Tuesday, January 24, 2012

What Not To Say: I Thank God Almighty That I'm Holier Than Thou

The Post I have Hesitated to Post…

Previously, on What Not to Say…

So I had a block of time last Thursday to just sit and think, in between snippets of Adele and the jackhammer like sounds of a Siemens Magnetom, and I realized that there might be a niche market for a new show called “What Not To Say!” A couple of my fabulous sisters will swoop in on unsuspecting people who say ABSOLUTELY THE WRONG THINGS when dealing with catastrophe. They would burst in unannounced, surprising the miscreant mis-speaker, and take them on a whirlwind training of WHAT NOT TO SAY. At the end, the reformed guest will be better prepared for the next challenging conversation with someone who is being smote.

This episode is a tough one. I should say up front, I am devout within my faith tradition (Roman Catholic). So I speak from love, really.

WHAT NOT TO SAY #3: “I thank God Almighty That I’m Holier Than Thou!

This episode is tricky. Certainly the “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle” can fit under this heading. We have relied on our faith to get us through catastrophe, and obviously this particular point will be different for people with varying ideas about God and the cosmos.
But perkily saying things like,

a. “I have a special needs child (not life threatening), and I just told God, I know you may want him back someday, and I am ok with that, if you want him back he is YOUR child, I am only given him to take care of for a little while!”

…well, I think I actually said, “I am not ok with that. I want to keep my child, thank you.” I almost snapped and said “Oh no you didn’t!”, but I refrained. Barely.

Look, dealing with catastrophe is so personal. If you deal with a challenging but not catastrophic event with the attitude I just outlined above, kudos to you for achieving such a high level of spiritual maturity. But that might not be a helpful gem to share with a parent fighting pretty desperately TODAY to KEEP THEIR KID HERE WITH THEM. HERE. ON THIS PLANET.

We believe in Heaven here. We regularly pray to all of our friends up there, especially those who meant so much to us early in our brain tumor journey, friends who battled cancer or brain tumors who did not survive. The night before G started chemo this time around I imagined calling all of our Heaven friends together…Nora, Marge, Sandra, young Nora, Hadley, Timmy, Dani-Ella, Emma, James, Joe, all the Grandmas & Grandpas…I called them all, and they came together in a big room in my mind, and I spelled out the game plan…they needed to bug God every day for this blasted chemo to work. We would hit the tumors with everything known to science on this end, and they needed to pull for G on their end…G knows she has a team on the other side of the field, and that helps her. I could really see this in my head, and it helped ME.

We believe we will all meet again. But super-spiritual reflection about “I’ll give my child back to God freely!” from someone not in the battle doesn’t come across as shared wisdom, but rather as condescending spiritual one-upsmanship .

We may need to come to ACCEPT that reality some day. Just not today.

I have heard other brain tumor parents share their acceptance of their child’s imminent death in a way that is heartbreaking and full of dignity. This is different than someone whose child IS NOT in that moment saying “I’m ok with God taking my child”. It’s easy to say that when He shows no sign of doing such a thing. Theoretical acceptance is Very, very different than the mightiness needed to gently lay down the sword and hold your child as they step into Heaven.

To my brain tumor and NF family who have had to live this mightiness, my heart is with you.

b. “Well, this is God’s will for you…” or “God’s will be done”…

Yeah. I guess that is supposed to be comforting? Or that in saying this is what God wants, we are supposed to be ok with it? I am not ever sure what the thought process is behind this statement. Maybe it’s just a way for the speaker to a) make the utter unreasonableness of catastrophe seem logical or b) once again emotionally separate themselves from the pain of the other person’s moment. I really don’t know. But it isn’t helpful.

When G was first diagnosed, we had a week in which a) I found out she was going blind—like, truly blind, she had been compensating so well, and we had so many other chemo related issues then, we didn’t know b) something I treasured was lost c) our patio table got smashed in a storm. This was in between miserable treks to a hospital in another state every week…and G coming into my room every night at 3 a.m. just feeling sick…That table breaking WAS the straw that broke this maternal camel’s back. As I cleaned up broken shards of tempered glass from my patio, I burst into a song I composed for the occasion entitled “God Really Hates Me”. It had a catchy tune…

Ok, so I needed more than a little help at that point. I think God helps us through tough stuff, I don’t so much think His Joystick Really Does Get Stuck On Smite (yes, another Top 40 Hit of that particular season of my life).

Saying that catastrophe is God’s will for someone is kind of like singing the refrain to God Really Hates Me, but filling in YOU for Me. At least that’s how it comes across. Even Jesus had trouble with God’s will right at the end of His life. Did He do what He had to do? Yup. Did He pray “please God take this cup away from me?” Um, also yup. So if JESUS had to struggle with this idea….I figure parents struggling with this are in good company.

Whatever your beliefs about how God works, the “this is God’s will for you” doesn’t help people mid-crisis. Really. Unless you actually saw a heavenly finger writing those words on a wall, don’t say it. And even then…yeah. Please don’t say it. God’s will for someone else isn’t really ours to say.

Thanks to Christine Dalessio over at http://feminismthecatholicfword.blogspot.com for reminding me of this last one. I think I had blocked that one out!

c. I should add, too, from my friend Blythanne, that God may in fact “open a window when He closes a door”, but unless you are a nun singing to the Alps in a classic Hollywood film, OR you actually are sitting on the windowsill, maybe this should be a statement to avoid as well. Folks mid-crisis are not willfully ignoring God’s way out…and telling us the window will come is just insanely frustrating. Maybe it is supposed to be encouraging. But it is just insane frustration wrapped in a cliché.

What TO Say: Like before, “We’re praying for you”. That’s enough.

I know in really, really hard times, I have no words for prayer, and I deeply appreciate my friends and even strangers who pray for us. That’s a language that is never wrong, no matter the differences in dialect or vocabulary.
Or, if saying anything seems wrong, just send a card that says you are praying or just thinking of the person. One of the most beautiful things we ever received was a card that told us someone had arranged for a healing mass to be said for G at a special Catholic shrine…and that person was one of Dave’s coworkers, a lovely gentleman…who happens to be Jewish. We were so moved by that, the effort he must have gone to to figure out HOW one arranges a Mass…at a shrine…in another country…

With no words, he helped us along the path.

And….the worst thing ever said in the name of religion to parents mid-catastrophe: (and this is NOT something we have experienced, but I have friends who have endured this horror),

d. And I will simply answer it without speaking it. Kids don’t get sick because their parents are bad. Period. God doesn’t punish people by making their children sick. A child with a catastrophic illness is not a rebuke for parental sins. Yes. I do know people who have been told this about their children. Really.

To those who say those kinds of things: read your freaking Bible. The New Testament parts (ie the more “recent” chapters). The ones where He actually said things like “hey, this person wasn’t born blind because of the sins of the parents”. …I mean REALLY.

And I know, honestly, that I’m preaching to the proverbial choir here, NOBODY who reads this blog has ever done that. I am confident of that. But it merits saying, if only because of my friends who have had to suffer those hateful words. And if you want to share this…be my guest.

Sigh. Those are my thoughts about What Not To Say : Holy Edition . And thank you to all of those people who do pray so faithfully each day for my G. We are grateful. And I’ve stopped singing “God Really Hates Me”, so there has been SOME kind of healing here, right?


  1. Oh K.M. -- you become more profound with every chapter here. I just read this to my hubby, and it had him undone! He said to print and share it with some friends here. He had criteria as to whom they might be. ;^)

    We are blessed to be on the same planet with you. Having spouses leave us for Heaven gives us a little knowledge that there are those who do say incredibly weird things at the most inopportune moments. At our 'open house' after my Ell died, one woman said to me: "For all that has been 'thanks.' For all that will be, 'Yes'." I came to be able to say it, but at the time I could have slugged her!

  2. I LOVE the story about the Jewish guy...made me tear up... what beauty.
    And about point d... O.M.Freakin'. g. that's all I have to say about that. (and, yes, that is with a "small g" (hehe).