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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  1. (((((((((((((((HUGS))))))))))))))))))))))

  2. tannisdyrland says

    you got this!

  3. And after that time you will look back and think how remarkably strong you and your family were.

  4. I agree with Ruth. Pity is disabling. I never want anyone’s pity when they hear my story (we all have one after all). Empathy, sure. Pity, no thanks.

    I spent a week away from my kids in march this year in NZ. I ended up with a very expensive mobile phone bill. But it was worth every cent so I could connect with them. They were having a ball, but after about three days, I felt like I was missing limbs. I is them when they go the their fathers place for the weekend, and call them.

    I can’t begin to imagine how you are feeling right now, 6 weeks. Thank god for Internet skyping. I know it’s not the same, but at the very least you will have that.

    My 16 yo darter spent a year away from me, living at her fathers. It felt like a hole was in my heart. She said to me recently that she felt sad because she feels like she has missed a whole year of aston’s, her little brothers, life. That he had grown and changed so much in that time. As she was saying it, I was thinking, I feel so sad, I have missed a whole year in your life, and you have grown and changed so much.

    I’ll be thinking of you kirsty, and sending you love light and strength to get through those 6 weeks. Not much I know, but it’s dice innately not my pity, but my empathy you have, xxx

  5. And that last sentence should say ” it’s definitely not my pity, but my empathy you have.” Stupid autocorrect and not checking before I press publish! 🙂

  6. I know exactly what you mean – I think one of the worst things anyone can say to another person is “I feel so sorry for you”! I know that 6 weeks is going to suck big time Kirst but it falls into the category of ‘you do what you have to do’ hey. After 9 days without my big and little boy I can say that the first half goes interminably slowly … but then you get into a rhythm … and the second half flies 🙂

  7. How true Ruth’s comment is. And when you say to someone ‘I’m so sorry for you’ what are they supposed to say back? It kinda kills the conversation not to mention leaves that particular person feeling even worse.

    You will hate that 6 weeks but it is a finite time frame, there IS an end point. You will manage because you have no choice – the sooner it starts, the sooner you will be back with your family. And we’ll all be here to keep you company along the way. 🙂


  8. Oh you’ll be just FINE. They’ll be just FINE. Their dad is a fabulous dad, and he’ll cope FINE.

    Of course you’ll miss them, and they’ll miss you. But you’ve raised strong, happy children with full social lives and they’ll be busy little bees. They’ll cope because you’ve raised them to cope.

    And then when you see them in person, it’ll be AWESOME.

  9. Yes, you can. And think how glorious it will be to have this behind you!

  10. You WILL be fine. And, as you said the other day re the bloggers conference, you’ll be ‘there’ with them in ways such as Skype and heaps of phone calls. “Hey Mum…? Where did you put my soccer kit?” “Here’s a link to that dog playing the guitar I was telling you about,” “Can you google me that recipe for carrot cake that you made me when I had my birthday sleepover?”

    I left my family for a week to go on holiday with my visiting parents and my mobile phone was NEVER so full of messages!

    Hugs to you though. Pity might be out, but hugs are always needed.

  11. Ruth is right about pity being disabling but the line between pity and empathy can be a very fine one, and it’s often crossed inadvertently when we can’t find the right words to convey how we feel.

    • You’re right Sara, it is a fine line and the last thing I want to do is appear ungrateful for anyone’s concern. I guess there is a feeling of helplessness on my behalf and the last thing I want to do is spend an hour reveling in a woe is me conversation. What’s that saying about misery likes company?

    • It’s a minefield, isn’t it? 🙂

      I wish I were better at just letting people say what they say, and letting myself feel what I feel, and not letting how I feel depend too much on what “they” say. But I’m human, thank goodness.

  12. You can do it Kirsty and when you are back with the family you will be full on. My prayers are with youXXX

  13. hey! beautiful post as always. you know what, time flies. so just as its getting closer to leaving, once there it will fly towards returning. you are dreading the leaving, but when there you will look forward to the returning. G is great (from reading your posts) so they are being left in wonderful hands. And remember we have great technology! Skype and other video related chats. Kids can send videos via mail and vice versa. Many *hugs* from Libya 🙂 and rootin for ya!

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  15. I think sympathy is a natural feeling, especially when it’s someone you love that’s going through an unpleasant time or event. But yes, harping on about it probably doesn’t help the person. A friend’s son has just been diagnosed with a neurological thing that will never be terminal but it will be a pain in the neck. When she said she felt sorry for him, my immediate reaction (having kids with learning disabilities) was “Don’t tell him that. Don’t take pity on him. Tell him he’ll be fine and he will be.”
    Loved your diverticulum post BTW!

  16. Of course you can do this! Yes, there will be rough spots but there will also be memorable moments. Giving your kids a reason to tell you in writing how they feel can be a wonderful experience. Pay attention to the good ones.

  17. Oh sweets. Yet again you have me in tears.

    I had a fight with my best brother once – over pity. I can so totally identify with this.

    You, you of all the people I know, can do this. And you have given them the love and foundation to be able to do this too.


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