Tag Archives: sympathy

Baby, don’t you pity me . . .

It’s not a literal line, that title, it’s a line from a Freddie King song, one of my favorites: Someday After a While (Live) by Clapton from the LP From the Cradle

It’s an appropriate title because it’s something that seems to weigh on myself and those around me an awful lot.  I talked a bit yesterday about Joel Sartore’s segment on CBS’ Sunday Morning program on Sunday.  The part I didn’t really say as succinctly as I should of is how I totally understood the “looks” that he got from people who had just heard what his family was going through.  To recap for him: his wife came down with breast cancer a number of years ago.  At the beginning of this year she had a recurrence.  Not long after treatments her mother passed away.  Then in the summer, their son was diagnosed with Hotchkins Lymphoma and has to have chemotherapy for the rest of the year.

One of the things people don’t get is how you can have a sense of humor about these things.  Joel’s line in the middle of the piece was “I thought the only way things could get much worse would be if she backed over the dog in the driveway.”  How true that is.

My own situation, though not like Joel’s, is not too dissimilar.  My wife passed away on the day of our 18th wedding anniversary.  Then we lost our house.  My work decided to “make a change” just a couple weeks after I returned.  I couldn’t afford the school my oldest, Abbi, was attending so I had to move her to the public school.  If you wrote all this down, as the events unfolded, in detail, nobody would believe that it was true.

My oldest, Abbi

Abbi and I had a discussion just about an hour ago and I think it’s what was keeping her from falling asleep.  Abbi is not like her mother, she’s more like me.  I may write about how things happen here, but I don’t share them person-t0-person often.  Nor do I talk about them here, not most of them.  This is a snippet of our day, not the whole day.  But she was affected by someone asking her if she helped her Mom make Thanksgiving dinner.  It’s a simple enough question, but for her, or any of us, the reaction to her answer is much more weighty.  Like Joel’s line in his segment, he mentioned that people walked up to him, tears in their eyes, acting like their son had already passed away.  We get that . . . a lot.  She gets the glassy-eyed sympathy.  I get the “how do you do it alone?” thing.

What people don’t get is that we’re okay.  Could we be better?  Well . . . yeah, what the hell do you think?  But couldn’t everybody?  I mean, short of Richard Branson, who can say their lives are perfect?  Even before losing Andrea our lives were far from perfect.  They were hard.  Now they’re hard in another way.

What worries all of us, though, is meeting that person the first time and wondering if they’re sincere or nice . . . or if they’re just pitying us.

Don’t you pity me.

Please, don’t.  If you don’t like me, then fine.  Don’t.  I can honestly tell you that I could really give a sh*t.  My kids love me.  I have a close cadre of friends who are amazing.  I have people around me who care and help, even if I’ve been neglectful and failed to talk to them for a long time.  Don’t pity me, Abbi, Hannah, Noah or Sam.  It’s easy to look at us and say “oh . . . if she’d just lived on. . . ”

My four munchkins…
Yeah.  If.  You can’t buy happiness with a fistful of “if’s”.

The discussion I had with Abbi centered around the fact that other people can’t accept that we could be happy.  They can’t accept that, maybe, we’re okay.  We are.  I’m not saying it to convince myself!  It took a really, really long time to come to terms with the fact that we could be okay without Andrea.  It took even longer to come to terms with the fact that, in some ways, some things are better.  You never want to admit that.

But I told Abbi the same thing I’ve said here before: we have to keep going, not necessarily by choice.  Andrea gets to be pretty and perfect and sweet in the memories in our minds and we have to keep trudging along.  It’s harsh and difficult sometimes, yes, but it’s just the way it is.  I could sit and wallow in misery or grief but then there are four kids who suffer because of it.  People assume, my daughter said, that she’s picked up all the slack and is doing tons more.  They don’t believe her when she says she simply ferries the kids and watches them for a couple hours until I get home.  They look at her and wonder how Hannah, Noah, Sam and I will cope when she’s gone and won’t accept it when she says: “they’ll figure something out.  My Dad will do it.”

When you face what others see as unimaginable they can’t fathom that you come out on the other side unscathed.  The reality is, we’re not unscathed.  We’re strong, though.  We’re bonded.  Holidays aren’t as hard as you might think, it’s the buildup to them and the questioning after that are harder.

In the end, when asked if she helped her Mom with the dinner, Abbi said she simply said “no…I didn’t” and left it at that.  It’s easier, sometimes, not to have to tell the story all…over…again.

Beside, Abbi told me, “Mom wouldn’t have cooked any of it anyway . . . and I know for a fact I probably wouldn’t have helped.”

That’s my girl.

Throwaway Words . . .

Wasted Words by the Allman Brothers Band from the LP “Brothers and Sisters”

A shot the day before Andrea passed in the hospital

A friend of mine is going through one of the most heart wrenching things anyone can deal with.  His mother, who’s been very sick for about a month or more, is fading fast.  He texted me – and the I called him – when she ended up on a respirator in the hospital.  This came just a day after he’d left her at her hospital room and she was awake, responsive, and seemingly doing well.  Not long after he got home came word that she’d taken a horrible turn.

I don’t imagine to know his mind, everyone is different, but I’ve been there.  Andrea was coming back, doing well, and then all of a sudden she’s on a respirator at 2 in the morning.  I was in a panic, I was crying, and I got help from my family over the phone to make sure I was stable enough to drive and calm enough to go into the room and calm Andrea down so she wouldn’t fight the tube.

But tonight my friend called and said he got there and his Mom asked to get the tube out of her throat.  She waited until he got there to do it and then said she wanted to go.

I can’t imagine that.  I really can’t. . . it’s not something that I would ever want to foist on someone.

I didn’t have that.  I didn’t have my wife asking for it to stop or go away.  She seemed to be responding and looking to me and looked like she was turning it around.  I was grasping at that little ember of hope at the time.  My friend, however, had just met with his family and they had signed an order that said “do not resuscitate” for his Mom.  She had gotten their family back together, she’d lived a full life, and she was done.  She wanted to go.

I had to make that decision alone.  They came up, Andrea being manhandled under the nurse’s CPR, her ribs breaking, and the doctor told me they’d reached a point where I had to decide.  They could keep going, but the doctor wasn’t certain they’d even been getting enough oxygen to her bloodstream.  Her kidneys had failed, the dialysis wouldn’t work, and her blood was growing toxic.  They’d been doing this for a long time.  I looked at her body, folding into the cushion of the mattress every time they compressed her rib cage down to pump her heart, and I couldn’t take it anymore.  I wanted her to stay but it was so violent and I knew it was so painful.

“Stop,” I told them.  “For the love of God, please, just make it stop.”

Not a day goes by I don’t wonder about that.  Should I have made them keep going?  What if I had, would her life have been even worse?  I look to my kids and family for strength and I get it.  Mainly, because they understand.  My Dad lost his Mom.  My kids lost theirs.

My friend called me because he said he knew that I was the only person who understood.  I don’t say that out of arrogance, it’s true.  He was just now, with his Mom still alive, going through what I did in the first weeks after Andrea died: people going up to him and saying “I know how hard this must be . . . .”

Just like me, they were driving him crazy.  The kind, genteel person you should be says “thank you, I appreciate your thoughts,” but deep down . . . and after about a week of this I did actually say this to someone . . . you want to say “fuck you, you have no idea!”  Unless you’ve been there, somewhere in that room, you have literally no idea.  People come up and say it like they have an idea what it’s like, what you’re going through.  I told my friend last night, though, that they’re wrong.  They get to give their false comfort, act all put upon, then go home and go back to their regular, everyday lives.  They don’t have to face it.

The largest part of everyone’s day is never touched by my friend’s Mom . . . or Andrea’s in my case.  They got to go home, get comforted – by their husband or wife or Mom or Dad – and we were not able to have that.  They might see a flicker of a memory or a smell or a laugh that makes them think of what happened but I dealt with it every – single – day!  Every minute.  Every second.  It was hard to breathe.  It was hard to sleep.  I didn’t want to eat.  Every movement, every inch of our world reminded me of her.  People just don’t get that.  They get to go back to their lives, the humdrum of the daily buzz that is the machinery of life and our losses only hover on the periphery waiting for those minor stimuli that might spark a small memory.

The simple act of making dinner or lying in bed remind you of what’s missing.

Don’t use the throwaway words.  Please, for the love of God, have some sympathy and do things right.  “I know what you’re going through” or “I understand” or “I can imgaine” . . .


You really can’t.

Be a sympathetic ear.  Listen.  Comfort.  But don’t try to relate unless you really have been in the situation.  We have been through an emotional ringer and you’re unwittingly turning it a few more cranks.

What we need is a hand on our backs . . . and ears to listen . . . that will do far more than you can ever imagine.