AUTHOR: Carolyn Savage | POSTED: January 24, 2013 | COMMENTS: 14 Comments
Every once in awhile I’ll get a call from a stranger.
Sometimes the caller starts with…
“Hi. I got your number from (insert friend’s name) and he/she thought I should talk to you.”
Other times they start with…
“Hi. Is this the Carolyn Savage that got pregnant with the wrong baby?”
Regardless of how the call starts, they always commence into a story, and it’s never the average, “Hey, you’re not going to believe what happened to me the other day” kind of story. Nope. They are always, “First, allow me to tell you I’m not crazy, but the story I’m about to tell you is going to make me sound that way. Something told me I should call you. That you might understand. Please don’t hang up.”
I never hang up. I’m wired to listen.
These stories are always painful. There’s always a thread of personal loss commonly weaved throughout the tale. A few times there’s been a happen ending, but usually the story teller is still struggling, trying to fight their way to a place of resolution.
By the time the story is over, I’ve usually stopped myself at least a hundred times from interrupting with a question. That’s a skill I learned from a mentor during my principal years.
“Listening is better done without speaking. Listening is best done without conjecturing. Just absorb what the story-teller is saying and wait until they’re finished. Then choose your words carefully and tap fully into empathy.“
Choose your words carefully.
Such a small thing, but in the face of personal loss and emotional upheaval, choosing words can be a daunting task.
The fear of saying the wrong thing; making things worse; or causing further pain can temporarily cripple a normally eloquent person.
Sometimes, to cope, listeners fall back on a cliche. I’ve been guilty of that. If you’ve read Inconceivable, you know there are few cliches I detest. I told our friends and family that I knew they weren’t going to know what to say to us. What do you say to someone who’s pregnant with the wrong baby? It’s an “out of the box kind of problem” and those out-of-the-box problems that can be extra sticky to respond to. Instead, I expressed a few things that I wasn’t, at the time, finding helpful. Like…
“Everything happens for a reason“.
I hate hearing that sentiment. I especially hated it during and in the immediate aftermath of my pregnancy. I think one of the reasons it stung was because I thought that cliche insinuated my pain; my loss; my out-of-the-box journey served an undefined but completely divine purpose, and me, and my family, were merely collateral damage.
Even fifteen months after “L” was born, and we learned of Jennifer’s pregnancy, and the miracle of our twins, I still balked at the “everything happens for a reason” sentiment. In the face of a miraculous resolution, there was part of me that scoffed. ”Those ‘everything happens for a reason’ people are going to think that the twins are proof of their ill-conceived (albeit well-intended) philosophy.” It irritated me that our happy ending could bolster what I considered a bullish*t way of making sense of personal pain.
Yet…here we sit. Almost four years from the original mistake, and all of the pain, confusion, struggle, and just plain sh*tty days where I couldn’t stop myself from being so damn sad, I live in a pretty peaceful place. A place that is happier than ever. It would be easy to think that my mistaken pregnancy happened for a reason. I’ve admitted that if the mistake hadn’t happened, I don’t think we’d have the family we have today.
Do I think there was divine intervention? You bet.
Do I think God orchestrated the entire ordeal to get us to the place we stand now. Hell no.
I also don’t believe tragedy “happens for a reason”. I think bad stuff just happens. Then its up to us to choose whether or not to claw our way out of it to a better, more peaceful place.
So, I listen to the caller. I empathize with their pain and I try like hell to choose my words carefully.
What can I do for you? How can I help? Can I point you in a certain direction? Can I give you a shred of hope that you aren’t always going to feel like this?
Sometimes I can send someone in the direction of something that helped me cope: a counselor; a doctor; an attorney; a trusted journalist. It depends on why the story teller reached out to me.
Most of the time, however, I think the most helpful thing I can do is listen with empathy.
…try like hell to choose my words carefully.
In the face of tough times, are there any cliches that have made you feel worse? Or words of wisdom that have comforted. Please share.