Monday, August 10, 2009

I imagine it must be hard

Empathy is an amazing thing. The ability to put yourself in someone else's situation and relate to them is essential to humanity. Without it, isms would run rampant and there would be even more violence than there already is.

But there is something to be said for having someone you can talk to who gets it. Who has faced the situation as you, has had to make some of the same decisions, who truly knows exactly what you're going through.

On Saturday, I attended a memorial for family members of an acquaintance. Four members of her family died in a car accident last summer. Her two surviving siblings both have disabilities, and she is the guardian for both. She is in her late twenties. When she got up to speak, she thanked many people, and it was clear she'd had a lot of support from friends and family. She'd had a lot of sympathy. She'd had a lot of empathy. But she still felt alone, like no one really knew what she was going through. And then she got a call from a local organization who put her in touch with someone who lived in the area, had also lost her parents, and was raising a brother with a disability. I can't begin to imagine what she's been through, what she goes through every day. But I'm glad that she has someone she can talk to who does know.

I hope you have someone like that, and if not, I hope you decide to reach out and look for someone. Whether it's through NAMI or another organization that offers support groups for caregivers, or through the internet, through groups like Children of Parents with a Mental Illness, it will make a big difference. To mention something and not have to struggle to articulate the full scope of the experience. To describe something and have someone nod in affirmation.

We take for granted that understanding when we talk about relationship problems or being stressed out at work or school. When we talk about dealing with poor customer service or having to fill out twenty different forms to get our insurance to pay for something it's supposed to cover. It's easy to find someone who can relate to all the trivial things in our lives. And usually we can find someone who can relate to the big things, too: losing someone close to us, or becoming a parent for the first time. It's not always that simple for the things that we don't talk about, and it makes it that much more important. We all need to know that someone else has felt the same, survived the same. Not just in the helpful advice and mentoring way, though that is certainly beneficial. But ultimately what we need is proof that we, too, will be okay.

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