Pity About Your Pity

I was listening to an interview recently with a woman called Ruth Muir who was orphaned at age 11. The interview wasn’t so much about her being orphaned but really the series of circumstances in her life that led her to find out more about her parents. In her clipped but warm English accent, Ruth spoke of memories of her childhood, her parents, grandparents, and people who surrounded her in what she described as a “catastrophic year”.

As a mother, Ruth’s story is my nightmare. A child without a mother, a mother without a child.

In amongst the story, Ruth said something that has stayed with me, floating in the back of my mind, shaming me of my past reactions, but teaching me how I want to be from now on.

“People’s pity is very disabling, and it stops you from getting on with things. It crushes you, and just when you think I’m going to hold up my head again and get on with life, people’s pity stops it. They say ‘oh I feel so sorry for you, what a terrible thing, how awful you’. 

You don’t want to listen to that.

When it happens to people, what they want to hear is ‘you’re doing a great job’. 

Whenever there’s a death or a trauma it’s not good to pity people, it’s better to just say ‘carry on, you’re doing a great job, I’m here to help you’.

I’ve shut down many conversations in the past month. Conversations that begin with a sigh and are punctuated with sad eyes and knowing looks.

“Are you nervous?”

“Six weeks! That’s such a long time”

“You’ll miss them”.

“Who will look after you? What will you do?”

And that’s when I feel it, the bristle, the flinch. I’ll look in another direction, searching for a distraction, anything to avoid eye contact. I’ll explain the logistics and shrug “it is what it is”.

Miss them?

I once went on holiday to London with G, we left the little travelers with my parents. It was on day three that I asked to go home.

No, I’m not going to miss them. I’m going to ache for them. I’m going to struggle to breathe without them. Miss them? I’m not sure how I will sleep. To not be able to touch them, kiss them goodnight, press my cheek against theirs? How will I will laugh, write, eat? And then there’s the unthinkable – how will they cope without me?

Am I nervous? No. I’m angry. I’m sad.

My nightmare. A mother without her children. Children without their mother.

You can do this. Carry on. I’m here to help you.

I can do this, without the pity.

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