“Calling a friend whose child has just died,” is one example of something that makes people feel vulnerable.
I read that recently in Brene Brown’s book, Daring Greatly. It caught me off guard. People feel vulnerable calling me?, I thought. What risk are they taking? I am the one who should feel vulnerable.
Then I thought back to several situations when I questioned my ability, even my worthiness, to support someone through a difficult time. I remember thinking of ways I could show kindness but, far too often, deciding each idea was insufficient. I regret every time I did nothing when I could have done something – however imperfect that something might have been.
And I am incredibly grateful for each person who has chosen to reach out to my family in some way – despite the time it took, despite the uncertainty. Thank you for sending a text message you agonized over for 10 minutes, or a letter you rewrote five times. Thank you for the specific suggestions of how you would like to help, and the offer to call you at any time of night.
Please know that not a single card or text or Facebook message has offended me in any way. I value each one, sincerely. I consider each one worthy.
But, full disclosure, there is one line people sometimes say that does make me cringe. It expresses a belief that I think feeds right into the hesitation people feel when they consider reaching out. It’s anything synonymous with: I just have no idea what you’re going through.
Truthfully, I hate that. I don’t judge anyone for saying it – I probably would have said that five years ago to a friend who lost a child. I just hate hearing people say that because I think it is an insidious lie.
Ok, so, yes, nothing I experienced prior to Brody dying has shattered my heart the way this has. I can think of many reasons why losing a child is considered life’s most unfair and challenging loss. But, even still, many experiences offer glimpses into such great pain.
If you know what it is to love someone, you can imagine what it would be like to lose them. If you know what it is to lose someone you love, then you can certainly relate to the pain of another’s loss even while acknowledging profoundly different circumstances.
If we want to be a light in the darkness, we need to focus on what connects us. And I’m saying that to myself as much as I am to anyone else.
Because on the other end of all those kind texts and letters and offers to help, is me, feeling so vulnerable to accept help or to say thank you. I often agonize, even to the point of giving up, over how to respond to invitations, thoughts and questions. I fear I will sound too happy, too eager, too depressing… that I will fail to meet people’s expectations of a sincere, grieving mother.
But that’s just not helpful.
I do not want to be secluded in some ivory tower of pain. I do not want to feed the misconception that I am in a special category of suffering beyond the normal human experience. There is something tempting about wearing that badge, but I don’t think it offers me any meaningful reward.
I can get through this. I will never get over it, but I can get through it. I can be joyful and hopeful, I can even love my life. That is every bit as true for me now as it ever was. I don’t always feel that way, but I didn’t always feel that way before Brody died. We all have moments when life does not meet our expectations. We all need to practice gratitude to dissolve disappointment.
And we all need to be vulnerable to know love – to help one another and to be helped. We need each other desperately and any lie that keeps us from connecting must to be dragged out into the light and exposed as the one that is truly unworthy.