Boulders and Balloons: When Sharing Isn't Caring

It seems that as soon as a woman becomes pregnant, every mother she meets wants to share their delivery story with her.

I remember when I was pregnant with my firstborn, other mothers started regaling me with horror stories of their labours that had me quivering in my maternity pants. By the time I had reached my third trimester, I was terrified of the experience of childbirth and all the things that could go wrong.

Fortunately, it was around that time that prenatal classes started. Between that and a lovely "what to expect"-type maternity journal, terror was subdued to nerves as I felt I had acquired the tools to be as prepared for labour as possible.

I learned a lesson from that experience. When I see the hens start in on the next new mother-to-be, I refrain from telling my labour story. (Actually, I had the kinds of deliveries most women envy, so telling it tends to draw spiteful comments from the hens.) I simply say, "Yours may not be like that. Every delivery is different. Mine were only 3 or 4 hours long. Just breathe. Women have been having babies for thousands of years." And, the one piece of advice I wish someone had given me pre-baby, "Don't let them give you an episiotomy."

There is a time and place for labour "war stories." Women have earned their right to tell them, and they should--just not to the new mom. Show your trophies and scars to the other women who have been through it. And your husband if he wasn't there. And maybe your kid (because when they get to the know-it-all teen years, you need all the leverage you can get!)

The new mom? She needs to know the lessons you learned, not borrow the terrors you experienced.

Photo compliments of Lightstock.com.

Photo compliments of Lightstock.com.

Being human is hard. There is so much pain involved in this thing called "life." But it is also joyful. What makes life easier is walking this road with other humans, and sharing those experiences of joy and pain with each other.

But there is a time and place for everything.

We all want to be heard. We all want our story to be recognized, and validated. Sharing our stories is how we connect to each other.

But I would like to caution you to stop and think before you share. Ask yourself what your reason is for sharing. Think about the effect it might have.

Two weeks ago, the loss of Levi dropped a boulder of grief on those who loved him. At times, I have been literally flattened by the grief, unable to stand, too weak to do anything but howl. If I had been forced to handle it alone, that boulder would have completely crushed me.

Fortunately, an immediate outpouring of love and support began. Each thought and message and prayer extended was like someone taking a helium balloon and tying it to the boulder. No, it is not enough to remove the grief. And it doesn't last forever. But it does ease the pressure ever so slightly for a little while, and allows my spirit a few moments respite to heal and become stronger.

Every so often, someone has come along with their own boulder of grief. Those that have walked this road before, even if their journey began only recently, know exactly what I am going through.

For the most part, these people have also been handing out the biggest balloons. They simply say, "Hey, I have my own boulder. It sucks having to carry it. But you will get stronger, and it won't flatten you forever." While they say it, they hand over a whole whack of balloons.

There seems to be a third group, though. This group? They try to hand you pieces of their boulder.

Some people have been sharing grisly and horrific details of the cause of their grief. Or maybe they have "borrowed boulders"--the grief wasn't theirs, but they still share details of someone else's story.

In fact, most of those who have been adding to my load have had "borrowed boulders." Those with their own boulders really don't want to add to the burden of another.

To everything there is a season, and a time for every purpose under heaven.
— Ecclesiastes 3:1

I have an excellent imagination, and I am highly empathetic. These are qualities I am glad for--they make me a better friend, mother, wife, daughter, and writer.

They also mean that when someone shares their grief with me, it adds, not removes, weight from that I am currently carrying.

I can't even move right now under the weight of what I see going through my mind many times a day. I haven't even been able to use fiction as an escape--it's too hard to care about fake drama when my real life is so full of it. And the fake drama is usually centred around death, so the escape is fleeting, at best.

Sharing others' real-life drama only adds to the questions and hurt I am experiencing. I am not strong enough to bear my own grief right now. Please don't ask me to bear yours. Or that of your friend's mother's uncle's.

It is very encouraging, like a handful of balloons, to tell me "so-and-so also experienced the loss of [insert person/relationship here], but this is how they got through it." It is the opposite to share details of accidents, deaths, and trauma, even if the intention is trying to be encouraging by comparing my situation with theirs. (Though how it is supposed to help me deal with my own grief by simply knowing others have experienced similar or "more horrific" losses, I am not certain.)

If this is you, I know your intentions were good. You do not need to apologize. It is so difficult to find any "right words" to say to someone who has experienced this kind of loss. Those experiencing the loss are quick to forgive, because we get it. Three weeks ago, I would have been on your side of this divide. I also hope this does not prevent you from commenting again. I really do appreciate your love and support. Those are the things that help ease this burden for a time.

I just ask that before you share your horror story, think--do you need validation? Approbation? Do you need to work through your own grief so that those details no longer shake you to your boots? If so, talk to someone who is farther along the road than you. There is a time and place to share those stories.

I am still too new. The loss is still too heavy. I still can't lift my own boulder off the ground, so I just can't bear your burden, too. I may have had a few balloons to hand out before, but they have all been popped, and it's going to be a while before I have a fresh batch to give away.

For new grievers, we need the hands, love, encouragement, and balloons of those who have either been here, or are willing to come alongside us and put a hand under that boulder for a minute and share the pain we already have.

Your pain is important. Give me some time, and I will be strong enough to hold my grief and ease the grief of others, too.

But I am not there yet.