Empathy is important to better understand people’s feelings and to be able to help another. To be empathetic, it helps to have gone through a similar experience, but sometimes if we haven’t, we can’t begin to imagine how someone feels, especially in the face of loss.
I understand pain, especially emotional pain very well. It’s a dark, dull ache with no end in sight. Yet, fortunately, I haven’t experienced the unbearable pain of losing a parent. I’m at a loss in this area and scared of going there even in my imagination.
Now, a friend is going through a slow loss and I cannot tell him: “I understand how you feel.” And while I may not know how he feels, I can be there for him. I won’t say it shall pass. I won’t say that it gets better. I will stand by him and be there so he can tell me how he feels, and in this way allow him to grieve. I won’t resort to commonplace words of encouragement. I will be there holding his hand.
It’s OK not to understand first hand how someone feels, as long as you stand by them and let them know they have your support, love and care. “I’m here for you, and I’m not just saying.”