How do some people figure it out?

It’s like it never happened, like she never was here.  I see one patient after another and we talk of their exercise routine.  I ask about their sex life.  We discuss their vaginal discharge.  I am transported back to a year ago, when I was actually pregnant, but didn’t know it yet.  My life hadn’t changed.  I went to work each day and helped women figure out their birth control and navigate through abnormal pap smears.  Fastforward to right now and when I’m at work, and it is the same.  There is a sign with my daughter’s photo and her life summed up in a short paragraph, but otherwise, no difference.  I sit across from these women and for a moment I am distracted, thinking of their lives instead of mine.  They don’t ask, because the visit is about them (as it should be).

At lunch time I say to one of my nurses who has been especially helpful in the past few months, “maybe I should take the sign down?”  She asks why.  “Because no one says anything, so it feels a little pointless.”  We decide to keep it up longer, at least until I start seeing OB patients.

Then I am seeing my last patient of the day- a young woman who I have never met before.  As we say our introductions and I ask how I can help her, she pauses and says, “I just want to express my condolences…” and says a few more kind words.  She read the sign.  I was so resigned to the fact that though my daughter’s absence is a constant presence for me, it might not belong in the workplace that I became a little teary eyed when she spoke her words.

I raised my eyes from her chart and looked at her.  “You are the first person to say something all day.  Thank you.  That is so kind.”

I know people don’t know see the sign.  Others don’t what to say and I don’t blame them.  I used to not know either.  But then every now and then I have an interaction like this one.  It amazes me how some people can figure it out.  Is it something they are born with, this deep-rooted compassion and fearlessness to say something?  Was it taught to her as a child, raised by parents who showed her the grace in saying something, anything?  Has she learned her empathy the hard way, having lost something or someone she loved?

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7 thoughts on “How do some people figure it out?

  1. I always wonder this myself. I have a good friend who we gave an A+ to in her response to our grief (figuratively, of course). I don’t know how she knew to do just the right thing at just the right time, or why others didn’t. I feel like it would be an excellent dissertation topic, though, for some ambitious grad student! (Not me.).

  2. Just like some people say things that baffle me because i wonder how they can imagine it’s helpful, or nice, others do seem to find just what i need. I think in some cases, it is the result of being taught that as children i think…

    One of my friends helped her her 10 and 12 year old daughters to make a video for me to offer their condolences. Watching it, i was extremely touched and i couldn’t help but think that it was, indeed, a moment of learning for them. They were so graceful despite their sadness. I thought they did so much better than many adults who, presumably, were never taught how to deal with death.

  3. I don’t know. Some people seem to naturally be able to sit in the presence of sorrow, acknowledge it. Others, not at all – if you are not happy and smiling, they are just not going to go there with you. The latter are the ones who make me want to stay holed up in my home.

    Another part of it is actually practicing compassion. I can remember instances in my younger years where I was scared to say something (when death/loss had impacted someone), and I took a chance, swallowed my pride, in hopes that I could “be there” for someone. I think when I saw how it opened someone up, or seemed to be a ray of light, I understood that it was more helpful to acknowledge than to ignore.

    I’m just glad that someone acknowledged your daughter. It feels good (for a moment), I know.

  4. It’s both known and taught.

    As a kid from very early on, I knew instinctively what to say in tough moments, who needed comfort, who needed space, who needed someone beyond me with whom to speak.

    Now, as a Mom, I’m raising our children (with my highly supportive husband) in a home that focuses on four things: Love, Compassion, Respect, and Responsibility.

    Here’s to hoping it all turns out… well!

  5. In some cases it’s taught. But others have always known and I also wonder if the people who’ve always known are connected to death in a certain way.

    I’ve always been drawn to tell people who’ve had a loss about how beautiful their child is. I was attracted to the infant headstones in the cemetery. In 2006 a girl in our due date club lost her son at 5 days old. I reached out and we connected on a deep level. A year later my own daughter was dead.

    I always wonder if subconsciously myself or some greater power was….. guiding me along and trying to let me know what would happen.

    I’m glad you get those few people here and there who do comment.

  6. And kudos to the nurse that encouraged you to keep the sign up to let your patients know. This patient would not have even known that you are seeking acknowledgment of your loss and the support that acknowledgment and a little selfless kindness brings. I am glad that announcement is still displayed even if most people chose to not address it. Some people will pull through.

  7. Meghan,

    I ended up here through Roo’s site many months ago. For some reason I cannot stop coming back. I think about you, Mabel, and Chris often.

    I work as an engineer and have never known what or if anything to say in difficult circumstances surrounding the death of another person’s loved one. You have helped me realize it is better to say something than nothing and several of the things that would not be appropriate. Thank you.

    I recently had a customer mention in a group email that I was copied on that he was on bereavement leave. I couldn’t ignore it. Prior to reading your blog, I would have uncomfortably deleted the email. I sent him a private email back telling him that I was thinking of him during this difficult time even though I don’t personally know him or who he lost. He sent me a very nice message back thanking me and I can only hope the acknowledgement I sent helped him with processing his grief in some way.

    I am learning from you how to be a better person. A more compassionate person. I think it is amazing that because of Mabel you have been able to touch and help others in this way. Thank you for continuing to write about Mabel and your journey. Much love from Michigan.

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