Empathy & Connection

When people you count on disappear and ghost from tough moments in life, it’s hard to take, difficult to process and it’s a pain that is completely avoidable. You don’t have words? Let’s help you find them. So this website for Empathy Cards created by brilliant cancer survivor is a INTERNET TREASURE.

“The most difficult part of my illness wasn’t losing my hair, or being erroneously called ‘sir’ by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo,” McDowell writes on her website. “It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn’t know what to say, or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it.”

And the cards are gorgeous, hilarious and deeply poignant

There is a severe empathy gap in our culture. We are not socialized to talk about death, grief or serious illness from a place of creating connection and support systems. The pattern to approach pain and grief as something to be “fixed” rather human experiences to live and be supported through always struck me as deep culture disconnect. I’ve never understood people who “just don’t know what to say” and therefore disappear when loved ones experience grief, trauma and/or serious illnesses. Unfortunately, through death, trauma and caregiving for loved ones in my life, I have had plenty of practice to develop compassion for people who ghost but in my core I still think: Really? Really? This is Showing Up 101. How is this so hard?

Living through deep grief, I am noticing this pattern in my life now and feel unsettled on how to unfold that without the other person feeling prompted to coach/fix me. When I sense the conversation walking down that path I borrow words a friend said while she was getting treated for cancer, “I don’t need you to fix anything. I just need you to sit next to me and be with me while I’m sad.”

Last night in New York, I grabbed dinner with a friend who gave me the greatest gift just letting me talk through hard things with the grace of a someone who has survived her own rough moments through the power of connection, support and love. Connection, support and love. That is the heart of empathy.

In a sense, being supported through the other side of pain radicalized me.  It made me committed to loving hard and challenging whenever I hear “I just don’t know what to say…” I always, always tell them:

It is an honor to bear witness and love someone through their pain.
Who will stand with you through yours?

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