We've all had those moments (please tell me I am not alone) where we have someone we love, know, or are acquainted with go through something unfamiliar—maybe even horrible or traumatic. Cancer, losing a baby, an unfaithful spouse...this is a world of lots of beauty but marred with pain.. Maybe you've said something awkward a time or two, or you've said nothing at all, or maybe you've been on the other side of it and felt failed (I'm sorry).
I remember losing the boys. The feelings that came with that loss didn't go away after we got them back. We're still dealing with the trauma of our family being ripped apart then being put back together after two years of insane loss. The things people said in the waiting still sit with me:
Maybe this is how your mom will come to know Jesus. (my opinion: probably not).
This is such a good time for you and your husband to connect without kids. (we were connecting just fine with them and are connecting less as I lay in bed and weep).
You just gotta...(nope. No thank you on that).
Or people just disappeared. They didn't know how to handle my pain or their own loss when the boys were gone and they just decided to leave our lives and let us know that, since we were without child suddenly, we didn't fit with their friend group anymore. Eek.
But here's the thing we've learned over the years: everyone is doing the best they can. And there's grace in that. And, to be frank, I've said some...a lot...of stupid things to friends and acquaintances that have miscarried, endured illness, or even faced some smaller losses like vacation mishaps.
So I decided to go on an exploration of empathy. We've all heard Brene and her assessment of power of vulnerability (if you haven't heard of Mrs. Brown, let me educate you; start here), but dug a little deeper into some resources that I've found helpful over the last few months:
I've been loving this book by the creator these amazing Empathy Cards she started based on what she wish people would have said to her when she had cancer. It has really opened my eyes to how I cope with other people's sadness, and what I could do better as a friend or sufferer alongside other sufferers, and has undone a lot of methods I've been conditioned and taught overtime to be with people.
Wounded Healer by Henri Nouwen is so good I just have to throw it in here. If you haven't read it and you're a human, but especially a human in ministry, please...do those you serve a solid.
I recently went on a binge of watching every talk I could find from Brit and Katie Merrick, who lost their daughter Daisy to cancer a few years ago. They spoke together at IF Conference last year and it was so, so good and so real about how their experience impacted their faith. Then I Youtubed her. Then I read every blog post she ever wrote. It was a little obsessive, but I was desperate to learn. We recently had a family in our church lose a little girl to cancer and I read Kate Merrick's book to help me understand the feelings and heart of a mama who's lost something so precious to something so devastating. She presents her story in a way that's honoring to her daughter and still truthful, and I carry extra copies with me for friends and people I meet that may be hurting.
Don't be afraid of peoples' experiences that differ from yours. You aren't going to become a heathen or destroy your faith or psyche by listening to a podcast, story, or opinion that differs from your own. In fact, you'll be better for it. Ask hard questions. Educate yourself. Talk to someone of a different race or orientation or experience of any kind, and ask them what this year has been like for them WITHOUT CORRECTING THEIR FEELINGS. Learn from them. Here is a great podcast on exactly that.
I love the Liturgists Podcast for this reason. It is a constant exploration of the Other, and, although I may not (or...maybe I do, I'll stay mysterious here) agree with everything they say and believe, I am learning from others' perspectives, perceptions, and experiences. This episode on Spiritual Trauma was AWESOME and has a segment on how to respond to someone in not just spiritual crisis, but really in any crises. WARNING: Some of the content is difficult to listen to, and this is definitely not appropriate for children to overhear.
I've loved following this gal's Instagram page. She's a writer and illustrator from NYC and uses her art as a way to communicate about vulnerability. Seriously, if there's one thing you get from this post...let this be the thing. I started following her after seeing these powerful illustrations for holiday's like Mother's Day and have personally resonated with a lot of her drawings and thoughts.
There are certain things in life I will likely never experience. And that means there are things that I have to learn about through others' stories. Whether that is over coffee, or through podcasts, I want to be emotionally intelligent and feelings-informed. So, when a friend of mine recently lost a baby, I listened to this story. Me having the information didn't necessarily turn me into this amazing empathizer, but I felt like I had a little more insight into how I should respond, based on what I heard other people saying what worked, and what hurt more. If someone you are close to is going through something unfamiliar to you, don't back off, learn. Explore and learn—not about how you can fix the problem, but how you can be there for them and be the best human you can be for them without offending or saying something that could unknowingly devastate them further.
I also read this book, and I've passed it along to fellow mamas, friends who are still waiting on a positive pregnancy test, other friends who have lost babies or big kids to cancer...It's an anthem of hope from Daisy Love's mom, Kate. Worth a pick up—I grabbed it to better understand an experience I have yet to go through (this is my input and intellect strength popping up...and probably some empathy, too). I always keep a few extra copies on hand to pass out or send out in the event of a woman I love losing someone she loves. It's not intrusive, it's not a "get up and figure it out;" It's a couch and a cup of tea and a reminder that, yes...it's hard, and you will be ok.