Forgive me, world, for posting something that's actually serious...
Infertile people always seem to have a lot to say about tact. It's
fun therapeutic I suppose to point out all the tactless things other people say to make things worse. But I need that lesson on tact too, and it's taken me these four years to come to understand one pernicious phrase a little better.
It's these two little words: "At least..."
Fill it in with
-you're saving so much money
-you get to sleep through the night
-you don't have to deal with horrific tantrums like you just saw my toddler throw
-you get to stay skinny
-you don't have any stretch marks
-you and your husband actually still have a relationship
There are limitless variations on this phrase, and we use it all the time. In fact, until recently, I also used it all the time. We say it to people whose loved ones die, to moms who have miscarriages, to people who lose their jobs, to people who get cancer, etc.
We say it because it hurts to see someone suffering. We want to alleviate that suffering by pointing out that things could be worse. It's important to see the bright side, we think.
I completely understand this urge and have been saying this to people my whole life. I am all about looking at the bright side, finding humor in sticky situations, and trying to stay hopeful.
Here's the problem. Someone says this--completely meaning well and out of a sincere desire to be helpful--but it belittles the problem. Someone who had a miscarriage doesn't need to hear, "Well, at least you have another child." Yes, that's true, and it is great, but miscarriage is still sad. They don't need you to fix it or belittle the fact that they are mourning. (We have not miscarried--this is just an example).
Personally, I'd rather not hear about all the money we're saving because we don't have kids yet--I'd happily pay money to get them (which, it turns out, we are doing. Infertility isn't easy on the wallet...)
Here's another problem with that phrase. We may need to hear the bright side when we are complaining. Sometimes when I'm whining I do need a reminder to be grateful, recognize hidden blessings, maybe even find things to laugh about.
But it is not for someone who is mourning. Mourning is absolutely legitimate and natural, and a person can mourn a trial or loss or disappointment without complaining or being ungrateful.
I don't often wax religious on this blog (mostly because I don't often wax serious), but here's a good example from the Bible. Christ visits Mary and Martha after the death of their brother Lazarus. They great him with tears. And what does he do? Jesus weeps. He just mourns with them. He doesn't say, "Hey, at least I'm about to raise him from the dead." Even if he wasn't going to do that, he doesn't say, "Hey, he's going to be resurrected so you'll all see him again eventually." He doesn't tell them to quit crying or to feel better or even to trust in His redemptive power. He just weeps.
Then he raises him from the dead. He lets them mourn first. Interesting, no?
Sometimes when we tell someone "At least..." we are pushing judgment on them--saying that they are wrong to mourn, and that they have a bad attitude about their hard situation. We may be wrong on both counts.
Here's a recent example for me.
I had a patient which a leg with a nasty infection and some other problems. The surgeon came into her room and explained they needed to do surgery to get rid of the infection, and there was a good chance they'd need to amputate if the infection had spread too far. I had to step out before he left, and when I returned, I found my poor patient with her face in her hands, sobbing.
And for once in my life I suppressed the "At least..." that sprang to my lips (took a lot of willpower, I tell you) and instead knelt down next to her and put my hand on her shoulder and just let her cry. I'll admit, a few tears sprang to my eyes as well (don't tell anyone, though, because I have a strict no-crying-in-public policy that I only break for emergencies). Sometimes, it's better to let someone hurt. But help them not hurt alone.
Three days later (after her surgery) I happened by her room and we chatted briefly. She was smiling.
She still had two legs.