I suck, maybe

September 10, 2008

There’s a short story by Sherman Alexie called “Do Not Go Gentle,” about parents whose little boy is in the NICU that made me laugh hysterically a few years ago and that made me cry a few months ago. There’s a quote in it that has been popping up in my brain lately:

When you’re hurting, it feels good to hurt somebody else. But you have to be careful. If you get addicted to the pain-causing, then you start hurting people who don’t need hurting. If you turn into a pain-delivering robot, then you start thinking everybody looks like Mr. Grief and everybody deserves a beating.

Alexie’s writing is wise and funny, and it makes me wish I were a better person. I used to think I was a better person, but one thing that I’m learning about grief is that I suck. Perhaps that’s too harsh. I’m learning that I really could find temporary satisfaction in hurting the people around me, and I find that disturbing. I want to lash out at my mother and tell her to shut up, for instance, because she can’t help but talk more than she listens. She’s the world’s most darling and loving mother, and she doesn’t deserve harshness, especially from me, but it was all I could do today to get off the phone without hurting her.

Also today I looked in at a support site for parents and families of children with CDH (shorthand for congenital diaphragmatic hernia) and the first “new entry” that caught my eye was a response to a post called “Parents of survivors grieve, too.” And, like an idiot, I read through the discussion, which was about how parenting a sick child, a child who’d spent time in the NICU, whose survival had been uncertain, was difficult. And surely, that is true.

What is also true is that I was angry at those parents of survivors. I’d trade my grief for theirs in a heartbeat. I’d gladly be worrying about whether or not Teddy would ever breastfeed or eat normally instead of worrying about how to get lactation to stop because my baby is dead. I’d much rather be at the NICU right now, with bags under my eyes, watching my little guy fight (that was what we hoped would happen) than be home, empty, baby-less, and hollow. I’d wanted to be a parent to a child who came out on the right side of the odds, who’d have a good life, if not a perfectly ‘normal’ one. So I read this discussion, and I said, silently, “Bite me.” I said, silently, “What the hell do you know about grief, you lucky whiners? My grief could kick your griefs’ butts and then floss its teeth with them.” And then I thought that part of the difficulty of parenting a survivor would likely be the pressure to feel grateful even though you had to worry and watch for things that most other parents didn’t have to think about. I felt a tiny bit sorry for them, those lucky parents, for a minute. For a minute I thought, how sad that I’m engaging in some sort of one-upsmanship of grief. ‘My grief’s bigger than your grief,’ isn’t a healing, helpful, or productive sentiment, and I know this. I wanted to make these people feel bad, but why? It wouldn’t bring Teddy back, or make me feel better in any long-term or real way.

But I only felt sorry for them for a minute. Because I would cut off my right hand (and yes, I’m right-handed) to be where they are now, to have had the chance to see Teddy grow up. And I still wanted to make them feel bad, but I left the discussion without writing anything and came here to spew my bile. I would really like to be a pain-delivering robot right now, but so far (probably partly due to Alexie), I’m not. I consider that a small victory, and I wonder if the fact that, for now, this is a victory, means that I suck.



  1. I’m a mom of a NICU survivor, not of CDH, our girl has other complex issues.
    You are right, it does go both ways. Believe me, you are right. Every time I think of how bad things are I realise the alternative is that our daughter would not be here with us.
    You have every right to feel that complainers of survivors should bite you. Really you do and I don’t think you are spewing bile here at all.

    I just wanted to say hi, I found you through your comment at gitw.

  2. ((((((((((((hugs))))))))))))))))

    That topic made me cringe too when it first went up and I’ve been worried that it would be a source of contention between the parents of survivors and grieving parents. I’ve been on both sides… it is hard to raise a child with medical issues. Very hard. But I too, would give my arm to be there instead of here.

    I hope that topic doesn’t keep you away from the site.

  3. You don’t suck. I do. I am so sorry that this happened to you. As one of the moms that wrote in that post, I apologize from the bottom of my heart. I know that might not mean anything, it may also make you more angry that I am saying anything but my heart is telling me to say something to you and not pretend like I wasn’t here or don’t know anything.
    After reading your post, I just feel sick to my stomach to think that something that I (and others) said would add to your pain and sorrow. I know for myself that the grief that you are experiencing is not even in the same ballpark as what I was talking about for myself, there is just no other word that I know to use. I would never for a moment think that what I feel as a mom with a baby that survived in any way compares to what you have gone and are going through.
    So again, I apologize for the hurt that we caused you.

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