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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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Renee Swope – Me Too!

The power of validation and affirmation. We all know there are no perfect Christians – it’s inherent in our theology – so why do we try to wear masks of perfection?

 
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Posted by on March 15, 2016 in Faith, Links

 

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Too Tired . . .

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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. 

 

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Too Tired . . .

I do not know how to do this life I’ve been left with and I really don’t want to figure it out.

I’m tired – not, let’s just end it all tired, but physically, emotionally and spiritually tired.

Tired from staying up later night after night.  3:00, 3:30, 4:00, 4:48, tired.

Tired of trying to figure out what to do with myself, for myself, about myself.

teen-depression-linked-to-online-use-250x190Tired of wondering why God didn’t simply take us all home December 26, 2013, the day of the collision that killed two of my daughters. Tired of wishing He had. Tired of thinking of what the future holds, tired of trying to brainwash myself into believing there just might be something good to get up for every day.

Bone weary, heart achingly tired.

Too tired.  Just too, too tired.

 



 

Helping the Bereaved Bear their Burdens

1.  Offer to take young children for a play date once a week.

2.  Don’t push the bereaved into activities – taking on new hobbies, jobs, etc.

3.  Invite them to do things you know they enjoyed in the past.  If they decline, ask again another day.

IMG_2959 (1)4.  Don’t expect the bereaved to behave as they did before the death of their loved one. They simply aren’t the same people any more.  They have been irrevocably changed in many ways. Don’t encourage them to “get back to normal,” or question when they will.  Don’t quash their attempts to talk about their feelings or their loved one.  They are not wallowing in self-pity, they are experiencing and coping with the normal response to loss.  Grief and self-pity are very different things! The message you are sending with comments such as these is that the bereaved are responsible for ensuring that others are not uncomfortable in their presence and that their loved one no longer matters.  Telling them to choose joy is tantamount to telling them that positive thinking or gaining a new perspective will take their pain away.

images (44)Ultimately, the bereaved feel both defiant and rebuked for loving deeply. Well-intentioned friends and family members inadvertently become unsafe for honest sharing. A failure to validate feelings elevates the turmoil the bereaved are already dealing with. They become angry because they have to  justify their feelings and their right to mourn while simultaneously questioning if they are indulging in self-pity. Invalidation leads to isolation as the grief-stricken find they cannot vent their feelings and wrestle with their faith without rebuke or correction.  Invalidation causes the bereaved to suppress their grief, wear a mask in public, hide their vulnerability and finally, it lengthens the time it takes to work through the process because the bereaved will search and search for safe people to be real with all in an effort to receive validation of both their feelings and the value of their loved one.

5.  Realize that for the bereaved, feeling bad feels bad, but feeling better feels bad too. The psyche is telling the bereaved that feeling better, laughing, having fun and moving forward means that their loved one was not critically important in their life.  Of course, that’s completely untrue, but it’s also a very common and normal way to feel.

6.   Keep an eye open for signs of depression.  Encourage a visit with their doctor for an antidepressant or antianxiety medications.  Encourage grief counseling.  Many churches provide Christian counseling services for their members, the uninsured or IMG_2952underinsured.  Reinforce the truth that depression is normal and nothing to be ashamed of.

7.  Keep an ear open for language that might indicate they might be at risk of harming themselves.  If concerned about suicide, ask them outright.  Share your concerns with their spouse, parent or their pastor.  Don’t brush it off – take those words seriously.

8.  Be aware that men, women, siblings and children grieve differently.  Families struggle to do what’s best to allow each individual to grieve in the way that is best for them but those ways are often conflicting.  One needs to talk, to be heard.  Another can’t talk and can’t listen.  If you are close to a bereaved couple, be sure they are understand that everyone grieves differently.  Recommend meeting with a grief counselor if mismatched grieving styles are creating conflict.

 
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Posted by on February 26, 2016 in Faith, Grief

 

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What is the Value of a Child’s Life?

Silhouette, group of happy children playing on meadow, sunset, s

I recently recognized that a series of issues I’ve been struggling with all have one theme in common.   The thing that ties each of these issues together boils down to the worth of my children.

Death seems to strip an individual’s value from them in the eyes of the world.  Daily life moves forward and it’s not long before the phrase, “Out of sight, out of mind”, applies.

What is the value of one child’s life?  To their parents, their siblings, their extended family, their circle of friends and acquaintances, to the community they lived in and even to the world at large?  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that their value generally diminishes as you go through the list.

The grieving long to have their loved one’s worth acknowledged, appreciated and validated beyond the funeral and burial, beyond the first week they return to work, beyond the year of firsts, beyond . . .

This bereaved parent questions her own value as well – to God in particular.  I wrote this quite awhile back.  It’s a prayer of a sort, and deeply personal, but it clearly reflects how circumstances can cause a person to contemplate their significance.  Keep in mind that my first child was stillborn, then I lost two in a car accident, and my surviving child has a rare and progressive form of Muscular Dystrophy.  I’ve taken a series of hits.

“Am I so much more expendable than other Christians?  Do my hopes and dreams mean so much less to You?  From a logical perspective I know the answer to those questions is no, but from an emotional perspective I’m not so confident.”

“Why do You keep hurting me or allowing me to be hurt?  Do I just suffer well for the cause?  Am I too stubborn or rebellious to learn the lessons you want to teach me without suffering?”

Value and worth, it’s a struggle I see other parents who mourn wrestling with.  Support groups, blogs, and Facebook posts are filled with the underlying theme.

Some make a shrine of their child’s room.  And the outside world shakes their heads in pity – failing to understand why.  Honestly, the parent may not be able to put into words why they do it themselves.  But their child’s possessions are a visual, touchable testimony of both their existence and who they were below the surface.  That room and the pictures they treasure, are often all the parents have to hold onto.  They’ve lost their child and cling to the things they loved and touched in their absence.

And really, if you think about the alternative, can you blame them?  Does anyone really think about the emotional price a parent pays when they sort through the remnants of their child’s life?  Do they realize how it feels to decide what to give away – and who to give it to?  What to keep.  What things most effectively reflect the child they loved.  What to throw away; now that, well that’s the nauseating one.  Disease or accident, murder, suicide, or addiction,  military or public service, has snatched their child from their hands and now they feel as if they are choosing to throw away their child, bit by excruciating bit.  Maybe the shrine makes more sense now.  It’s not shameful, it’s nothing less than a grieving parent defiantly refusing to toss away the evidence of their child’s life.  It’s all about value and worth.

Almost two years after the collision that killed my daughters, I am still sorting, still deciding what to keep, what to give away – what to throw away.  Granted, I was caring for Gracen, but I’ve had time to complete the task.  Every once in awhile, I open the doors to the two rooms that hold the things my children once touched and I make value judgments until my heart can tolerate it no more.

Some parents set up foundations in their child’s name for a cause their child was passionate about or to raise funds or awareness for the disease or tragic circumstance that took their child from them.  Those foundations meet needs, keep their child’s memory alive, and validate their child’s worth.  And some parents stand jealousy on the sidelines because their child did not live long enough to discover their purpose and passions.  There will be no foundation and their child will all too quickly be forgotten, overlooked, or intentionally left out for fear of reminding the grieving parent of their death.  Personalized gifts will not include their name, you will be introduced as the parent of one less child – and the parent of a stillborn child will not be asked about their child’s birth weight and length; all in the name of compassion.  It’s not always true that actions speak louder than words.  It’s amazing how loudly silence speaks.

Polite society encourages the family to let go, move forward, have another baby, take in foster children, adopt, and of course, be thankful for the children you have left; unwittingly conveying the message that the child you lost no longer has significance and that continued grief equates to a lack of appreciation for those you still have.

And the grief-stricken parent fights the war within; attempting to reconcile the worth of their child between the messages they receive from society and the intellectual truth that their child’s worth never stemmed from their accomplishments but from the fact that they were theirs and created by God.

The grieving parent is begging – demanding really – that society validates the worth of their child; their contribution, their significance in this world; regardless of their length of life.

I’m not sure any parent passes through the grief process until they either “feel” the validation they crave (because a small group of people do just that) or until they resign themselves to the real truth – that it is enough if they alone recognize the worth of their child in this world.  The battle within has been won, the enemy defeated by love – the love of God and the love of the parent.  The only thing the parent needs to let go of is the desire to have their child’s worth validated by society.  However, that’s easier said than done.  Knowing what needs to be done does not make it easy to do.  The heart wants what the heart wants, and it’s a process that’s mastered one painful step at a time.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on November 18, 2015 in Grief, Muscular Dystrophy

 

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Renee Swope – Me Too!

The power of validation and affirmation. We all know there are no perfect Christians – it’s inherent in our theology – so why do we try to wear masks of perfection?

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Faith, Links

 

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The Judgement In Grief

The Judgement In Grief

(Facebook Post 7/5/15)

This is an interesting article (follow the link in red below) that I think everyone who grieves the loss of a close loved one can relate to:

http://stillstandingmag.com/2013/07/the-judgement-in-grief/

My comments related to the article:

I fear the judgment of others. I fear that if I struggle with any aspect of my relationship with Christ or my faith or if I am unable to turn every negative into a positive in the midst of my grief, that others will criticize me. And believe me, I have issues of faith I need to work through. It is what it is. I’m not a Kool-aid drinker, I’m a contender.

I fear others think I should be “over it” by now, moving forward, making plans for the future. That others have lost patience with my sorrow. That others believe that if I were really trusting God I would not fear the progression of Gracen’s disease or for her physical safety as she moves into the dorms this coming August.

I fear people believe I am seeking attention from my posts instead of the validation of feelings, the affirmation, I crave because I am weak and vulnerable and I need encouragement.

I fear isolation and yet I withdraw when I feel vulnerable. Church, unfortunately, is the place I feel most vulnerable. I fear disappointing fellow Christians. I fear there is an expectation for a fabulous testimony I can share now, some new ministry that rises from the ashes of my losses, or some vast wisdom to share when a year and a half down the road I’m still putting one foot in front of the other, still stunned by the ways in which life has changed.

Sometimes I do feel judged but I also realize that my perception has been blurred by the filter of grief and I know that a comment or a look that I perceive as criticism may be something else entirely.

My counselor tells me that some of the judgment I feel coming from others is likely self-condemnation. She says there is a duality at play in my mind. A part of me that is comfortable with my feelings and my methods of confronting them in light of God’s Word, but also another part of me that knows scripture and has high expectations for the perfect Christian response or maybe expects my emotions to be blunted by my faith. A battle between the heart and the mind if you will. There are definitely concepts my mind fully comprehends but my heart screams in defiance against.

I fear judgment and criticism real or perceived. I’m no super-saint and I fear I cannot handle either defending myself from criticism or even taking on a self-improvement program if I feel the criticism is merited. I’m just a broken woman striving to be what my remaining family needs and hold it together until the Holy Spirit heals the brokenness inside.

 
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Posted by on October 22, 2015 in Faith, Grief, Links

 

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