Capture Your Grief, Day 5 – Empathy

Today’s prompt suggested that I write about what not to say to a bereaved parent, but I just can’t bring myself to.  Of course, people have said some pretty ridiculous (and sometimes hurtful) things since we lost Clara, but I have mostly been able to give them the benefit of the doubt. I know that they mean well, most of them at least. So, instead of talking about the empathy we expect from other people, I want to talk about the empathy we can provide to them.

I know this sounds crazy. I mean, I am saying that, as part of your grief process, you should show empathy to others rather than expect them to show it to you. But, hear me out!

People don’t know what to say when you are grieving. One of my co-workers recently lost his father and, on his first day back in the office, I said “Hi! How are you?” Moments later, I was horrified at my own insensitivity and beating myself up for such a ridiculous question. Particularly since I have been traveling my own grief journey since last Fall!  How could I ask him that?! The next time I saw him, I apologized for asking such a stupid question by saying “I am sorry. Earlier today I asked you a very stupid question. I would like to retract my original question and instead say ‘Hi. I am so glad to see you. I hope you are doing okay and finding peace.” Being the good-natured (and forgiving) guy that he is, he graciously accepted my apology and brushed off my embarrassment. It was humbling, however, to realize that, given all my recent experience, I could still be so insensitive to another’s grief.

He had the good grace to show me empathy, even after my woefully thoughtless display. I feel like I had already been doing a pretty good job at doing the same for others, when someone said something stupid in regards to our loss, but being on the other side really highlighted the importance of giving others grace.

I think the large majority of my readers are people who have experienced loss, or are currently suffering from a mood disorder or mental illness, rather than folks who would be talking to people like us. So, instead of trying to tell them what not to say, I’m going to tell you that they will say it. They will say all the stupid things. They will be flippant. They will be discombobulated. They will say “Hi! How are you?” Most of them mean well. They really do. They just don’t know the right thing to say. And really, is there a “right” thing to say, anyways?

So, give them grace. I promise that doing so will always feel better than giving them anger or hurt. You won’t get it right every time, but do try. Try to give them grace.

Peace and love to you, friends.

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