Thursday, October 06, 2011

Being human and alive

I read a beautiful, poetic post at about a mother and her stillborn child.  It is touching, honest, direct.

It also embodies a truth -- our pain is our pain and it is as large, or larger, than we are.  There is never something less or trivial about another's pain.

I remember the first time that hit home.  Some friends of ours, dance instructors, had just had their pet die.  They were bereft.  However, no one could understand, after all, it was "just a pet."  So they shared their grief with my wife and I, since having buried two children (at the time), we could understand.

Much to my surprise, we did.  They had no children, would never have children.  They had dance, in a small town.  While they would enrich the lives of hundreds and hundreds of others, they were no longer to the point of great triumphs or great legacies.  Emotionally, what they had was a pet.  Who, after many years, had died. They saw themselves as  having nothing.

They had complete and devastating grief -- with no one who could listen.  So they had total grief and were wrapped in almost total isolation.  By sharing with each other we were both more human, both more alive than we had been.

Not to say that all expressions of grief are worth listening to.  When a narcissist pulls you aside to let you know you may have buried a few children, but he has real pain and grief since he has a self-inflicted hangnail (when, of course, his real problem is his mental illness, one that is well nourished and loved by him), I'm not suggesting you do more than be polite like I was.

But so often it is tempting to respond to someone and say or think, "you've had a little pain, but it wasn't real pain."  To deny that they have truly human pain and life.

The truth is that most of the time others are feeling pain from grief it is real pain.  It is deep, and real and it extends to all of what makes them, them. We are more human, more real when we acknowledge that the pain of others is solid and real.  When we think, "you are in pain" rather than some thought such as "it was just a pet."

The alternative is to be like someone I met who told my wife "oh, you may have buried three children, but you haven't known real pain until you have had to bury a son." To that, err, lady, the only grief that was real was her own.  No one else's grief mattered, no other grief counted. If she heard that anyone had suffered sorrow it only existed so she could make a comparison that made her grief meaningful and their grief meaningless. Years into her grief, instead of embracing life or recovery or healing or the humanity of others she was making herself inhuman, self-centered, undead.

Read the essay, above, that I linked to at  In that essay there are people allowing the writer her grief, and in return, she is allowing herself her grief as well.  The author is human, alive.

As we should all be.


Robyn said...

Deep and special, both the original post and your own comments. Truly to experience any pain in humility is to want to understand the pain of others. Even when it causes more pain to understand them, to grieve with them, someone who has suffered understands how lonely agony is, how easy it is for people to leave when you are enduring it, and therefore doesn't make statements that only make us more alone. I feel that one of the most powerful things we can say is "I don't understand, I don't think I can understand how horrible that is, but I want to, because then I can walk with you, then I can share your burden." But then I know you understand that more than most and have definitely shared many examples that brought that home for me. Thank you for taking the time to post this.

annegb said...

I thought the same thing about the Segullah post; wonderful. So sad. We've lost pets and felt very badly about it. I know a woman who has felt more pain at the death of her pets than at the death of her friends; her stepdaughter died of cancer at 23; she never shed a tear. Her cat died and she mourned for a long time. I still don't understand that. I guess it's all relative, our pain. Actually, I'm coming to the realization that every experience is relative, depending on a lot of things. My daughter said to me recently "I'd never do that," referring to a life choice made by an older woman who'd chosen to forgive her husband's infidelity. I said "I feel that way, too, but so did she. Befoe it happened." This is why we need to cut each other sooooo much slack.