“Dear friend who has experienced tragedy, I’m very sorry you’re having to go through such deep pain. But thank you for being so open about your struggles through it. I’m suffering vicariously through you, and I’m handling it pretty well, thanks for asking!”
Right. Not exactly the right tone for a sympathy note.
I’ve wanted to tell several women this for years. Twice I’ve written long notes, only to delete them. I’ve never been able to word it so it doesn’t drag all the focus to myself. So I’ll do it on my blog. If I come off as self-centered, at least I won’t inflict personal wounds on specific friends.
Now that so many of us live in online neighborhoods, we hear about tragedies that otherwise probably wouldn’t filter down into our worlds. The problem is, we usually hear of the event, but then the news fades away, and we never know exactly how it all ends up.
And the fear of that unknown resolution is dark and consuming.
You know how dreading something makes it worse? Getting a cavity filled is unpleasant; but the fear that you’re also going to be hurt makes it almost intolerable. At about five hundred times magnification, that’s what it’s like watching someone else suffer.
A while ago, an online friend lost her child. Something in his body, previously undetected, simply went wrong. He died within hours. Just thinking of losing a child like that can jerk you out of sleep and leave you panicking in the middle of the night. And it actually happened to her.
We all grieved as they buried him and then had to get back up and keep on living. But here’s what she did: she kept posting about life. She posted pictures of her other children as they reached milestones, celebrated her anniversary, observed funny things that happened. At the same time, she opened up about how much she missed her child and how deeply painful it was for all of them. Every day, she said, fear and horror overcame her. She didn’t think she’d ever recover from that terrible day.
So her life wasn’t all darkness, but it also wasn’t okay. What this did for all of us on the sidelines was put a shape to the fear. It was still terrible. We still couldn’t breathe when we remembered their loss. But it was no longer a vast, lightless, invincible pain that swallowed them up and left them ruined and shattered. Her openness made the fear itself a little smaller, a little less frightening.
Another friend announced her pregnancy, and then found out that the baby had Down’s Syndrome. Since they were committed pro-life Christians, everybody knew that they would welcome the child without question. But… did they really welcome him? Wasn’t it a blow to find that out? Were they really going to be happy that he was born?
She acknowledged how devastating the news was. They weren’t okay with it. It was a long mental and emotional adjustment as they prepared to give birth to a not-normal child.
He’s three now, and there is no question that he is a challenge, but that they welcomed him. She quoted someone else as saying that after the birth of their Down’s Syndrome child, it was like there was , “an Other…seeing us vulnerable and weak, and stitching our wounds back together.”
So there were wounds. But maybe they can be stitched back together.
This mother’s honesty gave those formless fears a shape. The suffering was real and deep, but the fear… well, that was a little smaller and a little less frightening.
I’m not saying that God allowed these women to suffer so that I could enjoy a little more peace of mind. If I ever suggest anything like that, flame me with the whitest-hot rage.
What I long to do, though, is say thank you. Thank you to those who experience tragedy, but are courageous enough to open up and let us see the monstrous pain — and how it doesn’t have to win.
You show us that there can be hope. And when vast, bright hope approaches, then fear looks a little smaller.