When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.

~ Kahlil Gibran, from"The Prophet"

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Quote of the Week

those awkward conversations after the death of one's child...

I do not mean to pry,
but you don't by any chance happen to have
six fingers on your right hand?

Inigo Montoya
Do you always begin conversations this way?

Man in Black
The Princess Bride is a movie one absolutely falls in love with or one that is just so misunderstood! (You can tell in which camp I reside.) It's a romantic love story filled with quirky characters who embark on perilous journeys - up the Cliffs of Insanity, through a Fire Swamp, down into an awful Pit of Despair where the Lifesucking Machine resides - but have no fear, for one is also reminded to believe in miracles thanks to a man named Max, and all adventures happen on the way to a delightful ending where love and goodness triumph over evil.  It's been one of our favorites for years, and quotes have been thrown about among family members under many circumstances because SO many lines fit snugly into such a wide variety of situations.
And now, I have to smile at the lines above that parody the awkward dance 
that accompanies some of my daily encounters. 

Within our surrounding community, the majority of people are aware of Erin's passing from cancer. This extended family of the faithful supported us throughout her illness, and has continued to stand by our side since her death with considerate gestures and dedicated participation in blood drives and fund-raisers.  Our survival of this tragedy would be so much more difficult without these individuals whose ongoing acts of kindness remind us we do not walk alone.

When conversations occur within the parameters of events such as those mentioned above, the express purpose of which is to do for others in memory of Erin, her name flows with ease and abundance from everyone's lips. After all, she's the reason we're gathering.

However, on a day-to-day basis there's a level of discomfort present during some chance meetings around town; in the aisle of the grocery store, at the post office...
There's Mary!  Do I ask how she is? How Dave is? What her plans are for (insert upcoming holiday - always a tricky topic)? Do I ask about her kids (even trickier)...   I mean the ones who are alive? Because she'll start with Chris, progress to Sarah, and then we'll begin the approach toward the abrupt drop-off because her account now has to end after Matt. Oh, but I can ask about Keenan. Do I tell her what my kids are doing, oh God, especially the one that was in school with Erin?

I usually throw the lifeline at this point with an inquiry about that person's family, because as much as I grieve Erin's absence, I do have a genuine interest in the lives of the living.  Yes, I admit it sometimes hurts to hear about all the exciting things I desperately want Erin to be doing, more so on some days than on others, but this is my life now and I dance to the beat of it as best I can.

The process is different when it involves people I know well. If I'm the one to bring Erin into the conversation and set the tone, most can follow along accordingly; some with an ease that warms my heart, while others do their best with varying degrees of comfort. It's the rare person who will initiate a conversation about her at this point, and that's difficult for me.  I suppose it's partially the hesitation to broach the subject for fear of making me sad (hint - It doesn't.  I'm comforted by the affirmation that she's not forgotten.) and it's also the not-so-subtle reminder that life does go on, and just because she's still front and center in my thoughts because I'm her mother doesn't mean she occupies that seat in the minds of others. Of course she doesn't. People move on.

When I meet someone for the first time the flow of conversation is in my hands because, through the course of the usual introductions and getting-to-know-you-a-bit pleasantries, the topic of family is often one of the initial items mentioned.
Oh, do you have kids?  Yes?  How wonderful!  What ages are they and what are they all up to?

Deep breath ~ Well, it's like this...  and the dance begins anew, usually with its steps dictated by what my future relationship with this person will be.  I always firmly state,  I have four children,  but from here the story can change when I account for their current whereabouts. The only reason I don't always say,  Our youngest daughter died from cancer,  is to rescue the listener from what I know will be feelings of embarrassment and discomfort. I have no trouble saying those words - I have come to terms with Erin's death (most of the time), I'm proud of the way she lived her life and thankful for each day she was on this earth (all of the time) - but the ensuing look of panic makes me feel so sorry for the inquirer, and the requisite steps I take to ease the awkwardness can be complicated, and sometimes it's just not necessary to go down that path... for either of us.

So yes, interaction can be so awkward.  I often feel like I have six fingers on my right hand.  The death of one's child is an incredibly complex topic, and no one can walk with confidence at all times in all situations. Everyone tiptoes about on occasion. A comfortable plan for one does not necessarily work for another, and even the best plans need adaptations based on the mood of the day.
I've decided to stay with the one-day-at-a-time attitude since there's really no hurry. After all, I have the rest of my life to work on my technique.


  1. Like it's not difficult ENOUGH to be grieving and you have to be concerned with making others comfortable. You had to do that at the wake and funeral and have not stopped. She is YOUR Erin! IT'S NOT FAIR!!!
    There is a silent sisterhood/brotherhood out there, though, even among strangers, who may be glad hearing you include Erin in your introductions, as they will never forget the baby miscarried or the nephew hit by a car or the young cousin/neighbor who died from CA. The one good thing about getting older is that people often have a better understanding due to their own life's experiences. Then again, I am so very sorry for the incredibly insensitive things people say. Love and prayers to you, dear Mary.

  2. You, Irene, would be one of those who can speak about Erin "with an ease that warms my heart", and I thank you from the bottom of that heart for always doing so.

    And to comment on the thought you wrote concerning the experiences of others ~ I find truth in your words. It seems my willingness to be open has given some the license or courage to share personal experiences of which I was previously unaware. In some cases, I'd known people for years and had no idea they were carrying such sadnesses. I understand how difficult it is for many to share feelings that are so painful, but in the telling there is a reciprocation of understanding that somehow softens the hurt, even if it's just a bit. If we can do that for one another, and our children are remembered in the process, then AMEN!

  3. Mary, that is one of my all-time favorite movies. It is some kind of parable, isn't it? Done with humor, love, tenderness and truth. I love it!
    What you are describing here is a hard part of the process...I think it gets easier with practice, but there are just those days when nothing is easy - and there are people who just don't get it. Not necessarily a fault on their part - just blindness.
    I was given a link to a fabulous blog which I think you will also like: http://mirabaistarr.wordpress.com/ The posting called "When faced with a spiritual meltdown: melt" was beautiful. Hugs to you!

  4. I'm concerned that somehow this blog post has given off a negative connotation and that was truly not my intention. The majority of people have not been insensitive, I just think they've been hesitant and afraid of saying or doing the wrong things, and that's only natural. There's so much of this that I don't know how to do, and that's why I said I have the rest of my life to figure it out. I understand that it's difficult for others... I really do. And I appreciate how hard everyone tries.
    And Karen, I LOVE a good meltdown! Thank you. The post is very good.

  5. I think you do a great job of being honest, but also being aware of the feelings of others. I would say that is impressive and all anyone can hope for in a conversation with you. You are easy to talk to and put others at ease, so you have no need to plan. I think it just comes naturally.

    Liz :)

  6. I agree with Liz. You put others at ease, it does come naturally to you. Godd days and bad days? Sure, love the idea, "when faced with a meltdown, melt." That's what Keenan is for.....

  7. I need spell check!!! I meant good days....Can I borrow Keenan???

  8. approaching things one-day-at-a-time?

    "as you wish", dear friend.


  9. Ditto Liz's words.

  10. Liz is wonderful and wise, and she doesn't even have the years of experience the rest of us do. She is an incredibly sensitive young lady with a very bright future.

    Margaret - Keenan is heading to the Barker Shop on Saturday morning. His mane will be clean and soft and ready for your use... whenever.

  11. Mary - I've been trying to decide how to respond to this post. First, I LOVE that movie...hilarious! And I really think that you do such a beautiful job moving through coversations that touch on or even center on Erin. I can honestly say, and I assume others feel this way too, that anytime we are talking to you and the subject switches to Erin it is an absolute honor - no matter if the topic is sad or happy. You hold her so dear to your heart and to share those moments with us is a blessing - and I hope as helpful to you as they are us. No one knows the "right" way to approach many things, at least you have the wisdom and courage to admit you are doing the best you can - that's all anyone can ever ask! :)