The Decision To Know

The past couple years have been weird. I don’t know what it is, but I feel like I’ve known more people who have been blindsided with life-altering events than ever before. Most of these tragedies have centered around death, but some have consisted of job loss, broken families, imprisonment, loss of home…

You get the idea.

I’ve always sort of waffled over how to deal with these things as an outsider. To be honest, my gut reaction is to look away. To pretend it’s not happening. To go on with my happy little life and ignore the pain that is tearing someone to shreds right next to me.

That’s right: when someone is hurting, my instinct is to look away. 

Because it’s too hard. It hurts too much. It’s uncomfortable. I don’t want to feel their suffering. I don’t want to cry for them. I don’t want to worry about painful things happening to me. I want to give my toddler a snack and turn on Mickey Mouse Clubhouse and start dinner while my baby coos happily in her bouncy seat. I want to be blissfully immune to anyone else’s junk.

This was my attitude–until today.

See, I have an old friend who is currently enduring a situation that is so difficult, I can’t even think of a sufficient word to describe it.

Heart wrenching? Gut stabbing? They seem too cliché.

Does their pain burn? Does it sting? Does it feel like having all of your bones broken? Maybe, but even those things seem to fall short of what this family is going through.

The writer in me–that section of my brain that excels at creating images with words–is at a loss.

Without going into detail, I’ll tell you that this friend expects to lose her terminally ill infant within the next year and a half. According to the doctors, there is no stopping this disease.

There is no cure.

And as I hesitantly logged on to my friend’s Caring Bridge site, wanting to know the latest but dreading what I would find…

As I read my friend’s broken words, sagged under the weight of her grief, cried over her deep desire to watch her four-month-old baby walk and hang her school pictures on the fridge and help her with homework and buy her a Homecoming dress and show her how to put on makeup and take her to ballet lessons and so many more things she will never get to do–

Oh, I wanted to look away. I wanted to stop reading, close that window, forget I ever saw it. I wanted to pretend it’s not happening. I wanted to block it out.

But then something inside me said, No. 

It said, Don’t turn away. The last thing they need is for people to turn away. 

How dare I feel sorry for myself. How dare I think, This is too hard to read. I want to look away. I don’t want to know what is happening. 

What a repulsive response to someone else’s pain.

And so I have decided–while digging in my heels and burying my face in my hands and wishing for all the world I could just block it all out–I’ve decided to know.

I’ve decided to hurt. 

I don’t say this to toot my own horn. Lord knows I’ve spent most of my life ignoring tragedy because I simply didn’t know how to deal with it. I have a vivid memory of lying by a pool, working on my wicked tan, listening to updates on the Columbine shootings. And I remember thinking, As long as I don’t focus on this too closely, it will go away. It won’t affect my life. My routine will stay the same.

So consider my horn officially un-tooted. And screw routine.

Life is messy. This isn’t heaven. If we’re going to make it through this life, we’d better stick together. God didn’t create people so they could all hunker down in their special little bubbles and hoard everything they hold dear, hoping nothing bad will befall them.

He created us to be together. To fight together. Especially when things are so hard you don’t know how you’re going to manage another breath.

So this is it. I’m done sticking my head in the sand. I will walk with my friend and her sweet baby in any way I can. I will walk with that family that lost a child to suicide. I will walk with that girl whose husband died in a car accident. I will walk with that parent who lost their job and doesn’t know how they will feed their kids. I will walk with that woman who says goodbye to her unborn children, month after unbearable month.

I will not turn away. Not anymore.

That’s a promise.

*     *     *

In the world, you will have trouble. But take heart: I have overcome the world. 

*     *     *

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20 thoughts on “The Decision To Know

  1. Eisley Jacobs says:

    Many hugs and prayers for you and your friend. It’s so hard to see friends have to walk through this and you are right, they can’t be alone. *HUGS*

    1. Anne Riley says:

      It is SO hard–but I think what I realized today is that however hard it is to watch, it is a million times harder to actually go through it. They can’t do this alone.

  2. Connie Keller says:

    It will mean so much to your friend! When my friend’s baby died, I talked to her about her son a lot. We looked at photo albums together. It meant so much to her. Honestly, I don’t want to take credit for it. The truth was that when she first started to talk about him, I was so tongue-tied that I didn’t know what to say and she mistook it for “wisdom” on my part. And then, when she thanked me profusely, I finally figured out that I didn’t need to do/say anything special, just be there to listen and share when she wanted to talk about her son.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I’m hoping maybe I can do the same kind of thing. I have no idea what to say to her and honestly I don’t think there is any “right” thing to say–I just want to be there.

  3. Sarah Swingle says:

    Anne, this is beautiful. Thank you for sharing this vulnerability and inspiration. My heart goes out to your friend.. This might sound a little bit different, but this post made me think of when I decided to go vegan; I consciously decided to know how my meat, cheese, and eggs were made. I hadn’t wanted to know for the longest time because I knew it would hurt and that I’d have to change. And I was right; once I knew, I couldn’t keep doing what I was doing. But it was that “deciding to know” that was key. Thank you for talking about this concept. And thank you for being someone who will be there for others who are hurting.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      That would be really hard to consciously research. It’s difficult to dive into something that you know will be painful, whatever it is!

  4. Ansley says:

    I knew what this post was about as soon as I started reading. Her pain has deeply shaken me in a way that I never knew possible. The fixer in me wants to DO things…make dinners, offer to clean, give that perfect-yet-unchurchy word of advice that gets her through another day….and yet I was reminded, oh so gently, by our Father that I cannot DO anything to fix this. So, I have committed to pray every day for that sweet girl and our dear friend. Every day, I’m setting aside a specific time to lift her up in prayer…and even though I feel woefully insufficient, I am reminded that His grace is sufficient, for mother, child and the whole family.

    Thanks for writing about this…about looking at the cost of sin in this world….about the deep, abiding pain some of us are called to walk through with faith….because we all must be reminded to look, to see and to ultimately get on our knees.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      I love the idea of setting aside a specific time to pray for her. I think I will do that. Thank you for the idea!

  5. Brenda Church says:

    Your words are a challenge even to you old Auntie B who shares the head-in-the-sand gene with you and so many others. I am blessed because you care, and are willing to put yourself in the way of pain for a friend. And encouraged to walk that walk with those The Lord brings my way. Thanks, sweet girl!

  6. Rob(Husband) says:

    So proud of you to write this. I am right here with you in the battle as long as God allows me. I love you,Anne!

  7. Gail says:

    As someone who has both had pain that is so deep my biological heart physically hurts for days and as someone who walks along side those who suffer similar or more, can I encourage everyone to take the courage and grace needed to choose to look up, step up and be involved.

    We all go through painful times and in those time we need other’s love and support. Each person’s needs in a crisis (even in the same crisis) is different and it can be a challenge knowing how best to care. Prayer is my first option, asking God what I can do for that person. And if I’m close enough to the person I will simply ask “what’s the best thing I can do for you right now?”

    Sometimes it’s a practical thing, like sending jokes via text to a friend who’s relationship has just ended, or cooking food and arranging a lawn mowing for someone battling cancer. Sometimes it’s just being there to listen or to talk about my day and remind them that there is life outside the hospital and in my chatter they can escape for a moment or two. Sometimes it’s even giving them room and acting like I don’t know what’s going on in their presence. Mostly it’s the prayers on their behalf (that they may never know about) that mean the very most.

    I am continually astounded with how many people care enough to pray for me, particularly in the difficult times. It’s almost like when I send a desperate “help God!” to heaven, He sends an internal memo to a bunch of people saying “pray for Gail.” It’s pretty amazing.

    Life is tough and we can’t do it alone. So take courage and step out in love and choose to do something.

  8. Janine says:

    As a woman who lost her husband quite suddenly, six years ago (and a mother of 6), I thank you for this post …… and for this decision. As someone who’s grieved …. and grieved hard …… I can tell you that all we want, we who are grieving and suffering horrific pain that unimaginable, is for someone to just sit with us. That’s all. We know that you can’t stop our pain. We know that there are no words you can utter that will ease our sorrow. We just want you to be there. Whether it’s just to talk, to watch a movie, to listen to us, or to cry with us …… we want you there.
    So please, do the very best thing for your friend …… and just be with her.
    God’s blessings as you travel this road with her.

    1. Anne Riley says:

      Thank you so much for this comment. I cannot imagine what you went through, losing your husband. And thank you for the advice–it helps to know how I can be the best possible friend!

  9. Dean from Australia says:

    It is a sobering thing to be affected in such a way and a courageous decision not to turn away.

    I see it a lot, particularly with the families of young children who have been diagnosed with cancer. There are people in their circle of friends who simply cannot comprehend the experience that family are in and invariably, they turn away, run and hide and the family is left to grieve not only their situation but grieve for those who have turned away.

    I’ve lost count of the conversations I’ve had at 2am with a parent who is trying to come to grips with this. And all I can say to them is to focus inward on their core (family) and gather what ever strength they can from each other.

    The kicker is, when my shift ends, I go home and they are left behind and it sorta kills me. But I don’t know what else to do…

    You are doing good things Anne.

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