Saturday, September 14, 2013

the gift of empathy.


I've been thinking a lot lately about Nora. About Nora and NEC, to be more specific. It seems strange to me that it was only 9 months ago that my tiny Nora was laying in that incubator up at Primary Children's NICU with a pic-line in her chest and a warm pack on her tummy to ease the pain of slowly starving. It was the hardest thing I'd ever done at that point in my life, sitting in that chair in the corner, watching that baby starve. And yet, I hardly think of it now.

When the twins were first born and in the NICU at LDS Hospital, I spent a week in a tiny, cold little room on the Maternity floor by myself so I could nurse them. Greg stayed home with Evie, and the hospital let me stay there on "hotel stay"--I used the room and they left me alone. There was a tiny little window in the corner and it snowed almost the entire week I was there. I lived my days in 3 hour increments; an hour with Nora, an hour with Will, an hour in my little room, and then, repeat. It was only a week before Nora came home, but my loneliness magnified the time and made me feel certain I would be there forever. I remember at one point, my friend Lindsay made the drive up to the hospital to visit me and I just sobbed the entire time she was there. I felt so stupid to be sitting in the corner of the lobby, opening her gift to me, with huge, hot tears streaming down my face. I couldn't get it together, I couldn't even talk to her, I just cried. It was one of those hard moments that you're certain will last forever, but of course, it didn't.

Sometimes I think back on this year and wonder what I've learned. It's been such a big year for my family, a really hard year, if I'm being honest. And I think about it and I wonder. Why do these things happen to us and what have I learned from all of it? How have I changed? When I think of Nora's time in the hosptial, I don't remember being heroic or strong or wonderful, I remember being sad. I remember being angry, even. And then I wonder, did I waste it? Did I waste the opportunity to become better?


And then I hear of our family friends who are in the same NICU with their own twins, one of which is fighting for his life, and I feel gutted. The memories of my own tiny babies, so fragile and helpless come flooding back to me and I am filled, to the brim, with empathy and love for them. So much so, that it brings me to tears every time I think of them. While we're driving to grab lunch, or while I'm brushing my teeth, or slicing an apple in the kitchen. Hot, salty tears running down my face, and buckets and buckets of empathy.

Sometimes I think back and remember what it felt like to be carefree. Sometimes I go back before Autism, before therapy and early interventions, before NEC, before the twins, before gross motor delays, and low amniotic fluid, and 7 weeks of hospital bed-rest.

There I am.
I was carefree.

Sometimes I miss those days, those days of thinking that bad things would never happen to me, or to anyone I loved. I was completely naive to the trials others were going through. Completely oblivious. It was easy to be. It was an easy road to travel, thinking that my life would always be good, be perfect, even. And then, I realize, that's how I've changed.

Empathy.

I don't know what I learned from 7 weeks of hospital bed-rest with Evie, except for what it feels like to go through 7 weeks of hospital bed-rest because of a high-risk pregnancy. I don't know what I learned from the twins, the NICU, Nora & NEC except what it feels like to experience something like that. And I don't know what I'll learn from Autism, except, maybe, what it feels like to have a child with Autism?

To wonder if your baby will live or die. I get that, I remember that, I know that pain. And it has changed me. It's in the quiet sadness I feel for our friends, or the gratitude I feel when I hold sweet Nora, tickling her thighs and watching her shriek with laughter, and remembering that once, not too long ago, I thought that I might lose her.

I suppose it would be easier to erase all of it and go back to that time when life was easy. When I didn't know what any of this felt like. When I couldn't relate or understand or carry anyone's sadness on my shoulders. That would be easier. But, I wouldn't choose it.

I wouldn't choose to let go of the relationships I've built with so many life-long friends who've walked beside me during these things. Friends who understand suffering, and loss, and worry so big it feels like it will crush you. To have that relationship that's built on something so shared and sacred. That's a blessing. I wouldn't choose to give it up. I wouldn't choose to let go of the memories of service. The miracle of watching others surround us with love and kindness and hot meals on our doorstep.

I wouldn't choose to let go of the hard things, even though that would be easier, because I wouldn't choose to let go of the empathy. I wouldn't choose to undo the experiences that have filled me with humility, taught me that life goes on, things get better, tomorrow always comes, and time softens the blow.

I'm hoping that eventually I'll get there with Autism, too. That eventually I'll look back and realize that I wouldn't change it. I'm not there yet, not even close, but I hope that someday I'll understand this well enough to be grateful for it. To be filled, to the brim, with the empathy for another person that somehow makes all of it worth it.

I think, so far, that's what I've learned.


I'd love to hear your perspective on this. What do you feel like your trials have taught you? 
Were the lessons learned worth the heartache or would you just undo it all, if you could?

11 comments:

  1. You have definitely been put through the wringer that's for sure, but you are so strong and are handling it so amazingly! You are an example to so many!

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  2. I'm not sure exactly what I've learned from my trials, but to be sure, none of them have been as heartbreaking or as trying as yours. You are one of the strongest people I know, and I really look up to you. Most of my trials involve never being around my family. Living in Korea is definitely a trial, and I think what I've learned from this so far is patience and independence. Our little family of 4 has had to grow closer and be more of a unit than we already were, because we are all we have out here. It's been challenging and also beneficial. It seems that every time we have a life changing event, I've had to do it on my own, and that's been a trial. Evelyn was born, and then a month later Dan left for training for 2 months, so I was on my own with a colicky newborn. I didn't know how I would live through that, and I was so sure that it would never end, but it did. Then we moved to Virginia when she was 4 months old and spent a week in an empty house while we waited for our things. Then, we had Emmett and moved to Korea 2 months later, and I flew to Wichita and SLC on my own, and spent the better part of a month mostly on my own here in Korea, and I thought for sure traveling with my two tiny children would kill me, but it didn't, and I survived. So, if I've learned anything from my trials, it's that Heavenly Father wants me to know, really know, that I can handle this. I am independent and I can do things on my own. I no longer need to depend on my family for help, and that's a lesson I'm glad He taught me before I got here because I'm not sure I would have survived otherwise.

    I think you're amazing, and I honestly believe, with all my heart, that you can do this and do it well.

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  3. I think my trials have taught me to say something, to do something. After my brother died, I had a lot of people say and do a lot of things.....and I had some people say and do nothing. Sometimes people would say offensive things - like "I know exactly what you're going through", or "at least you know he made it to the Celestial Kingdom", and I wanted to scream at them and maybe punch them a little. But I was more hurt by the people who did nothing - no text, no phone call, no email. I've learned that I might not say or do the "right" thing, but it's important to reach out and do your best to let others know you love them and are there for them. We all don't have the same trials, and we definitely don't all know how it feels to be in eachothers' shoes. And now I'm crying at 4:44 am....love you ;)

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  4. Yes. My last post, about prom, though trivial in comparison, was about this. (in my head at least) I just couldn't say it the way you do. I don't think I would take it away or any other difficult time in my life. It's interesting too, isn't it? We don't want our kids to have to feel that way but it's kind of like in Finding Nemo, it would be silly to wish nothing bad ever happened to them. Empathy would be lost. It would take away their struggle to grow & find themselves. That's what I meant in saying it's a big part of me. I love that you share it too. Even though I myself have never been on bedrest, when I'm told that someone I know is, I think of you. I think of the way you described it so well. I think about your anger & sadness & frustration. I think about the things that helped you through, and it helps me to better understand & help others. Sharing how you feel in an honest way is so healthy and helpful. Thank you so much for doing that countless times. Oh, I love that we are friends!

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  5. Hi Jess,

    We don't know each other so I never know whether I should comment or not... As you invited us to, I thought I would.

    I work in mental-health services and I find that often what people really need is not someone who can make their problems disappear but someone who'll be there to face the problems alongside them. My service also employs peer-support workers, because sometimes you really need to talk to, or be guided by someone, who has walked in your shoes (and come out the other side). Whilst empathy can be hard won, it is so rewarding to be able to offer your experiences, knowledge and understanding to others.

    I was also reminded of these two quotes -

    "Nearly everything that is most important in our lives, is unchosen" (John Gray)

    "I felt no other happiness, and no other suffering, than love" (Hermann Hesse)

    F x

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  6. You have always been the one that everyone wants to go to for advice and a good listener. I think these experiences have just enhanced this gift you have. You are a wonderful support to so many that love you and look up to you!

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  7. you are an amazing writer Jess! You have a way with words. Although I feel like the trials I've had in my life have been extremely difficult, to the point where I think there is no way I can handle anything else and I just want to curl up into a ball and forget about what's going on in life. I wouldn't change it. They have made me a stronger person. I know Heavenly Father doesn't give us more than we can handle. Love you Jess! Your kids are so lucky to have you as their mother!

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  8. you are an amazing writer Jess! You have a way with words. Although I feel like the trials I've had in my life have been extremely difficult, to the point where I think there is no way I can handle anything else and I just want to curl up into a ball and forget about what's going on in life. I wouldn't change it. They have made me a stronger person. I know Heavenly Father doesn't give us more than we can handle. Love you Jess! Your kids are so lucky to have you as their mother!

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  9. You are so good at expressing yourself through words. I agree that with every trial you learn something, whether it is about yourself, or humanity in general. I'm sad that you have had to learn so many of these things at your young age, and in a difficult way. You are so strong, and I admire you for your strength. I hope that you know that you will always have my support, whether physical or emotional. I may not have had all of the same experiences as you, but I can sure lend a hand to help you through your hard times! xoxox

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  10. I loved everything about this post. You truly have a talent for expressing yourself and I always appreciate your honesty. I have a very complicated relationship with my trials. I feel like I might have wasted opportunities with them. At times my suffering was so overwhelming and suffocating that I didn't feel like I even had a chance to rise above them because it simply took all of my energy to just survive. With my greatest trials I was so surprised that I was experiencing them that I think that I was operating in shock-mode. All of my life I looked up to people who handled their problems with grace and courage but when I was in the thick of my own challenges I found that I reacted much differently than I expected. I quickly realized that trials are HARD. So much harder than I ever thought they would be.

    Would I change my trials? Yes. I would have my 3 1/2 year old Henry here with me in a heart beat. I would also take the daughter that I lost. But would I change the lessons that I have learned from losing them and loving them? Never.

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thank you for your shout outs!