Thursday, December 10, 2009

Pardon, what did you say?

People say sympathetic things with the best intention and as a griever it can be hard to recognize that although the words are anything but appropriate the intention is meant to be caring and helpful.

I started to see a chiropractor a month ago and as a new patient in his practice, we had to do an initial consultation. At my first visit we went over my medical history, how many children I have, how many pregnancies, stresses in my life, etc. and during this consultation I explained Flynn's life and death and also my occupation. He was very kind and empathetic, I appreciated that and because of his demeanor felt that this would be a good relationship to aid in my physical well being.
I went for an appointment a week ago after seeing him 2-3 times a week for 3 weeks. We have seen each other so much over the past 3 weeks that we are on a first name basis and I recognized right away that he seemed off of his game and not his normal chipper self. During the treatment he asked me about the emerald ring I wear and whether it was my birth stone and when I told him that it was actually for Flynn and it was his birth stone, he seemed completely flabbergasted. He apologized, told me how sorry he was to hear of my son's death and asked how it happened. I was equally surprised by his lack of memory but chalked it up to a bad day and told him again how Flynn had died due to his premature birth. He responded with "well there must have been a reason."
I felt totally deflated and disappointed. After hearing this response several hundred times over the past 8 years I have come to appreciate the underlying intent of "a reason" but that night any "reason" for my son's death was lost to me. I stared dumbfounded, had my treatment and went home.
The week in between the appointments I was tormented with thoughts of my conversation with my chiropractor. I also recalled, with a sense of irony, that I had left my original chiropractor soon after Flynn's death for saying the exact same thing. Was I destined to live without a back adjustment due to "reason"?
I had to believe that I was in a different place with my grief now, a place of growth and the opportunity to educate. I decided that at my next appointment I would talk to my chiropractor and tell him how "a reason" could negatively impact someone. I would make positive suggestions for dialogue surrounding news of a death that could help him approach it more delicately in the future.

I went into my appointment and before the treatment began I gently tried to start the conversation:
"I just wanted to let you know that last week when I was here we discussed my son's death and I could tell you were having an off day so when we discussed it you had said that there must have been a reason..."

This is where he broke into my explanation and said "What were we talking about last week? I don't remember a discussion?" (or something to that affect)

So thrown off, I tried a different approach:
"Because I work in grief support and helping people manage and cope with grief I sometimes see opportunities to support the community in how to help the griever and when you said that there must be a reason for my son's death (last week) it threw me off because there was a time when that statement has or would have upset me, I just wanted to let you know that when someone has experienced a death, a "reason" may not bring them comfort and "I" statements can be much more comfortable like "I cannot imagine what you are going through...""

He broke in again and said:

"You know I can be really sarcastic and rude and someone will think what I said is hilarious and laugh along and then I take time and try to say something thoughtful and someone can be totally offended, I am sorry if what I said upset you but I won't say the right thing all the time."

I nodded my head at this point, had the treatment and mentally noted to myself that I would not be returning to this chiropractor either. It seems that even 8 years on my grief journey and I can still be affected by the sympathetic yet inappropriate things that people say.

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