Monday, December 6, 2010

Bonding Moments...

I reacted rather strongly to a blog entry recently, a reaction that has set me pondering about blogging in general, the peculiarities of how women relate to one another, and the benefits and follies of communal grieving. I am relatively new to blog world, and I have explored little of that world so far. I love eavesdropping on my nephew's rather remarkable thought processes (, and peaking over the fence into my friend's gardening adventures has made me long for the Pacific Northwest and a green thumb (

My experiences with a group blog written by and for women have been more mixed. The accomplished writers on this blog deliver polished, engaging material for the most part. With vivid images and fluid prose, they draw their readers close to the heart. From the comments I have read, it is clear that the essays on the blog resonate with their audience. Still, I have this growing sense that as I read I am peering in on an ongoing group therapy session. Nearly every entry details a death, a troubling diagnosis, a heart-wrenching case of abuse, the daily struggles of motherhood, or a series of slights from a group of people who "should know better."

The recent entry that sparked my reaction was a case in point. The writer spoke eloquently of her grieving process following a tragic loss. I ignored the "group therapy" thought tickling the back of my mind as I followed along. In fact, I managed to keep the silly inner voice at bay right up until the blogger began to lament the fact that the only person who seemed to "get" her grief and know what to say was a perfect stranger. Others gave her the silent treatment, and she resented it, particularly at church where her fellow worshippers should know how to mourn with those that mourn.

My pesky inner voice began to grow louder. By the time I glanced through a couple of the dozens of commiserative comments, I gave the voice free rein and quickly turned away from the computer before I could surrender to the temptation to add a comment of my own. I have no problem with the very real pain of loss, just with making others responsible for sharing that pain gracefully.

What is it that bothers me so much about this poignant essay and so many others like it? After all, I get plenty of blog mileage out of my own inner turmoil. I think there are a few primary ingredients to my frustration. I do not understand why women, in particular, seem to have a penchant for bonding over tragedies. It's as if someone created a special club. To gain entrance into the club, or at least to earn the privilege of offering an opinion, one must present her tragedy at the door. Fine. I'll pay up. The things that truly stab me in the gut these days I prefer not to discuss publicly, but I think losing a spouse should be enough to give me a turn at the mic.

I do claim a rudimentary understanding of the grieving process, enough to realize that the process has as many flavors as there are mourners. I also realize that just as we have a responsibility to help shoulder each other's burdens, we also need to take final responsibility for dealing with our own pain. Yes, it would be wonderful if everyone knew just what to say to the survivor of a loss or the single mother struggling for a finger hold. Occasionally, someone will, indeed, strike a profound chord--by inspiration or accident, or simply by virtue of the sufferer's own readiness to accept the Savior's comfort. More often, spectators to grief or pain offer silence or awkward, even hurtful, attempts at conversation. Most folks find the spectre of another's grief incredibly intimidating. We ache for the wounded heart behind the brave face or the tears, and in our fear of miss-step we too often turn away. Grief is such a personal matter, and sometimes we turn aside to give the sufferer a chance to throw a robe around the naked pain. I don't condone the silence, but I do understand it.

Just now, I read through portions of my journal from the cancer years. I marvelled again at the heroism of neighbors and co-workers, family and church members who heeded inspiration and bravely entered the foreign world of my pain. I also remember a dark afternoon when I pleaded in prayer for relief from a burden I felt was too heavy to bear. The Lord answered my prayer with a phone call from my aunt. Fae had walked in my shoes, nursed a husband who died from a similar illness, and I just knew she would say something wonderful to ease the burden. I kept no record of the details of our conversation, but I vividly remember that it did not offer the healing balm for which I had hoped. Instead, it gave me something I needed more that afternoon: a pair of emotional hiking boots and a prod up the trail. I miss my Aunt Fae.


  1. First, thanks for the nod to my little attempt to blog.

    Second, Wow.

    I know that is stunning articulation.

    I have been thinking some of the very same thoughts lately as I have been taught about the true definition of charity.
    From Marvin J. Ashton, "Charity is, perhaps, in many ways a misunderstood word. We often equate charity with visiting the sick, taking in casseroles to those in need, or sharing our excess with those who are less fortunate. But really, true charity is much, much more.

    Real charity is not something you give away; it is something that you
    acquire and make a part of yourself. And when the virtue of charity becomes implanted in your heart, you are never the same again.

    Perhaps the greatest charity comes when we are kind to each other, when we don'’t judge or categorize someone else, when we simply give each other the benefit of the doubt or remain quiet. Charity is accepting someone'’s differences, weaknesses, and shortcomings; having patience with someone who has let us down; or resisting the impulse to become offended when someone doesn'’t handle something the way we might have hoped."

    There is nothing like seeing a friend or acquaintance who you care about go through something completely heart wrenching to point out how helpless you are to comfort without true charity. There are not words without the Spirit to guide, a casserole just doesn't cut it.

    And if one happens to be the type who feels responsible to fix things...well, then you are really out of luck, because most of these tragedies are not remedied or comforted by mortals. What CAN you say to someone who just found out their husband was with a prostitute? NOTHING. But if we serve with true charity, mourn with them with true charity, they will feel it.

    At least that is what I understand will be the case. I am still struggling to learn this Charity.

    "Grief is such a personal matter, and sometimes we turn aside to give the sufferer a chance to throw a robe around the naked pain."

    That is profound, J. I can see the truth of it in my own actions as I think of how I react to others' pain.


  2. Today I gave a lesson on Charity in RS.
    I am still learning so much, I still have so many questions.
    So I ask you, What is judging righteous judgement? Why are we told by the Saviour "judge not".
    How do we navigate mortality, making choices without judging?

    Happy New Year! Maybe this year you would like to help me ponder these questions and articulate a truthful answer? I know you like challenges!

    Your friend,

  3. Yes, I like challenges, and chewing on intriguing topics with a good friend is loads of fun. Bring it on! :) When I read your comment, I immediately thought of the following talk from the last April General Conference: (It's by Gregory A. Schwitzer, in the May 2010, if the link doesn't work well.) The Lord absolutely expects us to judge; He just expects us to do so with the Spirit and with thoughtfulness. Of course, that isn't so easy to do...

    I wish I could have heard your lesson. I'm still working on that whole charity thing.