Merrimack-Webster defines this term as “having worth or value.” We often come across this word when learning about concepts like self-esteem, confidence and identity. Less often, do we hold others to the same high standards when it comes to determining if someone other than us, is “worthy.”
Years ago we went to a backyard family celebration of some close friends. This family, as a group, is comprised of beautiful people. Our direct friends, and their extended family members, young and old are educated, dynamic and just physically healthy and gorgeous. Notice I didn’t say kind.
Our friends, are kind. We have known them over two decades. But I never felt quite welcome when it came to larger events at their home. They could probably sense my longing for a healthy family, a son who eats and plays at these gatherings, so I could spend time with the other adults. I always felt like an outsider.
For many years I was reticent to open up about anything with regard to our children. I could manage small talk around Zach’s life in general (see 2/17/21 post) but rarely made reference to Alexis who died at 13 months in 1997, or Emanuel who died at birth in 2002. I stayed safe, and with good reason. The one time I opened up here is what happened:
I was speaking with a woman who was in from out of town for the festivities, call her Liz. Social functions provided little opportunity for substantive connection. I had no time to be vulnerable, given my role to protect Zach, protect the home we were in, and make sure nothing got broken and no one got hurt.
But on this warm evening, sitting on the deck I was enjoying a libation of some kind, Zach seemed settled and I could see him through the kitchen window with his iPad. The table I sat at had a few adults, including Zach’s Dad. At some point Liz and I started chatting.
Liz asked questions about Zach, his condition, what type of therapies he received and what the prognosis was. Turns out she was a Physical Therapist and worked with young children in the capacity of early intervention by going into the homes of those clients that qualified.
I was familiar with this role having experienced multiple therapy visits from OT to PT & ST over the years. I thanked her for her work, and shared how valuable it is for families like ours.
When it comes to prognosis questions about Zach and his life expectancy, my stock answer is that “Zach is a miracle, and we are grateful everyday to have him in our lives.” On a rare occasion, if I felt safe, I would share “Since our Daughter died so young, we thought we might lose Zach too, but there he is, healthy and strong.”
It seemed like Liz and I had enjoyed a micro-connection, both sharing experiences and not having the kids, or anything distract us. At some point I stood up to go and check on Zach and left the deck.
What I found out happened next, made my heart race, break open and dump into my gut with a heaviness I can still feel while recalling it. On the way home, Zach’s Dad shared with me that upon my exit, Liz stated “I did not come here to do therapy all night, TMI.” Or something along those lines.
Liz’ reaction to me sharing was just another sign from the world that my shit is just too much for others to process. Children dying, feeding tubes, etc. This was another example of why for most of my 30s and beyond, I never opened up about my (excruciating yet miraculous) experience as a mother.
In this context, I want to address worthiness, not of myself, but of others. I want to give other moms permission to trust your instincts to stay quiet in some circles. It is critical that we can connect with others and not keep our unique (but also universal) history which may involve profound loss and suffering to ourselves. But in doing so we must first run a litmus test on those around us.
“Is this person, or are these people of value or worth, such that they are capable of receiving my truth, right here, right now?”
If the answer is anything but “absolutely” keep quiet. Journal, go for a walk, meditate in the bathroom (one of my favorite strategies), or call a friend. Talk with anyone that you deem worthy (including God!)
But for self preservation, armor up and keep it light for persons unable to go deep. Not everyone is worthy or capable of connecting with our open (and broken) hearts.