I walked past a man at the store who wore a white helmet with the words “I had a brain tumor” written cleanly across the front. I glanced at the helmet, which is not often seen worn by 50 year old men and smiled at him. As I walked away I felt compelled to show him my support of what he was enduring so I commented on the helmet and then, the brain tumor. Having recently completed treatment for cancer myself, I told him how I often wished I could wear a sign so that others knew to treat me gently during that fragile time, when even going to the grocery store took such effort. It got me thinking, how would we treat one another if we knew the trials we were enduring? If we wore them across our shirt (or helmet) for others to see?
After my daughter died I wanted to wear that sign so badly. I needed others to know that I was doing my best to face the world when every part of me screamed silently inside. My world had stopped spinning on its axis yet people walked down the street and in the grocery store unphased. I needed their compassion. If others were unable to offer understanding, even just a reassuring smile of acknowledgement would have been a salve to the loneliness I felt.
Seeing the man's bravery (and truly the necessity of his helmet for safety) allowed he and I to have a real conversation about his upcoming surgery where they would replace a missing piece of his skull. We connected on a human emotional level beyond a quiet glance as we roamed the aisles searching for milk. It was a beautiful moment in the mundane errand.
After asking a friend how could I possibly face the world after my daughter died, she commented that everyone is fighting a battle we cannot see. That every person we pass on the street has endured a tragedy that at one point defined them. It gave me something to think about; that I was enduring the greatest heartbreak of my life and that even though others may not know this exact pain, they know their own pain. It was hard to have compassion for others at a time of such devastating grief, but it did give me something to consider.
We may not wear the sign of our life’s tragedy on our sleeve, or even on a helmet, but we can treat one another as though we do. We can offer a smile, look others in the eye, and be kind. We can glance up for true human connection with those we sit next to on the bus, at the bank or doctors office. We are all fighting our own battles and doing the best we can to show up. Even if we can’t read each other's signs, we’re all wearing them on the inside.
I am mama of three beautiful babes; two sons whom I have the privilege of raising and my daughter who lived for 33 sacred days.