One of the best life lessons that the last three years have taught me is how to be compassionate. When someone is sick or housebound, when someone has lost a family member, or when someone is just in a dark place in life, what do you say? What can you do? Before the NICU, I thought about people, I really did. Sometimes I stewed over situations that really had nothing to do with me. I felt sorrow for people, and I offered up prayers and sent positive thoughts their direction. But, so many times since I didn't know how to fix their problem or even what to say to make it better, I just didn't say anything at all.
When my son was in the NICU, sometimes the silence was deafening. Of course I knew people cared, but on the dark days, I looked around and wondered who was standing with me, who was supporting me, who wanted to help. And truthfully, most of us are too busy, too wrapped up in ourselves to take the time to be compassionate.
I promise I'm not trying to keep score, but I remember every person during the 150 days my babies were in the hospital who called me or sent a card or sent me a message on Facebook. Dear friends in South Korea called from literally halfway around the world. The last communication I had from a childhood friend who committed suicide was a message on Facebook. He saw that I was online one night, and he asked how my baby was. I gave him the pat answer, a few stats on his weight gain and oxygen levels, and I thought that would be the end of it. He had the compassion to ask more questions, and then to tell me he was thinking of me and praying for me. Now, looking back I suspect his own pain made him sensitive to the pain in others.
The beauty of being compassionate is that you don't have to speak words of wisdom or fix a situation. Sometimes just being a lifeline, a warm hand on a shoulder, a sweet card in the mail, a friendly voice on the other end of the line, that is all you need to do. We just don't want to be alone. We don't want to wallow in self-pity and doubt. We want someone to recognize our pain and validate it.
Now, I look back, and I see so many missed opportunities. So many things I left unsaid and undone. And I am sorry for it. But, I have resolved to try to be more compassionate, which is not to say perfect. In the hustle of daily life with two small children, I still leave so much unsaid and undone, but instead of letting myself off the hook with an at-least-I-sent-them-positive-thoughts (as if people are automatically notified of these thoughts like I've texted them), I buy cards and send them, or I pick up the phone and use it, or I type out an email or a Facebook message and hit enter. Or with my ailing grandfather, I picked up his hand, looked deep into his eyes, and said, "I am so sorry, and I wish I could do more."
You never know the joy your card or your hug or your flowers bring until you're in a place of despair and sorrow. And I thank the NICU for that life lesson.