Monday, May 6, 2013

Well-Intentioned, Ill-Spoken Words

Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth;
Keep watch over the door of my lips.
Psalm 141:3

            Well-meaning comments, uttered in an attempt to make us laugh; words uttered that tried to make us look too soon to the future; verbal sentiments spoken too hastily to try to patch our wounded hearts. Like a former student of mine who exuberantly offered her ‘positive’ philosophy: “Well, at least you survived! You’re young; you can always have more babies!” Could I? That was yet-to-be-determined. Besides, I didn’t want another baby right then; I wanted my baby. The one in which we’d invested more than five difficult, harrowing months—and lost.

All of these words, uttered to make things better, only succeeded in deepening our pain and confusing our hearts.

            Then there was my father, who bluntly asked me after I answered his phone call in an exhausted, less-than-convivial manner: “What are you so pissed off about?” Squeezing my eyes shut, dropping onto my bed and practically gasping for breath, I sucked my breath in to control my disgust and responded, “I don’t know if I’m mad at anything; I guess I’m just not very happy with life right now.”

Normally I used humor as a salve for my emotional wounds, and managed to use sarcasm and facetious retorts in the hospital with Dr. Gordon and the nurses, but mirth had long-since exited my bag of coping skills. While I knew my parents loved and grieved helplessly for me and didn’t know how to properly express their pain and frustration, I found it necessary to abruptly end the conversation to avoid screaming.
Then there were the well-meaning people who told me to call if I needed anything. That sounds nice enough, doesn’t it? But there was a problem: What did I need, and how would I know when I needed it? How could I call someone at two o’clock in the morning—when sleep became a phenomenon and insomnia a reliable event—and ask them to talk to me, or just listen to me rattle mindlessly to them? How could I phone them in the quiet loneliness of an afternoon and ask them to come over to just sit with me? No conversation. Just keep me company; just sit with me and hold my hand. Did they really understand what taking them up on their offer might entail? Were they truly willing to drop everything to fulfill an off-handed and polite verbal obligation to a suffering friend?
            To me a phone call to ask someone for help seemed like an intrusion, taking advantage of a situation I should have been strong enough to handle. I was genuinely afraid of burdening someone, and uncomfortable taking advantage of what might have been an otherwise sincere offer. Just who was sincere and who was being polite? It was a threatening thought to even make the phone call to find out. My fear and pride often kept me silent and alone; a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” mentality continued to handicap my healing. So, I just nodded and responded politely, “I will.”
Then Chris shocked my senses when, to better cope with his agony, he convinced himself that something must have been physically wrong with Victoria. He began repeatedly stating that, if she had lived, we would have suffered a lifetime of medical complications stemming from her premature birth. In his opinion, we had “gotten off easy,” and he began offering this new opinion to almost everyone with whom we discussed the loss.
How could he think we’d gotten off easy? Just who had gotten off easy? I remembered a very traumatic four days before Victoria’s death, followed by weeks of physical pain and recovery. Not only did my heart and soul suffer, but my body labored in round-the-clock recovery. And I believed I would have taken Victoria alive—any way she would have been presented to me—even if that were no more realistic than his assessment. With mounting resentment I found it necessary to excuse myself from group conversations to avoid railing against what I perceived to be insensitivity. If I confronted or contradicted him, I risked shattering the fragile, protective veneer he had methodically encased around his broken heart.


NEXT WEEK: Just what should you say to a grieving parent, and what don’t you say…? 

Thanks for joining me.

Until next week!