That Sucks, and I’m Sorry It Happened to You.

DSC_0120This past weekend, it finally happened.

I’d been dreading it since the moment I walked out of Ian’s ICU room for the very last time. I remember walking into the pristine, whitewashed hallway with sunshine pouring through oversized windows, and thinking that it should have been raining. I’ve always clung tightly to the irrational belief that the weather ought to mirror how I feel inside, and it seemed unjust, somehow, that the sun could shine on that day while my heart shattered into a thousand irretrievable pieces. My brother Stephen just held my sister Emily and I as tears streamed down our faces, and I thought about how for the first time in years, he was the only brother. The weight of two sisters was on his shoulders alone, and I wished we still had Ian to share it. The three of us stood alone, right outside the room where our brother’s body lay on a hospital bed. Three where four belonged, and the silent scream of raw emptiness enveloped us.

For the first time since I was five years old, I only had one living brother. Since that day Ian died, I have quietly dreaded the moment that someone would ask me how many siblings I had, unsure as to how I would answer. Maybe it seems like a simple thing to you, but when faced with the reality that every answer might beg further questions which might beg a story about my little brother dying of cancer…well, I wasn’t certain that I could tell that story over and over again for the rest of my life. Not without breaking over and over again—and I find that most strangers don’t want my mascara stains on their shoulders. And what to say? I have two brothers and one sister. I HAD two brothers. Do I still have Ian?  I have a brother and a sister and another brother in heaven. No, that’s too Precious Moments and Ian would hate it. I have another brother but he’s gone now. Too vague? It makes it sound like he up and joined the circus. I have a brother and a sister. Incomplete.

Nothing felt quite right. I’d rolled it over and over again in my mind like monotonous waves endlessly crashing on the same little stretch of sand, and still nothing. Finally, last Friday night at Ashley’s bachelorette party, the moment I’d been anxiously awaiting arrived with no pomp or circumstance at all. One of her sweet friends looked at me over a plate of pita and hummus, and asked if I had any siblings.

My heart was eerily calm, and without thinking at all I smiled and answered simply: Yes. I have two brothers and a sister. I’m the oldest of four.

That was the end of it, and that’s the way it will forever be. When pressed, I will briefly tell the story as unfortunate listeners awkwardly stumble through some sort of response.

Can we talk about the response for just a moment? I think so often, we don’t know what to say when confronted with pain. Any kind of pain, really—it makes us uncomfortable, and so startled, we jump. We jump to fix it, jump to change it, jump to change the subject.

May I humbly offer a suggestion? It’s deceptively simple, really. When someone is breaking in front of you,  sit still and listen compassionately—with your whole heart. And then look your friend squarely in the eyes, and repeat after me:

That SUCKS. And I’m sorry that it happened to you.

That’s it. When broken humanity is confronted with the searing shards of sin, the very last thing that we need is another tired platitude. Even the most well intended clichés hollowly mock real pain. When the knife of divorce violently tears through a family, when miscarriage steals every birthday and little girl tea party and Christmas morning a Mom and Dad will never get to have, when loneliness looms large and cancer takes curly hair and coffee dates and hand squeezes, what we cannot offer is a solution to what has been broken. We cannot make it better. [Please do not tell me that Ian is better off in heaven because while I’m sure it’s great, I would prefer that he were sitting in my living room right now. How’s that for selfish?] What we can and should offer is a God that has walked every inch of broken humanity, and weeps with us in the midst of our pain. A God who hates it more than we do—so much, in fact, that  he climbed up on a cross and was broken in our place so that we would only ever have to experience the shadow of pain. [And oh, the shadow stings! Praise Him for saving us from the real thing.] We can offer a God who is redeeming every broken thing, and will one day restore the world to what He intended. And until that day, we can offer fierce, unafraid love. A love that says I can’t make it better, but I will sit right here with you and hurt too.

That sucks. And I’m sorry that it happened to you.

Comments

  1. Jamie C. Warren says:

    So raw, so beautiful, so true, so thankful that these writings must come out of you. You are certainly not a lima bean but made in HIS image wonderfully and fearfully and I praise Him for it and I know that full well.

  2. This is so beautiful and honest and good. Thank you for sharing your story. Your honesty is beautiful.

  3. This is wonderful. I too dread the question when people ask me about what happened to my dad (who passed away 5 years ago tragically), I dread the question mainly because I dread the response people will have. This is beautiful.

    • Sydney, I’m so sorry about your Dad. I hate that you have to deal with both the question and the pain of missing him. My heart hurts for you–I can’t imagine losing my Dad. The more I blog about grief, the more people like you come out of the woodwork and remind me that I-WE-are not alone.

  4. That sucks. And I’m sorry that it happened to you. It happened to me too, only it was my Dad and he died from kidney cancer. It was the worst day of my life thus far.

    • Oh Kristen, I’m so, deeply sorry about your Dad. I hate that you had to watch him die of cancer–I can say from experience that that SUCKS. I’m praying right now that you never experience a worse day. You are not alone, friend.

  5. S. Anderson says:

    As a young woman with a small child (recently divorced due to infidelity), I totally get the fear and panic of someone asking me about my husband. “That sucks” would be a perfect response! :) I totally get it!

    • My heart just hurts for you. I want to have you over for chocolate pie and coffee! That SUCKS, girlfriend. From the bottom of my heart, I am so deeply sorry that happened to you. You’ve got to feel really wounded, and I wish you hadn’t had to experience it. I’m praying right now that God protects your heart, and gives you everything you need to walk through this with strength and dignity. If you are ever in Albany, I’d love to make you pie. :)

  6. Kathy S. says:

    The first time someone said, “I’m sorry that happened to you”, I was a grown up. I stopped completely and looked at them and said, ‘that is the first time anyone has ever said that to me’. And I realized it’s what everyone should say to you for a loss or a tragic circumstance. I wanted to look at that person and say, ‘you are?’. And then just ‘Thank you, Thank you for saying that’. It means something…..

    • Kathy, isn’t it amazing? I think people are largely well-intentioned…they simply don’t know any better. It does mean something, doesn’t it? :)

  7. Great post. My dad died 10 years ago when I was a teen, and I don’t think anyone has ever said that to me – oh that they would! What a great response. I’ll need to remember to use it in the future.

    Thanks so much for sharing your experience here.

    • I’m so sorry about your Dad. I mean it when I say THAT SUCKS–…I just can’t imagine losing my Dad as a teen. Or ever. I hate that you have to walk through that. For what it’s worth, you are not alone.

  8. Lisa Best says:

    You are so beautifully eloquent. After losing a dad, brother, sister and finally my mother, people showered me with tired platitudes. I think if one person had said to me, “that sucks and I’m sorry it happened to you,” I would have hugged them with my whole heart. I love your blogs and, although what happened does indeed suck, you help others to deal by exposing your raw emotions in the most beautiful way. You are your mother’s daughter!

    • Oh Lisa. That sucks, and I’m sorry it happened to you. I can’t imagine the weight of all of that grief at one time–goodness, I so often wish that life were easier! I’m sorry that you’ve had to walk through all of those different things. Thank you for your kind words. :)

  9. My dad passed away a little over a year ago due to skin cancer. Unfortunately, it was also 6 weeks before my wedding. He had just entered hospice a few days before my bridal shower. We didn’t know if he would make it through the day so we can to cancel my bachelorette party that night and postpone it for later.

    I do remember one thing though. I knew exactly the people who had lost someone very close to them; and those that had no clue. The latter people made me feel like I was a terrible person for inconveniencing them if they would happen upon me in the hallway trying to find some privacy for my tears. They would use cliches, try to distract me with jokes. Or worse, just try to run away.

    But then there were those people that I learned to truly count as friends. The ones who just said this… “This royally sucks. I’m sorry you’re going through this. And I’m sorry your Dad won’t be there to walk you down the aisle like he had promised and like you had hoped/envisioned since you were little.” Or the friend who will just give you a hug. Or comes by your house randomly bring the entire top shelf of the dessert display case at Whole Foods and bread/cheese, to force you to eat…. lays on your bed and just cries with you. Those are the friends you know you’ll have for life.

    It is true though. You don’t want cliches. You just want someone to listen, to care. And to just simply say, “I’m sorry. This sucks”.

    • Jenn, what a hard thing to lose your Dad so close to your wedding. Ian died three days before mine, and it was such an odd thing to have so much joy and so much grief blended together at the same time. I’m sorry that your Dad didn’t get to walk you down the aisle–that had to hurt so much. I’m glad that you have friends that will empty the whole foods dessert case for you…for me, it was Oreo dream cheesecake from the Cheesecake Factory. :) Praise God for good friends that are willing to walk with you through awful pain.

  10. We loss our son, who was our only child. Miss him everyday, hard living life without all that his present brought to our world. When I meet people for the first time, I am always waiting until that moment arrives when they ask, “Do you have any children (or grandchildren)?” Sometimes I just say yes, if I don’t think I will ever see them again. Sometimes I say, “We had a son.” I get a questioning look, some follow up to find out more, some just let it go. I never bring it up unless someone asks. When people find out, I have received many different responses…shock, tears, confusion, compassion, cruelty. “That sucks, I am sorry that happened to you, ” is a wonderful one of understanding, powerful in its simpleness. The worse response has been, “We cannot include because you make us uncomfortable.” That is the kind of person you do not want in your life anyway. Hurtful because, as a childless mother, you are so conscious of trying NOT to make others feel uncomfortable…while constantly pushing back your own feelings of being uncomfortable in situations that use to be so normal for you to experience.

    • Donna, I’m so, deeply sorry about your son. I can’t imagine losing a child. I’m sorry for all of the memories you’ll never get to make, and the grandchildren you don’t get to have. That’s got to hurt all the time. I’m sorry for the way some people have responded to your pain, and I’m praying right now that God surrounds you with people that will lovey you well in the midst of this, and will not make you feel like an outsider. You are not alone, friend.

      • Thanks Ashley for your kind words. I have many wonderful friends that are here for me, and, of course, some of my son’s friends who stay in touch with us. Been several years, so they are grown and some with children now. It can be bittersweet, but SO happy for them. As far as those who are “uncomfortable”…did not know them when my son was alive. They do not get it, hope they never have to. Take care.

  11. Please join our Facebook group, When Live Hands You Lemons Make Lemonade –

    It is an online support group for people who are affected in any way by illness.

    We will help you trough your tough time. Together.

  12. Best Aunt EVER!!! says:

    I love you!

  13. Even more than eleven years down the road, I dread the question, “How many children do you have?” Do I say, “I HAVE three?” “I HAD three, but one was killed by a drunk driver?” People get mighty awkward with that last one, and conversation usually comes to a screeching halt or makes a right turn away from the topic. Now I usually say, “I have three children. Our oldest son lives in Seattle and our daughter lives in North Carolina.” That usually takes care of that question. If people actually notice and are curious, they add one and one and realize it doesn’t equal three. I feel guilty not acknowledging Jason (he was the most amazing young man and I miss him with my whole heart; surely, he deserves much better than just being omitted from my conversation), but – as an earlier visitor commented – we learn how to not make people uncomfortable around us and to temper our grief or loss to make to make it palatable to others. I’m so sorry for your loss.

    • Oh Rebecca. I’m so sorry for yours. I hate the tension between how we feel and what is acceptable to feel out loud. It’s hard. I wish that you didn’t have to wrestle with it–I pray you have people in your life that you can grieve out loud around.

  14. My twin sister Courtney and I were born 4 months early 23 years ago and she passed away when we were 11 days old. Doctors told my parents neither of us would make it through the night because of how tiny we were. Her complications were slightly worse than mine, but she fought hard for as long I she could before God called her home. At age 9 I was told I had a twin sister and I thought it was the coolest thing ever, but all of my life I’ve had an ache and longing I didn’t truly understand. It really hit me 3 years ago and especially as I lost people I care about, including Ian (I was in his theater class my senior year but his junior year at Apex)
    When asked how many siblings I have I always have responded I have a younger sister and an older sister. In my head I always say well I have 3 sisters but out loud I end up saying 2. How do you explain something like that? I want to keep her alive because she was a fighter and she was strong. As I have gotten older it’s sometimes hard and I just have to breakdown and cry. I just wanted to post this and let you know I’m praying for you and your family.

    • I’m so sorry about your sister. I can’t imagine how hard that is. I’m glad that you got to know my brother–thanks for praying for my family!

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