I’m sure you’re wondering “What’s up with the super depressing pic?”. For starters, it resonated with me. But more importantly it’s relatable. Most of you have felt just.like.this. Why might that matter? Read on…
I wrote this post after a recent meltdown, which went something like this: Me, sobbing in Everett’s nursery. Missing him. Angry that there is nothing I can do to get him back. Sad from the overwhelming loss. Empty. Anxious about the future. Longing for something that will never be. Heartbroken. I’ve learned to let all of these emotions happen and from that deluge often comes a sense of relief, sometimes introspection and sometimes a life lesson. That’s precisely what happened following this particular meltdown.
After much self pitying, I realized that we’ve all been here! Poor me, absolutely. But also, poor everyone! At this point in your life I would venture to guess you have worn this same face. You too have sobbed and felt angry, sad, anxious, empty and heartbroken. You have likely had someone taken away from you without warning and have been left picking up the pieces of your shattered life. You have shed these tears and carried this same miserable burden.
And why might I be taking us all down Painful Memory Lane? Because very frequently people say things like: “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” and “I wish I knew how to help” and “what I’ve been through is nowhere near what you’re going through”. While this sincere empathy is appreciated, I have to disagree with those statements and also discourage the comparison. Don’t downgrade what you’ve been through just because our experiences haven’t been the same. You may not relate to the trauma, but you can definitely understand and empathize with the loss.
That’s a very important distinction I have learned to make. Trauma might happen in varying degrees. What you saw, felt, heard, smelled, touched, endured, reacted to, and so on may be more or less intense than what someone else experienced. Your post trauma experience likely differs too – flashbacks, painful memories, trying to function again in the “real world,” grieving. Because the trauma is unique, we all have different stories. But the outcome is what we all have in common: We have all suffered a loss.
If you have a friend or family member who has endured an infant loss, you might not be able to identify with their trauma. As a result, it may feel like you can’t help or support them. However, you CAN because it is possible to relate (although I’d avoid the phrase “I totally understand what you’re going through” because again… different trauma). I truly cannot say that I know the pain of a miscarriage, or what it must be like to lose an adolescent child or suffer the loss of a parent. But I am certain I could offer support because I know without a shadow of a doubt what loss feels like.
It is uncomfortable to practice empathy and compassion in situations you don’t feel you can relate to. But hopefully this is a good reminder that even if it’s not infant loss, you can draw from your experiences to show grace, to give comfort, and to be a foundation for someone who is trudging through it.
I’ll close with this, a lesson drawn from Brene Brown (introduced to me by my awesome counselor Bonnie): Compassion is knowing the darkness well enough that you can sit in the dark with others. We think often that having compassion means seeing someone in the dark and immediately trying to flip all the lights on. But likely we do that because it’s uncomfortable to sit in the dark with someone. So I think, worry less about what to say or how to act or trying to understand someone’s trauma. Rather, use your experience to understand and relate to their loss so you can be comfortable sitting in the dark with them.
with lovE, Skyler