Empathy has been defined as “your pain in my heart.”
True empathy can be found in that dark, scary place that all of us are afraid to go. You know the place I’m talking about – the saddest, loneliest, scariest place in your mind, full of unpleasantries of every sort. Embarrassment, fear, shame, hopelessness. No matter our story, we’ve all been there, and we all hate it. It truly feels like a god-forsaken wasteland of despair.
Yet, when someone bravely dares to sit with us in our own darkness, they are bravely sitting in their own dark and scary place at the same time, and that is empathy – courageously feeling the worst emotions in behalf of someone else.
For bereaved parents, finding true empathy is scarce outside of other bereaved parents. Someone who has never lost a child simply does not have the capacity to understand. In other words, it doesn’t get darker than this.
However, I am blessed to have friends who try to show empathy, and sometimes that’s enough.
1. They listen more than they talk. 90% of the time we just need someone to listen (or read) and just be there for us.
2. They don’t try to fix it. It takes humility to realize they can’t “fix” us. Some people want to be the ones to make us “feel better” by saying just the right combo of flowery words. But there is nothing they can say to make us “feel better” about our child being dead. Absolutely nothing.
3. They don’t use words like “At Least.” Because there is no “at least” in child loss. (See video below.)
4. They do say things like “I’m so sorry” or “I’m here for you” or “I love you” (and mean it). These things are ALWAYS good to say to someone who is going through something awful. You needn’t be afraid of saying the wrong thing if you stick to these words. Just make sure you follow it up by being a good friend (see #1).
5. They let us be our broken selves without fear of judgment. I can’t tell you how grateful I am for friends who have listened through my angry tears and have seen my ugly cry and have heard me say horrible things and acted out in unconventional ways to feel my pain. They know we (as bereaved parents) are unfixable and unfathomably hurt. But they see through it all and love us anyway, because ultimately I think they sense our courageousness to simply go on living after the Unthinkable has happened.
Finally, I think the following video best illustrates what empathy truly is, and what it’s not.
May we all practice empathy, and may the pain in our hearts turn to healing.