Monday, September 29, 2014

Why Your Experience Doesn't Give You Insight Into Mine

Normally, I am all for likening your experience to someone else's in order to help empathize with them or to help them through a tough time. Scholars and professionals who are much smarter than me have shown that having that skill actually makes us more human and helps us to forge connections to other human beings, thereby making us feel less alone.

At the risk of sounding like I'm the exception that proves the rule, however, I respectfully submit that you just can't do that for me. You can't.

You see, we are the parents of a deceased child. 

I can feel you wince. I winced typing it out. There is no experience that can touch it and there is no way to describe it to soften it for the listener. In fact, the only reason to  try to soften it is to put other people at their ease; there is no way to phrase what we have experienced that will make it hurt less or bother me less or help me to survive it easier. All of the words surrounding what we've experienced hurt and none of them actually help. I have actually spent time trying to put all of the euphemisms that I've heard for it on a scale of Not Too Bad Really to Makes Me Feel Violent or Like Sobbing Uncontrollably Depending on the Day. The scale shifts depending on my mood, on the day, and on my condition.

You see, you can't help me. You haven't been through what I have. You might say, "Well, but you haven't experienced what I have, specifically, either." And you're right. But looking at the worst things that have happened in your life, I'm willing to bet dollars to donuts that someone very, very close to you has experienced your worst moment. It wouldn't take a lot of time or effort to find someone who knows what it's like to fail a college class, get divorced,  have a miscarriage, experience infidelity, be depressed, or lose the love of their life. Those things are sad and hard, yes, but they are also very common in our society.

Child loss, in the first world in which we are privileged to live, is a rare and terrible thing.

So much so that, when the subject comes up, the room goes quiet. There is throat clearing and foot shuffling. There are platitudes galore ("God has a plan! She's in a better place! You'll get through this! God never gives us more than we can handle!"). We don't encounter this in our daily lives (thank God!) and so we have no tools with which to deal with it. 

This means, though, that unless you've been through it, you can't judge me. You can't base my marriage on yours. You can't compare my faith walk to yours. You can't tell me how to survive it or how to get through it. Let me emphasize this: You can't. 

You spiritual leader might have told you that you can. You might think that you know of books and scriptures and quotes that will snap me out of this. You might believe that all I need is a little analogy or a little tough love and I'll be fine. You might think that I'm handling this all wrong, that I'm not brave enough or solid enough, or that surely you would never handle this kind of thing this way.

All I have to say to that is you have no idea what you would or would not do or say, what lengths you would go to, what situation you would put yourself in, or how you would feel. You just don't know. You don't. I don't care what you think you know about yourself because this kind of thing rips the bottom out of what you believe to be your lowest known level and tells you that you can go so much farther down than you ever imagined. 

You. Don't. Know.

My marriage is not your marriage. Mine probably has more fighting in it. And more crying. You might see the contention and feel the discomfort between us after we've had a fight. But it also has a lot (a lot) of cuddling and hand holding. A lot of late-night ice cream eating after one of us has had a nightmare. It has a lot of laughing and a lot of support. I never have to explain myself to my husband because, you see, he knows. He knows the depths of insanity and anguish that child loss can take you to. I never have to tell him why I am the way that I am because he already knows. And I know about him, too. We have our own sad, grief-stricken little club to which you cannot gain entrance and that club has its own rules and expectations. Trust me, you don't want to be a part of it but you also can't tell us how to operate within it, either. Last time we checked, the divorce rate for couples dealing with child loss is around 78%. I'd say that we're doing pretty well, three years later, and that doesn't even take into account everything else that we've lost since losing our girl.

My faith is not your faith. You don't know. You can't tell me what to do or how to feel. You can't tell me to hang in there or try harder to read my Bible more or...or...or...just don't. You have no idea. We are surviving. We are getting through it. We aren't laying on the bathroom floor with our wrists slashed open. We are upright, working our jobs, making our meals, caring for our son, and, doing life. So back off. I know that that sounds harsh but...back off. Really. The last thing we need is someone telling us how to live a storyline that they keep telling us that they, "just can't imagine going through." If you really can't imagine losing a child of yours, then (and I say this with love) keep it to yourself.

My life is not your life. At the end of the day, my choices (and their consequences) are my own. So when you see me experimenting with my diet, trying out new philosophies, eating pie at 12:30am (ahem), or whatever else you might not agree with, please try to remember that I need grace and understanding more than your judgment and that, unless I'm directly harming you (like, I made you actually bleed or totaled your car) then it really doesn't affect you. I need love. I need acceptance. I need you to remember that I'm a good person and friend and that I'm still myself. I don't need lectures and judgments. I love you, but I don't love feeling like I'm not measuring up.

Look, this all may have sounded harsh but it's said with love. It's written more in a tone of soft pleading than sharp anger. I'm trying. I think that the fact that I'm not walking around drunk out of my mind every day or locked away in a cell somewhere is reason enough for celebration. In the rush to make sure that I'm righteous, please don't forget that I'm also human and in need of love. 

Understand that I don't necessarily want to talk about my choices in depth (because I spend a ridiculous amount of time in self contemplation with my journal all on my own, thank you) and that that's not a commentary on you but rather a commentary on the fact that I'm just tired of "dealing" with myself. 

Please understand that I care but...I also want to just be a normal person who is to be commended for surviving agonizing circumstances. I want to be allowed to make mistakes and to not be expected to have an explanation (or required to give one) for everything that I do. Because I'm surviving. I'm getting through it. I'm working through it. And that takes time and I will make mistakes. Please love me anyway. And if you can't, then please keep your mouth closed. Thank you.


  1. Amen. Huge hugs. Being a baby loss mama, I can relate. Nobody GETS it. I am so sorry for your loss.

    1. I'm so sorry, I just now saw your comment! Thank you so much for taking the time to read and leave feedback! I really appreciate it and I'm so sorry that you're in this club with me. *hugs*

  2. Double hugs. You write beautifully, hope you continue to blog and share. So sad for you and your family.

    1. Thank you so much for your comment! I'm so sorry, I'm just now seeing it. You're very kind to take the time to read and respond!