Monday, June 16, 2008

What Can You Say at a Time Like This?

There are times when you just don't know what to say. I'm talking about when a tragedy happens to a friend, and you know that there's nothing you can say that is going to make things any better. If you do say anything, you could make things much worse than saying nothing at all. But then you know you should say something, just because the person is a friend, and you want them to know that you care. So do you say something, and potentially ruin what may be a temporary peace in an emotional crucible, or stay quiet and have that person think that you don't care?

Here's the situation:

Trien wants me to write an e-mail to Jhuday (pronounced jew-die) the woman who introduced us.

The back story: Somehow, by the grace of God, I was able to get a teaching job in the Philippines, in Cebu. What I was doing was helping to get an English school catering to Koreans and Japanese started. Part of my duties included interviewing and hiring qualified teachers. Most of the applicants were young attractive females just out of college. One of them was Jhuday, who was a pretty, intelligent, bubbly, but somewhat flighty young woman of 22. I liked her, and was attracted to her, and it turned out the feeling was mutual. It seemed like there was the possibility of something more than a professional relationship. After a few weeks, I knew she still liked me, but was purposely pulling away from me.

Later I found out why. She had a crush on me, but figured I was too old for her. (I was 43 at the time). It was something I was thinking myself. You have to figure if both parties think the same thing, then it must be true.

She had a friend, a classmate in college, who was older than her. Jhuday had been able to finish her schooling. The friend, who was working fulltime, didn't have the money to continue. Jhuday had been talking to her friend about me, but her friend thought she was talking about someone else, another classmate of theirs.

Meanwhile, Jhuday talked highly of her classmate. Her friend was cute, intelligent, a good woman, and older. Then she seemed to have an epiphany, one of those moments when something so obvious occurs to you that you look like you've been slapped in the face with a brick:

"Why don't I give you her cellphone number, and you two can become text mates? You two would be perfect together!"

OK, OK, I had heard similar things before. I wasn't too excited about getting her friends number. I didn't go running around the room in joy and start making wedding plans. I didn't even bother contacting her friend until Jhuday asked me a few days later if I was going to text her friend. So I sent a text, not expecting much to come of it. Let it be said that the main reason I wasn't so hot on doing this was that I am without a doubt the worlds slowest texter. So we texted, and a lot of times her friend would fall asleep waiting for me to answer her text.

Eventually, though, my textmate and I met. How that came about, and what happened, is another story. Then we dated. Then we fell in Love. Then we decided to get married, had a baby . . .

As for Jhuday, it seems that she ended up finding a textmate of her own a year or so later, a friend of a friend up in Manila. Someone who had an epiphany, who thought they would be "perfect together". Eventually her and her textmate met, fell in love- and things went the way they were supposed to. They got married.

Jhuday got a job teaching on Santa Rosa, a little Island across from Mactan, which is made up mostly of nature preserve. Conditions there are primitive at best, a real hardship post, with no electricity at night, no internet connection, no telephones, etc.

We didn't know this. All we knew was that she seemed to have disappeared. Trien kept texting her and writing her e-mails, but didn't get any answer, so we were concerned. It seemed like she disappeared after she got married. Of course, my overactive imagination got the best of me, but I never said anything to my wife.

Finally Jhuday got back to civilization, checked her e-mail, and we got the good news. She was pregnant. Not only pregnant, but she was carrying twins!

Of course, we were happy for her. Especially since we had been hoping for twins ourselves.

Then she went back to Santa Rosa, and we didn't hear anything from her.

The due date was some time around the end of May, so Trien sent out another e-mail, to see how everything was going, and if she had the babies yet.

The answer tore at our hearts, considering what we had been through ourselves with our first two pregnancies. Even now, I am starting to get teary eyed when I think of her answer.

The babies died before she delivered them. They passed away sometime during the 35th week. There was something called "intertwin discordancy." She felt no movement in her womb, went in for an ultrasound, and the doctor told her they were both dead. Six days later they induced labor, and she had to see her two little lifeless hopes and dreams being taken away gray and lifeless.

Unless you've gone through something similar yourself, like we did, you can have no idea what that feels like. Trien and I have been through something a bit similar, and I still can't imagine how much worse it must be for Jhuday.

At least with us, it happened at the end of the first trimester the first time. The second time, we were advised to terminate the pregnancy about six to eight weeks into it. Still, it was hard. You'd think that you were OK with it, that emotionally everything was fine, then suddenly you'd find yourself sitting there crying for no reason.

People would say things to try to make you feel better, but sometimes you just wanted them to shut up and leave you alone. You would be nice and everything, but still, it would have been better to say nothing at all. The thing is, you know they meant no harm, just wanted to help, and you knew that if you were them, you'd be doing and saying the same things.

Trien and I have talked things over. We decided the best thing to do is not to mention anything about the tragedy. She has sent Jhuday an e-mail letting her know we are back in Cebu, and hoping that maybe we can get together, and hoping all is well.

What else can you do?