By Alice J. Wisler
“Never criticize a man unless you have walked a mile in his shoes.” Many of us repeat this line, most likely when we have been criticized as opposed to when we are the ones with a differing opinion.
Years after my four-year-old son died, I received an invitation that got under my skin. Missing my son, a little under the weather, and experiencing the realities of a damaged engine of our Lincoln Sable, I was not at my best.
So I felt I had nothing left within me to cushion my feelings when a fellow bereaved mother invited me on a special tour of the “sensational state-of-the-art” children’s hospital’s new addition at UNC-Hospital in Chapel Hill, NC.
“Why did she invite me?” My mind was spinning. “This mother is bereaved, she’s heard my story, and she should know I can’t possibly go on that tour. The old part of the hospital is where Daniel died. And the tour dates are scheduled during the Final Days Segment.” (The Final Days Segment is something many of you have in your past, particularly if your child or loved one was sick or hospitalized prior to death and had critical time which led to his “final days” on earth.)
After a few hours to absorb my thoughts, I emailed this mother. “Much too painful. Daniel and I were planning to tour the new hospital together when he got well. Instead he went downhill on January 22 and died in the old children’s wing of UNC on February 2.”
My friend replied that she understood. But something about her wording, made me wonder if she really could see why there was no way I would want to go on this tour.
Now, I am “over” the feelings of letting her invitation bother me. She really did think since I have an interest in children’s health, that I’d want to be a part of this special week of the hospital tour. But what I gained from this experience is this: Do we judge other bereaved parents?
For example, do we think: “I don’t know why Jill can’t put a picture of her deceased daughter on the mantel. She says she can’t have any pictures of her anywhere!” Or, “Why doesn’t Mike ever talk about Johnny? I can understand it being hard to talk about a child’s death at first, but it’s been five years since his son died!” Or, and this is close to home, “Why can’t Alice go to the hospital?? Beth’s daughter died there and Beth has been to paint the walls and volunteer on that very wing!”
I say, let’s be patient. Let’s not be judgmental. Think of it this way: the non-grievers, and particularly those who aren’t close to us, don’t get it and don’t understand us. They are typically the ones questioning if we’ve “lost our faith” or wondering why we can’t “move on with our lives.” If we can’t be nurtured by fellow grievers, then what can we do? Where do we have to go when we need a “club” to be part of? We have to, as a whole, stick together.
My friend Ann let me know that once she entered the “bereavement club,” she was much more accepting of those like her, whose child had died. She had widened her circle of acceptance even to include those she might have once felt were strange or weird. Now as each griever is in the same boat as she is, being blown about by the fierce winds of anguish, she has learned to allow for a new understanding. Regardless. She realizes that the reaction to grieving is as individual and unique as each loved one who died.
In his article, The Mind Has a Heart of its Own, author Russell Friedman points out that “grieving people are constantly being fed intellectual bromides in an attempt to make them feel better. So they are told over and over that they shouldn’t feel the way they feel, even though something sad has happened. It is what causes grievers to isolate to protect themselves, and often makes them feel as if there is something wrong with them.”
Friedman wonders why we let people be emotional in love, but not in grief. “The emotions of grief are no more logical than the emotions of love,” he concludes. And yet, when in love, people are allowed to act irrational and giddy. They are given permission to be “crazy with love.” No one tells them to stop feeling in love.
What kind of griever do you want to be? We beg society to let us just be sad and not always push us into a happy party. Likewise, let’s allow our friends in our support groups and at bereavement conferences, to be free to cry, to protect their hearts, to remember loved ones, in their own manner.
What a more compassionate world it would be.
Reach Alice Wisler through her website, http://www.alicewisler.com.