. We are most like Christ when we choose to offer the gift of our presence and choose to absorb within ourselves the suffering of others.”
Holding space is a privilege and an honor. A gift. It is walking alongside someone who is walking in darkness. It is being a warm and quiet light. Only those with pure empathy and love can hold space for someone. And it is walking a mile in someone’s shoes that creates the credibility to be the holder of space.
Life at 5,280 feet comes with a bittersweet joy. It comes with the strength to hold space. And if we’re lucky, it comes with someone willing to hold space with us.