Definition of Intent: Intention or purpose.
Synonyms: aim, objective, goal, target.
Constantly I’m having to decipher between people’s “good intentions.” If their goal is to make me feel better, but it actually does the complete opposite and they fail at that goal – at what point can I make them aware of their shortcomings?
This was one the largest disagreements Jonathan and I had at the beginning of our marriage. He would do or say something that really upset me. Then when I would voice this pain to him, his rebuttal would be: “Well that wasn’t my intention! You know I would never purposely hurt you, therefore you cannot be mad at me.” Yes, I know my husband would never cause intentional pain to me, but that thought process doesn’t take away my hurt. Here is my favorite quote from the wise Louis C.K. :
“When a person tells you that you hurt them, you don’t get to decide that you didn’t.”
YAS Louis! So after many arguments of defining intent and hurt, Jonathan and I finally came to a place of understanding. That we need to listen to each other when one of us says: “It hurt me when you did or said BLANK.” Then understand the hurt, apologize for the hurt, learn from the hurt. And hopefully in the future that same kind of hurt won’t repeat itself.
So when people continue to do or say insensitive things in regards to my son’s death, I’m taught that – well their intentions are good, so you can’t really be bothered by it. But how many times am I suppose to choke back tears and pain from these hurtful words when I’m already hurting from the loss of my son? In the way that Jonathan and I did for our marriage, where we came to place of understanding through discussion and learning from one another. So when is it time for others to hear about this hurt and learn from it?
As a society we desperately need more education when it comes to pain, death and grief. As a culture we do not accept pain for long periods of time. We allow ourselves to feel it for a very brief second, then we pick up and tell ourselves “life goes on.” We find pain messy, sticky and uncomfortable. We never sit in it or let the pain just be. So it’s easier to tuck it away and to just keep swimming. I find this extremely unhealthy and experts would agree.
I read a fascinating book on grief called: I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. The author Pamela Blair who has a PhD is Philosophy and is a licensed therapist, gives a history on our grief culture. Citing that in 1927 Emily Post reported a widow’s mourning period should last 3 years. Yet by 1950 it declined to only a 6 month mourning period was considered acceptable. By 1972 she advised the bereaved to “pursue or try to pursue social course within a week or so after the funeral.” Then came 2001, the attacks of 9/11 and our entire country was hit with grief and mourning. So while much has changed in terms of how our society deals with grief because of this awful attack, much has still stayed the same. Leaders eventually encouraged Americans to “get back to normal”, but nothing is normal in our country since that day. Same goes for me, “normal” died the same day my son did.
“I’m trying to fix my pain with certainty, as if I’m one right choice away from relief. I’m stuck in anxiety quicksand: The harder I try to climb my way out, the lower I sink. The only way to survive is to make no sudden movements, to get comfortable with discomfort, and to find peace without answers.” – Glennon Doyle Melton
So I feel urged to tell these “good intentors” (yes I know it’s not a word, but go with it) educate yourself on grief before you say something that is actually very hurtful. Also don’t try to fix or take away the pain of my son’s death. Let me have this pain, because the pain is all I have left of him. Like Glennon said, “get comfortable with discomfort.”
And yes, everyday I’m trying to find peace without answers:
- There is absolutely no answer as to why my friends delivered living babies this year and not me.
- There is absolutely no answer why my son’s umbilical cord would wrap itself around his neck, causing his death in my womb.
- This is NOT God’s plan. No loving God would take the life an innocent child. Just as he doesn’t cause children to die of cancer or have them starve to death either.
- “You will have children one day.” I hope with every fiber in my being that this is true, but YOU don’t know that.
- “You have to move on, you have to get out of bed, you have to get a full time job” – No, I will never “move on” from my child. Will you move on from your living one? Some days I can’t get out of bed, I’m not a switch that can be turned on and off. A 9 to 5 will not “distract me” from the death of my son. I’m doing what I need to do and that is enough, that is more than enough.
- “I’ve had a miscarriage, I understand your pain.” I’ve also had a miscarriage and it in no way compares to my son’s stillbirth. To carry your child for 30 weeks, feeling them move & kick, giving birth to them and then holding them dead in your arms … they are two separate experiences, that I can assure you.
- “I hope you can find happiness and be grateful for what you do have.” Being happy with my husband or having gratitude for my supportive parents, does not replace or negate the loss and pain from my son dying.
I could go on and on with the painful things people say to me on a daily but I will stop there. This is not to shame anyone or to make someone feel guilt if you may have uttered these words to me or someone else who is grieving. This is to educate. Most of these phrases have been spoken by people who have not experienced this kind of loss. So acknowledge that. Acknowledge that you don’t know this pain, therefore you don’t have the answers – no one does. Also, everyone’s pain is different, no matter how similar the experiences are.
Intent is no longer your ‘Get Out of Jail Free Card.’ So in lieu of giving advice or comparisons, just ask “how are you really doing?” Then listen, acknowledge and repeat.