The Power of Empathy

Well, my Dad’s cancer is so advanced the oncologist doesn’t think it would be worth him going through chemotherapy as its side effects would outweigh it’s benefit, he may have had this cancer for years. He’ll be coming home from hospital tomorrow to spend his palliative care there.

It’s very good to be able to look at shite like this and appreciate the lessons and blessings that can only be found through it. Being the subject of a lot of sympathy recently has taught me a thing or two about empathy, and for that I’m grateful.

Some people offer sympathy. Very well meaningly they may try to cheer me up, or they may ask a lot of questions, to which I often think “yeah yeah, thanks, please go away”. A ton of questions and “I hope your Dad gets better soon” are very well-meaning but it can get wearing. But please, if you’ve ever asked me how my Dad’s doing, don’t stop asking questions altogether! I’m probably not talking about you anyway 🙂 . I know you need to know too and I need to be known.

But other people just offer themselves, and for them I am deeply grateful. They don’t demand news or suffocate with commiseration, they don’t feel a need to offer answers . They understand, even if they don’t know. They may not have gone through the slow weakening and dying of a close relative, but they know how to lighten someone’s grief; simply by coming alongside them and communicating a simple, heartfelt understanding. They empathise.

This brilliant video illustrated for me the distinction between sympathy and empathy:

“The truth is, rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection.

I want to understand others. I know offering myself will do more than offering my answers, and I want to be that kind of person.

Do pray for us, especially for Dad’s healing and comfort and for my mum. Deep thanks.


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