"...Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience."
Romans 8:24b-25

26 January 2011

Some Thoughts on Words

It took me a while to realize that people in general are not as insensitive as they can sometimes seem.

When I was a child, a good friend's mother died suddenly and unexpectedly.  My younger sister and I were very sad because the woman was our mom's best friend, and she was our best friends' mom, so she was very much like a second mom to us.  I remember wanting so badly to be with my friends who had just lost their mother, but also being so afraid to go see them.

I was afraid because I didn't know what to say.  I didn't have any thoughts or words that would make everything alright, that would make my friends feel better.

The only reason I knew this at a young age was because I was sad, too.  I was grieving, too.  There was nothing that could be said to make me feel better after the loss of my friends' mother, so there was nothing I could say to them.

My sister and I went to see our friends, and we sat there with them, on their couch, and we were sad with them.

I don't remember saying a word.  I remember sitting there, in the house that had always been full of life because of their vivacious, beautiful mother.  And I remember being sad with my friends.  

And it was okay.  The silence was good.  It was appropriate for the moment.  It was what we all needed.  When it was time to go, we hugged our friends goodbye and left, knowing that they knew that we loved them.  Knowing they knew how sorry we were over their loss.  Knowing they knew we were still there for them.

Words are not always an appropriate response.
Yet we are "fixers."
We like to wrap things up neatly.
We like to make everything right.
Sadness makes us uncomfortable.
Broken things, broken people, should be fixed right away.
So we try to mend things with our words.
We try to ease our own discomfort by speaking knowledge into a situation.

I've been guilty of it, myself.

It used to upset me, to the point of anger, when people would try to fix, or mend, my infertility with their words.  How dare they try to speak knowledge into a situation they know nothing about!  How dare they pretend that they can even begin to imagine what it must feel like to walk in my shoes!  How dare they act like the information they have to offer is so perfectly appropriate that I will be cured of my infertility and get pregnant by following their advice or hearing their story of a miraculous conception!  Can they walk on water, too?

Yes, I have felt that way...altogether too many times.

I started being flippant, and launching the news of our infertility into a group of people after initial introductions for the simple purpose of shocking them into silence.  It's amazing how uncomfortable that can make people...the sudden news that someone they just met is infertile, especially when that person shares it as casually as talking about the weather.  But, it bought me a few advice-free interactions with people.

Years later, in a movie theater, there was a young woman in a wheelchair taking our movie tickets.  I saw her stare at my legs the way I stare at new mothers with their infants, and I was broken.  It was not a stare of anger, or bitterness, or hatred...just a look of longing that flits across the face in an instant even as the stare continues.

I realized that I have been on the other side.  The side of not knowing what to say while facing an elephant in a room and feeling the need to say something about it.  I realized that I had not only said stupid things, but I had avoided conversations and even people altogether so I wouldn't have to deal with being uncomfortable.

Do people still say stupid things to my husband and me?  Yes.  I could rattle off a whole list related to our infertility.  Most of what we hear today is a repeat of what we've already heard from others.  If it's not a cliche, or advice, it's usually a story about someone they knew who adopted a baby and then got pregnant afterward (the implication being that adoption will cure our infertility).

Is it still irritating?  Yes.
Do I still get angry?  I'd be lying if I said I don't, but I can say I don't get angry as often.

So, what's my point?

My point is that people are going to say stupid things.  People that love you dearly, and people you've just met.  And although those things may sting and drive home the reality we face every day, it helps me to assume good will.  I try to assume that they are saying that stupid thing because they care, and extend the grace to them that I'm expecting from them, even though they didn't give it to me.

If you're a fertile friend who is realizing you may have said something that might have stung someone on this journey, give yourself some grace, apologize if it's appropriate, and realize that people dealing with the inability to have children are constantly cycling through the stages of grief.  Some days will be harder for them than others, so try not to give advice.  Be the shoulder to cry on, because that's often all they need.

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I would love to hear from you! The subject matter of this blog can be very sensitive. This is intended to be a place of encouragement and to be uplifting. It is never my desire to cause pain through what I write here, so please keep that in mind as you share your thoughts. Thank you.