On Sunday, while strolling through photos on Instagram, I found a photo taken by an old friend. She and I hadn’t talked in years, so when I read the words, “late husband” embedded in the description, I was startled.

Late husband?

I quickly flipped through her photos and read everything I could. Her husband had died in his sleep three months ago. Completely unexpectedly. He was only 40.

Shocked, I sat in my office with tears streaming down my face. These two were the perfect couple. A bit unusual by many social conventions, they had found each other in the most bizarre way imaginable and within two months of meeting, they were engaged. They continued to live an eccentric, almost circus-like life, as free-spirited, creative muses. I admired that about them and was always a bit envious that they’d found one another.

So to learn that one of them had left this earth, left his beloved, left his life, ultimately left me wondering about the fragile and formidable forces of nature.

I thought of my own partner, sitting across the room from me, reading his book. About what it might be like if he didn’t wake up one morning (I don’t even like writing that sentence).

I thought about what would happen to him if I suddenly died in my sleep.

But more than these reflections, I thought about the unusual consequences of experiencing sudden trauma, like someone dying or getting cancer.

There are similarities:

Everything simultaneously slows down and speeds up.

There is a deep-seated need to go inward, to grieve, to feel, to process. To be and let life unravel around you.

But modern rules and regulations don’t let us do that.

Instead, decisions have to be made, quickly. Decisions you have no desire to make. Decisions you’ve never even considered until you are suddenly faced with the stark reality of needing to make them.

And you don’t always know what to do.

And you want to do it right because you only get one chance.

And there is no right.

And there are a lot of people making comments.

And those comments are often hurtful, adding to the pain you are already feeling.

And other people fade away because they don’t know what to say. Sometimes you lose friends.

But then there are people who come out of the woodwork. People you haven’t seen or heard from in years.

People who have experienced their own trauma.

Who know that now is NOT the time to say, “Everything happens for a reason.” Or, “At least he’s in a better place.” Or, “I would never get chemo. I would eat vegetables.”

The people who know about the slowing down and speeding up.

Who know that you have to make decisions even though your brain feels like it’s underwater and everything is distorted and unclear.

Who know that you need space, but also need support.

These people are a godsend in times of trauma. These people may not always know what to say, but they know that showing up and listening, or just being, is a priceless gift.

There is a beautiful side of trauma, once the dust has settled and life begins to grow again.

Trauma brings with it the unexpected gift of healing old gunk that’s been buried far below the surface. This experience is a potent period for deep releasing, especially when done in a way that feels authentic to the person going through the experience.

It’s important to remember there is no timeline.

No one-size-fits-all path.

There is only allowing. Allowing anger. Allowing grief. Allowing joyful tears to turn into sobbing.

My friend is undoubtedly a different person than she was before her husband died. I can tell by her writing that she’s diving deeply into whatever she feels called to swim in.

I’m certainly a different person now than I was before cancer. I’m still grieving over the changes to my body, the unexplainable weight gain, the loss of innocence that comes with knowing you have a genetic predisposition to cancer.

But one of the greatest gifts I’ve experienced in going through trauma is to truly understand the wounded healer and the power of presence.

The wounded healer is someone who shows up and says, “I don’t have all the answers, and I don’t really know what you are going through right now because I am not you, but I carry the scars of trauma, and if you are willing to share with me what is going on with you, I am willing to listen. And if you don’t feel like talking about it, I will just sit here. And if you want me to go, I will. And if you have no idea what you need, I can help you figure it out or simply be available for when you do. I don’t have all the answers, but I’m here for you.”

Have you gone through a personal trauma? What was your healing process? How did you transform? Share below. I’d love to hear from you.