A friend of mine recently posted on Facebook how she was frustrated and discouraged by her son’s progress in speech therapy.
A small flood of encouraging comments came in response. They were all different, but quite a few of them, the ones that made me cringe, were the same.
The ones that made me want to scream at my screen were the ones I have heard for years myself.
From well meaning people. People who love me. Us. Her. Who mean ZERO offense. And I know that. Truly.
But good intentions don’t always remove the sting.
“Just hang in there! Soon, he’ll be talking your ear off and you won’t even remember this!”
“Oh, she’ll be fine. I know tons of kids who were delayed when they were babies, but now they are running circles around their parents!”
“They don’t give cerebral palsy diagnosis’ this early. There’s no way she has it! She’ll be okay. You’ll see.”
“My cousin’s baby was born with a heart murmur and he outgrew it in two weeks!”
“Just keep trying! You’ll have your baby eventually!”
“Everything will be okay.”
“Don’t worry, it will be fine.”
For my friend, for her son, the truth is, his speech is likely to come eventually.
But you know what?
Maybe it won’t.
Maybe he will struggle for his whole life with communicating his thoughts, fears, concerns, and loves.
Maybe it won’t be alright.
Maybe it won’t be okay.
I mean, it WILL be alright. And it WILL be okay…but Alright and Okay might look a lot different than you expect them to look, and it will be a journey wrought with tears to get there. To believe it.
And here’s the real thing…the other side that nags at my heart…
What if it DOES actually turn out okay?
What if that boy turns into a chatterbox that gets in trouble at school for talking too much?
What if the baby is finally born alive?
What if the sickness lifts?
What if the PET Scan comes back clear?
What if the girl runs marathons someday?
Does that discount the years of grief and struggle to get to that point?
Does that undo the long, painful months of just one pink line? Month after month after month.
Does that erase the pain of the little ones who went Home before their mamas could kiss their sweet cheeks?
Does that turn the mama who worried and prayed for the boy who ranks woefully behind his peers, a laughing stock?
The journey deserves its credit too.
Streaks of red can crush a soul in ways you never knew.
A half inch pink line has the power to knock you to the ground when it has no pair.
Our hearts can love so fiercely that which we have never even met.
Mountains of paperwork denied. Countries closed. Complex laws. International treaties. Can tear you to shreds.
Assessments and the ever widening gap between “typically developing” and your girl can be more than you can bear some days.
Getting to Alright and Okay isn’t always the point.
And for those of us whose Alright and Okay are wildly different than what anyone meant when they said it would be so…
I distinctly remember a conversation several years ago, with a dear friend. Someone I consider one of my closest friends. Someone who loves my family dearly. Who means no harm. I know that. Deeply. But there are times that seemingly innocuous conversation plays on loop in my head. She probably doesn’t even remember it. But I do. Over and over and over again. And it angers me. Not because she meant to hurt. No, she meant to encourage and uplift. I know this. But, it stung. It stings. I remember exactly where I was standing. I can hear her voice. Telling me all about how Jill will be so totally fine. She knows this kid and that kid who…and they were way worse off, and now look at them!
And there are days, angry days, frustrating days, hard days, when I want to take my sweet friend, the one I call for support, and I want to grab her by the shoulders and scream at her. Not the pretty yelling you see in the movies, but the wild eyed, crazed screaming that comes from deep within my soul. An ugly, desperate scream. I want to tell her that she was wrong. In fact, all those kids that were worse off and are Okay and Alright now? Yeah, well, let’s talk about how deeply unfair the world is. Let’s talk about how it hurts me to see those same kids some days. How I have to leave the room because I am jealous. And sad. And I wish she had never assured me that everything would be Perfectly Fine, because this is the worst case of I Told You So I have ever heard of.
And then I want to punch her in the face.
And then I would feel really bad about it, and beg forgiveness because she is one of my dearest friends, and I know her words came from a place of love.
Truth be told, I’ve said it at some point too. I’m sure of it. Probably 100 times. Or 1,000.
“I’m so sorry. It’ll be fine. Don’t worry, it’ll all work out and be okay in the end. You’ll see.”
The cancer comes back.
Nurseries are turned into offices.
Special needs kids grow into special needs adults.
Mamas mourn too soon.
Homes are lost.
Friends, there has to be a better way.
A better way to support one another when they are walking a painful path. There has to be a better way to encourage and uplift and love without undoing the brutality of the journey, without negating the reality that for some, it doesn’t get “all better”.
Because the world isn’t so black and white. Which is good because my favorite happens to be color.
Here’s my proposal…let’s try this one? All of us. Put this in the back pocket of your mind.
“I’m so sorry. I’m so sorry you are heartsick over this. I’m so sorry you are worried. That sucks. I’m here for you. I will pray for you as you go through this. I will be here for whatever you need.”
Don’t ask them what you can do to help. Because she will say “Oh, nothing…” Because that is How We Do.
Do not ask if you can bring them dinner. Because she will say “Oh, it’s really okay…we’ll be fine.” Because that’s How We Do.
We women, we don’t like to impose. We’re dumb like that.
Instead…just do it. Call her at 2:00 in the afternoon on a Tuesday and tell her that pizza is scheduled to be delivered to her door at 6:00 that night. She will protest. Because…How We Do. But tell her it’s been paid for, so she can do what she wants with it. It’s out of your hands.
Mail a simple note and a $5 coffee card.
Cut two flowers from your garden, plop them in a mason jar and place them on her front porch.
Keep it simple. This isn’t about wowing her with your Pinterest search skills.
This is about Love. Support. Encouragement.
She isn’t crazy. She isn’t neurotic. She isn’t being ridiculous.
No matter what the outcome turns out to be.
Because it really will eventually be Alright and Okay. It’s just that Alright and Okay are tricky words whose meanings change depending on the details.
And you want to be there for her in the case that she must navigate a new path to Alright and Okay.