“Sometimes, when something goes wrong, people do not want to hear that it is all going to be OK, or that so-and-so had that happen and it was all fine, or any of a variety of such things. Sometimes it is better to just agree that it sucks, and leave it at that.”
That’s what I posted to my Facebook page after all the dust surrounding my oldest son’s broken leg settled (and if you thought postings were a little slow on my blog this week, you’re right). He’d braved the casting, smiled for a picture, accepted his crutching lessons, agreed with every promise that he’d feel better soon — and finally just imploded in a pile of misery because he very definitively did not feel better, not at all.
Of course he’ll get better. It’s his leg, not his head. It could surely be worse. And millions of people have weathered broken legs and survived. But when your leg hurts more than anything has ever hurt you before, and your hockey season is over, and you can’t get up by yourself, you might not be ready to look on the bright side, and we — as in, we parents, and as in, we everybody — really need to find a way to let that be OK.
I know I was one of the offenders. I wanted my son to know that it wouldn’t hurt this much for long, and that one hockey season will pass like everything else. I wanted him to feel better, for his sake. And for mine.
It’s hard to be with a child who’s suffering. Hard to listen to your baby cry, and hard not to be able to take the pain away. But I realized that when I insisted on trying to fix the unfixable for him, I was pressuring him, and in some way asking him to fix it for me. If he’s willing to pretend it’s all better, I can take that and run with it. But I’d be running away from where he is right now.
On that Facebook page, many people chimed in to agree. Anyone who has been hurt, sick, disappointed or grieving knows how eager people often are to help you make it all better. We all know what not to say, and yet somehow we still sometimes say it to other people, because it’s the formula, or because we haven’t had time to think about what we’d really like to say, or because some part of us just can’t go to that place where we know that some things in life have to be lived through instead of conquered.
“Agreeing that it sucks,” Anne Boyd wrote, is “compassion.” And compassion is harder than pretending that everything happens for a reason, or jumping ahead to that moment when the worst of anything is in the past. The time will come when my son is ready to look on the bright side of this, and when a little black humor and encouragement will help. But until then, I need to let him feel what he’s feeling, and not what I want him to feel.
At this point in the classic parenting essay, I describe how I sat down with my son and told him that I know it hurts, that it was all right to say it hurts and that he didn’t have to try to be cheerful about how terrible it all was right now, and that made everything better. I did all of those things. I just don’t imagine I made anything better at all.
And that’s just fine.
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