When my father passed away five years ago, I grieved. I grieved as a forty-five year old woman does for her eighty-six year old father. I did it in the midst of a busy household full of people and tasks that needed me. I mourned the loss of my fathers’ unconditional love for me. I mourned the loss of a loving grandfather to my sons. I thought about him and missed checking in on him each week. But my life went on. As sad as it was, it is a normal part of life to lose your parents when they are elderly. As much as I would have loved to have had my father with us a few weeks ago at our sons wedding, I know in my heart that is a selfish need. He was ill, he suffered and it was his time to go on.
It is easy for me to say all this, as it was relatively easy for me to deal with my grief as a daughter.
Not so for his widow. My step-mother was understandably devastated by her loss. She lost the love of her life. She also lost someone who was a part of her every day being. She cared for him and loved him every moment of every day.
As she waded into the depth of her grief she metaphorically was grabbing for any life raft she could find in there with her. As she reached for me I tried to be there for her in the way that she needed me to be. I tried to help her but it became evident that I was not able to provide her with the support she needed. I could sympathize but, as much as I tried, I could not empathize. Two very different forms of human connection.
The dictionary states:
- sympathy: feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.
- empathy: the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
I did not understand what it was like to lose your one and only. I couldn’t even imagine. I became frustrated and stressed with the situation and with her. I had to pull myself back and look at what was going on, or our relationship was at risk. I realized that I could not be what she needed me to be. So, we had a good chat and I encouraged her to find a grieving group where she could get the empathy she so desperately needed. Bless her, because she did that and more. Five years later she has created her own life, developed good friendships with other widows and we have a good, solid and loving relationship.
This past week, a colleague and friend of mine lost her husband. She is also a blogger and has been writing through her experience. What she wrote yesterday (The Deafening Silence of Noise) shed a whole new light on what a widow’s grief feels like. It blind-sided me, I cried. I cried not only with sympathy but I really empathized with her. I understood a bit more about what it is like to lose a husband. I encourage you to read Brenda’s blog. A great writer is someone who lets you in and sheds light on our amazingly complex human condition. Brenda’s light shines brightly, even in the depths of her grief.