Before I begin this post, I want to show the difference between empathy and sympathy. I think a lot of people think they’re the same thing, but they’re very different from each other.
empathy – the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
sympathy – feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
The first time I thought I understood what empathy really meant was in college. I remember the professor telling us her sister’s story; I won’t tell her story, but it deals with the loss of a child. My professor said to feel empathy you had to put yourself in the other person’s shoes and somehow understand those feelings.
Then she said, ‘I could never imagine losing a child, therefore I can’t have the full understanding of empathy for her situation.’
As I look back and think of her words, I think she said it right. There is no way someone could have the full understanding of these feelings. They could try to imagine them for a few minutes, but then they would be able to go back home and hug their child. Sometimes I think it’s impossible for others to have these exact feelings as I do. Grief and feelings are so individual, but there’s a similar commonplace for bereaved parents. We understand the pain, even the craziest thoughts.
Even though I wish I could live in a community, surrounded by empathy with other loss moms, I know that isn’t possible.
We live in a society where grief is so foreign and we were never taught how to help others through any kind of loss. I understand why we were taught that when we were younger, we’re taught to be afraid of death. It’s scary, but it happens and it crushes people. We’re taught to help others through the funeral and maybe a little after that. By the funeral the bereaved is supposed to have some closure, which is ridiculous. On top of that, child loss is even more taboo. We don’t want to believe it happens; I know I wish we lived in a world where every child lived longer than their parents. The reality is, it happens all the time. And in the aftermath of this tragedy, the parents are left learning how to survive again.
‘Well Danielle, if you don’t think it’s possibly for others that haven’t experienced the loss of a child to feel the empathy, what do you want them to feel?’
Great question, voice in my head!
Deep, deep sympathy. I hate feeling like everyone is pitying me and I don’t agree with that. But I want them to acknowledge the sadness and pain that radiates off of me. I need Jensen’s name to be said. He doesn’t have to be the whole conversation, but not saying anything at all makes it ten times worse when you walk away. Even if you lie and say, I thought about Jensen a couple of days ago. You will make my ENTIRE day, heck you’ll make my week!
I’m still mourning my son and will be for the rest of my life. There will be a time, years from now, that I’ll figure out how to be semi-okay for the majority of the time. Do I think I’ll ever be great again? I guess that would be how I define my definition of great as the years go on. Sympathy from others will help let me know it’s okay if I don’t ever feel great again. It’ll let me know he hasn’t been forgotten. On Jensen’s page today, I reposted a blog I wrote two months ago about how to help a friend after grief. That list is still true six months out and will still hold six years out. Cherisse, Aiden’s mom, who creates beautiful cards over at The Angels Ark Project created this list inspired by this post.
The Capture Your Grief prompt on empathy encourages us to describe what empathy looks like to us. So here goes my perfect night of empathy. A little like date night, but this is for healing the heart with others that are doing their best for you.
A knock at the door would startle me from cooking dinner. I’d yell for you to walk on in. You’d be welcomed by the candles lit everywhere and Jensen’s picture in the built-in across the room. There would most likely wine already in my glass, but I’d pour you a glass too. We’d hug and let each other know we were here for one another. My cats would probably run to you and beg for your attention.
We’d eat and I wouldn’t think the food was good enough. There would be light conversation because that’s always how it starts off. When we’d finish eating, I’d start cleaning up and put music on. There’s always background noise on at my house. You’d take a closer look a Jensen’s picture and I’d take notice. Being the proud mom I am, I’d ask if you’d want to see his book from the hospital or his room. I would point out my favorite pictures of him and you’d soon find out that every picture is my favorite.
Then you’d ask, ‘How are you feeling?’ I’d most likely cry and tell you what’s all been going on. I would let you know, my arms are aching and I can picture Jensen in his jumper across the room. My eyes would search for him there and my heart would start racing. Those dream images are only my wishes, but they’re so vivid. I would talk and you’d listen, not judging or rushing or trying to fix ‘it.’ After I get everything out, I’d listen to you. I know we all have things we need to talk about. There would be tears, laughter, and always, always love that filled the room.
Yes, a lot of the conversation would be sad. It’s heavy, but sharing makes things just a teeny bit lighter.
I would make us both tea to settle us down for the night. And on the label at the end of the string would be a message. Smile. As hard as it is to smile after a night of sympathy and empathy, we still have to smile. Smile because of the impact his life and all the other babies lives had on this world. Even though our cheeks would most likely be stained by the tears falling from our eyes, I hold Jensen’s favorite smile.
Just as yours is your child’s favorite.