Empathy. It’s the unique ability to understand and share the feelings of others. Someone empathetic can step into the shoes of another person and understand their feelings and perspectives. They share in the experience as if it were happening to them. A strong sense of empathy is a critical part of the healthy development of our relationships. It’s also a mark of emotional maturity. In my upcoming book, HOPE – a memoir: my journey of love, loss and faith, I talk about what it was like for my family and me in the week, months, and even years following the passing of our oldest daughter Elizabeth from suicide. The shock and pain of losing a child are hard for anyone to process and carry. It’s a pain that no parent should ever have to carry. Suicide turns that heartbreaking loss into a massive and complex pain that seems nearly unquenchable.
“For a parent, the loss of a child is a grim and morbid reminder of death’s intrusion on the human experience.”Excerpt from my upcoming book HOPE – a memoir: my journey of love, loss and faith
One of the things I talk about in my book is the importance of empathy. I write about the need for others to look unselfishly outside their own immediate world and be willing to lend a helping hand or ear. When someone is walking through hell, they must know they’re not alone; in fact, it’s often lifesaving. Just knowing that I had people I could depend on and call any time – day or night – was critical in seeing my family and me through those dark hours. People who are walking through crisis are not looking for a clever ‘one-liner pick me up,’ a motivational pep talk, or an in-depth philosophical explanation about their problem. They just need someone willing to be available, present, and listen. This is what I call Dynamic Empathy. This type of empathy is a rapid response, quick to listen, and sensitive enough to help meet unspoken needs – things that are normally mundane and routine, but in a moment of crisis are impossible to manage. Stuff like cooking, cleaning, daycare, grocery shopping, car maintenance, yard work, etc.
“On the other hand, the death of a child resonates with anyone who has a heart. A child dying is completely counter to the accepted order of things. It is a parent’s worst nightmare.”Excerpt from my upcoming book HOPE – a memoir: my journey of love, loss and faith
Then there is the long-term aspect of empathy; what I call Sustained Empathy. Over time, as the dust settles and the smoke clears, often the person or family who has suffered a loss is forgotten about. The weeks turn into months, and the months become years; meanwhile, the condolences, warm wishes, and prayers become less and less. This is where Sustained Empathy is critical. While everyone else moves on with their lives, those who suffered a major loss, like the one my family and I did, are slowly learning to walk again. But this time, it’s with a limp. Every holiday and birthday, that limp is a little bit more painful. Special moments like anniversaries and graduations bring with them a hidden sting that only the wounded survivors know. And for a parent, every Mother’s Day and Father’s Day becomes a reminder of a baby that was lost. These are the moments when Sustained Empathy is critical.
Sustained empathy remembers to send a card, text or a even make a phone call that says, “Hey, I’m thinking of you, and you and your family are never forgotten.”
Don’t forget to check out my FREE unedited SNEAK PREVIEW of my upcoming book here: