Cyber friends

Thursday, April 12, 2012

I get very emotionally involved in the lives of the people who I learn about through blogging.  They feel like close friends and kindred spirits to me even though most of them have no idea who I am.  There are a few I have reached out to and a portion of those who have actually written me back.  Some of them I have developed friendships with, others are like blogging superstars and have more mail than they keep up with.  I try not to take it personally, I am glad for them that they have lots of positive emails coming their way, keeping them busy, and reminding them that their child's life (and their lives as well) was (are) significant.

I also get put in touch with other parents who have lost children from time to time - they are friends of friends or even more removed at times.  I have relationships with some of those people, most however, I reach out to and never hear back from. Sometimes people offer to put me in touch with someone they know who has been where I am but then they never follow up once I say, "Yes, I would like to be in touch with your friend".  I think they think the offer was the end goal.  Their intentions were probably good, they just didn't think I would take them up on the offer.  Of those parents who I do actually make contact with, most mean well, I am sure of it - they write back and say things like "I know what you are going through and I am here to support you".  So, I write them back and that is the end of the relationship.  I then wonder then if I should write back again and remind them or just leave them alone.  I always choose the latter.  Turns out that the real world is the same as the cyberworld.  People are too busy to be bothered.  I have learned this lesson well over the last almost nine months.  Even though these new people have been (or still are) in the hell where I currently live, they have other things to do rather than write me.  In some cases, maybe it is too painful.   Maybe they are protecting themselves by shutting me out.  I wonder if there will be a time when I will be too busy to write back to another grieving parent.  I wonder if perhaps communicating with another bereaved parent will bring up too many emotions.  I like to think that I will always prioritize helping another bereaved parent but as soon as I start to make the commitment, I recognize that I have no idea whether I will be able to fulfill it.  My intention is to "never leave a wounded soldier alone". 

That last paragraph was really a tangent, even though it is something I think about and grapple with all of the time and is probably worth its own blog post.  The reason I really started to write this post is connected to my first thought - that I get very emotionally involved in the lives of the bereaved bloggers.  I don't only read about people who have lost children, I also find myself reading about people who have lost spouses too young.  I read the blog of a guy about my age (probably younger) who lost his wife the day after she gave birth to their one and only daughter.  After several months of reading his blog, I noticed a picture of  him and his daughter on the blog of two bereaved parents that I read. With more research I found out that the bereaved husband has become friends with the bereaved parents through the blogging world.  I'm jealous (weird, right?).  Anyway, THAT really isn't my point either.  Here is my point - recently I have been reading the blog of a young woman who lost her husband and only child a few weeks ago in a canoeing accident.  She lost both of these people - her two most important people.  The thought stuns me.  She is in the shock stage - I can tell by reading her words - because I have been there.  She knows that they are gone but she is moving almost ghost like through funerals and memorials.  She is trying to put on a happy face of sorts because she is in too much shock to think about the implications of what has happened.  For now, she is surrounded by people - she won't be for long.  She is trying to get down as many memories as possible, trying to keep herself together.  She will go in one of two directions now (on her blog - I have no idea what she will be like in real life).  She will either get really real and share with her readers her innermost pain from this loss or she will continue to try and keep it light - for her parents, for her readers, for the members of her church and/or community, for herself.  I can tell that the only ones commenting on her blog are people who have no idea what she is going through.  And this is where my point comes in (sorry it sometimes takes me so long to get there people).  How can you be real with people who don't accept it?  How can you be real with people who are looking for you to be strong?  You can't.

She writes about losing her husband and son (they died on her birthday) and her posts are poignant and meaningful and so full of love and the comments that she gets are so well-meaning but they make my heart break even more for her.  I can't count the number of times I have read these (kinds of) words on her blog in the last two weeks - "They are in a better place now."; "You are so strong - I could never handle this loss"; "I read your words and I hug my children a little tighter, I appreciate my husband a little more".  The words STAB me.  These comments make no sense to me.  I don't think I have ever said them to someone who has lost someone so close or at least, I pray to god that I have not.  Whether you believe in Heaven or not, nobody wants their husband and child to be there without them.  Nobody thinks that it is all for the best, unless perhaps they are of the most evolved kind of spiritual being alive (Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, the Dalai Lama....*maybe?*).  None of us signed up for this - we are no more stronger than you.  We have the choice to keep living or to kill ourselves - most of us have considered the latter and continue each day to instead choose the former.  It isn't an easy choice but just because we are still living doesn't mean we are strong or stronger than you.  It doesn't feel like a compliment as much as it feels like a cross to bear for life.  I am glad that you are hugging your kids tighter when you read about my child dying but maybe keep it to yourself.  It feels like bragging.  And, yes, I really don't want you to sweat the small stuff and I really do want you to appreciate all that you have but again - it pours salt on my wounds.  Actions speak louder than words - hug them and love them but leave me out of it for now.  The truth is that most of these comments I let slide off my shoulders these days because I have accepted that people don't know any better, but in the earliest days - each one of them stung so badly.  Thank god I have not yet read someone saying to her "You are still young.  You can get remarried and have more children".  Ick.  Plus, their only son was adopted so she likely cannot easily have more children.  By the way, I will never forget a colleague who told me on three different occasions right after Max passed about how much tighter he hugged his two boys.  I wanted to scream (and finally did- in an email) "I GET IT!  YOUR KIDS ARE ALIVE AND MINE IS DEAD AND IT HAS TAKEN THIS FOR YOU TO APPRECIATE HOW GREAT THEY ARE!"  My blood boils thinking about it.  This same colleague wondered why I wasn't back in the office a week after Max's funeral.  I won't digress again (I won't, I won't).

In my earliest days of grief and grief blogging I got so many mean spirited comments and so many meaningless platitudes.  I rarely get either anymore but when I do, it still stings.  It has turned me off from so many people in my real life.  On the other hand, I have found so much warmth and solace in people that I never would have guessed would know what to say.  I have found comfort in the emails of friends of mine or Ted's and even complete strangers who have basically repeated things I have told people to say. While I truly don't believe that you need to have walked in my shoes to imagine how devastating losing a child would be, I still seek the support and friendship of other parents who have lost (while I am on the subject, may I suggest that you say "I can only imagine" rather than "I can't even imagine" when referring to someone's tragic loss?  You CAN imagine, afterall, that is what imagination is, right?  You just don't want to imagine.  So don't say you can't.).  Reading the blog of this young woman illustrates to me exactly why I am constantly seeking out relationships with others like me.  I believe that she needs someone who actually can relate to what she is going through.  It must feel like she is talking to the walls.  I intend to reach out to her, knowing that I may never hear back from her.  Still, I intend to stick to my commitment to myself and if she does write me back, I will be here for her, because as far as I can tell she needs someone to tell her - "This is unbelievably terrible and it is SO SO SO unfair that you have to live the rest of your life without your beautiful family."


Becca said...

I appreciate your reminder not to be flippant with our language. I am guilty of this, quite often. I've also been on the receiving end. I think I mentioned once before in a comment that my first son has some developmental delays. I identify with you on all the "you're so strong!" and "I could NEVER do what you're doing!" comments. I think people subconsciously believe that if they say those things, it won't happen to them. Unfortunately they don't think about how that sounds to the person they are saying the words to. When people say it to me I feel sad, like really? my son and our life is so awful you could never deal with it? Thanks a lot. I try to mentally let people off the hook though, because I remember thinking similar things when I'd hear of a child dying or a child with a disability. I thought I could never handle it, and I thought that if I repeated that in my head enough, it would never happen. If only it were that simple, huh.

I think I might be guilty of saying "I can't imagine" to you. I apologize for that. I didn't realize that sounded wrong, and I thank you for helping me understand and learn what I should and should not say to a person experiencing this type of grief.

Emalee Banks said...

Dearest Abby,

I have been reading your blog for about 5 months now. I am so so sorry that Maxie died. This may sound silly but sometimes I think that if I were granted one wish, I would give it to you so that Maxie could come back.

I was glad to see that you mentioned Julie Olsen. I am glad that you are planning to reach out to her. I hope that someone somewhere can help her. I was praying for her the other night...praying that she could find someone who could understand her pain. Perhaps you are the answer. However, I wish with everything that I had that you were not an expert in loss.

I am a grief counselor. I wanted to let you know how much I learn from your blog. The other day, a dear friend called to discuss a recent tragedy in her life. We talked about how painful the event was, and how it was so painful partially because it was unlikely to get better. We both created a space where she could acknowledge the truth of the situation even though that truth was awful. I was able to do my part to create that space in part because of what I have learned from reading your blog. Your words matter so much to me and I am trying to pass it heal some of the chaos. Thank you for your courage. Max means something to me. I wish he was still here.

Emalee Banks

Becca said...

(felt like I should clarify that I'm not trying to compare having a child with special needs to having a child die. It's just that people have said that same thing to me so it rang a bell); said...

I never know what to say when people have to go through a loss of a loved one. I like reading your blog and learning what NOT to say. I never want to be considered insensitive or rude. I don't know if a sorry for your loss is appropriate or not. Sometimes it just doesn't seem like it's enough but at the same time, I feel like I shouldn't say anything at all and then I'm a HUGE jerk. Anyway, I enjoy your blog but I wish you didn't have to write it. I don't know if this is ok to say, but Maxie was such a beautiful baby. I am so so so sorry for your loss and I hope someday you get the answers you need.

maxiesmommy said...

Most everything is appropriate and acknowledging is so much better than not acknowledging, no matter what you say. "Sorry for your loss" is a perfect thing to say. It doesn't matter if it sounds insignificant - everything is insignificant but the acknowledgement is not at all insignificant. It is a perfect thing to say. Also, you can ALWAYS tell me that Maxie was a beautiful boy. It is MORE than ok. It is perfect. I think he was beautiful too. Anything positive that you can say about the person who has passed will mean so much to the person who is grieving. So, thank you. I am glad you like my blog, I am glad you think Maxie was cute. Thank you for reading and commenting. - Abby

maxiesmommy said...

Nobody will really even know her pain except her but perhaps if enough people reach out, she will feel free to feel her feelings as they actually are. My heart is so broken for her.

maxiesmommy said...

Of course I understood that Becca. Thank you for your comment. I know you understand what I am talking about.

Tiffany Torres said...

i understand. i still get comments like that that make my skin crawl and break my heart even more. it's rough because i try to get the person the benefit of the doubt, but at the same time it's so unfair and painful that i have to deal with this at all. thinking of you and Maxie.

Meg said...

You know, if someone told you they were on a diet, and you proceeded to say, "Well, I'm going to enjoy this delicious cheeseburger even more now, knowing you can't have it," THAT would be considered rude. How on earth is okay to say essentially the same thing about someone's CHILD?! It's not. At all.

It seems to me that people are absolutely terrified to just BE with sadness. To just be present in the place of "this is completely awful and there's nothing good about it" without trying to find a silver lining, without trying to shove it under the rug of "well, at least..." and "it's not so bad because...".

I think it's partly a cultural thing. Other cultures GRIEVE. They wail and scream and wear black for months, and they grieve *communally*. They don't mail sympathy cards and leave casseroles on people's doorsteps and hope the subject never comes up again. It's insane the way we cope with tragedy, and I'm so sorry you've had to experience not only the tragedy, but also the resulting lack of compassion.

Becca said...

Thanks for your reply and I'm glad it made sense. I just thought after I *just* said I'd be more careful with language, I better actually do it! =)

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