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Thursday, October 3, 2013

to tell or not to tell?

Just recently I was sitting across from a new friend, J., in a coffee shop.  He looked at me, shook his head and angrily said "If that happened to me. I would die. Kill me. I would die." He looked down at his coffee cup, peeling the lid back carefully to let the liquid cool.

I smiled at him and looked down at my own coffee. I knew that what I was about to tell him would change the way he looked at me. Forever. It always does.  Even as the words I was going to say were still hanging softly in the air between us, he would think of me differently.

It always came down to this moment, this defining moment. I could let it pass and not say anything. This was, of course, the easy way.

I had to say something. It didn't seem right otherwise. As if it had never happened. I wanted to let him know that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger (Nietzche). I wanted him to understand that the human spirit is so much stronger than you think. Also, by saying it, it took the power away from the sadness of it. Keeping it hidden, being ashamed of it gave it more power than it should have.

I sat quietly for a moment. I would sit quietly for as long as it took until he looked up and met my gaze. I almost felt apologetic for what I was about to say. I had lived with this fact but for him, this information would be new and sad and then I would have to comfort him. Sometimes that is the worst part.

He looked up, shaking his head quickly from side to side, like a wet dog, as if this motion would shake out the bad, scary thoughts that were in his head.  He met my gaze, half-expecting me to start a new conversation like "Where do you stand on 'smores?"

Instead I gave him a small smile as if I were a doctor breaking bad news.

"You wouldn't die," I said. "You will beg God to take you instead. You will bargain with Him. You will assure Him that if this happens YOU. WILL. DIE" but you won't.

I know this.

Because it happened to me and I didn't die.

What happens next is always odd to me because when you tell someone something like "My child died" about 99% of the time the person you are telling this to will immediately smile at you as if to say "That is so not even funny to joke about, you silly monkey, you!" This can take take about 2 seconds before he realizes you are not kidding. Then he will look away, look up at the ceiling, suddenly taking a great interest in the skylights overhead.

Then this part: "Get out! What are you talking about?" He looked at me incredulously, as if to say "That is so ridiculous!"

I was still smiling at him, trying to lessen the blow, trying to make him feel better and to show him I was OK. He said "That's impossible. You're so happy. How are you even talking to me right now?"

Taylor: "Bad things happen. To everyone. This was my bad thing. My terrible, sad, awful bad thing. It happened. She happened and then she left." I glanced at him briefly as I said this and I saw that his eyes were starting to well up. I couldn't handle that. I took a deliberate, slow sip of coffee to give us both a moment to be whatever it was we needed to be in that moment.

J: "You must be so pissed at God, seriously pissed off with Him." My friend was now in the anger stage.

I looked him in the eyes. "I was," I said. "I was very, very angry. I didn't understand why God would take her. I had very strong faith in God. I pleaded with Him, my grandparents in heaven to find a way to bring her back to me after she was gone. In that moment, I logically thought it was possible, if I prayed enough or promised enough to God.

He looked over at the TV that was still playing the news story of a young girl killed by a hit and run driver. The girl's father was an acquaintance of his.  He shook his head again.  "I would die if I had a little girl and she died.""

"That's the thing. I pleaded with God to take me instead but you know, it doesn't work that way."

J. said "I wish I had known you. Maybe I could have done something." He was such a guy, trying to fix the bad thing. We were rounding the bend  to the acceptance phase.

Taylor: "Thank you," I replied. "You couldn't have done anything but be my friend. I know it's uncomfortable." J., was staring at me intently, his eyes narrowing. I said, "I know you have questions. Go ahead."

J. asked: "What do I do when this guy comes back to work?"

Taylor: "Well," I said, "When he comes back,  don't avoid him. For some reason people do that after they hear someone's bad/sad news. They avoid the person affected the most, the person who needs comfort the most. Be gentle with him. It's OK to mention her name. The worst thing is to never hear her name again. You're going to be tempted to offer platitudes like 'God will give you another child/husband/job!' This doesn't help. If your friend's mom or husband, child or dog  had died, ask what his name was."

J. replied "But won't this just remind him of his daughter?"

Taylor: "That's a good thing. Just because you don't ask about her does not mean things are OK. The person who is feeling grief, is going to feel grief even if you don't 'allow' it. If he or she cries, let them. The best thing you can do as a friend is to say 'I'm so sorry you are going through this. That's it. "

J: "Taylor, you could have just not said anything to me. Why did you?'

Taylor: "I considered not telling you, of course, but this is a part of me, just as much as the fact that I like cozy, sleepy people and I'm a vegetarian who likes bacon. Plus,  I have a feeling we are going to be good friends and you needed to know this about me. I actually practiced saying it. How was it?

J: "You practiced?"

Taylor: "I did. In the spring I went to a conference with mostly moms. I was concerned about my reaction every time someone asked me 'Oh, are your kids out with your husband?' So, my husband and I rehearsed the possible scene and it went like this:

Husband L: (pretending to be a conference attendee mom): So, where are your kids? ('I'm sorry, honey! I love you,' he whispered.)

Taylor: "She died. Well, she's gone."

L. looked at me mortified: "You CAN'T say that!" "Let's try this again: So, having fun?"

Taylor: "So much fun! Are you?"

L: (as conference attendee mom): "I am! Are your kids around or in the park?"

Taylor: "She's not here."

L: (as conferennce attendee mom): "Where is she?"

Taylor: "Heaven." I said.

L. looked at me shocked. I looked back at him waiting for the next question. "I don't think you're ready for this," he said.

The thing was this: Saying it out loud helps with healing. For many people saying the bad thing "My child died / I lost my job / My wife left me" helps them to process the news and assimilate it.  It makes it real. It's not this dirty secret.

I smiled at him. He had come back around through the anger and shock and acceptance.

J: "Taylor, can I ask you one more question?"

Taylor: "Of course, J. Ask me anything." (If you are the person that the bad thing happened to, be prepared for questions. It may be hard to respond but it's better to just get it out there and to take the power away from the bad thing or the secret.)

J: "What was her name?"

"Ah, he asked,"  I thought.

I smiled. "Her name was Grace," I said. "Her name was Grace."
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