If you’re looking for a post where I talk about how the power of positive thinking has helped me, look away. This isn’t about the positive power of positive thinking, it’s about the negative associations of positive thinking comments—they’re pretty powerful too. I’ve heard a lot of these over the past few months, and while I understand that everyone is trying to help, you should know that these statements might work in a lot of situations, but they just don’t apply to the loss of a child.
So here are some of my favorites, and what I think when I hear them.
“Everything happens for a reason.” This is my personal favorite. I usually respond to this with a kind nod, but what I want to say (or sometimes scream) is “what possible reason should I accept for the death of my daughter?” If this is part of some great chain of events that I can’t see, I don’t care. I want my daughter back. That’s it. There is nothing that can or will happen that will make me change my mind on this. There might be a reason that I’ll see someday, but I would still always rather have her with me.
“Things will work how they are supposed to work out.” See “The Great Plan” for how I feel about this one. If this is how my life is “supposed to” work out, consider me a dissatisfied customer.
“Have faith that things will work out” or “you just need to believe.” This one gets me for multiple reasons. First, I do have faith. I believe in God, and I believe that He is good. But, I also don’t believe He controls it all (see “The Power of Prayer”). I’ve relied on faith that things will be OK multiple times in my life, and yet here I sit grieving for my child. If the only explanation I can come up with that is acceptable to me is that life isn’t fair, then it is impossible for me to have faith that things just work out. Bad things happen, and not everything works out. I’m living proof and can introduce you to lots of others to illustrate the point.
“Life (or God) will never give you more than you can handle.” Life gives us more than we can handle all of the time. Do not mistake my ability to get out of bed every morning and take care of everyday life as me “handling” what’s been handed to me. Three losses, back to back to back, are more than I can handle, and I’d guess more than most people can handle. Just because I haven’t closed up shop and completely shut down (at least not on a permanent basis) doesn’t mean that I don’t spend most of my time every day wondering when I’m going to break. I’m getting on with the business of life, but by no means does that mean I ever feel like I’m handling it.
“Be thankful for what you have.” Another one that gets me on multiple levels. Just because I mourn for my daughter and miss her every second of the day does not mean I’m not thankful for what I have. Of course I’m thankful for my husband, my family, my friends, my health, my job, and I could go on. And yes, I’m thankful for the honor of being Vivienne’s mother. But none of those make the pain of losing her less painful. I can be thankful for what I have and grieve for my daughter at the same time. It’s not as complicated as it sounds.
I know that this post probably sounds angry, and that’s because I’m feeling angry a lot these days. If you’ve said one of these things to me, I hope you don’t think this anger is directed at you. I recognize that you’re all trying to help, and in the absence of knowing what to say, we try to emphasize the positive. But this is one of those situations where there is little positive to point out. And when someone points out the positive to me, all I can see is that there is no positive. This doesn’t mean I won’t try to make something positive come from all of this—just that there is not a single thing about this journey that is inherently positive. It’s like the saying about putting lipstick on a pig—it’s still a pig. Dressing this up with positive platitudes doesn’t change what it is—a child, my child, died. The power of positive thinking can’t do a thing to change that.