: the feeling that you understand and share another person’s experiences and emotions : the ability to share someone else’s feelings (taken from www.merriam-webster.com)
This one is going to be a hard one for me, because I tend to focus on the things people say or do that aren’t empathetic as opposed to what empathy actually looks like to me. I’m going to try my best to focus on the latter in this post.
Empathy from others can significantly impact how you heal after losing a child. I believe that isolation of bereaved parents is bound to happen regardless of how much empathy is shown, but I can’t tell you how much a little bit of empathy from others can make my day go from unbearable, to “I think I might actually be able to survive this.” And honestly, I think empathy takes much less effort than advice. The problem that I think most people have with empathy, is that it requires you to allow yourself to feel, and people don’t like to intentionally dive into the feeling of pain. This is especially true when the pain isn’t their own. I’ve heard many times, “I can’t even imagine what you’re going through,” or “I can’t imagine your pain.” I’m going to be brutally honest; I think that’s a bunch of bologna. It’s true, you could never feel the exact pain we are feeling if you’ve never lost a child, but you can imagine it if you will allow yourself to. The reality is that you don’t want to go there in your mind, you don’t want to imagine what life would be like if you lost your child. The problem with this – you’re not allowing yourself to feel empathy when it comes to the loss of a child. I’m not criticizing anyone who has said this to me; in fact, please don’t take anything I write as an insult if you’ve said the things that I mention here. My intent is not to attack anyone, as I know that even the “wrong” things are said out of love. My intent is to educate and to be honest about my experience. I truly believe that if a people would allow themselves to open up their hearts, risk feeling pain, and show real empathy by imagining losing their own child, most of the “wrong” things people say wouldn’t be said any longer. Experiencing empathy is the key to being part of the healing process. But.. if you can’t possibly bring yourself to do this; there are some other ways you can show empathy with actions and words that may also help grieving parents heal.
God needed another angel. No, no no, no no no.
Instead: I have faith that your baby is in Heaven with Jesus and that you will see him or her again one day.
Let me know if you need anything. While this is super thoughtful, it’s not going to go any further than this. Grieving parents aren’t going to call you up and ask you for a favor unless they’re in dire need, or they’re really, really close to you.
Instead: Would it be okay if I brought you dinner Saturday? Are you up for visitors this evening? Do you need someone to talk to right now?
At least he/she didn’t suffer, at least you can have more children, at least you’re young.. Which one of your children can you live without? There is no at least. No other child will ever replace the one who died, whether I have 1 more child or 10.
Instead: I am so sorry you’re going through this. I imagine you miss him/her more than anything, and I know he/she could never be replaced and that you’ll always carry him/her in your heart.
There are positive things that are going to come from this. Nope, sorry. There aren’t any positive things that are going to come from losing a child. There may be things that happen as a result of losing a child, but there will never be a positive reason you can give me for why my baby died.
Instead: One day, a long time from now, you might be able to breathe a little easier. Although the love for your child with never change, you may come to experience the pain in a way that is a little less raw.
Maybe your being tested. Total crap. There are parents who have been on drugs their entire pregnancy; who can’t take care of themselves, let alone a child, and they have healthy babies. So, no this wasn’t a test to see how strong we are.
Instead: I don’t know why this happened, and I know it isn’t fair. Sometimes we don’t have the answers to the things that happen to us. I’m here for you.
There are a million more examples I could provide, but you get the gist of it. As long as you’re not trying to shine a positive light on the death of a child and you’re not giving advice, you’re probably just fine. I think my high-risk Dr. put it best – Before you say something, ask yourself these three things: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it helpful? If what you’re about to say isn’t all three of these things, it’s probably better to keep it to yourself. And if you can’t think of any empathetic thing to say or do, the best thing to say might be “I have no idea what to say or what you need right now, but I’m here.”