Be Not Afraid, Be Not Mean

Tammy Ruiz - Not Afraid


In my work with newly bereaved families (in perinatal death) and in my life experiences of suffering, I have seen a strange dynamic over and over and I finally was able to see this behavior repeated enough to learn something from it.

Most of us probably consider ourselves as “nice” most of the time and always to those who are suffering. I have seen, however, some seemingly “nice” people turn harsh (nearly punitive) to those who are suffering the worst. What would cause this?

What I have come to learn is that scared people are often mean.

Yes, you might be certain that you wouldn’t do that, but if disaster befell your peer (especially someone very much like you) you might be surprised at how quickly you could react in hostility in order to convince yourself that you are “safe” from such a thing happening to you.

In her book Losing Malcolm – A Mother’s Journey Through Grief, Carol Henderson describes how her peer group of childbearing age women were so difficult and hostile in the wake of her child’s death that she finally had to remover herself completely from them. During a subsequent pregnancy, she took exercise classes with much older women because they had suffered enough to understand and support her better. I have seen this so many times that I try to gently prepare my newly bereaved mothers of this dynamic before their re-entry into the aisles of Target where they will meet up with their peers.

In Life Touches Life – a Mother\’s story of Stillbirth and Healing, Lorraine Ash also described the harsh and accusatory tone that other childbearing women hurt her with after her daughters death. They were so desperate to find some way, any way to convince themselves that the terrible fate that struck Lorraine could not — would not — strike them. They lashed out with absurd statements and questions that inferred that Lorraine had made errors that they would not be foolish enough to make. It would have taken more courage than they had to admit that she was just like them.

I think our fear is exacerbated by our societal delusion that we can control everything — that the right actions will always yield the right results. So if we see someone very much like us suffer tragedy, we grasp at the straws of figuring out what they did wrong so that we can avoid it; if we admitted that they did nothing different than we would have then we are vulnerable too.

I have found that a very effective tool to help nurses avoid being unintentionally harsh during times of infant death is to educate and prepare them to do their jobs well. Even if the situation is very hard, if the nurse feels well prepared to do a good job, then he or she does not manifest subtle hostility. How can I translate this to my spiritual life?

A Biblegateway search of the RSV Catholic edition for the the term \”fear not\” yielded 196 results. In the last year my children and I have suffered death, injury, dangerous accidents, loss, sickness, pain, and grief. We were never told that bad things wouldn\’t happen (for surely they will and we most often don\’t have control over many of our circumstances) but we are told over and over that we don\’t need to be afraid. God will not abandon us in our trials, and that has been my experience. Even in the worst moments, I have been given consolation both from God and from caring people.

We just learned that Blessed Pope John Paul II will be made a Saint in 2014. This is an ideal time for us to remember his constant instruction and reminder from Scripture to \”be not afraid.\” We might grow not just in our own experience but in how we treat others, especially those who need our compassion and kindness most.

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16 thoughts on “Be Not Afraid, Be Not Mean”

  1. Pingback: Faith is a Gift | St. John

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  3. It is indeed the harshest part of losing a child. Losing friends and family. When our daughter passed from Trisomy 18 at just six hours old, people turned on us. Even physicians in our family. It was a horrible time. What got me through? “Be not afraid. I go before you always ” hymn from church, and a lovely wise Irish Catholic Priest. There were also angels in disguise as doctors and nurses that share their own personal grief stories. If we have walked the path, it is our duty to help those that walk the same path anew. Stephanie lives in our hearts 20 years later, and the greatest gift we gave our surviving 4 children, was her story of life and death, and how each and every life no matter how short lived is here for a purpose. Her life and our choice to give her life inspired many, and taught many. Even those that walked away.

    1. Theresa,
      Im SO sorry that you were abandoned by those around you !! When I lived in KC, I had a fridge repair man out to my house…he fixed my fridge in 15 minutes and told me about his daughters death for 2 hours. He said “when you lose your children, you also lose your friends”.

      I am so gratified to tell you that in our city, we have created a network of love and support. We support parents through losses like what you suffered and they heal and thrive and support others. In august, I would have celebrated my 27th wedding anniversary but my husband had died…my bereaved moms took me out that night and we spent it together…supporting for each other.

    2. Ironically, I would not change the experience for anything in the world. It makes me a better person, and I am able to help others through their grief. I am so sorry to hear of the loss of your husband…so very sorry… and yet so happy to know that you were able to celebrate the Anniversary surrounded in love. Love heals all. Peace be with you Tammy.

  4. Thank you for the article. While reading it I thought you might be concerned about the ads that are on your page. While there is one for “Living a ‘G’ Life in an ‘X’ World” conference…just a few ads below is an ad for “Male Gamers Only” with a barely clothed woman (Wartune?). Had to scroll past it quickly as my young son came to ask me a question.

  5. Pingback: On Human Indifference : Catholic Stand

  6. LeticiaVelasquez

    When my daughter with Down syndrome was an infant, we brought her to our older daughter’s softball game, but the reaction of one of the other moms was so hostile that I never brought her back. My daughters were not invited to register for softball for the next season nor for the rest of the time we lived in that town.
    Ten years later we were told by the coach’s wife that her sister-in-law had just aborted a baby with Down syndrome and of course seeing a baby with Down syndrome re-activated the trauma she chose herself. So much unnecessary suffering.

    1. A real tragedy which continues to this day and one which call is to question the intent of genetic testing. .. Recent data indicate that 85-90% of fetuses which screen positive for DS are aborted, similar figures for spina bifida, and other genetic anomalies. The reality is that genetic testing cannot determine the severity, if any, of the screened syndrome. There are numerous instances of false positives with cheaper versions of screens. The simple fact that aborting a fetus because of potential disability is tantamount to the genocide of a particular population of humans. Not muck different from the horrors of T-4.

    2. When you brought your dear daughter into their presence, she terrified them because she was proof that a terrible mistake had been made. The sweeter your daughter was, the more the mistake was evident and (likely) the more frightened and meaner they got.

      Im sad that the person in their group made such an ill advised decision and in their effort to support their friend, they (likely in a way that was not very self-aware) were unkind and hostile to your daughter. So sad all around.

      I would venture to guess that if you asked them individually if they would ever be mean to a child with Down Syndrome, they would deny with every fiber in their being that they would do such a thing….just like the friends of my bereaved moms.

      This is why I wrote this post…if we aren’t aware of our own inner capacity to lash out cruelly when we are scared, we are more likely to do so. When St Peter was scared …he denied even knowing Christ (Matt 26:74) it is in our fallen nature…but perfect love casts out fear (1John 4:18) so maybe meanness too?

  7. The essential question is afraid of what? After my son’s non-fatal drowning 15 years ago, family, friends, peers (despite promises) ran very fast and never returned, Afraid of what? I have come to conclude that there are two basic fears: a fear of having to go deep and dark and participate fully in another’s grief…in a grief where there is wound which may never heal. The other fear is that if you compassionately engage you may somehow feel a continuing responsibility to be there and to be present there for the other….to move away from comfortable indifference. Just my experience….

    1. I think that Mr Dzialo has quite a story to tell and wisdom to learn from. I think you should write a guest column…what do you think Stacy? I will give up my spot next month to fit it if need be.

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