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Bad Moments, Pity, & Validation

I read recently of a mother who had a bad “moment” in public. She fled the scene, which is exactly what I would have done, eyes downcast, feet moving quickly, throat tight choking back tears and sobs threatening to escape humiliation complete for all to see. Desperate. For. Privacy! Privacy to grieve without public pity. Privacy.

I’ve had a few such moments—can you tell?

Those “moments” are the most vulnerable moments of my life. The facade is stripped away without my consent and my response is laid bear – the fodder for gossip, criticism, judgment and maybe worst of all, the pity of others. I find myself ashamed of my inability to control my emotions in public and humiliated by my lack of self-control.

Have you ever noticed the aversion people have to being pitied by others? It made me wonder why and so I googled my way to the definition according to Merriam-Webster.*

“Definition of pity

plural 

pities

       1.     1a:  sympathetic sorrow for one suffering, distressed, or unhappy

1b:  capacity to feel pity

      2.       2  something to be regretted <it’s a pity you can’t go>

pity Synonyms

disgrace, crime, shame, sin” 

The synonyms, make pity sound like the individual has done something shameful and is deserving of the circumstances in which they find themselves. Yet, if you read the discussion of synonyms that follows, disgrace, crime, shame, and sin are nowhere to be found. Instead, words like compassion, sympathy, and commiseration are found.

“Synonym Discussion of pity

pity, compassion, commiseration, condolence, sympathy mean the act or capacity for sharing the painful feelings of another.

compassion implies pity coupled with an urgent desire to aid or to spare <treats the homeless with great compassion>.

commiseration suggests pity expressed outwardly in exclamations, tears, or words of comfort <murmurs of commiseration filled the loser’s headquarters>.

condolence applies chiefly to formal expression of grief to one who has suffered loss <expressed their condolences to the widow>.

sympathy often suggests a tender concern but can also imply a power to enter into another’s emotional experience of any sort <went to my best friend for sympathy> <in sympathy with her desire to locate her natural parents>.”

You might notice I left pity out of the defined synonyms, but fear not, I’ll get to it. I’m am, however, surprised that pity is listed as a synonym for itself. However, I want you to make note of this observation first. None of those synonyms sound negative . . . so why are the words disgrace, crime, shame, and sin initially listed as synonyms? Why is it that people are so opposed to the pity of others? Well, tucked into that discussion of synonyms is one significant distinction that Merriam-Webster excludes from its definition above. Check it out below:

pity implies tender or sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress <felt pity for the captives>. “

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And there you go – “sometimes slightly contemptuous sorrow for one in misery or distress”.

There it is . . . when others feel sorry for us—when they pity us—we perceive their compassion tainted by contempt. It’s the idea that we have done something to earn the circumstances we find ourselves in. Oh, I hear it . . . echoes of Job’s miserable comforters . . . little more than the carrot and the stick strategy. How horrible all that has befallen you! Confess and repent of your sin! (And the hidden message left unspoken is the satisfaction that justice was served, or glee that “the oh, so pious one” is revealed to be no better than anyone else.) There it is. That’s why we cringe. That’s why we flinch away from the pity of others—because it implies justification for our distress.

We got what we deserved

Oh, HECK  NO!

Don’t you dare imply that to me! And don’t imply that I am wallowing in self-pity either. Because, that, of course, means that not only did I deserve the evil that has befallen me but also I’m such a loser that I want you to feel sorry for me for receiving my just desserts too!

Regardless of the pity others may feel for me or anyone else, the reason these bad moments happen at all is because we find ourself in a situation we’ve failed to prepare for. We’ve been blindsided by words or a situation we hadn’t expected to encounter. Sometimes we find ourselves unable to recite the preplanned response. Emotion blindsides us into non-responsiveness.

I encountered one such situation the first time I returned to Tuesday morning Bible Study following the accident. It must have been the fall of 2014 because at the time I didn’t have to plan for Gracen’s care in my absence. Truth be told, if such arrangements had been required I simply would not have attended. But Gracen returned to the local high school that Fall for her senior year. So it was eight or nine months after the accident and I had copious amounts of free time to fill for the first time since my world changed so drastically. I was at a loose end and really had no clue how to return to some semblance of a normal life. Just the thought of a “normal life” was so far beyond my daily reality that I had to suppress the desire to break out in hysterical laughter. Hysteria being the key word there.

So I talked myself into a new Bible Study and forced myself from the safe confines of my Toyota Camry and marched my way to the front doors of the church and forced myself through the door and into the semi-crowded vestibule. 

Too early! 

What was I thinking? 

It was meet and greet timealways a little longer the first day of Bible Study. I knew that. Why hadn’t I considered it? Coffee and water, egg casseroles and breakfast pastries. . . 

I waded into the midst wishing for the cloak of invisibility. Small talk is not my forte! But I survived and made my way upstairs to the small auditorium used for group gatherings and kick-off ceremonies. I settled into a seat as close to the back as I could find and did my best to participate until we broke up to meet with our small groups.

I made my way to the designated room distressed to find that I was first to arrive aside from the small group leader. More small talk. . . Eventually, the group members straggled into class and took seats around the tables pushed together to form a square. A greeting from the small group leader and an overview of the material we’d be covering commenced and then it happened. . . How could I have forgotten what was to come? But there it was . . .

“Let’s go around the room and tell everyone a little about ourselves . . .” Oh, my goodness! What am I going to say?” “Hi, I’m Janet. I’ve been married to my husband, David, for 26 years. We have four children, Cole, who was stillborn, Bethany, 20, and Katie 16, who died last December in a car accident, and Gracen, who survived the accident but has a rare form of muscular dystrophy, daily migraine headaches, and is now in a wheelchair. I took this Bible Study because I didn’t know what else to do with myself while I wait for her to die too.” Uh, no . . . can’t say that. “Hi, I’m Janet. I’ve been married to my husband, David, for 26 years. We have one daughter, Gracen. I took this class . . . “, no, can’t say that either. There are people in this group who know I had three daughters, although most don’t know I had a son as well. . .

The first person introduced herself,

the second person finished her mini-bio,

the third person . . .

I can’t do this!

I CAN’T DO THIS!

And up I go, striding from the room, eyes lowered, clipped pace, throat tight, “Don’t cry, don’t cry, don’t cry” on repeat in my mind as I search for an escape. A bathroom. “Shoot! There’s still a line outside the women’s restroom.” Down the stairs to the vestibule. “Crap! What are all these people doing here? Shouldn’t they be in class? Just get to the bathroom, Janet. Just keep it together. Don’t cry, don’t cry, DON’T CRY!” 

I kept my head down, dodged through the inconvenient group of ladies, and finally, finally burst through the bathroom door and by the mercy of God found the room completely empty. I made my way to the handicapped stall, locked myself in and let the tears flow as quietly as possible. I don’t know how long I stood there crying . . . trying to get it together . . . but groaned aloud when I realized in my haste to escape I’d left everything behind in that classroom. I think I would have left it all if I’d had my car keys, but no such luck. I’d have to suck it up and return to the classroom.

Of course, it was impossible that I would be able to grab my things and disappear for a week before I needed to face anyone. No, I’m never that lucky. But, it was fortunate that only the small group leader remained in the room. After several uncomfortable minutes during which she apologized for failing to realize the meet and greet might be difficult for me, and I demurred, because it certainly wasn’t her fault that I’d failed to prepare myself for something I knew was standard procedure, I left the room.

Of course, when I exited the room, I was met by another compassionate class member. Needless to say, I survived both encounters in spite of the fact that they were both very uncomfortable for me and for the ladies involved., I’m sure. Grief is not easy to navigatefor those who grieve and for those who care about those who grieve. It is what it is. There is no fixing the problem, just awkward attempts at kindness offered and received.

David, Gracen and I recently watch the movie, “Mechanic:  Resurrection”. During the course of the movie, one character said, “Those who’ve been hurt the most often have the greatest ability to heal.” You know I’ve found this to be true. And by the way, it’s a biblical concept.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. ~ 2 Corinthians 1:3-4

 

Who can sit with the broken hearted? Someone who has been there before. Who can linger with the sick? Those who’ve stood in similar shoes. Who can help to bear your load? Those who’ve found themselves stumbling under the weight of unbearable pressure themselves.

It’s a bit of a paradox really as “having the ability to heal” implies the hurt individual is sick, and they are to a degree. Hurt at the very least implies injured. And how can the injured and the ill heal anyone else? The very experience of the injury or illness allows that person to validate the feelings of the hurting, and affirm their ability to cope with whatever ails them. And the wounded is encouraged by that validation and affirmation as well as being present to see the visual representation of another’s ability to cope. That’s life-affirming to the hurt, broken, wounded and frightened. And that’s why validation and affirmation are so much better for individuals than solely employing a positive thinking attitude.

Positive thinking doesn’t keep holding one up when the load gets increasingly heavy but validation, affirmation, and a good role model can. That is why the Bible tells us that one of the reasons we suffer is to minister to other hurting and discouraged individuals.

The bad moments are going to happen because no one can prepare for every situation or comment that will be encountered. Please recognize that these individuals are not wallowing in self-pity, they don’t deserve your “slightly contemptuous sorrow for . . . [their] misery or distress”. They are simply unprepared for some comments and situations, and your compassion, validation, and affirmation, if not your ability to commiserate, is desperately needed.

Leave the pity at home, please!

 

*The “Definition of pity/pities”, pity Synonyms, and the Synonym Discussion of pity all courtesy of the online version of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary.

 

 
16 Comments

Posted by on January 18, 2017 in Faith, Grief

 

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Two Years Later . . .

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Why a glimpse behind the curtain to the deeply personal and hidden grief of a bereaved parent? Not to inspire your pity; of that I can assure you.  Instead to inspire others to look beyond the surface of a grieving friend or family member. To consider how families are affected by loss, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually, as well as the unique family dynamics that result; which might help you comfort, support and encourage them. The bereaved desperately want to be understood, to have their feelings validated, to break free of the isolation, to mourn unrushed, to have another share their sorrow (not attempt to fix it). This post was written months ago and is not reflective of my current state of mind.

 

Two Years Later . . . 

This morning, the 2nd anniversary of Bethany & Katie’s deaths, I woke up in my in-laws guest room and told the Lord,

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I miss my babies.  I miss the life I used to live.  I miss the sweet ignorance of not knowing what disease plagued Gracen and Katie’s bodies, the unappreciated bliss of an unknown prognosis.  I miss my failure to understand that You, Lord, promised to walk through this life of trials with me, never once leaving me, but not to protect me from the free will of others and not to make life pain free.

 

I miss waking up with purpose.  Waking to enjoy the the birds singing and the sun shining.

I miss hugs and smiles and laughter — the sounds of life in my home.  I miss making cookies just to hear Katie’s whoop of joy.  Watching David and Bethany laugh over movie lines that cause me to roll my eyes.  Seeing Katie sit at Bethany’s feet joyful that her big sister was home from college.

I miss arguments and bad attitudes and snark and sass.  I miss seeing Katie curled up in David’s lap to watch a movie, David teasing Bethany and listening to him negotiate with Katie for hugs and kisses.

10246606_730773960317860_6144985397676167154_nI miss sibling rivalry and laughter and two ganging up on one.  I miss hearing how Gracen stood up for Katie at school, how Bethany watched out for Gracen and coming home to find all three watching music videos loud enough for the neighbors on either side to enjoy (?) too.

I miss praying for Bethany and Katie.  I miss inviting You, Lord, close instead of desperately clinging to You.  I miss what was and will never be again.  I miss the life I’d planned to have.  I miss ignorance and curse knowledge and I hate the last images of Bethany and Katie seared upon my mind, taunting me with their stillness, eyes once full of life and love vacant and unseeing.

I miss the me I used to be; the me I wish I could be again.  I miss the me who did not live with the ever present ache of loss.  The me who did not have to fortify herself for a simple trip to church, the me who did not have to plan in advance answers to everyday questions to guard my heart, my privacy and to avoid making others uncomfortable.  I miss genuine smiles.  I miss the ease with which I faced a day and the dark of night; of restful sleep, a focused mind, and simple motivation.  I miss anticipation and excitement.

IMG_3507 (2)I miss having all the bar stools at my counter filled. . .  I just miss so much — it all haunts me while I’m simultaneously thankful for Gracen and David.    Joy and sorrow side by side — both aware of all I have and all I’ve lost in every moment of every day.  One word defines my life — bittersweet.

And as I rolled over and curled in upon myself, I asked the Lord to help me get up and get going, to be a good house guest, to ignore the onslaught of sorrow, deep and numbing. To be able to be present instead of withdrawing from everyday conversation in desperate need for time alone — for the distraction fiction provides.

I finally rose at 10:30, hours later than I usually rise when we visit Kansas City.  And when I entered living room Sunny greeted me with a warm, “Good morning sleepyhead”, and Donna quietly went about frying an egg for me, then sat down at the table to visit with me while I ate.  No frustration, just uncomplicated acceptance and the kindness they have always shown me over the last twenty-eight years.  I found my heart full to the brim with both gratitude and sorrow — both of which my wonderful in-laws share with me.  I am not alone in my loss, in my sorrow, and in gratitude for what remains.

Empathy (shared sorrow) is so much more comforting than the fellowship of sorrow and pity. Pity pops in to express sympathy and promptly exits. Pity is love without commitment. It lures and deceives the grief-stricken with a promise of support only to silently slip away. Shared sorrow blesses the grieving by claiming a seat at the table of sorrow and dining on the bitter taste of disappointment and despair; drinking from the cup of agony before pulling out the dessert plates and loading them up with the sweet savor of united hearts and minds.  Shared sorrow is committed love.

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Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  People outside the immediate circle of loss, tend to view the death of a loved one from a broad, general perspective.  The bereaved grieve in fine detail. Acknowledging specific losses, unfinished plans, a lost legacy and the empty seat at the dinner table communicates to the bereaved that you care about the depths of their loss.

e9ee9b4bef3f86fba3571ecd3f0cbe512.  Speak the loved one’s name.  When a baby is stillborn or dies shortly after birth the family is left with a void they are unable to fill with memories of their child.  Using their child’s name, asking about the infant’s birth weight, length and hair color affirm the child’s worth. Avoidance equals isolation.

3.  Speak the loved one’s name-regardless of their age at the time of death.  As time goes on, the name of a loved one is spoken less and less frequently.  The bereaved want their loved ones remembered.  Mentioning their name, telling a family member you thought of their loved one and you miss them is a great blessing.  Speak about their loved one in a positive way, don’t just say how sorry you are for their loss.

4.  Many bereaved parents feel as if others treat them as if they are cursed following the death of a child. Avoiding bereaved parents because you are unsure what to say or do can frequently be perceived in unintended ways.  So, avoidance is not the answer. Call or visit and simply say, “I have no words.” “I don’t know how to help, but I want to be there for you. Tell me what you need to hear from me.”, and if you love the bereaved person keep trying to reach out, but don’t make them responsible for making you feel comfortable in their presence.

5.  Don’t expect the bereaved to step back into ministry roles and other normal activities. Some will return quickly, some will take six months or a year. Some will never return to that specific ministry or activity. Be sensitive. Churches are often in need of members to serve, but be careful not to push.

cdd180cb45e020a4fd5a2efa4c6415dd6.  Never compare the loss of a loved one to the death of a pet (it’s more common than you think). The loss of a child and a spouse are the most devastating losses the bereaved endure. Don’t tell the grief-stricken that you understand how they feel because you lost a uncle, grandparent or parent. The level of intimacy in the severed relationship determines the depth of grief experienced.

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 7.  When a parent loses a child, never say, “Well at least you have two more.” or “Be thankful for the ones you still have.” The death of one child doesn’t negate the parent’s love for the rest of their children. Grief and gratitude can and do co-exist. And the birth of subsequent children do not replace the child that died.

8.  Don’t be offended if the bereaved don’t personally call you to notify you of the death. It is not at all unusual to for the bereaved to be too emotionally overwrought to call even their closest friends and family members. It’s is however, very common to contact one family member and ask them to contact the rest of the family. It’s not a slight. Some are busy at hospitals, others are in shock, and some just can’t speak.

9.  Don’t ask for details especially in the case of suicide, murder, or accidents. Those who need to will share that information with someone they are close to. Others do not want to remember their loved one that way and may have been traumatized by things they’ve seen and experienced. Rehearsing it is retraumatizing and sometimes leaves the bereaved feeling as if you care more about the gory details than you do about them.

10. If you have pictures of the deceased, email copies or get prints made and bring them to the family. Every picture is a coveted treasure.

 
5 Comments

Posted by on February 28, 2016 in Chronic Illness, Faith, Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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