Tuesday, May 24, 2011

The Pain of Words Unspoken

My thoroughly engaging and enthralling {current} job gives me a lot of time to, well, read. That, and write emails. Recently I read a book during my planning periods about hope. Holding on to Hope by Nancy Guthrie talks mostly about the book of Job in relation to suffering and how we might see his example as one to follow in our lives. The guy had a perfect life and it was completely ruined. All of his kids died, he developed lesions and basically lost everything. The book was loaned to me by a woman who also lost her daughter and she said it got her through that tough time.

I tend to write post-it notes while reading something that I want to remember, share, or blog about. One note stuck out most during my reading. The author expressed that they were not hurt by those who spoke the wrong words (i.e. "it was meant to be", "there must have been something wrong with the baby", "my cat died, so I understand a similar sadness"-- yes that was an example from the book. Helllllo ignorance.), but by words that were left unspoken (by others) in the time beyond their daughter's passing. She speaks of her husband at work and being treated as though he did not just encounter trauma in his life through the death of his only daughter. An aside, those words are offensive to me. But we're all different.

In my personal experience with the loss of our son and the grief that ensued (though I should write ensuing as it is ongoing forevermore), I don't know if I feel the same way. We all handle grief differently. I love that people acknowledge and speak about my son by name-- a child they've never seen and never had a chance to hold or meet. My husband and I alone share that special bond. It makes me proud to be a mother. It makes me feel worthy of my grief. I think it's so important our babies be acknowledged rather than forgotten.

But in the same breath, I can also say that I am not offended or hurt when someone does not bring up my son in everyday conversation. I am only offended if they pretend like he never existed and I didn't experience something traumatic. Every month there is a 5th. I have some friends who remember and most who do not. I don't think twice about it. I have absolutely no emotion. While it is nice that people remember my son, it is not something I expect people to do every month for the rest of my life-- send me a note about how much they are thinking of me. For the rest of my life, December 5th will always be an important date to us. For quite sometime, every single 5th will likely be poignant. At some point in the lives of parents with living children, they stop counting months of life. They stick with the yearly birthday. I hardly think my parents think about the 10th of every month being that important in the grand scheme of my life. But the 5th, {Andrew being half of me and born on the half of 10. Okay... too much math weirdness.} will always be an Andrew day. But since I cannot count anything other than his death, I count months. I imagine that over a year from now and beyond, I may attach less to every 5th, but stick mostly with his December birthday.

I prefer that people acknowledge my place as a mother and the fact that I went through the entire pregnancy than send notes every month. I don't mind being asked about my pregnancy when pregnancy topics arise. It was normal. That was not a sad time for me. It was actually glorious and hopeful and amazing. A living child was growing inside of my body! I had ultrasounds and heard heartbeats and purchased baby crap and painted a nursery and prepared just like the rest of the expectant parents out there. I'm not foreign to pregnancy, birthing a baby, or experiencing love for a baby. I belong in the mother category despite having no idea which diapers work best. So don't ask me questions about that because that would buy you a ticket to my wrath.

Back to the topic of unspoken condolences. People are more than welcome to ask questions about Andrew or how we are feeling, but if I am not speaking about him, I feel no need for others to, either. Doing it out of pity doesn't really matter to me. If you're uncomfortable doing it, don't ask. I don't have some unwritten/unspoken desire or need for people to speak his name for the sake of trying to do what they are supposed to. We love knowing you acknowledge our babies. Because they'll never win an award, get invited to sleepovers, or receive a college diploma. Their names will rarely be printed in this world and thanks to all our loving family and friends, they do have their names printed {in cards, emails, letters}. It is meaningful and wonderful, but not required.

My understanding of why some people might not speak about our babies and avoid the topic as mentioned in the book, is simply because they want to avoid the awkwardness. I used to do the same thing. Since I didn't know what to say and knew any word I would mutter would not provide an answer to the grief, I just remained silent. I'm a problem solver and since I couldn't offer a solution, I kept my mouth shut. Not only did I remain silent, but I avoided the topic altogether. I figured that making someone sad or causing them to relive something sad in their lives wasn't a nice thing to do-- but honestly, I was being selfish. I just didn't want to deal with someone else's emotions. I'm not good with that sort of thing. {Hah! Joke's on me, isn't it?} It's fine to be uncomfortable. It's fine to tell someone you just don't know what to say but that you're sorry. But here's to hoping people don't avoid talking about our babies because they feel like it makes us sad. Because our babies don't make us sad. Not having them anymore is what makes us sad. We think about them non-stop anyway. Sometimes the tears come from someone actually acknowledging them by name. That makes us proud. Not sad.

I love my son and don't mind talking about him. I am thankful (yet sad) to receive your notes on the 5th of every month. I am happy to speak of my son when you ask. I read and love all of your sweet words and yet hate them all at the same time. I just wish such words were not needed.


Erin Farrell Speer said... [Reply to comment]

I have always been one of those people who deals with those in grief the way you do - I don't know what to say, and am terrified of saying the wrong thing and bringing more sadness so I just keep quiet. That said, I read all of your posts and think of you guys and your sweet Andrew and pray for you from where we're at. Keep writing. I have a feeling that you are touching very many lives with your story. You've certainly touched mine.

Shell said... [Reply to comment]

We talked about this very topic today at my local support grief group. How people will not say anything or mention your loss for fear of upsetting you, etc. It hurts to feel they can't say something yet you know they are trying so I guess that should count. It sucks we are in this situation but I hope with time we both can find a way to live beyond the sadness and losing our babies. Your writing always speaks to me, so thank you for sharing and please keep posting, you are awesome.

Caroline said... [Reply to comment]


Seriously. One of the things that irks me most is that people tend to not want to even acknowledge that I was ever pregnant. They act like this time is my first, like I've never been through labor, like I don't know what to expect. And it infuriates me. I love what you said that you still belong in the mother category. And when people do ask me questions and do acknowledge Cale and my pregnancy with him, it just makes my day. It makes me feel normal and that is so wonderful.

I hadn't heard of that book - how's the rest of it? Worth reading?

Solange, Nik and Caitlin said... [Reply to comment]

I love your writing. I am also (as you know) a person who doesn't want to say anything if I don't have the "right" thing to say. I think of you guys constantly and pray that Andrew is having a fabulous time in Heaven :) Love you

Amy said... [Reply to comment]

Glad the book merited post-it notes :-).
BRU is the devil. They were the only company that refused to take me off their mailing lists-you have no idea how good it felt to thumb my nose at them...even after all these years.