You Think That’s Bad . . .

When Kim was pregnant with Elena, women told her the most horrible stories. It could have been a bonding ritual; their way of welcoming her to the club. She had to keep telling people that this was her second child but first pregnancy. In return they told her about the worst deliveries they knew of. They told her of women in pain for days. They told her of epidurals accidents.

Two different women told her of different women who had started to deliver naturally. After an episiotomy and a great deal of discomfort, the doctors in each case decided that the baby would not be able to be delivered vaginally and had had to push the baby back and perform a c-section.

Now the people telling the stories are friends so their intent isn’t evil. It seems almost like a variant on the “you think that’s bad” reply. You  know how that one goes. You tell a story of how you tripped on the ice and sprained an ankle and a friend says “you think that’s bad, someone I know tripped and fell and broke their hand in seven places.”

It could be something simple like accidentally deleting an email you wanted to keep. “You think that’s bad,” someone will say, “when the power went out last night a friend of mine lost four year’s of work on their doctoral thesis.”

Kim and I have never been fans of this technique. We never saw how someone else’s misfortune should make us feel better. Now we feel bad for them on top of what we were feeling for ourselves. We’ve never played the “you think that’s bad” game although it has occurred to me lately that we have the ultimate trump card up our sleeve.

Several times in the past few weeks we’ve been in a group of parents. One will say that their child has had the sniffles, another will top it with what they think is the flu. It would be incredibly inappropriate for Kim or me to say “you think that’s bad” and top their stories with that of Elena. We know that. There is a whole “meta” layer after a death where we think about what is said and what isn’t said. We’re comforted a bit by the fact that people can still play the “you think that’s bad” game about minor sickness in front of us. It lets us know we haven’t been excluded from ordinary daily banter.

In fact, if you look at the comments on this blog, people have made incredible contributions. Some have expressed empathy or sympathy. Others have made a comment that is specific to us or to Elena. Many have shared their own losses. None of these have been in a one-upmanship way. They have shared their own stories in a generous “we’re trying to help you through this” way. And by sharing, they are helping us through.

We feel for the people who have lost children – either before or after they were born. We feel for the people who have lost parents and spouses and friends. In fact, we feel for them in a way that I don’t know we would have before.

After Kim and I were married, going to weddings was very different for me. Before we got married it was a nice show followed by a party. After we got married, I felt the importance of the moment we were witnessing in someone else’s life. The promise being made. The future being started. Weddings were now different.

After we adopted Maggie we were struck by how many people we knew who were adopted or who had adopted. It seemed that once we had entered this world, all of a sudden we noticed how prevalent adoption is.

With Elena’s death, both of these changes have happened. We see how many people have lost someone close to them. I hope that it wasn’t that we were insensitive before, but we seem to be more tuned to it now. As well, we feel more personally about the loss of others. Again, that may sound selfish. After all, you’ve been so generous in your feelings for us. I don’t mean that we never felt deeply about others’ losses – but that now it feels different.

There is a “you think that’s bad” story that has hit us in our little community. An eleven year old girl and her grandparents died in a car crash. Her mom was also in the van that was rear ended by another car. The mom survived – physically. I can’t imagine what she is going through right now. Even given what we’ve been through I can’t really conceive of the depth of her loss.

Like many of you have with us, we want to do or say something for this woman we don’t know. We just don’t know where to start.

Published in: on March 15, 2006 at 8:56 am  Comments (6)  

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6 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Hey –

    I would start by sending her a link to this blog. While I have not walked, and can’t imagine walking, a mile in your shoes, I know that the process of moving forward must always begin with recognizing, as you touch on here, that we are still part of a human family. The recognition that there are others – not just others with the same experience but others who have the empathy and compassion to care out of whatever point they are in their own lives – must be, I believe, a valuable first step.

    You have done and are doing a valuable service to your human community with all that you have risked enough to share in such a transparent way. I only hope it has been as valuable an endeavor for you, though I sense on some level it must be or the dedication to the process would not be so intense.

    Talk to you soon.

  2. Hey Dan,

    This is what I’ve been calling the “Handshake of Life”. At every turn, you’re welcomed into a new club with a handshake that, sometimes, you just don’t want to accept — but you have to.

    Got married? Welcome to the club. Bought a house? Welcome to the club. Got a new dog or cat? Welcome to the club. Kids? Yeah, we definitely have a club for that.

    And then there’s tragedy. Man, that’s a bitch of a club to be welcomed into, especially since “tragedy” can be taken so many different ways.

    I’ve shaken a lot of tragedy hands over the last 15 years or so, and even the one I’m shaking right now — as tough of a grip it is — doesn’t compare with the shake you and your family have. So yeah, you do have the ultimate trump card, my friend. My pain can never top yours. My troubles pale in comparison. And every day, I come here and read something new that enlightens me and gives me hope and a bit more strength to shake the hand in front of me.


  3. Daniel,

    I found this blog while surfing random blogs one night some days ago. I’ve been reading all the blog entries since then. Obviously, i don’t know you, nor anyone related to you, but i really needed to write here that this is so emotive, so good, and oh god, so many things that i couldn’t avoid my tears coming up when i first read Dear Elena.

    I just cannot put into words in my native tongue all the things i feel when i read and dream of what you write here, so go figure in english.

    I can only say that i love this blog, its motivations, and, in some strange way, the family you describe here.

    God bless.

  4. I started my blog too, after the death of our 16 year old son, Matthew. We had a stillborn daughter 8 years ago, and then a year ago, we buried our son, Matthew. I can relate to so much that you have written. I’ve read your blog from the beginning. Your eulogy to your daughter, about your daughter, was touching, and we could relate to so much. I want to tell you too, you will remember. She will always be a part of your life. The hard part for me now, is our son will never age. His picture will not change. The rest of my children will. But we have precious memories we hang on to. Some still make us cry, but I am thankful for them. It’s been 15 months – there’s not a day that goes by that he is not close to my heart. But I don’t “look” for him to come bouncing in the room. I don’t make as much food anymore. But, I still count him in when I name off my children. You are the father of two children – one that runs above you through green pastures – another that runs beside you. My heart goes out to you and your wife, and if your wife ever needs a friend to talk to too, send her my way.

    Loni VS

  5. I read your blog every day and sometimes to Scott cause he can’t read it.. You probably do not know how many lives you have touched with your writings every day. I am one of those, after reading your blog I go about my day in a different way and cherious things my kids do or say that I might not have.. so thank you. I have been really touched by you and your blog and family..
    If there is anything we can do for you let us know
    Scotts wife, Darla

  6. “We just don’t know where to start.”

    That’s what I thought when I started reading your blog. I don’t know where to start. I don’t know what to say. I don’t know if it’s appropriate to state how sorry I feel for you and how touched I am by your writing when I don’t have children myself and haven’t experienced death in the family except the on of my great-grandma last year.


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