A good friend of mine, whom I will call Grace, lost a child before I knew her as a friend. Grace’s mother is a religious woman. She (the mother) was perplexed by the depth of her daughter’s grief response.
Grace’s mother believed that extended periods of grief were an ‘unbelievers’ lot in life. Those who grieved extensively must be lacking somehow in faith. It seems she also subscribed to the notion that a Christian response to loss was stoic, strong, joy filled, and ‘soldiering on’ in spite of it; proving to others your strength (thereby the unsaved folks can be inspired by your good Christian example).
A couple in Grace’s mother’s church also lost their young child. And they ‘handled it so well’, according to Grace’s mother. The father spoke at the funeral and praised and thanked God. In the weeks that passed, as people offered condolences, the grieving dad asked if there were any ways he might pray for them. In the first six months after the loss, the Mother had also shared her story, and proven her ‘faith and strength’ at women’s church events. Therefore Grace’s mother wished Grace could have given such good and faithful examples herself when she had lost a child…
Grace told me all these stories long after the fact. So I asked Grace how she had responded when her mother so rudely told her she ‘should have been like those other people’.
Grace snorted. ‘I told her to show me where they are after a year has passed! And then show me where they are in five years, or on the child’s birthday, since as each year passes those things get harder; not easier. And if they are still going around saying everything is wonderful at that point, then maybe there really is something wrong with MY faith!’
‘How did your mom take that?’ I asked, my eyebrows raised in shock at Grace’s bold defense of herself.
Grace sighed. She said her mom seemed offended and that as soon as Grace had said all that she was overwhelmed with empathy for the couple and felt bad for being so harsh about them. Realizing that they were soon going to crash and burn, once the denial and shock stage of grief passed, she really felt for their inevitable pain. She also feared that they were going to get little support from her mother’s church, when the painful stages of grief began to hit them. So Grace softened some to her mother and said, ‘Listen, mom, they are likely still in shock. Once that wears off and the pain hits them they are going to need real and ongoing support. Grief catches up with everyone, it just does. It isn’t about a lack of faith and so I hope your church still supports them when they are no longer able to stand up and praise God like they are able to do now. They will be brought to their knees eventually by this. Please don’t be harsh with them when that happens.’
The couple did, eventually, crash with grief. Their deep loss becoming more real as more time passed. They went through a time when they were no longer able to ask about others’ prayer needs. They stopped attending the extra church events, and no longer spoke on a public platform. Grace’s mom began to talk about them in the same hushed whispers she used when referencing her ‘broken’ daughter.
At the time Grace told me this story I could relate, but only in this way: when our business had been established for about seven years, a traveling salesman for a multi-state trade publication pressured me to buy expensive weekly advertisements. I bought one month’s worth; to try it out. But at the end of the trial period I didn’t think the results we saw were worth the added expense.
The salesman stopped on his rounds and pressured me to buy more advertising space for the next month. I refused. He persisted. I refused. Then he told me about a nearby competitor of ours- who was buying ad space every week and how ‘their marketing plan is working unbelievably well for THEM. They are making sales all the time and all over the place!’
The competitor he referenced was a two-year-old start up. I doubted they’d stay in business long as nothing they were doing made fiscal sense to me, nor did it make sense to my BHH (and business partner). I wasn’t sure about MY business savvy but I knew my BHH had business sense in spades. Therefore I didn’t think the nearby start-up competitor would ever make it past the start-up stage.
Both phone lines started ringing at the same time, the salesman wasn’t taking any of my polite refusals, and he was just standing there on the other side of my desk like a lumbering mule who couldn’t understand commands and might mess on my floor at any minute. I was manning the store alone and just wanted the salesman gone. Plus, I was really annoyed that he’d tried using classic sales tactics (so and so just bought it and loved it!) instead of just sticking with truth and honesty about his product…So I angrily blurted out, ‘show me where THEY are after five years, and at that point we MIGHT start running our business like they are running theirs!’
He turned red and left. It took over a year before he tried to sell us more ad space—when he finally called again our competitor had already crashed and was no longer in business. And I felt really bad about that. Just as Grace had felt. Because I didn’t mean them any ill will. I wanted to see them succeed. I didn’t want my thoughts and words about them to actually come true. But they had come true. Because what I noticed had been true.
Start ups have notoriously low success rates. But if a business can make it past the five year benchmark their rates of long term survival are far more certain.
Now I relate to all these stories and the ‘show me where they are in five years’ axiom from the perspective of abuse and PTSD recovery. I get my friend Grace’s grief. I have realized that my recovery is actually an extended grieving process. wherein I have come out of a lifetime of denial and for the first time have started to understand the enormity of the spiritual theft and soul damage that incest and child abuse steals.
And if someone can truly be supported for the time it takes to ride that roller coaster of grief, then they might be ready to be a witness and an example to others, eventually…
For now I am still grieving and recognizing what has been lost in my life. And I’m still in survival mode. Like the first five years of our business when we absolutely couldn’t live off of the earnings and just kept pouring all we had, and borrowing even more on credit, right back into it just to try and make it work on its own ‘someday’.
I keep pouring all I have into my recovery hoping that someday my brain and emotions will just take off on their own and not need so much outside ‘input’ anymore.
I’ve been told it will ‘take as long as it takes’ to heal. But I am thinking three to five years is a MINIMUM.
And so I would caution not to put anyone on any kind of a ‘pedestal’ or use them as any kind of example or good witness, before at least that much time has passed in recovery; any recovery really.