People will say some of the most vile things over the phone. I know this all too well. I do customer service. I get paid to talk to people on the phone all day long. Most of my working life has been taking phone calls from people I have never spoken to before, and then attempting to help them with whatever their problem is……..as best I can. I’m thankful that people call. And I’m thankful to have a job. Nonetheless, it is challenging to hear some of the words that spew out of people’s mouths when they are not looking at you face to face. Since this is a family-friendly blog, I will not even mention some of the things I hear. Some of it would shock you to the point that you would think I’m lying. Really, no joke. There have been physical threats made against me (yes, I’m serious), insults of every kind imaginable, uncontrolled rage, you name it. Every day I go into work thinking, “I’ve heard it all.” But then, the carpet is pulled from underneath me again, and someone manages to outdo all the others with their tongue. Is it any wonder that we see these words in Scripture: “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).
The Phrase I Hate to Hear
With all of the garbage that I hear, there is one phrase I hear from time to time that bothers me more than any other. And it is this: “Jamie, that’s NOT what I said!! You’re not listening to me, are you?!” That one hurts. In some ways, it hurts more than anything else they say to me. When customers shout vile insults, they are really just venting because they are not getting what they want. They are, in essence, having a hissy fit over the phone. Although it is sinful behavior, I don’t believe it is anything personal. They are just angry and frustrated. They may also be dealing with other difficulties in their life. I get it. I’ve been there and done that myself.
But when they tell me I’m not listening, it is personal. They are making a judgment about my ability to do my job. They think I am either being careless, rude, or neglectful. Or all three for that matter. No matter the reason for the accusation, I hate to hear it. Sometimes it is simply miscommunication. In other words, I was listening but I misinterpreted what they were asking me for. Or maybe they just didn’t phrase things in a way that makes sense. But other times, as much as I hate to admit it, they are correct in their assessment. I was stressed and distracted. I tuned out for a moment. I was preoccupied. Even worse, I put my own interests before theirs. A shameful thing indeed. In other words, I heard them speaking…….but I wasn’t really listening. And they knew it.
As we continue exploring how to minister to parents who have lost stillborn babies, we come to #5 on the list. Parents of stillborn babies want you to know…….
#5 We want you to know that we love talking about our babies as much as any other parent loves to talk about their own kids, and we want people to at least try to listen more when we do.
The Rudeness of Darting Eyes
You know the feeling you get when you are talking to someone about a really important matter, and you know they are not focusing on you. Aggravating, isn’t it? You know how you try to speak with even more emphasis, thinking they will suddenly start giving you their ever-precious attention. You talk louder. You look at them more intensely. It’s like you try to will them into looking at you. But it never happens, does it? Their eyes are still all over the place. They are looking above, below, right, left, diagonal, behind, in front of………..anywhere but at you. Women especially are all too aware of this. You have to experience more than just conversational ADD. You have to deal with perverted men who look at your body when you are talking, but not at your eyes. I’m sure this is a very frustrating, and sometimes even scary, experience. The fact of the matter is this: All of us want eye contact. And for very good reasons.
To ignore someone’s eyes when they are speaking is rude and insensitive, and it can be very distressing to the one who is speaking. Especially when you are relaying something near and dear to your heart. Like say, talking about your dead baby boy or girl, whom you love dearly. The baby whom you would give your right arm just to hear cry even one time. The one you miss so bad it hurts. The one you never got to take home with you. The baby you think about every time you are in public, when you see another parent with their child. The one you had to bury a few days after the delivery date. Imagine all of that pain and devastation. And now……now…… you can’t even have 15 seconds of someone’s attention when you talk about your baby?! Devastating indeed.
Please Don’t Slight Our Baby
And you know what the real problem is when your eyes are not engaging us? It means that our words are meaningless to you. And to us, it even says that our baby is meaningless to you. To neglect someone when they are talking is more than just neglecting the speaker. It is also to neglect the topic of the conversation. Parents of stillborn babies are protective of their babies. Yes, even though they are dead, we are protective of them. We still love them very deeply. We don’t care if you slight us when we are talking about the Patriots game. We don’t care if you disrespect us when we tell you about the new job we got. It may be rude of you to do so, and it may hurt us to a degree. But we won’t lose any sleep over it. However, we have lost sleep over the loss of our babies. And when you ignore them right in front of our eyes by not listening, you add to the insomnia.
When we talk about our baby, we don’t want them to be slighted. When you ignore us as we speak about our stillborn, and you are interested in everything else around you, you are slighting our baby. You may not think of it that way, but it is the truth. That’s how horrible it feels to us. It makes us both sad and angry at the same time. You might as well walk to their grave site and kick dirt over the top of it. It gives us the same murky feeling inside our guts. To not listen is to count the topic of conversation as meaningless and trivial. Not worthy of your time or your attention. Remember this the next time you are talking to a parent who has lost a stillborn baby. Don’t think for a moment that- because we didn’t get to spend much time with our baby- it somehow means we don’t love them as much as other parents. This would be a grievous mistake. When I talk about my precious Ariana, it means everything to me when your eyes don’t float around the room.
One Simple Request
We are not asking you to take the pain away. We know you cannot do that. No one can do that. That pain will be with us to some degree for our entire lives. For those of us who know Jesus Christ, the pain will all be taken away when He returns. (I can’t wait for that moment!!) So for the here and now, we aren’t asking you for a miracle. All we are asking is that you give us a listening ear. That’s all. You may not realize it, but it would mean the world to us. We notice when people are listening, and when they are not. Trust me………if a customer can tell over the phone that I’m not giving them 100% of my attention, how much easier is it to notice face to face? Those precious seconds we offer up to you, and your response to them, will be remembered for a lifetime………..either with pain, or with a smile of appreciation.
All we are looking for is genuine, soft, warm, and engaging eye contact. The kind that makes the other person know that you care about them, and what they are saying. The kind of eye contact that lets them know that you not only hear them, but you are listening to them. Some of us parents who have lost babies know exactly what I’m talking about here. We know those rare people that can put a smile on our face as we brag on our babies to them. They enter our world. They enter our pain. They give themselves to us as we speak to them. They look at us with compassion. They are not easily distracted. They aren’t checking out the hottie twenty feet away from them. They don’t have an agenda, and they aren’t in a rush to get away from us. This is the sweet spot. Do you have someone in your life like this? I pray that you do.
Be Intentional With Us
We don’t expect you to have all the answers. We know that you were not in the delivery room with us. We know that you do not understand the experience of losing a baby to stillbirth. Think simple, not complex. There is one way really good way to enter into the experience of others. There is one best way to empathize with the suffering of parents who have lost a baby. It is to pay attention to them. It is to focus on them. Be an intentional listener. Give them the stage, and let them pour their heart out to you. Be willing to give them those precious moments they so badly need. We aren’t asking for months, days, or even hours. Most of the time we are asking for seconds. Yes, precious and few seconds. You cannot bring back our babies to us. But you can let our minds run with vivid imagination of just how beautiful our baby is. You can let us have our memories, and enjoy them to the fullest. Remember, those memories belong to us. Please don’t steal them away.
Active listening involves more than just the ears. It involves your eyes as well. It involves your body language. Your entire self is needed to truly love someone else as they speak. And when you are aware of this, your will give better attention to our words. Your mind and heart will be in it as much as your ears and eyes.
To be a good listener means loving the person who is speaking. But it also means loving the one the speaker is talking about. Especially when they are talking about their own baby. A baby who died before anyone could listen to them.
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