Tag Archives: Compassion

Help: On the Horizon vs. At your Door

It had been a particularly trying day.  Disastrous, really.  I had come home from grocery shopping in the middle of winter to find frozen pipes that had busted and thawed, and water was now gushing from the ceiling in my laundry room onto the wood floors below.

The valve to shut the water off to the whole house had frozen in place outside in the ground.  After struggling unsuccessfully to wrench it free, I deemed it a lost cause and ran to the garage where I dumped the Rubbermaid trashcan full of garden tools onto the floor and frantically ran to place it inside the house to catch the water pouring from above.  I opened the back door and began sweeping the water covering the floor outside.

Then I called my husband at work and screamed through frustration and tears into the phone; “GET HOME NOW”.

Taking to social media later in the day to lament and seek out commiseration, I suppose, I quickly had a message from my friend, Halcyon.

“Can I bring you dinner?” she wrote.

My immediate instinct was to respond with a no thank you, a how thoughtful, or that I appreciated it, but we’ll be fine.  Then for some reason, I just accepted.  I did want that dinner.  It would help. It would be one less thing I would have to worry about in the midst of such a terrible day, and it felt like a win.

We were no strangers to acts of kindness at this point in our lives.  Our daughter’s terminal illness and death were humbling in ways we never even considered needing to be humbled before her life, but the general idea of utilizing the village before you seems somehow, almost un-American.  As if accepting help is an admission of our inability to pull ourselves up be our own bootstraps, rather than an act of love and concern for other humans that makes the world go ’round.

She brought warm soup and fresh baked soft bread from Panera (one of my favorite places).  It was delicious.  And so appreciated.  The real gift she gave, however; was not the meal itself, and not even the act of caring, but the outreach she exercised to begin with.  She didn’t let me know she could help if I needed, she didn’t even ask what she could do for us.  She took action, and offered something specific, something concrete.  She then placed it in a time frame and set to work on following through.

When facing life’s challenges, simply wanting to help or letting someone know you’re there to help is often not enough.  Don’t make vague statements or plans that don’t amount to anything.  While the thought is appreciated, the action always speaks louder.

When someone is struggling with a difficult situation, the burden of need is already on their shoulders.  Don’t add to their overflowing plate by asking them to tell you how you can help.  Often, it’s just too much for someone to even consider tying to navigate the map of help-need to be able to organize or convey those needs to you.

Perusing social medial recently I found a message from a friend, posted on her personal page, as a cry for help.  She posted the following picture with the message, “Definitely me sometimes”.

rsz_quote_2 (1)

What followed, to be honest, as someone having been in need myself annoyed the crap out of me. The response, even though positive, genuine, and seemingly in an effort to be supportive, just wasn’t.

rsz_1quote_message

Simply telling someone you’re there for them simply doesn’t do anything.  If you’re going to talk the talk, you’d better be willing to walk the walk and actually be there. Don’t wait for a friend to ask for help.  They are already overwhelmed, so they most likely never will.  Just take the initiative and go out of your way to be there without waiting to be asked.

I specifically remember the phrase “we support you” being uttered to us repeatedly when Miss Elliott was alive.  How?  I always wondered, because with certain people those words seemed to be all there ever was.  Nothing to back them up, no outreach, no follow through.

What was interesting to me about the respondent’s message to “call me” was that someone else, yet another friend, liked the comment, in what I can only assume was a show of solidarity, or a me too response.  But even when my friend reiterated that she always needs someone, and implores her to please just come over, the respondent again defaults to asking the person in need to call her.

Don’t do this.  It’s painfully obvious that this person should have picked up the phone at that very moment.  Should have gotten in her car and driven over.  She should have done anything worthy of being called helpful, but what happened here instead was that this person did, literally the least she possibly could have done, and probably mentally checked off a box in her mind that allowed her to continue in her thinking that she reached out, did good, and helped.  She didn’t.

Sometimes in our attempts at care toward others we place them into our box, our comfort, zone, rather than stepping outside of that zone ourselves to look deeper into what they really need.  I think we usually just tend to look for what may be easiest for us to offer.  We fail, so often at truly going that extra mile.

This interaction would have left me feeling even more alone.

There are many things that everyone needs, so make a list of what would help you because chances are, it would help someone else too.  Some simple suggestions of ways to help that I like to give are:

  1. Mow the lawn
  2. Wash and fold the laundry
  3. Clean the house
  4. Let them take a nap or get a hot shower
  5. Bring dinner
  6. Take the kids somewhere for a bit (a movie, to the park, etc.)
  7. Bring groceries
  8. Run errands
  9. Help coordinate appointments
  10. Go to their house to visit
  11. Help them have a night out aloneand most of all
  12. Just listen without trying to fix their problems
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Grief Doesn’t Die

Memes and GIFs are two words that came out of virtual obscurity…literally, in the last several years and are now household words on the tongues and lips, assuming you can correctly pronounce them, of seemingly everyone in America.  Pop culture and the world of the internet have wedged their way into every detail of our lives for better or worse.

Almost daily I find myself and my husband or friends texting these quippy little quotes back and forth to each other.  Some are just either so profoundly fitting in a situation or, more likely, just incredibly funny.

Of course you can find memes, often comical or at least satirical, to suit any situation; political issues, to family gatherings, workplace frustrations, etc..  But sometimes there are those meant to speak to the deeper feelings we find ourselves dealing with when words of encouragement are needed.

As the mother of a child who has passed, I see a lot of these posted on Facebook, Instagram, and even Pinterest from others who have traveled the same road I am on myself.  And occasionally I post them too.  Once in a while one comes along that just speaks so clearly to how I’m feeling that it feels like it could’ve been taken from my own personal experience.  I guess before the modern day meme came along this duty was reserved for song lyrics sang (specifically to us) over the radio or the occasional Hallmark card – sent via snail mail, of course.

All too often though, I find that while the sentiment may align with my feelings, the execution is lost on me. A metaphorical ball metaphorically dropped, if you will.  I recently ran across one of these little posts which proclaimed that “When you can tell your story without crying, that’s how you know you’ve healed”.

meme

Now, “healed” is a relative term to varying personal degree for everyone.  While it may be true for some, no blanket explanation could ever cover such a wide ranging, deeply emotional, and profoundly personal topic. I just want to say to the thought expressed in these seventeen all-knowing little words:  bullshit.

If this has been your experience and you have gotten to this point, I am so utterly happy for you and I encourage you to celebrate the place you’re in in your journey and the accomplishment you’ve made.  Hopefully the peace that encompasses it is a blessing to you in your stay.  I can only account for my own experience, of course, but what I can say about my journey is that the absence of tears runs so much deeper than being considered healed at the lack of their presence.

I will never be healed of the loss of my daughter  Not in the conventional, physical sense anyway.  Not until my time on this earth comes to an end and am I reunited with her in spirit.  Until that time, I am forced to wander around broken, like may of us are.  Shattered like a mirror due to myriad circumstances we’ve encountered and endured.  No matter how well you glue the pieces back into place the evidence of the break remains a part of the structure forever.  The mirror may be reconfigured, but it will never not be broken.  Broken is not bad or wrong, it’s simply the sum of the experiences that have taken you to become the person you are today. With rich experiences, both good and bad, we’re all weaving the intricate tapestries that are our lives.

Does that mean that healing cannot happen?  No, it doesn’t.  For some it may.  Yet others may unsuccessfully or unwittingly chase it for the duration of their existence.  Some may simply adapt to the new being they have become.  And still many more find their new identity in the pieces of their life and spend the remainder of it romancing and nurturing their newfound brokenness, essentially becoming its prisoner.  All of this in both positive and negative, healthy and unhealthy ways.  It’s just that tears are not necessarily the barometer of health.

Not expressing tears for me, simply means I’ve become accustomed to my situation.  I am used to it.  There is no longer any shock or novelty in child loss in my life. I am desensitized to the idea of what most people would find too horrific to even entertain in their mind, i.e. the “I can’t imagines” because I have already lived it.

It’s simply another form of survival.  It’s part of how I mitigate my pain.  I have many wonderful aspects of my life to focus on, though they still doesn’t lessen the pain I feel in her loss.  I just refuse to let that pain swallow me up.  I can’t well up and break down every time my daughter’s name is mentioned or someone asks me how many children I have.  In every part of my life; my job, my writing and speaking, my social relationships, my daughter, and her death are front and center.  Not only would it not behoove me to break down at every retelling of her life’s story, but (for me) it wouldn’t honor her, either.  I just don’t let tears overtake me.  That doesn’t make me any more or less healed than anyone else.  It’s simply a personal style of functionality.

I carry on with my life.  I am happy, healthy, and productive.  I tell her story a hundred times in a row and don’t shed a single tear.  And yet, not always, but from time to time I may well up at the site of a dress hanging on a sales rack that I wish I could buy her.  Or I pause to catch my breath whenever a particularly difficult hymn is sang during church services.

Grief and pain coupled with crying, though certainly not mutually exclusive, are not necessarily married to one another either.  And with a situation so personal, so devastating, who is to say that everyone I interact with is worthy of my tears?  For me, my tears are an intimate expression of my love for my daughter, and something that I’m accustomed to compartmentalizing, not sharing openly.

When it comes to grief, of any kind, please don’t oversimplify these nuances by applying generic thoughts on such a complex topic.  There is no handbook to reference.  There is no cookie cutter for grief.  Someone may not be meeting what your expectations of grief are, but that doesn’t mean that they should adjust their expressions, barring physical and mental harm, of course.  More likely it’s an adjustment of expectations of those grief expressions, and a more open discussion that’s required for deeper understanding.

Most importantly, just be kind and supportive.  Offer a listening ear when needed, and don’t feel that it’s your duty, or even within your power to ‘fix’ them.  Just allow your friend, coworker, or family member the time, space, and respect to grieve in the way that’s comfortable for them.

I encourage you to share you thoughts on what your personal barometers of healing have been in your own life, in regard to any event you’ve experienced. Let us come together to transform
the ideas of what both grief and healing look like to the world outside our doors.

#Problems

Have you seen the recent cultural trend of people taking to social media to complain about their problems, which are actually just minor inconveniences? #firstworld  (e.g., they spelled my name wrong at Starbucks, I really want to wear white pants but it’s after Labor Day, my cell phone is dying but my charger is all the way upstairs…etc.)  Well, I had a big one yesterday. I stood in my kitchen and thought, “I don’t have enough Halloween decorations in here to coordinate with the rest of my home. I need to get to the store today to buy a few more things –stat”.

Admittedly, I have a lot of these moments. It’s easy to become so hyper-focused on every minute detail of our polished lifestyles that we actually forget what a real problem is. But is it ok to care about frivolity too? I have had my share of problems. Actual problems. Problems other’s aren’t even willing to try to comprehend because they’re so earth-shatteringly terrifying, but standing in the middle of my kitchen concerning myself over decorations may not be a ‘first world’ problem at all. I mean, it is, but what if it’s actually also a tell-tale sign that I’m doing ok? What if it means that I haven’t allowed myself to be so consumed by the grief I feel over losing my child that I can actually still function in a normal capacity? What if it means that I’m doing alright?

I hope it does. I’ve seen others lose themselves as they follow their grief down the rabbit hole. I’ve seen them spiral into oblivion as they, step by step, move away from society, family and friends, and even their lives outside their own mind. What’s worse, is when someone becomes so consumed by their own misfortune that they become immune to recognizing it in others and lose their capacity for compassion.

I think that when an issue occurs is when you start to take your ‘first world’ nonsense and see is as an actual problem. Not having enough Halloween decorations is not only not a problem, it’s not even a minor inconvenience. It’s just a testament to my following suit of the consumerism mentality of my culture and my buying in to the idea of materialism itself. Whether they’re ‘first world’ or third world, when an issue in your life becomes so polarizing that you can’t see past it and you fail to pick up on the hardships faced by your fellow man, you begin to lose your humanity.

Last night I had dinner with a group of women from church. It’s a dinner we have once a month at various restaurants around town. A time to try new places, socialize together, and get out of the house…alone (which can seem like a big deal when you’re a mom and wife). We had a new member in our group. She was excited to be there because she “never gets to go out to restaurants”. And she had never been out to a girl’s night before. She’s pregnant and has no support. The baby’s father is not involved in her life. She lives with a friend, for now. She had another child that was taken away and adopted out permanently a few years ago. She just got out of prison. She has no car, no job, no skills, and no GED. She doesn’t qualify for most of the assistance programs available because of her imprisonment. Her mother is also in prison, is addicted to drugs, and is not even emotionally supportive of her. She had wandered into our church a few weeks ago spontaneously to ask for prayers. In these few short weeks she’s been attending services, Bible studies, and was even baptized. She told us at dinner how she feels that God is giving her a second chance with this baby and she desperately wants to do things right this time, for his sake.

She asked if we would be willing to come to the hospital when she has her baby. Here she was asking a group of practical strangers to be with her because she literally had no one else. It was evident throughout the dinner as she divulged the details of her life that she just wanted to talk, about anything. She just wanted someone around her to sit and listen. To see her, to hear her, to care. Here was a very young woman with no one, grasping at straws, reaching out to any of us asking us to care about her. And I think I don’t have enough Halloween decorations? That was my big issue of the day? We go out to dinner whenever I just don’t feel like cooking, and she hadn’t been out to a restaurant in who knows how long. I felt ashamed in so many ways for the things I complain about in my privileged life, but I also felt pangs of sorrow for her, and in such, knew that I was able to sympathize with her. I may have suffered an inconceivable personal loss in the death of my daughter, but my experience has not hardened me. It has made me more sensitive to the plights of others. I have not lost my humanity to my own sense of grief and sorrow. Only that would be a real tragedy (#problem) in my life.

When There Were Two

Sisters

“Because we have ‘only’ children”, she said. I can’t remember my response now. I’m sure it was something pleasant and agreeable, but in my head I was shouting that I don’t have an ‘only’ child. I have two children. And yet, the fact remains that my not-only child, is still, in many ways forced to grow up like one. After all, she is the only child currently living in our household. But in her heart, she knows she has a sister.

What a strange way to go through childhood; knowing you have a sibling, even remembering them, but not sharing in the sibling life together. Is it what children who find out they have half siblings somewhere, or come to know of another sibling given away for adoption before they were born feel? I don’t know. All I can know is that in our house, our oldest daughter, may be our only living daughter, but she’s not our only daughter.

Even as the mother of two girls, I’ll never know what it’s like to parent them together, in the conventional sense, anyway. We were blessed to have three years and four months where our two girls shared their early lives together, but even then we didn’t have a typical lifestyle. There was no fighting, no crying over unshared toys, no complaining about the other when one didn’t get her way. And while I longed for the normalcy of that life, I still cherished the one I had. It may not have been ‘normal’ at all, but to our oldest daughter, it was. It was all she had ever known.

There may not have been moments of playing dolls, or blowing bubbles together, but there was holding hands, and reading stories, and so, so much more that made our children’s lives wonderful. Even in our youngest daughter’s death, a sense of joy and peace was present in my ever-so-resilient older daughter. A gentle understanding that our sadness was all for us, and not for her younger sister who was now free from the earthly constraints of her immobile body and mind.

I see a lifetime’s worth of compassion and tenderness bestowed on her. I see tolerance, and understanding. I see acceptance, and most of all, I see an immense amount of love.

When I hear or read of ‘typical’ mothers complaining over the blessings in their lives I become ruefully angry with them. I want to shake them and tell them to stop. To get a grip. To woman up, so-to-peak. This is not to say we don’t all complain over ridiculous ‘first world problems’ in our society and culture from time to time, and yes, we all ‘vent’ once in a while too, but when it comes to complaining about your very children for being just that – children, especially the ones you have planned for, prayed, for, wanted more than anything who are happy and healthy my acceptance and tolerance level dips dramatically. How dare you.

Narratives that sound like, ‘no sleep, so tired, two kids at once, changing diapers, spit-up food, just need a break, etc…’ frustrate me immensely.

What I would have given to have those ‘problems’. Mine sounded more like, ‘seizures, choking, inability to chew or swallow, medication administration, can’t sit or lift head, can see, can’t think, PT, OT, neurology appointments, etc.’, and the part that really gets to me the most is never did I complain about my child’s life. I would beg for years of sleepless nights just to have ten more seconds to see her and hold her in my arms again.

This is my hindrance. My own bias, and personal issue. I get that. And would I have been one of the women complaining about my ordinary everyday life had I not had the experience of living with a severely handicapped and terminally ill child? I very well may have. It’s just that now I know better. And all I can do is be thankful that in the end those other mothers have no idea. Their children will grow out of sleepless nights and diapers. They will become little people who do the usual little people things. They will fight with their siblings, and go to each other’s ballet recitals and soccer games. And here in our life we and our not ‘only’ daughter will carry on, as she plays alone, not sharing toys or splitting Christmas gifts, the unbroken focus of our attention, just the three of us, holding the memory of the time when there were two, when we were four.

Tales of my Dead Daughter

Soul Pic

I was recently having a conversation with someone where I referenced my daughter and used the line; “before Miss Elliott was dead…”.  I instantly recoiled at the chastening sound of my words and began to feel as though I should apologize for not using a euphemism like the word passed instead, as society has taught us all to do in order to act mannerly.  Other than perhaps catching her a little off guard with my bluntness, I don’t think the person I was with minded at all.  And then I was annoyed at myself.

In a situation like this why would I let the feelings of others (even those only perceived or imagined) make me feel guilty over my word choice?  Was she any less living?  As if to say she had passed and was not just dead would somehow be kinder or less emotionally charged for the person hearing the words?  No matter how I put it, I still have a dead daughter.

We all use euphemisms from time to time either out of respect to those we are speaking to or to gird our own feelings, but when should we refrain?  When should we realize that to use them actually downplays the significance or magnitude of the event and that we should instead just spell it out frankly?  Give it the credence it deserves.  Does not a dead child demand such an overture?

Be thoughtful, but also be bold.  Don’t shrink away from the intensity of the situation just because it makes you uncomfortable.  Recognize it.  Respect it.  Embrace it.  Show those whom you are speaking to that you understand the level of importance this event holds in their life and honor it with your words.

No Words

“You can be amazing you can turn a phrase into a weapon or a drug” -Sara Bareilles, Brave

Words hold power.  The power we assign to them.  We get to decide what they mean, and we can do so on an individual basis.  They can mean one thing to one person and quite another to someone else.  In this situation we’re at risk for our sentiment being lost in translation, so to speak.  Words convey thoughts, feelings, and emotions.  With them we can tell stories and share moments in time.  We can even recall memories and give those meaning as well.  They can also be used to hurt.  Though they may not break your bones the way we’ve been taught that sticks and stones will, sometimes words will hurt you even more.  All the words in the world, all of their uses, meanings, and inferences, and sometimes we can’t seem to find a single one to do us justice.

What do we do when words escape us?  How then do we convey those thoughts and feelings whelming up inside of our hearts and minds?

This week I found myself standing in front of the greeting card section of my local grocery store.  I was there to buy a card to send to a friend.  I wanted her to know I was thinking of her. I wanted her to know I was remembering her son’s life, the anniversary of his birth and subsequent death later that same day.  I wanted her to know he is not forgotten.

I stood there, in front of the cards searching for the right one.  The one to convey my sympathy, unfortunately, my empathy and also comfort to her as well.  There were cards that expressed you were thinking of someone, cards of support, and cards of sympathy for loss of grandparents, parents, spouses…and even pets.  Yes, pets.  But there were no cards for loss of a son or daughter.  Loss of pets, but not of children.

Cards

They don’t make cards for that, not that they stock at that store anyway.  They don’t make words for that.  When you lose a parent you are called an orphan.  When you lose a spouse you are called a widow(er).  The very idea of loss of a child in our society is so unthinkable, unimaginable, horrific, and taboo that we do not even have a word for it.  It is literally unspeakable.

Nothing works more efficiently to keep uncomfortable, unenviable, hopefully ignorable pieces of society locked away in the shadows than lack of speech.  And that’s exactly where society wants to keep it, us.  Why?  We’re scary.  We know you want to keep us at bay.  We get it.  We know how daunting it is to talk about, how difficult to imagine, and truthfully, how alarming it is for you to even think to pull us from the shadows and to be forced into the light of knowledge to concede that you look just like us and in further consideration that you could, in fact, be us.  After all, isn’t everyone afraid that if our light were to shine too brightly and you got too close that your wings might melt?

Nothing makes us feel like more of a monster to be hidden from than being expected to exist only in those shadows.

It’s a simple sentiment that means the entire world to parents of lost children; we want to know that you still remember.  We know they are gone.  You will never remind us of that fact.  We live with the scars of their loss every day.  We just want to know that you remember they ever were here in the first place.  Not to make you uncomfortable, not to punish you, or push you away but for our own soul’s soothing.  For our broken heart’s sake.

My child lived.  She was a person.  She mattered. I have thoughts and memories of her that permeate every day of my life.

Sing her name unto my ears and let the beauty and magic of her spirit radiate into my heart and soul.

“Say what you wanna say and let the words fall out, honestly, I wanna see you be brave” – Sara Barelilles, Brave