Wishing the earth would swallow me up

greifThe WordPress daily prompt from a couple of days ago asked us to write about an embarrassing moment.  I didn’t respond to it, but I have haven’t been able to get the idea out of my mind, so here is my story.  This happened a few years ago now, but I still remember every heartbeat of it.

I work in a large building with hundreds of people, so it’s easy to go months without seeing any one unless you are working on the same team or project.  I had worked with Scott for a little while but then our paths diverged.  I hadn’t seen him for some months but when he showed up at my desk one morning I greeted him warmly.  I remembered that he and his wife were about to have their first baby, and after some fast mental math I figured it would be due any time now.

“Scott, good to see you.  It’s been a long time.  How’s your wife doing?  It must be about time for the baby.  Are you getting excited?”  I was so proud of my social skills in remembering this, for stepping outside my introverted comfort zone.

Scott went a little gray in the face, got a pained look on his face, then said very softly, “I guess you didn’t hear. She miscarried last week.”

I went numb with horror.  This is the kind of experience that makes you wish the earth would open and just swallow you up.  What do you say to something like this?

I had just finished six intensive weeks of training to facilitate a grief support group.  I was amazed when my training kicked in to save me.  It was like being outside my body, watching a dream.  My heart opened up.  My voice softened.  I pulled up the visitor’s chair to offer him a seat.

“Scott, your baby died!”  I said it in a way I can’t even describe to you… with an inflection that said I feel your pain and grieve with you, but I also know that death is a transition and not a horror.  No matter how hard it is to live through, you will live through it.  I understand and support you, asking nothing of you other than to find peace being with a person who understands grief.

I knew that he didn’t need words.  There are no words at a time like this.  He needed quiet comfort and a safe place to breathe.  I mentally created that for him and he sat down, looking dazed, and started telling me about that horrible day.  About how the doctor had to induce labor and his wife had to struggle through the pain of delivering a child that they knew would be stillborn.  It was a son.  His son.  He and his wife were allowed to sit and hold the baby for as long as they needed to.  The nurses were so compassionate.

I let him talk and grieve, saying nothing.  Just being the compassionate listener that he needed.  His pain was so near the surface, so raw.

A week later he stopped by again.  Grinning shyly, he merely handed me a large envelope.  Inside were the pictures the hospital took of him holding his son.  The baby looked so tiny and still so alive, but the poignancy of the moment didn’t escape me.  It was a moment of grief, of life passing, not of a celebration of new life.

I think of that day from time to time.  It should have been one of the most embarrassing experiences of my life, but I opened my heart and treated both myself and Scott with compassion, and in doing so I brought a grieving man a small moment of peace.

I learned that day to treat the embarrassing moment of life with compassion.  It’s so much better than being swallowed up in embarrassment!

May your life be filled with compassionate listeners and loving hearts.

Chris acts as a grief support group facilitator with The Dougy Center for Grieving Children & Families, working with children between the ages of five and eighteen, and their surviving caregivers.  She also contributes to the new food blog Three’s Cooking, learning to cook from the heart, for the soul.

26 thoughts on “Wishing the earth would swallow me up

  1. A wonderful example of how a negative situation can be turned around to become positive. The magic formula here was that if you had drowned in embarrassment, it would have been a reaction based on self. However, by switching the reaction to one based on what the other was feeling, the entire emphasis changed to a good outcome.

  2. It’s such a touching post.. i’m an introvert myself and often find situations similar to this difficult to deal with.
    thanks for writing this post, it has encouraged me to stay positive in situations like this. 🙂

  3. That was a good “comeback,” so to speak, from the brink of the Earth swallowing you up. I don’t know that I would have had the strength that you did to save the moment with Scott. Further, it takes a really special (and empathetic) person to be able to listen nonjudgmentally sometimes to all life’s toils, and I wish I’d had a “professional listener/caregiver” like that in my life at several points . . . in any case, what a great, hopeful story. Thanks for sharing it, Chris.

  4. you felt his pain as your own–without that wall of self. I am so crying as I write this–I bet many commenters do…

    wow. so moving. I cannot imagine how it must be to literally labor through losing a life so wanted and loved (for the woman) and more spiritually for him…just the bit of sorrow I have endured in my own life makes me wonder at this fortitude…

  5. Sounds like you handled that beautifully. My brother and his partner lost their first baby early last year and some of the clangers people came out with were quite astonishing. And then there are all those who say nothing at all. He must have really trusted you to show you those photos.

    • People don’t know what to do with death, and the result can be so painful. I’m so sorry to hear of their loss. I hope they have been getting the support they need to get through this time of grief. Even though it’s been a year, grief fades slowly.

      • Not sure, Chris. They actually have baby no 2 due next weekend and I think a lot of people think that this makes the loss of baby no 1 alright. I suspect from the way that they have both been behaving that this is not the case though. Thanks for your thoughts.

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