Wednesday, March 16, 2011

mysteries and guilt trips

This is my friend Jen.

at Jen's shoot-cropped

She is a sweetheart, with a backstory so convoluted and sad that you wouldn't believe it if I told it to you.
And intense disappointment just keeps finding this lady. This being the clincher.  She lost her baby, Jonas, just before her due-date last June.
So when she contacted me and some other friends from college about joining her for a segment Discovery Health(?) was doing about her we were all a bit confused about what was going on, but more than willing to support her.
It turns out there was a reason we were so underinformed.  The point of the shoot was to film her somewhat reluctantly sharing with us that she is pregnant again, and actually due on the 1 year anniversary of Jonas' still-birth.  The reluctance, sadly coming from the "silence" she experienced when she tried to share her abysmal news with her 400+ facebook friends and received fewer than 30 responses.  I will forever be quick to point out that facebook is a horribly inadequate medium for sharing information with any emotional weight, but it is not uncommon for people to feel isolated when they are going through the trials that render them most in need of support.  Sadly, the more "socially acceptable" the trial, the easier it is to extend supportive words and gestures.  But when people are going through pure emotional black-holes, experiencing things that nobody likes to think or talk about, then it seems that suddenly nobody likes to think about or talk to them, either.  I've heard this concern over and over from people swimming in the implications and aftermaths of divorce, depression, addiction, suicide, and other life-shattering experiences that people generally don't know how to discuss in a comfortable way.
And I, for one, am a guilty party here.  Sometimes words just fail.  You can't say it will be okay, because "okay" is relative, and the only "okay" that most people are capable of contemplating when drowning in sorrow is the "okay" that they were before their world caved-in.  You never know what stage of grief a person is in unless they are able to communicate it to you - and that makes worlds of difference in whether a "How are you?" would be exactly what they need or would make them revert into hysterics.    I'm the sort that just wants to give hugs without words in such situations.  Words are cool, but there are things they cannot do.  When proximity means physical hugs and affirmation are not an option, I really struggle and my struggle, sadly, probably comes across as silence.
Luckily, in this case, we all got a chance to assure Jen that she had been very much on our minds and in our prayers.  And I turned into the blabbermouth of the century because suddenly I had an outlet to talk about feelings to my heart's content and people stayed awake and listened.  The poor, poor editor who has to shut me up in post-production, I'm so sorry.
So, tell me readers, what wisdom do you have about supporting and loving people when it's hard this way?  I am determined to learn how to keep my timid self from turning into silence for someone who needs my love.


--jeff * said...

dang, em, very well said.

i remember seeing jen's post on facebook and your comment about the <30 out of 400+ made me sheepishly try to remember if i'd commented on that.

you make a good point, though. facebook is better for sharing good news that tragedy. an engagement announcement or new job post gets a slew of "likes" and congratulatory comments.

but there's no "sad" or "sympathy hug" or "dislike" button for a breakup, death, or other terrible tragedy.

as a side note, though, over 20 comments on anything (good or bad) is pretty good/thoughtful, considering that the bulk of those friends are likely acquaintances, anyway. even on the best (or worst) news of any friends, i rarely see over 30 comments.

but yes, facebook is not the best for aptly sharing certain information. and that's ok, i think. the site has a lot of great uses and advantages, but if we expect it to replace or fulfill all of our human interactions, we're going to be let down.
it can't replace a phone call, a hug, a lunch conversation, or whatever other means of interaction we carry with those we love the most.

as for how to console those in times of great tragedy, i think it comes down to knowing the person. everyone is different in how they handle things and in what they need from their friends. that understanding comes with time as the friendship deepens.

end of long comment.

Heidi said...

I took a whole class on social work in a health care setting in college. The one thing that my brain is managing to recall right now is that empathy is one of the hardest things to genuinely give someone. One of the responses that came up often, regardless of the tragedy, was to state something like, "I can't even begin to imagine how _____ feels/hurts/etc." Perhaps it seems a little soft, but more often than not, that's the window to offering what little support an outsider can.

I know this is just scratching the surface, but so often I find myself, who has very little to say in conversations in general, can crack into some empathy this way without being totally tactless.

The Libutti Family said...

That is just heartbreaking. Stillborn birth was always my worst fear, because not only are you mourning the loss, you mourn what could have been. Ugggh. I am so sorry for your friend.
I, too, am really bad in situations like this and have struggled my whole adult life to be better at saying something meaningful. But when I have experienced loss, the thing most helpful is someone who simply says "I'm sorry" and then asks a few questions so I can start talking. I think it is the follow-up that is most important... the weeks and months afterwards, when the strongest support has gone away, and the person is left to continue struggling with the loss. I think if a friend is sensitive enough to keep checking in, keep plugging through the grief or anger or loss or whatever - that is the greatest thing you can do.
Hope that is helpful. :)

Em said...

That is heart wrenching! A friend from high school lost her baby last week at 1 week old. Another friend who is currently pregnant called me to talk about it. My conclusion is, really, what can you say? Nothing will make any of it "better" or make it go away. All anyone can really do is reassure that they're being remembered, thought of, and prayed for. And I completely agree, where words fail a hug can speak volumes.

hairyshoefairy said...

Oops. ^ That was me. :D ^

Sara said...

You know, most of the comfort I've received has come from my older friends. Maybe it's me, but even if they haven't experienced the exact nature of my stuff, they have a myriad of experiences to pull from, such that I can believe them when they say, "you can do this, hold on, I'm praying for you daily, and go get help from so and so". Maybe our job, in youthful seasons, is to give the hug and with time and experience, our youth will turn to wisdom and we will know how to better lift the weary--wisdom, whether as a result of experiencing it ourselves or by bearing it with hugs, alongside our friends, often enough. Keep hugging; such hugs have carried me through when words couldn't--it breaks the isolation that a griever will naturally and self destructively seek.

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