Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Multiple Realities

There's a psychological concept called theory of mind that is basically the ability to recognize that someone else might know a different reality than you do, that people's knowledge, thoughts, emotions can deviate from our own.  This is a vast simplification, but the basic idea.

I knew this from psychology and child development, but the last year has made me realize the degree to which different realities can exist.

Chiron was written up in a local weekly newspaper for his wins in the Preemie Power competition with an emphasis on it being Thanksgiving. A coworker made a copy of the article and put it in the copy room.  I then received an email from another coworker that was congratulating us.  The crux of it was:
I read the article and just kept forgetting to shoot you and email and say: WELL DONE!!!!!
With the exception of the loss of Aurelia, this year's holidays should be a HUGE night and day for your family and household than last year's at this time!"
Our realities are so different that I just didn't know what to say, how to respond or even to think.  First off, the ability to say "with the exception of the loss of Aurelia" like it was just some small bump in the road that was worked through completely blows my mind.  Seriously?  I may need an outside perspective to see if this is as odd a statement as I think it was.  "With the exception of the death of your husband, wasn't this last year great?" 

Then I started thinking about this idea of theory of mind and realized that our realities are even farther apart.  What exactly was she praising me for? The subject was "Kudos to You & Chiron".  For his prematurity?  For having written him up?  I think the honest answer is probably the fact that he won and then the fact that there was an article written on it, but praise for it kinda strikes me as odd.

I know that she never "lived" in the technical definition of surviving unattached to anyone else, but she definitely was alive.  It just blows my mind that someone who knows what happened and not just the basic details could think that Aurelia's death would ever make sense as an aside. And this is someone who is a good and kind person who does care about us.  It's not like she said it with intentionality.  I think that's really what blows my mind.  That it didn't cross her mind at all that I would feel oddly about that statement.

My reality sometimes makes me think I may be slightly crazy.


  1. One of the things I've written about for Graham's Foundation is the fact that people don't really mean to be insensitive as they are - sometimes people think they are being kind and sensitive, even as what they're saying strikes an outside observer as WTH. (As it did with me, really, woman? That's how you phrase that?)

  2. I'm sorry to see that her comment (rightfully) bothered you.

    My completely speculated view is probably that - in her poorly worded way - she was trying to acknowledge Aurelia while at the same time send a message of support for the progress you have achieved with Chiron.

    People are funny in what they allow to come out of their minds. Despite how life ACTUALLY is...I think people like things neat and organized... especially when they are attempting to send a message of support. Otherwise, they just wouldn't say anything (which is admittedly often better!)

    Although her message was clunky and ill thought out, I'd try to either let it go or send her a respectful message back...something like, 'Thank you for your note of encouragement. We appreciate the sentiment. This - and all - Thanksgivings are about taking the time to remember our Aurelia while celebrating Chiron.'

  3. I don't think you're crazy, even slightly. :)

    My guess is that that person wanted to say something nice to you, and did so quickly, without thinking much about it...just zipped off a quick email.

    It's interesting what Edward said, about people wanting things "neat and organized" that they can easily zip off a quick email and move on.

    Of course life is not really like that...we all know that on some level...but it's easier not to think about it, especially when you look at other people.

    If you're up for it, I think Edward's response is a nice one, to acknowledge her thought, while letting her know that there are many facets to any situation. And if you're not up for it, I think that's OK, too.

    In any case, I'm sorry that message threw you for a bit of a loop...

  4. Thanks all!

    I definitely think that she meant this email entirely positive. I wrote this yesterday and in reading it again, I realized that I could have written something positive in that she did acknowledge Aurelia. It's hard to balance joy and sorrow at the same time even when living it, so I probably should cut people bigger breaks.

    The response I went with was to send her back an email thanking her for her support of our entire family throughout this entire year and acknowledging that one of the things I am most thankful for this past year is the support of our friends and family of which she is a part.

    Edward, I like your response much better though!

    One last thought. I'm not sure that the "not saying anything" response is actually better. I know I have been guilty of not talking to someone after a tragic event because of not knowing what to say, but I think this is not the best course. There aren't right words. They just don't exist. But acknowledgment can help. When you don't say anything, it's like you aren't acknowledging the reality.

    So while I may have had a WTF reaction and was perhaps a bit bothered by it, it definitely didn't upset me and I really think I prefer the message as is over nothing.

  5. I'm sorry for the sting of her email.
    And I agree with you.....finding the words is a nearly impossible task in the case of someone else's loss. Unless you've experienced the same loss and can truly understand.

    On a side note, you have a VERY handsome celebrity. SUCH a sweet face.

  6. Well, I'll join you on the crazy team.

    I don't think you have to cut people bigger breaks. It stings and it hurts when the death of one of your children is mentioned as an aside. But, as Edward says, I'm sure it was kindly meant. I always try to imagine what some hypothetical me who had never lost a baby would write to me who did lose a baby and I guess I would have written something not a million miles away from what your co-worker wrote. That doesn't make me feel particularly wonderful or great about myself but it does make me more forgiving? Perhaps? And, as you say, I probably would have opted for the "not saying anything" response which isn't particularly laudable either. Sigh.

    And it was nice of her to mention Aurelia. I remember, just after Georgina died, the girls' consultant said to me that I should be grateful if anybody I knew even mentioned her existence. He was very wise. Although I did want to kick him in the shin at the time. I wish he wasn't right but . . . people do like nice and organised. They like happy. And in a situation like this where there is a 'happy', like Chiron and Jessica, they tend to focus entirely on that outcome. But our children aren't outcomes, they are people. Aurelia and Georgina were people too. Sigh. Unless you've lived it, as K J and the kids says, you can't really understand.

    My own family's comments have usually prompted by own WTF? reactions but at least they mention her, they recognise that she existed.

    Chiron is absolutely lovely and I'm not surprised his photograph appeared in the paper!

  7. I honestly think that most people are very uneasy with death. I give this person credit for even having the courage to bring up Aurelia's passing even though it wasn't done very delicately. And good for you for realizing that everybody's reality is different. I don't know if I would have had the depth of soul to view it that way. I am so very sorry for your loss though.

  8. I feel the same way when someone tells me we are alike, because their child has a disability too...and I find out its a fixable speech impediment or something like that. I feel bad for "ranking" my kid's issues higher than theirs...but I do! I understand that their perspective is different than mine and I try to just brush it off and remind myself that we all have struggles.