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.