Figurative Language

Kids with language disorders often experience difficulty interpreting figurative language forms.  I’ve been a speech-language pathologist working for many years with students whose language comprehension and expression skills are compromised.  Say to some kids, “It’s raining cats and dogs!” and they’ll look to the sky expecting to be pelted with fluffy quadrupeds.  Ask if they have butterflies in their tummies, and they’ll assure you most definitely that they did NOT eat a caterpillar.  Sadly, kids are entering schools with less and less language and more limited language competency (IN THE NAME OF ALL THAT IS DECENT AND PURE, PUT DOWN THE SCREENS and TALK TO YOUR CHILD!). My job security is a sad sign of the times.


For those of you looking for an upbeat, cute kids or holiday kind of story: this would be where you hit the back button web browser and split. For my more of the glutton-for-punishment type readers, please continue at your own risk.


Adults use figurative language all the time.  “Those maple bacon pancakes are the shit!” does not mean what the words literally indicate, thank stars!  Likewise, “I’m going to lose my shit” doesn’t indicate bowel incontinence. but rather means probably what you, a capable reader, thinks it means.  And I am microseconds from figuratively losing my shit on a large and public scale.

I’m competent with language.  I can string together a clever sentence or two from time to time, and I well comprehend figurative language.  When I was LITERALLY at the most vulnerable moment in my life as a wife and mother, institutions that could have made things easier, didn’t.  Where those institutions and individuals could have helped me (and millions others in similar shoes) navigate those treacherous waters, it was easier to let me float out, lost at sea.

What’s the protocol for what one should feel psychologically or emotionally following a spouse’s devastating accident?  I’ve experienced a grief-like arc of feelings since that dreadful May afternoon.  I’ve painted in shades of straight-up petrified, stunned, sad, humbled, relieved, thankful, hopeful, hopeless, disappointed, frustrated, and now I am painting angry, crimson red.

Here’s a little speech-language therapy compare and contrast activity for us, kids.  Ready?  Here’s what they say to you in the aftermath of the accident that changed every single thing about your life.  And here is what they literally mean.

When someone endures a catastrophic accident like your husband has, we are here for you, and will get back to you ASAP to answer any questions you may have.  We may respond to your email tomorrow, maybe next week, possibly never. 

Certainly we should have covered that–I don’t know how that got missed. Submit those receipts again and we’ll reimburse you for those expenses right away.  If you’re asking for reimbursement for out-of-pocket expenses, you’re looking at a good 3-4 months and several emails.  Go ahead, grab a snack, you’ll be waiting a good while.

We’re family.   By”family” we mean that you’re the weird uncle twice removed that no one wants to be stuck next to at dinner.

You’re the quarterback, you’re in charge.  I’m not even the junior varsity fourth stringer.

Of course we’ll work with you.  We won’t work with you.

Anything you need, you just let us know.  Actually, just don’t.  Please. 

We will try to see what we can do to help you, but we can’t promise anything.  “Trying to see” what you can do to help is doing exactly nothing, which is exactly what you’ve done.

I am miserable company at work, which is about the only company I’m forced to keep. And I’m so sorry, girls, for not being the Ol’ Faithful I was before, for being barely tolerable most days at that.  I still laugh and joke with my coworkers because they’re brilliant and funny, but my own humor too quickly crosses the line from snark to dark.  I can’t be the advocate there right now, and my lack of fire surprises even me.  Even when good things happen, and they do happen, I celebrate them then quickly retreat to the land of glass half empty.  My view feels like it does when you’re trying to hear while swimming underwater–you hear sound–you know it’s there, but it’s so heavily filtered and weighted, you can’t make meaning.

Being forced not only to make meaning in the business world of highly specialized medicine, insurance claims, and payroll, but also to become expert at it is exhausting.  Ironically, though thoroughly exhausted I don’t sleep well or much.  I’ve become mistrustful about what I’m told, and I don’t enjoy feeling like the little guy being set up for certain failure.  Back in May, I told Jen, one of Tom’s ICU nurses whom I loved, that I was “OK smart,” meaning I had a decent grasp of the medical information they provided me in those early days, but OK smart is not near enough now.  Back in May, I knew that the frustration I’m now feeling was on the horizon–I knew I’d get here, to where OK smart wouldn’t cut it, but I don’t much like it here.

My husband didn’t ask to be run over by a truck–he didn’t pick this.  I’m not so naive to cry how it’s not fair, but dammit, it’s not fair.  Our friends and family have moved mountains for us. It’s astonishing how truly right and good people can be. But these and all institutions should do what’s right for those who’ve been wronged because it’s the right thing to do.