Sunday, September 07, 2014

Day 20: Empathy

I know I talk about empathy a lot, but that is because it is something I didn't understand before and now appreciate so very much. You cannot empathize with someone until you yourself have been brought low. I think you are a bit 2D until you have suffered; I know that I have been given new eyes since February 14 of this year. I look at struggling friends and family and I feel them now. I may not intimately know the details of their circumstances, but I do know what pain feels like. Suffering will give you gifts if you let it.

When you have been through a traumatic experience which shakes you to the core and reroutes your life, people don't know what to do or to say. Unfortunately, that often means that people try to grasp at the closest thing that they have experienced (or that someone close to them has experienced) and try to give advice from that place. Advice is not what a hurting person needs; it is simple love and understanding. And the occasional hot meal doesn't hurt either. :)

I have received "advice" and pat encouragements from everyone you can imagine; close friends and family members, strangers, and acquaintances. There are times that I have resented it, and I feel a little bad for that because I know the intention is to comfort, not to gouge. But the balm to my soul is the meaningful look, the "I'm sorry" with a hand on my shoulder, and the person not shying away from my pain or trying to change the subject or cheer me up. You can't cheer up a person who has buried their child. You just can't.

Truly, the greatest gift you can give a hurting person is your ear. Without changing the subject, without trying to cheer up the conversation. Just listening unflinchingly, no matter how ugly the pain that pours out of the person's mouth. Grief and pain are ugly and there is no getting around that. What you are saying to your hurting person by changing the subject or trying to encourage the person or cheer them up is that you do not have time to really hear them and that they make you uncomfortable. You are telling them that they cannot trust you with their heart. I can tell you from experience that it is incredibly alienating and has made me pull my pain inward even further.

Day 20

All of that to say, I am again so thankful for the people in my life who have listened. Who have hugged me and fed me and heard me out. Who have let me cry and let me express what is on the inside, no matter how ugly. I am thankful for the other loss mamas in my life who have walked beside me behind the scenes. For those who still take the time to check in with me from time to time. For those who realize that my laughter or my silence are not indicators that I have "moved on" somehow - there are days that still cut to the core. Days like today, when the tears can't be staunched.

I found some quotes that I'll share:
“Love is about bottomless empathy, born out of the heart’s revelation that another person is every bit as real as you are. And this is why love, as I understand it, is always specific. Trying to love all of humanity may be a worthy endeavor, but, in a funny way, it keeps the focus on the self, on the self’s own moral or spiritual well-being. Whereas, to love a specific person, and to identify with his or her struggles and joys as if they were your own, you have to surrender some of your self.” 
― Jonathan Franzen, Farther Away

"No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care” 
― Theodore Roosevelt

“When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, Out of Solitude: Three Meditations on the Christian Life

“I call him religious who understands the suffering of others.” 
― Mahatma Gandhi

“There is no small act of kindness. Every compassionate act makes large the world.” 
― Mary Anne Radmacher

“As the pain that can be told is but half a pain, so the pity that questions has little healing in its touch. What Lily craved was the darkness made by enfolding arms, the silence which is not solitude, but compassion holding its breath.” 
― Edith Wharton, The House of Mirth

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.” 
― Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross

“There's something in everyone only they know.” 
― Ben Harper

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