Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Guest Post: Offer Compassion

By now you are probably familiar with my wonderful sister-in-law Julie. She is an awesome person and a frequent guest post contributer, and we're delighted to have her back. Please enjoy. 

People really do not know what to say. And if they do think they know, most likely it is not the right words. You have lost a loved one, and there are no words that can comfort. You have lost your job in a bad economy and don’t know what to do. You break up with the best guy or your marriage is falling apart. Are there comforting words for that? How about not getting in to your number one college pick or failing a class? That feels devastating. Your life feels ruined. People want to comment and support you with reassuring words of comfort. But there are no words to bring back one who has passed on, to make a boy love you, to make an employer hire you, or to make a college accept you. But somehow, we all say something. And usually these words do not comfort.

I have a daughter who is visually impaired. Her limitations are still undefined, as she is surprising us daily with what she can and cannot do. But she is learning Braille and will never be able to drive. She will have some serious disadvantages in life.

When she was a sweet little baby, I shared my grief with many. And what did most say? Many supportive things that were supposed to make me feel better. “Well she may never be able to see the mountains or birds in the distance but she will be able to see them in a book.” The intent of this comment was to cheer me up, yet made my grief seem silly. “It is not too bad, look, she is smiling at me. She can obviously see.” These words of support made me feel like I was wrong to believe the doctor’s prognosis. Again, my grief was not validated. Most comments felt hurtful, and many still are. 

I, too, have stuck my foot in my mouth in an attempt to comfort others. I believe we all have. Our intent is to love and show support. I now take every insensitive comment as it is meant to be. To put it simply: people want to be helpful and ease your pain. There is no need to take it personally or get upset and see it for what it is not. For it is compassion in its most awkward form.

In the four years I have grieved over my daughter’s disability, only a handful of comments have touched my heart. They have all been from other mothers who have experienced the same grief with disabled children. One good neighbor told me this, and it was what I felt in my heart, but could not yet realize. She said, “You will always hurt. When you look at other children her age doing things she cannot, you will hurt. You will cry. And you will move on.” It was true and it was beautiful. And I do this regularly. It has stood the test of time.

What can be said in situations like this? Any loving and positive words will do, including a big hug. “I love you. Can I help? Call me when you need a friend to listen. Let me take you to lunch.” Don’t try to SOLVE their problem, or RELATE to it, or tell them it will be okay. Offer compassion. VALIDATE their emotions. We all want our feelings to be realized.


UtahJenny said...

What a beautiful post - thanks for the wisdom and insight. And from one who often inserts her foot into her mouth - thank you for offering comfort to me!!!

Miri said...

You have such a beautiful way of writing, Julie. I love how you always seem to be putting my own thoughts into a post based on your experiences.

I think we've all been on both sides of this situation before, and it isn't fun to be in either position. The important thing is just to remember to express love and compassion, and to try and give someone the benefit of the doubt when she puts her foot in her mouth.

Spence said...

I was hoping for a Miri vs Julie knock down, drag out...maybe next time. :-) Great post Sweetie. Love you.

Melissa said...

This was a beautiful post Julie! I saw a book at the library the other day and it was basically talking about how to communicate with someone who is grieving. You probably should have written it :)

Lis said...

I've noticed in the last two years that there are many people are grieving about their problem (infertility, not being married, rebellious kids, health problems) and they all want to be comforted in their own way. I think everyone has a problem where people can offend them, so I like what you said about learning to take comments as they are meant- understanding they are trying to help. Everyone is dealing with something so we should all just comfort each other the best we can, then don't get easily offended.