Monday, August 3, 2009

The Unhelpfulness of Words

My head has been full these last weeks. And my heart, too, despite the gnawing emptiness that follow me wherever I go. Sometimes that raw emptiness gets just enough ahead of me to surprise me with a surfacing so quick and so violent that there's no stopping the tears. I've been told I look a little stronger each day. I'm not sure what that means, exactly. Maybe it doesn't matter if I do. One thing I do know is that I am very sensitive to words these days. Even before we started telling family and friends and then parishioners what happened I was dreading the words people would use to try to console me. There is no consolation. We told my sister and brother-in-law back in June that I was pregnant. I wanted someone to confide in, and given that she's two states away it seemed safe enough. We told them we weren't going to let the rest of our families in on the news until August, after my first trimester, "just in case." And my sister, even then, said, "Even if you miscarry, at least you'll know you can get pregnant." She said it again when we told them I lost the baby. "At least you know you can get pregnant." True - but "at least" doesn't help much, thanks. I was pregnant this time and look what happened. Besides, getting pregnant is not the point, the point is to have a baby. And I didn't. I don't need people to try to dismiss the grief I'm feeling, or to make it better, because that's not possible. Just acknowledge it. Say you're sorry. Say you don't know what to say and then LISTEN for God's sake. Of course unhelpful words come from all directions lately. It's Vacation Bible School week here at Christ the King in Bozeman. Last week a mom came into the office with her three year old daughter, and another not quite a year old, to fill out a registration form. She asked me, "Do you have kids?" And I answered quickly, "No." She didn't let it stop there, "Oh, so you can go out to dinner or go see a movie whenever you want and..." I could have throttled her. Or made her feel like shit, which was tempting. I refrained from asking her if she'd like to trade her two beautiful girls for the freedom to eat out whenever she wants to. To tell her just how much I'd give up not to be living in the realm of statistics where "these things just happen." I know she had no idea, but I think it would do everyone some good not to assume that the facts and circumstances of others' lives are necessarily the facts and circumstances of their choosing. Fortunately, not all words have proven unhlepful. I've found, and been sent, lots of great writing by other women, and a few men, who have experienced something similar. One blog in particular has been helpful to me, even though the author went through something I can only imagine: the stillbirth of her first child. The Happy Sad Mama writes about the hurtful encounter with someone she thought would bring her comfort:

The tears started before she spoke, tears of appreciation that soon turned bitter at her words to me, uttered with a soft hand stroking my hair, "It will be allright. Everything is going to be allright."

All right? EVERYTHING?

"It is not all right. My baby girl is gone, how can that ever be all right?"

I do not remember her response, if there even was one. And I write here not in dismay at this person, because now I can see with complete clarity that she was doing everything she could to try to help me, but she just didn't know what to say. The emotion I seek to extract here is not anger towards a person, but this pervasive feeling that we, the bereaved, feel when someone who we trusted and care about comes out and says the wrong thing. It has happened to us all. Everyone has someone who has said something that may not have been outright hurtful, but has made our heart sink into our stomach, because here was someone we hoped would say our baby's name, and hold our hand while we cried, and all they can stomach is to try to fix it with one simple sentence.

Nobody knows what to do, nobody. Nobody knows what to say. We are all speechless in the face of loss, of grief, and especially when birth and death, life's two greatest mysteries, intertwine. We the bereaved have all due respect for this not-knowing what to do. But say it, say it. Know not what to do, be speechless with your thoughts, and say so. Let us grieve, let us grieve. It is the only way out, it is the only way up. We must grieve in order to grow, and we must grow in order to live.

Amen, sister.

No comments: