Saturday, October 06, 2007

"It was only a girl who died, that doesn't matter,"she said

If you had lost a son, then you would know grief. All you've buried is worthless daughters, what do you know of loss!
That is a real statement from a real person, who will remain nameless. They felt the way they felt with some vehemence. Why? Was it because they were narcissistic? Was it because they were misogynistic? Was it because they were so ego driven and competitive they had to win in any venue?

Who knows, who cares? The reality is that they were in grief, and severe grief makes logical paupers of us all. None of the obvious responses to such a statement helps anyone. Not the poor parent driven somewhat beyond reason by the death of a child. They don't need deconstruction or enlightenment or re-education just right now.

People watching do not need to see someone in pain given more pain. They might be vicious enough or callous enough to enjoy it, but they don't need it and no one should have the desire to give them a show. Even more, a person on the other end of such a statement isn't any closer to serenity or charity if they forget to be sad and patient, to mourn with those who mourn.

It is important when dealing with others who grieve not to let it become competitive. It is important not to let attempts to compete or dominate by others, afflict us or affect us. Remembering to treat competitive statements as just one more way people are driven past reason by grief and evidence helps me remember that they need help and love. That people really need love and patience is a useful perspective.

It is also one that it is useful to let carry over into your life outside of grief. Grief, especially the severe grief of losing a child, is just terrible stress, writ large (the phrase "writ large" just means just bigger and worse). If you take just a moment, it is easy to see people as being deformed by stress -- remembering that one meaning of to be deformed is to be pushed out of your natural shape.

Rather than thinking of those who say terrible things as malformed (better than using "deformed" in the sense of formed wrong or inherently defective), if you see them as deformed by stress and life, you can also see them as able to be restored by love and patience.

Having love and patience is what charity is really about. In many ways it is just taking the time to help our brothers and sisters, and to help ourselves, be restored to our proper form, undeformed by stress. As my dearest wife pointed out to me, hearing such statements, and their cousins, should be a reminder that people need love and patience, not a reason to abandon it.


Ann said...

Stephen, I hardly ever comment here, but I want you to know that I have you in my RSS feed, I read everything you write, and I am better for it. Thank you for sharing your insights in this post.

Stephen said...


That's very kind of you to say.

C. L. Hanson said...

I can't imagine what would possess someone to write you such a horrible thing. I have a hard time imagining what it would be like to bury one's own child, and I hope it's not inappropriate to say that I hope I will never have cause to truly know. Only know that you have my deepest sympathy.

Stephen said...

No one wrote such a thing, they said it. With vigor, after all, they were demanding validation and agreement.

What possessed them? They were consumed by grief. People consumed by grief often are not completely rational.

c.l. thanks for your kind thoughts. I hope you will never have cause to truly know as well.

BrianJ said...

I know I haven't commented here in a while, but I have been reading (like ann) and this post forces me to comment. This post is getting printed and stuck in my church bag (with your permission). I was appalled when I read the quote, but then you caught me in my own pride and error---thanks for showing me how to reach out to others; truly an example of turning the other cheek!

Stephen said...

You are more than welcome to print out a copy to read or think about.

Much of what passes for wisdom here is really my wife's thoughts.

As my dearest wife pointed out to me, hearing such statements, and their cousins, should be a reminder that people need love and patience, not a reason to abandon it.

Tigersue said...

Wow, I am speechless. For a second I thought that statement came from a book like the "Good Earth". I would expect it from cultures that kill girls just to keep their one boy, but a statement made to you, I am amazed.
There are many ways to act when grieving but with bitterness and malice to other's grief, is unimaginable to my mind.
You and your wife have kind forgiving hearts. I hope I have learned more from you.