Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Grief and Ice Chewing

I recently met a woman - someone I'll call Tina* - though a mutual friend.  In the course of conversation, it came to light that Tina's mother had been my boss for many years before her retirement.  I was particularly happy to meet Tina because her mom, about whom I will always think very highly, passed away tragically very soon after she retired, and I had never before had the opportunity to tell anyone in her family how much I appreciated the impact she had had on my life.

I told her how her mom had guided me professionally over the years, and then I told her what I admired about her mom the most, which was her mom's effort and ability to keep track of the details of things going on in the personal lives of her many employees and coworkers.  In a word, it was her kindness that touched me the most over the many years that I knew her - and it was that quality that I remembered and admired about her the most.

Tina told me about the day five years ago when her mom died, the specifics of which I hadn't heard before.  She talked about how hard it was to lose her mom and how she, as an only child, and her dad had grieved the loss differently.  She asked about my parents, and after I told her about my dad's death, we talked more about grief and loss.  As someone who is twice as far ahead as I am on the road of grief, she told me a few things she had come to know, like how the sadness and the pain never go away - but that things do get more tolerable in some ways over time.  

It was comforting to hear what she had to say about the grief process from her perspective and based on her time frame; it reminded me of once many years ago when I went to have my teeth cleaned at the dentist's office and saw a dentist in the practice whom I hadn't met before.  They had gotten a gadget to use during exams that was essentially a tiny camera that allowed them to film what was going on in a patient's mouth and then project the image onto a TV screen for the patient to view.  (Stick with me; I'm getting to the part where this ties in to the conversation detailed above.) The dentist used the camera to show me that I have some tiny cracks in some of my teeth; likely, she told me, the result of crunching ice.  Although she presented that information to me more in the form of a scolding than anything else, for some reason I felt the need to explain to her why I had started the obviously bad habit of ice crunching: to combat the severe heartburn I experienced during my second pregnancy.  "How old is that child now?" she asked me.  I thought she was just making conversation, and I told her my daughter was five.  "Well, that excuse got used up a long time ago," she snarkily informed me.

Needless to say, I did not bond with that particular dentist, and I chose not to be seen by her again.  I felt there were several important pieces of information involved in patient care that she was missing, ranging from general courtesy and compassion to motivation and perspective.  She didn't ask me if I still had issues with heartburn or if I thought the ice-chewing had just become a habit over the years; actually she didn't ask me anything except for the age of my child, which she obviously asked only as a lead-in to the judgment she was all too eager to issue out.  

And that leads me to what I think is my point, and, you'll be glad to know, to how this story ties in to the first one: grief, like ice chewing and lots of other things in life, has its own time frame in every situation, and that's ok.  Each person has his or her own story; each of us has traveled a different road to get to where we are today.  Without having traveled that same exact road, or, at the very least, without having worked to try to understand that person's perspective, another person cannot possibly have the insight or the knowledge - and possibly the right - to stand in judgment of another person.

That's one thing that I've certainly learned over the past couple of years; that, and the lasting impact of kindness.

*Her real name isn't Tina - and her identity probably really isn't a secret if you know me and my work history, but I prefer to use that instead of her actual name to protect her privacy - and since knowing her identity isn't the point of this story.

No comments:

Post a Comment