Kindness Comes in Many Forms

kindnessWe all feel helpless when we witness suffering and pain. I am reminded that one of the best ways to cope with grief and loss, and begin to heal is help another person who is grieving.

I received an email that reminded me of the importance of being there for all who are suffering. Here’s a portion of the email:

I have been writing an email to you in my head for 18 months now but somehow never could sit down to write it. There have been many dark and sad times when talking to you in my head was what helped me process my feelings and get by.

This email is not what I wanted it to be but I just really need your help. I am despairing and am finding it hard to cope. I am so sad, fitful and rageful and so jealous of my friends. I am 35 and childless after 7 years of trying and 9 failed ivfs. I ceased treatment 18 months ago and have been struggling. The past six months have been the hardest as my closest girl friends have become pregnant or had babies. I feel so despairing and feel I will never feel happy again. I was hoping you could give me some support and hope as I currently have none of either.

As I read the message, I was immediately transported back to a difficult period in my life several years ago. I remembered how important it was then that I find some light, a beacon to carry me out of the darkness.

I replied and asked permission to share portions of this email along with part of my response, because I knew that you, dear readers, would have your own encouragement to amplify a message of hope. Here is what I wrote in reply:

Some years back, I was where you are now — on every dimension you describe. I truly could not imagine a life where laughter, joy, and lightness would ever find me again. Despair consumed me. I know how hard it is to cope and try to push through the bad feelings. It’s good that you want to get to a place where bitterness and resentment are not your constant companions. This is a particularly hard time of year.

Each one of us heals in our own way. It’s not always a straight line, but the good days in time do start to outnumber the bad.

I’m limited to my own experience in the grieving and reinvention process, but I found that constructively thinking about the future me provided a focus. Not just where do I want to be (as in What Color is Your Parachute), but WHO do I want to be? I started with attributes: Happy, emotionally available, big hearted, content in the moment (not what if’ing the past or fearing the future). I imagined myself 10 years forward recognizing a woman at peace, a mentor to others. That became the framework to measure my progress.

Years ago, when I was a newbie in the blogosphere with Coming2Terms, I created a category of posts called An Act of Kindness. I would like re-introduce that category here.

READ  The Wisdom of Experience and Value of Seeing the Whole Picture

I would like to extend that idea into 2013 and make a conscious effort on a regular basis to reach those in need of reassurance, kindness and compassion. If you would like to join me, we can start here. Please share your wisdom. What helped you find hope when you were in pain?

Peace.

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21 thoughts on “Kindness Comes in Many Forms

  1. dear writer of the letter to Pamela,
    I would love to be your pen friend!
    I would love to get an email from you! My contact:
    klara.soncek (@) gmail (dot) com

    I was in exactly same dark years not long ago (after 8 years of trying and 10 failed IVFs).

    ***
    Pamela – you wrote a beautiful answer! I couldn’t agree more!

    ***
    My recipe to to find hope & claim back happy life:
    – lots of fresh air, going for really long walks every day
    – starting to write your own blog. It is wonderful to find support group litteraly around the world.
    – focus on now. Don’t regret the past. Don’t be afraid of the future. Now is all we have.

    Wishing you all the best!

    1. Sarah

      What helped me find hope when I was in pain was my discovery of Frida Kahlo and other “cheroes”.

      Frida’s beautiful, heart wrenching life and art pulled me through by helping me to realize that not everyone’s life is all rainbows, puppy dogs and babies. There is incomprehensible suffering to meet in life at times, and Frida was well acquainted with the unrelenting visceral kind of pain that becomes our dearest, closest friend and companion with infertility. Frida suffered a tragic bus accident in her youth that left her body in a cast for months, and due to uterine scarring following an abdominal puncture from the accident, was never able to have any live children. I love looking at her paintings, in particular “the broken column” and “the little deer”, because those paintings are *exactly* how I feel, and have felt, about my infertility and my broken body.

      There is such a tenderness and innocence to this kind of pain, and the sore, wounded spot is the ultimate source of human compassion. Many enlightened beings have traversed hopeless chasms, and for me infertility has been my most challenging spiritual struggle.

      Ultimately what does give me the most hope with regards to my continued existence is the knowledge that this world of limitation is not the ultimate reality, and that I will someday have the fulfillment of having and being with my babies (if not in this life, then the next).

  2. Love this idea. And I bet your response to that email helped soothe an aching and despairing heart.

    Peace, indeed.

  3. Oh! Sending big hugs for the lady who wrote you! I remember being in that place of just realizing we weren’t going to have kids, and it was so hard. Big hugs, girl! It gets better, I swear. Be kind to yourself and splurge on yourself a little. You’re worth it!

  4. CoolAunt

    We do all heal and move forward in our own way. There are days I feel as though I cannot breathe because of the pain, despair, lost hope, sadness, and why me’s. I FORCE myself to do valuable things, like being a really great aunt. When childless, being a good aunt is as rewarding as it is painful. When I survive this pain and sorrow of “just knowing I would be a mother” to being motherless I want to have a life and relationships I can fully step back into. I mindfully try to maintain these things (relationships, hobbies, health, experiences, and pursuits) while enduring enormous grief. One day I will manage the pain better and I do not want huge regrets concerning the things I neglected while suffering. I most definitely have days when I say “I just can’t- not today” and no regrets there because they are part of the journey. Likewise, when I force myself to get going and do things that feel hard I always feel better about pursuing something that truly does have value and meaning to me despite the pain and anguish.

  5. Charlotte

    I would say to that woman that if you reach out for help to those in this community you will find it. You will find understanding and support in this blog and others and their kindness will overwhelm you and help your broken heart. I would say be kind to yourself and do your best everyday to live life for you, right now.

    Pamela I like your approach in your reply very much. I like that it focuses on values and qualities rather than goals. It is much like the approach in ACT therapy, which focuses on values guided living. You show much insight and wisdom in your blog and your support to those in need.

    Merry Christmas to you and Alex.

  6. HUGS to the woman who wrote you the email, Pamela. LOVE your wise reply. :-)

    What helped me let go was first of all letting myself grieve fully (I was angry at God, but I lashed it out on Him until I felt relieved that I held nothing back). I cried my heart out and I embraced everything that I felt as valid, but I tell myself over and over again that my emotions don’t make me. I have to write a list on words of affirmations for myself to get through those dark moments.

    Secondly, I browsed through many IF blogs which echo similar sentiments to give me the strength. At least I knew then I wasn’t alone and I wasn’t going crazy (because not even my close friends understood how I could feel the way I felt).

    Thirdly, reading Silent Sorority book has helped me A LOT.

    Fourthly, finally I started having my own IF blog to process my own thoughts and emotions concerning IF.

    Then I gave myself time to adjust to the idea of letting go of a future without children. It takes time, but after a while things DO get better and I’m mostly at peace with my life.

    Lastly, reaching out to close friends or those friends who are willing to try to learn about IF world also helps (but we have to be really specific about what we need and how they can support us – telling them what not to say and in which stage of IF battle we’re in). I have a mommy close friend who’s been REALLY supportive in my IF journey and I wish everybody has someone like her in their lives (if not more than just one).

  7. NeverAMon

    I have been in this place for the last 15 years and not sure why anyone would say that it gets better. It doesn’t get better, it gets easier to deal with, easier to hide the sadness from others, easier to smile and pretend all is okay because no one really cares whether you’re sad or not anyway. But never gets better. For once, let’s be honest about it.

    1. Is today better than 10 or 13 years ago for me. Honestly? Yes. We each come to terms in our own way. We never “get over” what we’ve experienced, but we do find ways to cope and manage when trggers bring back sadness. As for whether others around me can relate. Outside of the women who have walked in my shoes I no longer expect to be fully understood, but then I don’t always fully understand others.

      1. NeverAMon, I must say that I agree with Pamela completely. It does get better for me as well, though there are still some tender spots inside me, but I’m no longer “bleeding profusely” the way I did when we were still TTC (when just looking at a pregnant belly made me feel stabbed oh so very slowly by the longest blade ever and that made me bleed all over again). As a result of the “dried wounds”, my relationship with others get better as well ‘coz I feel less and less conflicting emotions in myself in this “fertile world”. And of course our sex life is MUCH better now after we stopped TTC. So how can I not say that it doesn’t get better?

        I don’t have to pretend it’s all OK because I DO believe it’s OK even if we have no kids. I’m sorry to hear that you feel that no one really cares whether you’re sad or not. :-((((

    2. dear NeverAMon,
      I am sorry to hear that it did not get easier for you even after 15 years.
      Hugs!
      Klara

    3. NeverAMon, I want to hug you. And I am sad that you feel stuck, that it has not got better for you. I am 9 years on from knowing I would never have children, and whilst the first couple of years were very tough, since then it has definitely got better.

      I don’t want to give any glib advice that you might feel insults you. I can just say what helped me. And that was a combination of things:
      1. Helping others
      2. Feeling compassion for myself
      3. Letting go of the guilt, the blame, the shame
      4. Not being afraid to feel happy, to enjoy the parts of my life that I could do without children
      5. Getting support from women who did understand – mostly women on-line
      6. Knowing I’ll never forget, but learning from that

      1. mj

        I have been visiting here for awhile, but I’ve only posted here maybe once before, so feel strange saying all this without a full introduction….

        I think sometimes it sounds to others like we are minimizing their grief when we say that eventually it “gets better.” Because it sounds like we are saying “you’ll get over it.” (And there are those people out there who will tell you that “you’ll get over it” because they have no idea what they are saying.) I have often said, over the years, when it comes to grieving and loss, that “it doesn’t get ‘better,’ it just gets ‘different.'” You don’t “get over it” but rather you become different. I bring this from a place of not only the loss of infertility/childlessness but also from the loss of loved ones from accidents and suicide.

        The key, for me, was deciding what kind of “different” I wanted to become. A broken, bitter, angry woman, or (like Pamela describes above) a big-hearted, happy, emotionally-available woman?

        It’s still a struggle. I only made the decision to move from “childless” to “childfree” a little over a year ago. I still find myself what-if’ing and feeling bitter and angry at times. But overall, making that decision, that *choice* was really a psychological turning point. I am different now. I have been through great loss and change of expectations, and that is part of me. I will enjoy and love what I can and try to set bitterness and sadness aside. I will be happy, for myself, and for others. And I will have compassion (and forgiveness) for myself and for others.

        I’m not sure I could have reached this place on my own, without people like Pamela and others in this community. I am usually a silent onlooker (reader), but you have helped me so much. Thank you.

        1. Thank you, MJ — and all who have left comments — for sharing your insights. We’re all the better for having each other as sounding boards, and for the support and understanding so generously provided.

        2. mj

          realizing after reviewing this that i made a newbie mistake – this was supposed to be a general comment and not a specific reply to Mali’s comment or anyone else’s comment. Although, like Mali, Klara, and others, I want to give a hug to NeverAMon. A hug to all of you, actually.

  8. Diane in Maine

    What helped me:

    1. This is extreme, but it was necessary: getting out of my marriage. My ex “blamed” me for our not having kids and I got tired of being the target of his anger/sadness/frustration.
    2. Relocating and changing jobs and getting away from where I’d spent my painful years. Again, that’s more extreme than many or most might find desirable or necessary, but it made all the difference for me.
    3. Getting back into hobbies that had been a huge part of my school and college life that I had let go after I was married.
    4. Taking steps to improve my physical health; diet, exercise, and a whole bunch of stress management techniques.

    And I want to say that for me, too, it has become easier over time. To be fair, I am probably one of the oldest regulars here at age 57, so the TTC stage of my life is decades behind me. My fifties have been a lot easier than my thirties and forties were. I believe that part of the reason is that my peers are no longer in their childbearing or childraising years. Their kids are post-adolescent or adult and thus they are spending more of their time and energy on their own interests. I’m established in my profession instead of still building it and proving myself. I have the time and resources to maintain the life I want – and believe me, it’s not wealthy or abundant, but rather pleasant and comfortable. I do understand why N.A.M. above feels as she does, and that is her experience and mine is different. I share my story to give those here who are younger than me hope that you can reach a place where never having had or raised children feels o.k. and that you can be content and even happy with your life. Best wishes to all.

  9. I never commented on this when you first published it but re-found it just now, and was feeling grateful for your invitation to extend the kindness, the compassion, into 2013. The consistent outreach, finding those in need of the things we can offer … it’s a beautiful, and necessary gift to the world. Thank you for offering it here.

  10. Support from others (yes, mostly online — first through message boards & then through blogs) has certainly been an important part of my own journey. I won’t say my life is all sunshine & roses, but I am definitely in a better place than I was when I decided to walk away from infertility treatment more than a decade ago. I think it’s wonderful how much our little corner of the ALI community has grown over the past year. You’ve certainly been a big part of that, Pamela — telling your story in your blog & book and reaching out to others. Thank you, and happy new year!

  11. This strikes a chord with me, because I remember being in that place, and writing Pamela an email, too :). But what I wanted to hear was not, “It gets better.” What I needed to hear was, “It was that bad for me, too.” For me, from that point of view, the idea of feeling happy and fulfilled in a life I hadn’t wanted was unimaginable. The women a few years ahead of me who seemed to have achieved peace and were well-adjusted were more of a mockery than anything else. Nothing made sense if it wasn’t the pain and – above all else – the anger that I felt. It has not been quite a year, and I am stunned looking back at how much things have changed for me in that time. I would never have believed it was possible. I didn’t really understand it as it was happening. It was just…grace…and from some of the most unexpected of sources. I do want to agree with what others have said: I’m not saying that it’s fine to be childless now. That I’ve forgotten what I went through, or even that it doesn’t affect me. I recently tried to explain to a friend thusly: I’ve gone from wanting to see every mother hit by a bus to feeling I would be satisfied with a good slapping. This is not Zen. This is coping…and in adulthood, in a fallen world, I recognize it is the most lofty goal that’s reasonable. I am able to feel joy again. The pain is dulled to a point at which I can manage it. I no longer feel that it controls me. I’m not saying that it will ever “be OK” that my life turned out this way; but I know that _I_ will be OK.

    But back to my original point: if Pamela’s correspondent is like me, she doesn’t need to hear how great my life is now. She needs to hear that it was that bad – because only that will prove that she is not crazy, not maladjusted and defective, not evil and therefore deserving of this suffering. She’s just like the rest of us, and there’s just as much hope for her; but that comes later. You’re not crazy, and you’re not alone. I was filled with so much hate it frightened me. That’s not a mental illness; it’s the reaction of a healthy human to a terrible burden. You are allowed to feel this way. You aren’t required to intellectualize your suffering, master it by means of mental powers, and wake up tomorrow feeling like a “normal” person. When you suffer, you suffer. Don’t worry – when healing happens, when the joy comes back, they won’t elude you; you only need to be where you are.

    1. “When you suffer, you suffer.” So true. In time and with a wide berth to feel, intensely, the pain something truly remarkable happens. Like metal forged in flame we are strengthened. As we learn to cope, the despair dissipates — and slowly, we come to realize that we will be okay. Even as I was enclosed in darkness, I craved light. I wanted to know that women who had once felt my pain one day were able to feel joy again. No one can tell someone when they’re done grieving, but we can be there for them…

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