Tuesday, July 12, 2011
A recent conversation with a friend of mine who had been raked over the coals brought forth the discussion of a common problem. The friend I was listening to was stunned that she had been mistreated by someone who knew her divorce had recently be finalized. How, she wondered, could this person be so unrelenting, so nasty when they knew she had suffered this loss not too long ago? Couldn't this individual see that she was putting unreasonable demands on my friend when grief was still fresh? How could an individual be so inhumane, especially one who was a supposed ally?
I comforted my friend, assuring her that what she was experiencing was not uncommon, but was instead a first-hand case of "compassion fatigue". This term came to me from our social worker when our son was a newborn, recently diagnosed with hemophilia. While people were shocked and concerned at such grave news when they expected to rejoice with us about his birth, there was definitely a limit to that concern. It was as if their compassion lasted only a brief, set period of time, and then we were expected to move on with life not mentioning it again. This, I told my friend, was not unlike what she was experiencing in her situation.
I seem to remember from one of my college courses (longer ago than I care to admit) a study being done on the average time people expected others to spend grieving significant loss. The brevity in the numbers was shocking! Because it was so long ago, I can't specifically cite the study, but I remember it being something as outrageous as expecting a person to be over the death of a spouse in something like 6 weeks. The college professor continued to teach us that it takes far longer to processes any significant change, good or bad, even to the extent of needing a full year to grieve for each year you knew the one you lost. This is rather inconsistent with the amount of time people are actually willing to listen and help you in dealing with said grief.
And unfortunately, there is plenty to grieve over when your child is diagnosed with a special need. A parent often grieves over the lost dreams for that child, the sports that may never be played, the words that may never be spoken. It is common to grieve over the life a parent once had prior to the special need being discovered. And there is always the grief of losing the predictability one perceives to have had in life.
Still, people come to a point where they ask you, "How's it going?", but they really don't want the answer. That's compassion fatigue. They may show up with meals or help initially, but they quickly forget about you. That is also compassion fatigue. There's also disgust that you're not functioning like a "typical" family nor quickly adapting to another major change in your child's diagnosis or treatment. Sadly, that too is compassion fatigue.
Lest you completely lose heart, know that there is One who never grows tired of listening to your heartaches or frustrations. He is available 24/7/365 to address your worries and tears. And He is well-known as the "Father of compassion and the God of all comfort". (2 Corinthians 1:3) Thankfully, that makes Him immune to "compassion fatigue".
When we cry out to Him and patiently wait, trusting that He will send us what we need when we truly need it, we are comforted in amazing ways. We often find TLC from others walking the same road as we are. It never ceases to amaze me who God has put into my life to fill that painful void left by a trauma. Curiously, strangers can cross our path offering that little bit of kindness when we least expect it to brighten our day. A person can let you skip ahead in the grocery line or give you their seat in the waiting room. And with complete irony, we find comfort often when we reach out to care for others. Going beyond our own troubles can offer perspective and mutual tenderness like nothing else.
These are just a few ways we can recover from compassion fatigue suffered at the hands of the well-intentioned, imperfect people in our lives. There is no limit to the resources the Creator of the Universe has to bring you comfort and aid in the unexpected places of life. Instead of being angry with humans who are just being humans, remember to reach out first to Him in your time of need. Then patiently wait trusting that He who never grows weary will be there to send you just the kind of tenderness you need.
*For further information on being helpful to those who grieve, visit http://www.helpguide.org/mental/helping_grieving.htm