My friend had just had a miscarriage. She shared about it online, openly and bravely. She shared about her grief. She shared about her sorrow. She shared about the pain and how much she missed her baby.
Reading her words made my hands sweat. What was I supposed to say to her? The only suffering I had known was marital difficulties. No one close to me had ever died. I had a living, healthy child. Words seemed inadequate, and anything that came to mind, I was too afraid to say. My tongue felt like a loose cannon, one wrong word, and it would all blow away. I didn’t know what to say, so I didn’t say a single thing.
One year later, I stood in the receiving line at my own son’s funeral. He was my second, and he had been sick. He died when he was six months and seventeen days old.
As people came and shook my hand, words flew through the air like daggers.
“At least he’s not sick anymore.”
“At least you tried to save him.”
“At least you can get your life back now.”
I wanted to scream. No “at least” would ease the pain. Nothing could. Nothing would. Every word hurt. Grief was thick, and my pain was so raw. Every comment felt like a repeated insult to my deep, deep wound.
Next in line was my friend, that same sweet woman who I had no words for a year before. Now here she was, standing in front of me, unsure of the words to say, unsure of how to apologize for an unfathomable loss, unsure of what words to offer to soothe my bleeding heart.
I suddenly remembered what it was like to be in the other person’s shoes. Fumbling, heart broken with empathy and compassion, searching for anything possible, attempting with every ounce within me to love and understand. I saw my former self. And then I began to see my former self in every single person.
Briefly, I had a moment of intense clarity. Every person that spoke to me was someone who was trying to speak from the love in their hearts. They just didn’t know how.
A few months later, I was reminded of this when I heard this advice: “Choose to hear love.” When people open their mouths, and it doesn’t sound like love coming out, choose to hear love instead.
People mean well. They want to love you. They want to understand, and when they see your heart, broken and laid waste, sometimes all the wrong words come out– or sometimes, out of fear, they say nothing at all. They may say nothing you want them to say and everything you wish they wouldn’t. Most people genuinely want to scoop you into their arms and take away any pain, they just don’t know how.
So they stumble over words. They spit out platitudes, and then they walk away, either oblivious or kicking themselves in the face for struggling.
I was once there. I’m sure you may have been, too. There was a “before” to our suffering when we did not have the words to say.
And so. When it’s possible, remember that when people open their mouths, and it doesn’t feel like it’s love coming out, choose to hear love instead. Choose to see a heart that wants to reach out, it just doesn’t have the right words to say.
It’s hard, and it may be a mantra I repeat to myself for the rest of my life, but that’s okay. This will be it: choose to hear just love.
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