Sunday, February 24, 2008

Understanding

"I understand" can be a really dangerous thing to say.

I'm finding it interesting that, as I spend more and more time in and around the hospital, especially the NICU and Pulmonary Ward, the more I am able understand a lot of this medical stuff, and the more I realize I do not understand people who seem to be going/have gone through similar situations.

I'm coming to a realization that every situation, no matter how many similarities there may seem to be to my own, is totally unique and different. I may totally understand how Tricia's vent works, or why Gwyneth is in contact isolation, or why Duke has restricted visitation because of the flu, but my understanding of these things really doesn't go much further than my own experiences.

I've never been one to say, "I understand what you're going through" or "I can empathize with what you're feeling"...but, the past few months of observing my own situation, witnessing bits and pieces of the situations of other patients and families around us in the hospital, and reading the comments of those on this blog who think they understand what we're going through have left me with a realization that I have no idea what other people are really going through.

I have friends, right now, who are loving and struggling with the adoption of their first child, friends who are celebrating and grieving the life and death of their mother/grandmother, friends who are remembering the birth and death of their precious baby boy, and friends who are preparing for the roller coaster of chemotherapy. Although I can empathize with all of these people to a certain degree, and I can relate some of what they've gone through and are going through from a medical standpoint, I am still at a loss for words and actions when it comes to really understanding their emotions, thoughts, etc.

Even if the situation seems to be exactly like mine on the surface, there are so many things going on behind the scenes- things that I will never know or see - that I can never again even imagine that I might fully understand what somebody else is going through.

I can (and will) certainly use my experiences to help others who are going through similar experiences, but only when they ask for my help and are willing to offer me more than just bits and pieces of their own story. I'm discovering, through living in our current circumstance and by trying to offer (what I consider to be) feeble help to others who are hurting, that the best thing I can really do is to simply let them know I'm here and that I love and care for them and will do anything for them.

Nate

47 comments:

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing that Nate.

Anonymous said...

That is a nice sentiment. Thank you for sharing. Jennifer A.

Kathy's Korner said...

Good points!! Thank you for sharing. We really are all on our own roads no matter how similar they made seem.

Our Family of Four said...

Well put and oh so true. Also the beauty of life, everyone is unique, including their life experiences be they good or bad.

Vicki said...

Nate, you are so right that the best thing you can do is just be there for people and let them know you care. I know this meant more to me than I can every describe when my dad passed away. I just was so touching to know that people cared.

terri c said...

You know, as a hospice chaplain, I have noticed that when a person dies, if there are 10 people at the bedside, there are really 10 different deaths--exactly as you say, Nate--all you can do is love them and try to learn what each person needs... Good stuff. Prayers continue.

elj377 said...

Wow! You put into words exactly what many of us think from time to time...thanks for the reminder that we really never understand the perspective of someone else!

We discussed Phil 4:13 today in church and my pastor again pointed out how we take the verse out of its original context and try to apply it to every situation and while it does fit if you look at the meat of the passage as a whole it's talking about the secret to contentment! Thanks for opening our eyes to the way we take our emotions and feelings and try to put them into someone else's context or life!

Anonymous said...

I'm getting the impression you would prefer the prayer/support as opposed to page long stories because just as you have said that you can't TRULY understand what that other person is going through, neither can we TRULY understand what you, Tricia and Gwyneth are experiencing either. The great part of all of that is that while we are imperfect and human we serve and pray to an awesome, powerful, fully-understanding GOD!!!! So, I will continue to pray for all three of you and leave out the extra.

TsMom said...

Well said, Nate. Again, thanks are not enough for allowing us into your lives. Prayers, however, continue to poor out for your family.

Blessings,
Karen

TruePraise said...

Well, said Nate, Well said...

still praying...

Kim

beachbug said...

Well said Nate!
When we struggled through multiple miscarriages I had to bite my tongue whenever someone would say to me, "I know how you feel", or "how you must feel". They had no clue!

You are right. The best thing you can do for someone is to let them know you are there for them and love them. If you can't do that then probably best not to say anything at all.

Emma said...

I volunteer as an advice worker. And as a part of that I deal with people in situations that I totally could never have imagined possible. Or sometimes in situations very similar to ones I am/have been in myself. One of the most powerful things I was ever told during my training was that even if you don't agree with something someone tells you it is valid because it's what they think/believe/feel and therefore it's important and it's right - for them. And also, as you said, to never say "I understand how you feel" or similar because you really don't. Thank you for the reminder.

Anonymous said...

when i read your post it made me think of this quote by CS Lewis...

"What can you ever really know of other people's souls- of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole of creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him." ~C.S.Lewis (Mere Christianity)

The Walsh's said...

Very well put. I'm guilty (even in this case) of using Lincoln's story as part of my words of support. Please know that I (and others) who do this, feel that it's helping. No one spends 20 minutes leaving you a comment about their own preemie or CF story because they want to hurt you. And I would say that most don't even want to say that they understand what you're going through. We all just want to pass along that a peice of us can relate to peice of you and that while we pray for you and your family, we try to understand by finding times in our own life where we've dealt with a difficult circumstance. It's natural, especially if one is truly empathetic.

I apologize for rambling on - and I apologize for sharing Lincoln's story in the past when a simple "I'm praying for you" would've sufficed. You're exactly right. Our brotherhood and sisterhood in Christ brings us closer to understanding each other than mere background or situation ever could. This is where we should find common ground.

So with that - I am thinking of you, Tricia, and Gwenyth today.

Candi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Candi said...

Nathan,

I am in awe of how well you can put your thoughts into words, I wish I had that talent!

I experienced something similar after Avery had passed, people would say that they knew how I felt or could understand what I was going through. I had to wonder if they really did. Every person is different, and because they are, every situation is different. All we can do is share our love and support and hope that it can help in some small way. No one knows exactly what you and your family are feeling or what you are going through. What we do know is that you have chosen to share a portion of your story and your thoughts with us and I am very blessed because of that. You all have touched my heart and I will continue to pray for you and your beautiful girls!

Much love,
Candi
www.babyhoustonstory.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

Ultimately we are all in the same boat with the same pilot, but we each have our own porthole.

candidchatter said...

Having gone through a miscarriage recently I got a lot of "I understand" statements. Thank you for posting this. People need to know that they really don't understand. We really don't, Nate. But we are praying because God does. You're a wonderful man with a wonderful family.

Heidi Reed

OtisBee33@aol.com said...

Although this entire post may have been what I consider your best one yet, I do agree with the Walsh's. It is human nature to share a similar experience when one is faced with a tribulation such as ours. I remind people gently that, no this is not happening to them, and if I need something I will ask. I hope that I never let on to "understand" what you might be going through in a way that may have offended you, but I can say that I do feel that you have understood me. The fact that someone else is kind of in the same spot in their life, has been a comfort to me, just the knowing that I am not alone! Thanks again for your prayers and I will continue to keep the three of you in mine! Misty

Anonymous said...

Hi,
Someone once told me to just pray for those people, just pray for their needs....that is much, much more than we could do anyway for them, let alone trying to understand them more fully. You didn't solicit any advice, but it brought to mind wise words that were given to me.
Bethann
:)

Anonymous said...

Good stuff, as usual. I know you are right that no one of us has walked exactly in another's shoes. However, I do think there are certain experiences and emotions that are common to all---we have all grieved, "questioned" God, watched friends (or ourselves) go through unspeakable trials, etc. I believe it is to this level of common feeling and experience that people usually refer when they say "I understand." Especially when spoken between believers (even if another choice of words would be better), I have found knowing that another person has walked even a portion of my same road gives me a sense of special "connection" with that person. Does one person's loss or trial FEEL that different from another's? There's no way to know, but I suspect not. Thanks for the thoughts on how we can better minister to others with our choice of words.
Lori in VA

Luciana said...

so true, BRAVO!

always praying, Lu

Baby Leino said...

well said. you're a blessing to our family!

nanajobx said...

Sometimes I think that people don't know what to say and just try to relate in any way they can. I can never know what you are going through but when you did the video of you walking the halls between your wife and your daughter, I saw the hall that I walked at Duke in June when my grandson was there. It was a time of uncretainty and learning to trust God. As Christians we are called to carry one anothers burdens. We are also told that we suffer sometimes so that we can comfort others with the same comfort Christ has given us. So, all I'm really saying is "you're right" but the heart of people saying things sometimes is to try to comfort you and encourage you. Many times since my grandsons open heart surgery I have had the oppurtunity to talk with and pray with others because my experience valadated my ability to speak with them. You will be able to be a sorce of strength to many for the rest of your life. Because of some things that have been said to you that were not healthy you will have the wisdom to know how to share most effectively.

Anonymous said...

Nate, you're right...I have NO idea what you are going through right now...
But, you, Trisha and baby Gwenyth are never far from my thoughts and prayers...
I can say that I believe that you all are dealing with all this with much grace, faith and humor. I pray that someday this would all fade to just a memory...

daralala said...

This is so very true. In nursing school we are taught that empathy is one of the most important traits a nurse can have. I work my hardest to care for my patients, and I sincerely feel for (most of) them, but like you said, no experience can fully prepare you to understand what another human being is going through. Thanks for reminding me of this.

Sara said...

I've only started reading your blog since my sisters told me about your family. I am praying for you all! And I am glad you posted this particular post. My sister has gone through a couple of miscarriages, and I never realized how important it was to simply offer support and not "understanding" until I walked through those experiences with her. Although people mean well - of course! - I've learned that it can be much more hurtful than helpful to claim to understand what another person is going through. Your post was very well put! I hope that I can be the kind of support to loved ones in my life the way that people need it!!! Blessings for your family tonight!!!

Anonymous said...

Really beautiful, powerful, and articulate post- hugs and prayers for you all!!

Emily said...

I couldn't have said it better myself! God made each of us, and our stories, different. :)

Gina Witcher / Runnermom4 said...

I totally understand what you're talking about. (Ha Ha) This is a joke in case you're wondering. I feel like I have had it quite easy up to this point in my life and can say to very few people if any, "I know what you're going through." :-) People like you and the Leino's have a special calling on your lives.

Melissa, Mike, and Brendon said...

Nathan, I too have been guilty of sharing my story and telling you that I "understand" what you are going through.

My husband was sleeping on a chair for weeks or at the Ronald McDonald house with horrific hair (hmmmm....similar?), I was in ICU, and our baby in PICU. (PICU not NICU because he went home and came back through ER.)He went back and forth, sharing shifts with my mother and his grandmother. Let's just say we are in therapy 4 years later and leave it at that.

Could you think that sharing and truly sympathizing perhaps this is a male/female thing?

As a woman of a preemie child with special needs and a woman with CF, I WANT to hear other people's stories. If they have been down my path, it is comforting to me.
For example, I took my gorgeous little guy to hippotherapy (physical therapy) on a horse last week. My son has mild cerebral palsy. There was another mother there who I knew had a 10 year old boy with autism. He appeared physical "typical" or perfect to me. She arbitrarily shared with me that her son used to walk just like mine at age 3 and look at him now. My husband could give two hoots about her comment, but I was comforted, motivated, refocused, and more. From one mother to another-------- there is hope.

Sadly, sometimes I take comfort in seeing (in comparison) how blessed we are to others. Sometimes, I see someone just starting on my path and I choose to share my story and give them a helping hand in navigating this world of special needs or CF care.

I am sorry if you felt like my sharing was insensitive to your situation. That is what I gathered from your post. I will stick to wishing you the best and keeping you in our prayers.

Robin said...

I agree with what you said...our experiences can broaden our love for others, but I don't think we can ever truly understand what they are going through even if we've gone through something pretty similar. We can certainly pray for and love each other though!

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

Praying for you and your family!

Kari said...

This post just makes me remember the awesomeness of God. While others couldnt possibly know how you feel God knows! Also that the power of prayer is incredible! It reaches past what we can humanly do!

Thank you again for an awesome post!

Gila said...

Just my two cents, from my experiences as a dispenser and a receiver of stories of tough life experiences.... I have found that a response along the lines of "that makes perfect sense", applied to descriptions to how a person is feeling (rage, pain, whatever), does the trick better than "I understand". As you said, no one can really understand. But, people can imagine themselves in a situation and say "how would I be feeling?" and come to the conclusion that whatever the speaker is saying sounds like a perfectly reasonable reaction.

A lot of times we question our feelings and emotions. A bit of outside validation can do a lot of good.

All this being said--this is more relevant to 1:1 conversations and less so to a public forum, like a blog. Here (as usual Nate) thanks for the post, and am thinking and praying for all of you.

Actually--I do not normally pray. So what I do is, before I send my comment, I close my eyes and send up a quick prayer to G-d to keep all of you safe and healthy, to let Tricia get new lungs etc. That way, I am not promising and then not keeping my promises.

So you are influencing me to actually chat with G-d now and again. :)

Inkling said...

This is my first time commenting. Thanks for putting this into words. I'm starting to feel a bit like that, but wouldn't have been able to articulate it nearly as clearly as you just did. These days, I'm more careful about how I try to offer solace to others, and I'm learning to love on them without necessarily using words that could accidentally sound stupid or be hurtful. Anyway, thanks for sharing these thoughts. I think I'll bookmark this particular post, and maybe share it with a few who like to tell me they understand when they really don't have a clue, so that they can know what would help more than those words.

BTW, please tell your dad that his post about the sanctity of life rocked. It really impacted me by shaping my thinking, and helping me see what I needed to see. God used it in my life in a big way. So thanks.

Amanda said...

I totally get what you're saying. However, you will always be able to understand that somebody is in pain and that the pain can be unbearable, regardless of the situation. :)

I remember having a lot of those kinds of thoughts and musings when my mom was first diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer last year. It's so bizarre when you go through these like this and no, nobody will ever totally understand exactly what you're going through. But they'll understand that it's not easy.

Life. It's not for wimps. :)

sebrown1126 said...

Amen, Amen, Amen. I have had certain difficult life experiences, and it has exponentially increased my empathy and compassion. There's a verse in Corinthians that has become so important to me, and it talks about encouraging others with the comfort you have received.

But that doesn't mean in any way that my challenging experiences mean I "understand" other people's difficulties. What you said is so important for us to remember when we're attempting to encourage, uplift, or comfort others.

Sara said...

Perfectly stated!

Sheri said...

Very well Said! Thats often how I feel....

amanda said...

I really like this post! When my aunt lost her 21 yr old daughter to anorexia I could definitely emapthize with her, but there was NO WAY that I could truly understand/feel what she was going through, even as I saw her deep, deep, deep anguish which racked her entire body I could only feel and understand what I felt, which was sadness for her, and it was no comparison at all to what she was feeling.

These times can still be difficult to navigate because everyone is unique even in the same situation- My aunt even went through a period where even knowing that people cared was difficult because it was a constant reminder of her daughter's death. Some times people need space in their grief, and all we can do is send our prayers to God to show them we are here and we still care.

I really appreciate this/your post because it makes me think, and also makes me learn.

Thanks.

Amyb99 said...

Well said.

Elena said...

I've been reading for a few weeks now Nate. I just want to say this is a great thread here about grief and how different people grieve and handle grief. There really is no one-size-fits all when it comes to supporting someone going through a difficult situation. Your commenters have been very insightful, and I am bookmarking this thread for further reference.

Both your wife and daughter are simply gorgeous Nate and I'm praying for all of you!

bobspixie said...

How about using the comment "I'm sorry for what YOU are going through" as a way of giving comfort?

Mountainmom said...

I've been thinking on this a little more. Nate, how would you receive the following?
"While I don't know exactly what this experience is like for you....
When my own baby was in the NICU I felt _____________.
When we were on the waiting list I felt_________."

Is this better than saying "I understand"? It seems to acknowledge common ground, while giving the receiver opportunity to either identify with your experience/emotions or express their own. What do you (or others) think?
Lori in VA

Jeff & Meg said...

While its never possible to totally understand what someone else is going through, I have always been AMAZED at the ways that God has used our experience (our son was in the NICU for a few weeks) to help comfort/encourage others. Its nice to see that God can use something so difficult to encourage his people/bring them together/etc.

Kenzie Stanfield said...

Nathan-

I completely agree with all that you have mentioned here about "understanding" someone else's situation. I have so many times felt that way as we walked this road with Maddox. Many people said they understood and of course, I wasn't upset but I knew they didn't. Even others that have lost babies don't undertand because most haven't walked the road of Trisomy 18 or spina bifida or hydrocephalous, or heart conditions, or many other things. And certainly not criticizing others... I am the FIRST to admit that I don't understand any one else's situation. That's why, as hard as I try and as much as I want to help others through their journey of grief, I truly don't understand what they are walking through. Each of us goes through various emotions differently. Something that has helped me greatly throughout this journey has been what a friend told me after we received Maddox's diagnosis... "You aren't meant to know other journeys, and others aren't meant to know yours. The Lord only expects you to walk what He has put in your path, not understanding why or what he put in other's paths. He wants you to walk your journey faithfully... you aren't meant to understand anyone elses."

Thanks for the great post and please know that we continue to pray for you daily!

Blessings to your sweet family of three!

Kenzie

Rosheeda said...

Great post