A few months after my husband died, I was scrolling through Facebook and kept seeing this quote that a number of my friends had posted. It read:
Motherhood sucks me dry of my time, of my energy, of my independence. But when I fall into bed at the end of an upended day, when the tired I feel is already bleeding over into tomorrow, I’m not bitter. I’m grateful.
I actually ignored the quote the first time I saw it posted by a friend, but then I saw it again and again.
And for some reason, it enraged me.
I just envisioned some perfect woman in her perfect life trying to tell us all that we should be grateful when we are exhausted. Worse, I couldn’t stop thinking, “Well, this Carolyn has NO idea what exhausted means! Does she have a dead spouse? Does she have to console her crying kids at night? Does she worry about going back to full-time work and supporting her family on her own?”
I was so mad.
I was mad at Carolyn for having what I figured was an easy life, I was mad at my friends for posting and re-posting the quote, and I was mad at the world for giving me a life that made me feel ungrateful.
I wrote this on my blog that day: Of course you’re not bitter, Carolyn. Because if you were, this quote probably wouldn’t be one that gets shared around and around. If you felt anything other than total love and gratefulness for your children and your life, I’m sure people would have plenty of judgmental things to say about that. Good job Carolyn for feeling grateful. Good job.
I didn’t exactly mince words.
A few weeks later, that blog post got picked up by a larger site. I liked seeing it reprinted as I thought it was one of my more raw pieces of writing, and I thought that it was something that other people should see.
Guess who saw it? Carolyn Moore, the author of those words, and the submissions editor of Her View From Home. And she didn’t just ignore it; she decided to write me. Here’s the start of her Facebook message to me: A friend sent your piece . . . and I felt compelled to reach out. I’m sending you a virtual hug, and hoping, very sincerely, you’ll welcome it.
She went on from there. She talked about her life some, but she made sure to say that she doesn’t know personally what it would be like to lose a spouse. She told me she had read about my husband, Shawn, and she was impressed by him. She told me that when she read my blog post, the one ripping apart her quote, it made her think more about grief, and she wanted to reach out to me.
It was one of the more impressive things I’ve read in my life. Rather than being defensive, and writing angrily to her many Facebook followers or even just to me, Carolyn took a step back. She read about my husband. She thought about where my pain might be coming from. She looked at my blog and tried to think about what it must be like to read quotes like hers when you are feeling pain like mine. She told me her story, but she also thought about mine. She really thought about mine.
I think it’s so easy to assume that we can put ourselves in other people’s shoes. I often did before Shawn died. I thought I understood what it was like to be a single mom, because my husband traveled a lot. I thought I understood what it was like to deal with a frustrated and sad 7-year-old, because my kids had troubles in their lives, too. I thought I understood what it meant to feel alone, because I had lost my mom at a young age.
But really, I didn’t. I didn’t understand at all. I thought I understood other people’s pain, but really what I was doing was looking at their situations through my own lens. I’d see the single mom or the crying kid or the grieving friend, and I’d think, “I know how it is. I’ve seen hardship.”
What I didn’t do was try to really understand someone else’s point of view—or at least I didn’t do it enough. Usually, I would hear a story and then think about how I would have reacted to a specific situation. Instead, I should have tried to ask more questions and really think about what that hardship was like for that person. Basically, I should have done what Carolyn did, which is to learn about someone else’s story before trying to pass judgment about how I may have reacted differently.
It’s amazing what we can do when we just listen. I wasn’t very good at it before. But I want to be good at it now. I want to be good at it like Carolyn was for me.
At the end of her message to me, Carolyn invited me to consider writing for Her View From Home. And so I have done just that.
I wasn’t grateful the night I read Carolyn’s quote. But I am grateful that she reached out, embraced my grief, and tried to understand me. Because that act made me feel heard, understood and a whole lot less alone.