We each have things in life that drive us crazy and push us to the point of unpleasantness, if we allow our emotions to take control. I seem to be able to tolerate all sorts of behaviors from people, but I have developed a particular distain for lying. I don’t think anyone likes being lied to, but as I get older, and learn more how important truth is, as well as the Truth of my faith, I find myself more aware of lies. I am bothered when I have been subjected to lying.
Recently, I undertook a large remodeling project. These kinds of efforts can be so challenging. Before I even started the work, I nearly gave up when a company I received an estimate from told me a series of lies. It was incredulous that they would say so many untruths, eventually proving them unworthy of being hired. I felt foolish for what little trust I had already placed in them. More important, I was sad for people who are apparently so weak and self serving that they couldn’t simply speak the truth.
Truth In Caring For Human Life
This experience feels all the more intense to me because of my work as a Perinatal Bereavement Coordinator. I work with families who have received a life threatening prenatal diagnosis for their unborn child. I have learned that one of the most important tools we possess in our interactions is the truth. You might guess that it is very hard to begin a professional relationship where the family is experiencing such a profound challenge. My job is to help them. However, I have learned that by the time we have our first meeting, their need to learn the truth about their situation is so great that they are quite open to conversation. Their need for truth is so intense, it is almost primitive; they drink it up like they have been in a desert for days.
The first few times I entered into this conversation with a new woman/family, I was understandably very nervous and uneasy in discussing such a painful condition. Yet, I quickly witnessed that people are amazing in their capacity to rise to the occasion and do something they never thought themselves capable of doing. My presence assured them that (unlike in the past) the medical establishment was not going to abandon them. We value their baby and support their parenting of their baby, whether the baby lives 10 minutes or 10 hours or 100 years. (I continue to hear stories to the contrary, but certainly not where I am currently working. And not on my watch.)
There are a few aspects of this journey that I like to tell each family at the very beginning of our work together. The first important element is that I always tell them the truth. I don’t believe they ever expect me to lie to them. However, I do believe that they often fear having the truth filtered in way that might manipulate them. I always assure them that I will treat them like intelligent people, capable of “tending to their own business” and making good decisions for themselves without me needing to edit the truth to sway them.
I once received a telephone call from a woman who was seeking advice on starting a community-based perinatal hospice program.* She gave her motivation and justification – ”Because I don’t want women to have abortions”. My response to her may surprise you – “Oh, please don’t”. I went on to explain that you start a perinatal hospice program because you have a heart and calling to serve women and babies in that manner and capacity. There would likely be a side benefit that the women you serve won’t have abortions. However, if you start out being insincere about your own goals and motivations, then you begin an endeavor based upon an intention to manipulate and that never is a good place to start.
There are many professions, like mine, where people come to us for truth and hold us to pretty demanding standards: priests, teachers, tax specialists, researchers. People who are in my profession might agree that when we go out into the world hoping that we will be treated fairly, dealing with manipulative and duplicitous people can feel like a double blow.
The Truth In Caring For Our Spiritual Health
While writing this article, I went off on a tangent about Christians who tell small lies to try to get people to see a bigger truth faster. It didn’t take long before the real world examples I used took my article’s tone into an ugly and dark place. (Of course, that was not my intent, so I hit the delete button repeatedly.) Truth is such a powerful force it does not need to be juxtaposed to lies in order to be clearly superior – doing so is almost an insult.
The Real Truth is so powerful, it took on flesh and walked the earth.
“I am the way and the truth and the life…” [John 14:6]
This Scripture verses reassures me and makes me think of how we communicate when we understand the deep Truths of the Church. Being in a place of understanding a deep truth comes with a great responsibility. If we communicate it in a way that hurts, discounts or minimizes people, we not only slow people’s personal growth, we risk permanently alienating them from a willingness to ever see objective Truth. If we exaggerate or minimize smaller truths, while making a bigger point, our larger argument will be seen as weak, because we had to lie to convince people of our position. We need to show patience in how we teach and live truth. When is the last time you heard a discussion where one person was immediately convinced? First, we must ponder what we have read, been told, see in lives around us and evolve slowly – hopefully towards Truth.
Returning to my world, when I first meet with people who are in crisis from learning that a baby has died or will likely die soon, I tell them “Im going to be completely transparent and tell you what my goals are for you”.
Sometimes people think that my goal is to ease their pain. Yet, pain is inevitable in these deaths. They will feel the hurt of loss. I tell them that I acknowledge and respect their pain, and it isn’t going away overnight. They have to embrace the pain and loss; trying to convince them not to be sad at the death of their child is disrespectful.
As I counsel the parents, I tell them that my goal is that they come to see their experience as “survivable”. I tell them, “if I ran into you in Target two years from now….I would want you to be able to say to me ‘Tammy, I would have never chosen that experience, but once it became unchangeable, I am pleased with the decisions I made. I know I did a good job and I’m proud of myself and how I parented my child’. Now what can I do to make it possible for you to tell me that in two years”?
On their face I see a realization that it is time to let go of “have a healthy baby” as an immediate goal. The idea that they will ever in the future be able to look back with clarity and objectivity seems a lofty idea but one that seems at least marginally possible. Even the most devastated parent can often see a benefit in parenting their child well – even in the tiniest of ways or briefest of moments. For them, that one moment in time can grow into a feeling of accomplishing something good despite how hard it was to endure. They see the value in the experience, partially because of the truth.
[*] programs vary greatly from hospital or clinic based programs run my physicians and nurses to distance/internet or community based programs run by volunteers – normally volunteer programs crop up where hospitals have not responded to need and organized any reliable process for families. I believe that the best situation for families is when the hospital has a well organized and refined prenatal hospice / neonatal palliative care program AND the parents have access to volunteer organizations/individuals that provide emotional and logistical support – often from parents who have themselves experienced similar circumstances.
Epilogue – I eventually contracted with a local company for my project and their truthfulness was the main reason I chose them. There were expected bumps in the project, but I knew I could depend on the leadership if their company to be truthful. The fact that this company is run primarily by Catholic gentlemen is a fact that didn’t escape me.