Thursday, April 30, 2009

Define "Handle"!

I'm driving to work this morning and listening to NPR. And if you're a fan or occasional listener then you know that they frequently have interviews that last much longer than the shocking sound bite, and there is little yelling over top of another guest. The hosts were talking to individuals who were struggling with finances and health and other big life issues. And then I hear it, another of those phrases we typically use to comfort ourselves, another of those phrases that is like your mother soothing your bruises with a "there there," another of those phrases that no longer works for me since the death of my child---"God doesn't give you anymore than you can handle."

"Define 'handle'," I yell at the radio and switch it off.

I used to think this statement was a truth, but mostly I used to hope it were true, because it said that I would always be able to succeed. I would always rise to the occasion. I would always have the skills and abilities and health to handle whatever came my way. So, how did I handle Caitlin's death?

I wailed with sounds that I've never heard before and only remember from the palpable sorrow and excruciating pain the wailing released, and those wails continued for long past the year marker of her death.

I developed a stutter with my speech that makes lectures and class discussions embarrassing and less credible to my students.

I gained over 40 pounds in the span of about 4 months.

I forgot doctor's appointments, meetings with colleagues, important document deadlines, and where I put my keys or how to dress with clothes that matched.

I wept uncontrollably at rehearsals, classes, on public transportation, and at dinners and lunches in public.

I became unable to walk in my neighborhood alone for fear of crumbling with grief or forgetting how to get home.

I've developed an annoying habit of calling my husband to see where he is or how he is and I make him promise me, like an innocent child, that he will not die.

And if you're a bereaved parent, you likely have numerous examples to add.

My belabored point? Caitlin's death was plenty that I could not handle, and my behaviors that followed her death provide clear evidence of that. Now, I know that this statement is dear to many, but it's somewhat useless to me any longer. I add it to my other not-faves of "Everything happens for a reason" and "Everything happens for the best." When your child dies and someone says these things to you, it feels like your pain and your reaction to the tragic death of your child is invalidated. Especially, when the statement is given when you are in a state of not handling it. (And what the hell does that mean anyway? How are you supposed to handle it? This whole thing is absurd, and I shouldn't even be blogging this. UGH.)

No one means for the statement to inflict pain, of course. They try to comfort in the only way they know how. They reach in and try to help in whatever way they can. And we are grateful for their efforts. I am grateful to those who have said this to me, but I didn't particularly warm to the statement in and of itself. I felt love by those who love me, but the words, I let gently fall like raindrops to the ground for something else to grow.

Unfortunately, if you let the statement in, it's not particularly comforting or helpful when what you truly need is to be held and allowed to 'handle' it the way you are handling it with sincere and honest grief--and that ought to be acknowledged. It's supposed to give one hope, that we won't always feel this bad. Well (hang on here, this may be shocking), but we ought to honor the pain we feel as a result of being separated from the life of the ones we love. We ought to acknowledge the sorrow. Offering the "handle it" hope when in deep despair without acknowledging the sorrow first feels like a verbal tissue that says, in effect "wipe up." I'm convinced that we must go through this grief and that is how we handle it.

That I am currently much stronger in carrying my grief, is what some will point to and say, "See, God doesn't give you any more than you can handle." Well, this typical 20/20 hindsight may be convenient, but it doesn't change that fact that for months and now at unexpected times and for undisclosed durations, I do have more than I can handle. And I don't handle my daughter's death particularly well at times.

As for God giving this to me---in my mind, that's crap. I simply cannot delve into it or reason this God part of the statement much further than that. My conclusion remains, that God weeps with me.

Oh, I can't stand it. There's a bible verse that states that God doesn't allow one to be tempted beyond what he or she can handle, and then invariably some bible-study expert or preacher will extend the use of "temptation to sin" to any tragedy or challenge in life. I don't wish to go all bible here, or offend my preacher and otherwise Christian friends and family, but I'll repeat--in my mind, that's crap. Comforting for some, but of no use to me.

Ah, so now that I've explored this statement and my strong reaction to it, I'd like to hear how the interviewee was handling his challenges and life struggles. But it's hours (actually days) past the airing of the interview, and so I won't hear his definition of "handle." Because for him, it might be the comforting, hopeful, motivating truth that he needs. But for me, I've filed it in the "of little use to me now" basket.

1 comment:

  1. Platitudes. Ahh, platitudes. God, how I despise them.

    I hated them when we were struggling to conceive, hated them even more after my miscarriages.
    I hear them all around me in other situations.

    Recently, a friend of mine lost her husband (at age 28) to cancer. I would hear people saying things to her and I wanted to slug them. Or at least gag them.
    There are no "at leasts" or bright sides.. It's just awful.

    People spew that nonsense to make THEMSELVES feel better and because they don't know what to say. But there's nothing wrong with saying "I don't know what to say. I'm so sorry." Nothing will make it better, and nothing should. It's awful and the process of grieving just is a process that everyone who loses someone HAS to go through. And has a right to go through w/o being told to suck it up because it could be worse, which is what I think when I hear "At least she's not in pain any more."