Holding ‘Space’ for Others

Holding ‘Space’ for Others

Life in Letters - Jamie Hughes


When a friend or loved one is going through a tough time, it’s hard to know how best to help. Do you help carry the burden? Would it be better to offer support from a distance and give the person space?

Life can be hard and awkward and downright messy sometimes, and honestly, it’s tempting to try to avoid all that stuff if possible, to look the other way rather than get involved. It’s especially difficult when there’s seemingly nothing you can do to help. I’ve struggled with this — both on the giving and the receiving end — since I was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

Recently, my friend thanked me for the many times I “held space” for her and her son. I just blinked for a second, confused. I honestly had no idea what she was talking about!

However, according to U.S. Army veteran and mindfulness teacher Lynn Hauka, “When you hold space for someone, you bring your entire presence to them. You walk along with them without judgment, sharing their journey to an unknown destination. Yet you’re completely willing to end up wherever they need to go. You give your heart, let go of control, and offer unconditional support.”

I wasn’t aware that was what I was doing. I thought I was just offering a listening ear or making two batches of spaghetti to save her the trouble of making dinner. But that’s precisely what holding space is — caring for someone in any way that helps lessen the physical, emotional, or spiritual burden. When my husband stepped in to help repair a water heater, it was so much more than a quick fix. It was a worry removed from her life; our simple acts of service held room for her, and made a rather difficult situation just a bit more bearable.

In his novella “Doctor Marigold,” Charles Dickens says, “No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.” I take comfort in that idea. The help we offer one another doesn’t have to be perfect to be useful; it just needs to come from an open heart and a willingness to go where we’re needed. And if more of us were “space holders” rather than “space takers,” I think we’d find this gnarly old world would be a little easier to deal with.

Think about the people who have done that exact thing for you as you’ve learned how to cope with MS. It probably cost them some time and energy, but it meant far more to you than they ever knew, right? And I can tell you from firsthand experience that providing this kind of care for someone benefits you in ways beyond number.

If you haven’t had this wonderful, life-giving experience, ask someone for help. Ask him or her to hold space for you. And if you can swing it, be that person for someone else who’s going through a rough patch. We’re more socially isolated than ever before, and it’s taking a toll on us physically, mentally, and emotionally. The answer is not to withdraw, but to reach out — to share space and hold it (and each other) close.


Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


    • Jamie Hughes says:

      Well, feed me peanuts and call me Dumbo! This just made my day. Thanks so much for reading, Jonathan, and for such a kind and wonderful comment. Glad to know what I’m writing is slapping someone’s spot (as we say in the South).

      • Jamie Hughes says:

        Thanks so so much! These kind words make my day. As a writer, you send your stuff into a void and never know where it’ll land. Glad to know it found a home with you.

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