A few weeks ago I sat down next to a mom of two little girls. Perfect strangers, exchanging courteous hellos. Until she downloaded. One polite question led to another and before I knew it, she was knee-deep in her life story. It was a little awkward. That strange feeling of someone you barely know sharing their deepest secrets, regrets, and hardships with you.
As I sat there, she told me about her girls, both born with a host of life-threatening medical issues. Their family story filled with hospitals, surgeries, oxygen tanks and feeding tubes. Infections and seizures. Bills…lots of bills. And so much worry. She regaled years of sleepless nights spent wondering whether her child would make it through the night. She whispered about her blind husband. How he would get tangled up in the cords attached to their sweet daughter simply because he couldn’t see them. How they ended up accidental homeschoolers because the school mixed up her daughter’s medication with another child, and the day was so tiring for her 6 year old that she fell hopelessly behind by late September.
Unsure how to respond to such candidness in the first 10 minutes of meeting her, I kept asking questions, fearful the conversation would reach that awkward stall, my stunned silence reading disinterest. She told me about going to the hospital to give birth to her dead baby boy just one year earlier, all while her daughter was just down the hall fighting for her life. My “I’m so sorry,” falling flat in the wake of her grief.
And on she continued, backtracking to her past. How she was raised by drug addicts and moved over 40 times before the age of 14. Robbed of childhood, her parents always following the fix. She voiced a fierce longing to protect her girls from the horrors of life–give them a safety, acceptance, and love she never had. And yet their short lives had already seen so much sadness.
All this in 60 minutes. A total stranger, pouring out her heart to my accidentally available ears. So I just listened. I asked questions. She obviously needed to talk. And I felt sorry for her. A life of pain and suffering, disappointment after heart-breaking loss. I couldn’t relate–our lives so vastly different from each other. My upbringing wonderful, my adoring husband able-bodied, my children vibrant, healthy, and alive. Worlds apart. What does one say to such candidness, so foreign and terrible?
In my shock, I managed “You know, you seem really good with them. This must be so hard, but your daughters are clearly loved, and they’re going to be so strong when they grow up. You’re really doing a good job.”
Her eyes filled, a glassy smile. It was exactly what she needed to hear. She didn’t want my sympathy; she wanted my support. A mother, just like me, trying to figure it out. Our lives so different, and yet our burdens so alike.
We are all unique stories in the making, each one of us with different twists in life’s plot. And all we really want is someone to step onto our path and walk with us. Not to rescue us, understand us, or feel sorry for us. Just someone to be with us. To offer the encouragement, the honesty, the words we all want to hear: “You’re doing a good job.”