Talk about empathy : LUSENET : like sands : One Thread

How have you reacted to other people's tragedies? How have other people reacted to yours? Do you find other people's empathy to be overbearing or comforting?

-- Anonymous, July 23, 2000


your entry today made me think of Holden Caulfield.

A couple years ago, three acquaintances/friends died within the span of a week and a half. One was hit by a car, one died of leukemia, and the other committed suicide. My only reaction was to laugh. When people asked me how I was doing, all I could do was laugh. It was weird, but at the same time, the odds of all those people I knew dying were so slim, that I had to laugh.

I prefer to be left alone to grieve. Empathy is annoying, because a lot of the time, there are people who try to comfort because they like that position of being comforter. It makes them feel good about themselves.

-- Anonymous, July 24, 2000

I tend to find it overbearing. Like Lan, grief is a private matter for me. If I could choose what to hear from people, it would be something like, "I'm sorry to hear about what happened, and if you need help, say the word." And then leave it at that.

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

After my wife died the sympathy notes that meant most to me were those that told me something about how Lesley had touched the writer's life. These were a great gift and added to my knowledge of how worthwhile Lesley's life had been.

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

I've sucked at dealing with terrible things from way back. I remember when I was much younger, my mom ran a daycare in our house and one afternoon one of the babies we cared for died from SIDS. All I could do was watch the whole terrible circus from a floor vent upstairs. I never know what to say or how to be anything but stiff and awkward. Although I did surprise myself and call a friend of mine up late one night recently after seeing his father's obituary in the paper. As far as what I like; I haven't had many deaths to contend with yet, but I think I would like to have friends and family acknowledge the event and express their thoughts on the person passed. I would not want unsolicited religious platitudes thrown at me. And I would want to be left alone unless I asked to be otherwise. So was this a father/son only bike ride or were they part of a bigger group?

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

The other day, my friend told me about how, two years ago, her uncle died. It was the first time a death had personally affected her, that someone she was really close to had died, and she was still hurting from it.

"Oh, geez. That sucks."

Oh, real nice job, Andrea.

Yeah, I never know what to say. But if someone's crying, I automatically give them room. I figure crying is a private thing, something I wouldn't want other people seeing me do, so I figure I'll just let them work it out so I don't make it worse. Still, is that the right response? Or is it better to go over to the person who's crying and try to get their story?

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

In answer to Beci's question, the two of them were participating in a bike ride across Iowa called RAGBRAI. I'm not sure if there were any other riders around them at the time.

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

Well, even though it's hard to empathize with people in that way, I think it's better to say or send SOMETHING rather than nothing at all. At least the griever will know that you heard & you're thinking of them. It's better than them getting no "sympathy card" (or whatever you call it) at all.

-- Anonymous, July 25, 2000

I think the best you can do is to let them know you're sorry for their pain and that if they need anything that you'll be glad to help. When I lost my best friend in a car accident, it took me a year before I could even cry about the loss, let alone begin to talk about her. But my family and friends kept tabs on me and when I unfroze enough to find the tears, they circled the wagons and let me rant, rage, scream, cry and finally talk. And I have never been more grateful fo anything in my life. Empathy is all very well and good unless it's intrusive. But it all comes down to how close you are, what kind of person your friend is and what you can best do or say that would offer him the most consolation in his loss.

-- Anonymous, July 26, 2000

The only appropriate statements I can come up with to say to a grieving person are "I love you," "I loved the person who passed away," and "Let me know what I can do to help." Maybe--and I emphasize maybe--"I went through something very similar." Platitudes like "You're so brave" and "He/she is in a better place" and "At least we had that time together" are always well-meaning, but I can't imagine, in my life of (thankfully) limited grieving, feeling any better hearing those.

I was faced with a situation of reacting to tragedy after the school shooting at my alma mater high school. I very, very much wanted to let my teachers know that I loved them and that I believed that they were wonderful teachers. I sent flowers to one of my teachers and sympathy cards to two others...this eleven years after I graduated (in two cases, this meant 10-11 years after I'd last spoken to them). I also sent cards to two people I'd gone to high school with who had since become teachers there (one of whom I barely knew). Only one didn't respond at all. The HS guy I barely knew actually telephoned me to say how much it meant to him--a major surprise, because writing him felt like a major risk. It was an incredibly intense, poignant, bizarre conversation. One sent me a beautiful thank you card, and we've been in regular touch ever since. And one teacher took me out to dinner when he vacationed in my new hometown. His response to the support he'd gotten was intriguing. "I've received 33 sympathy cards, and now I've got to write a thank you card for all of them. I hate writing thank you cards. Consider this dinner a thank you, Paul--now I've only got to write 32." But he did say the cards made him feel good about what he'd done over his career at a moment when it was easy to despair.

I guess I don't see how empathy can be overbearing if it just consists of tell people that you're sorry and you love them, even if it's just a store-bought card with a signature in it. The key, I think, is to stop there and shut up--let the bereaved talk if they want, sit there in silence with them if they don't, or just get out of the way if that's what they want.

My 2 cents.

-- Anonymous, July 27, 2000

It's really hard to write a sympathy note, but it doesn't have to be. A little can mean a lot. The main purpose of the note is simply to let your friend know that you are there, and that you care.

I'm personally of the opinion that it can make for a very meaningful note if you want to comment on some incident or memory that you have of the person who died, thus a) expressing empathy for your friend in feeling sorrow, and b) keeping alive a good/happy/respectful memory of someone who's been lost. When I've been on the receiving end of such things, they've always been done in a touching and undemanding way, and have meant a lot.

But I suppose it hits different people differently. Some might feel expressions of sympathy as a burden, feeling that they're expected to respond when they're not ready to. Your friend may not be in any position to concentrate on a long letter or appreciate it yet anyway. You can always do that at a later time. For now, it genuinely is the thought that matters, and your consideration in letting your friend know he's got someone out there caring about him.

-- Anonymous, July 27, 2000

i feel that sympathy is a cery over-rated thing. Yes it is good to support your friend; and yes you should be there for them. However if you dont know the person or if they dont know you, let them be. They have people to lean on for support and even though it is a nice thing to do, it doesnt help them at all knowing some stranger is a shoulder to lean on.

-- Anonymous, July 09, 2002

I can understand how all of a sudden your put into a position where people are writing to you cards of sympathy... On the most part I felt comforted to know people cared.....but then I wanted to respond to them to say thank you for their expression of kindness. By just signing a card that reads "Thank you for your expression of kindness" is it really enough.....Unfortunately I'm at a loss of words to return back to my friend who have sent cards & donations to the ALS society. What do I say other than Thank you.

-- Anonymous, September 27, 2002

Andrea wrote earlier, "Yeah, I never know what to say. But if someone's crying, I automatically give them room. I figure crying is a private thing, something I wouldn't want other people seeing me do, so I figure I'll just let them work it out so I don't make it worse. Still, is that the right response? Or is it better to go over to the person who's crying and try to get their story?"

One of the hazards of just making yourself scarce is that you end up looking like one of those awful people who freak out at the sight of emotion.

What do I mean here by "freaking out"? Many kids under age 10 (at least when I was young) thought it was cool and witty to "comfort" a sad person by calling him or her a "f@g" or a "crybaby" and leaving. I'm afraid many of those kids grew into adults who still think that way; the difference is now, instead of saying something unkind, they keep noticeably silent. (They do still leave the area.)

Many of the rules we call "manners" are actually ways of filling those noticeable silences. Hello, thank you, you're welcome, I'm so sorry -- these are all things we say when a silence would imply "I'm not talking to you because you're weird." They are ways of signaling "I'm not someone who deserts or thinks less of my friends when they need understanding." In other words, your friend's grief is an opportunity for you to be seen standing apart from the critical masses.

J. E. Brown

Relationshop: advice and materials for good relationships

-- Anonymous, September 29, 2002

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