I was walking quickly through Target with my head down hoping to grab the few items I needed and bolt out the door.
As I turned the corner, I glanced up and a stranger was standing there waiting for me to pass. We made eye contact and she flashed a heartfelt smile while her eyes were full of life. I still remember every detail of her face to this day.
I don’t know if I smiled back or if she saw the pain in my eyes. I couldn’t help but think, “Does she know my brother died yesterday?”
Eventually, I made it to the aisle full of body wash. I stood there staring at the shelves of all the different options. I don’t know how long I was staring but I couldn’t help but notice all the people walking around me.
It felt like the world around me was moving at an ultra speed while my world had not only come to a complete halt but was entirely crumbled.
Everything that was, was no longer. Everything that was normal was now gone.
While the people passed me, probably not even noticing me standing there, I thought to myself- “How could these people just walk by like everything is OK? How could I be standing here at Target picking out body wash when my brother’s body laid dead at a morgue?”
While waiting in the check out lane I asked God, “Why am I even here. Why did I come here, this is so trivial. My brother just died and I’m buying stupid toiletries.”
In a still small voice, I heard the Lord whisper, “I’m here. I’m with you. And I’m also with the other’s who are hurting around you.”
I looked up and started searching the faces of those around me looking to see any sort of pain on someone’s face. Someone’s face who resembled mine. I found none.
Then, my eyes were opened.
The lady in front of me could have a marriage that’s falling apart. The man behind me could be battling a life-threatening illness. The cashier could be overwhelmed with rejection. The family the next aisle over could be wondering if they will have enough to not only cover what was in their cart but also have enough gas to get home.
I stood there wondering how no one could notice my world had stopped when I wasn’t noticing the speed of theirs.
During my journey with grief, I had reached out to a friend asking for time to just talk. I needed a friend to talk to so that I could get out everything I had been bottling in. When the day came for us to meet up, she canceled to go shopping with her mother.
I felt heartbroken wondering how this friend couldn’t just give me one evening. Heck, one hour to just cry.
There was another time I was standing at church talking to a bunch of people and another friend walked by saying hello to all of us. In passing they looked at me and said, “You good?” and I responded with a quick, “yeah” and on their way they went.
I remember in my mind screaming, “NO!” and just wishing someone would take me aside and ask how I was doing. To ask if there was anything I needed because I didn’t know how to ask myself.
After another year went by, I tried talking about my brother with a friend and not even 30 seconds into it she interrupted me to make a comment about something on the tv, completely ignoring my words and never directing herself back into the conversation. So, the conversation ended just as quickly as it started.
When I was thrown into the aftermath of my brother’s death I was thrown into a new world that I didn’t ask for. This world seemed to not even acknowledge my pain and operated at a totally different speed. Everything looked the same but felt so different and moved much slower.
My new world was a new speed and no one notice.
Friend, please know I’m not sharing this now years later out of hurt or anger.
Jesus walked that path with me and still does to this day. His love and grace overcompensated for the shortcomings of those around me who didn’t know how to be there for me.
I’m not mad or have any anger in my heart towards those friends or situations. My friends are human and make innocent mistakes as I do.
I wholeheartedly forgave them knowing that this doesn’t make them a bad friend. It just means they have some growing in the empathy department and I can’t fault them for that. I have areas I need to grow in too.
My heart in writing this isn’t for this to be another list of things to not say or do to someone who’s grieving. I’m not going to attack you, instead, I want to encourage you.
Romans 12:15 says, “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
There are people around you who are hurting and you’d have no clue unless they said something otherwise.
However, you have friends in your life who you may know the speed of their world has been altered. You know the bad hand they were dealt and my question for you today is, what will you do with this knowledge?
Will you walk past them and not even take notice of their pain? Will you have them deal with it on their own or will you make eye contact with them and give them an invitation to talk about it?
Many people who are grieving may come to a point where they are dying to talk about it and worry they will be burdening or annoying the person they share with. They fear no one will care or know that you have stuff going on too and don’t want to be insensitive to your life.
Grief has a way of paralyzing the person’s mouth while their heart feels like a mouse on a wheel. They don’t know how to comprehend the magnitude of their feelings and emotions in an articulate manner.
Please know their lack of voice is not a reflection of their pain.
A few years ago I sat on my couch talking with a new friend. She asked me if I had siblings, as a way to get to know me. After telling her I have a brother she started asking about him. I mentioned he had passed and she asked if it was ok to know what happened.
I dove into the entire story, telling her how drugs entered my brother’s life and how he ended up dead at 25. When I got done telling her everything she looked at me and said, “I’m so sorry. How do you feel about all of this now? How has his death affected you?”
I looked right back at her and burst into tears. No one had ever asked me that question. I can tell the story of my brother’s addiction and death and list everything in chronological order, but when it comes to sharing my pain, that was something I never did.
I don’t even know what I said or how I even responded because it was four years of bottled emotions that came flowing out to someone who I hadn’t known for very long.
But, friend, can I share with you how much I needed that. How much my soul needed that. I needed someone to sit and ask such a simple but heartfelt question. I needed someone to listen as I poured my heart out and not judge my tears and snot filled cries.
She hugged me afterward and just kept saying how sorry she was. She then shared her journey of grief with me and how she can relate to my feelings and comforted me right where I was.
The power of empathy is immeasurable and has healing power. Will you allow the feelings of awkwardness stop you from asking a friend if they need to talk? Will you allow your busy days to overshadow the pain your friend is sitting in?
I want to encourage you to spend time with Christ and allow the Holy Spirit to guide you to your friends who are hurting.
You don’t need to worry about what to say or how to respond. Just being fully present, not distracted by your phone or the tv, and listen with an empathetic heart is exactly what your friend needs.
And by all means, pray with them. Lay hands on them, pray scripture over their pain and remind them of the healing found in Christ. They will need it more then they will ever know how to ask.
Romans 12:9-13 says, “Don’t just pretend to love others. Really love them. Hate what is wrong. Hold tightly to what is good. Love each other with genuine affection, and take delight in honoring each other. Never be lazy, but work hard and serve the Lord enthusiastically. Rejoice in our confident hope. Be patient in trouble, and keep on praying. When God’s people are in need, be ready to help them. Always be eager to practice hospitality.”
Patricia G. says
I am so sorry about the loss of your brother. That is so heartbreaking! I can’t imagine how lonely and sad you must have felt those first few years without him! Even though my brother is still alive (thank God!), recently someone I really cared about at my work got let go. I may never see them again on this side of the earth. This person who got let go had a monumental effect on me even being able to do my job well! I felt much the same way you were when your brother just passed, and that no one understood where I was coming from. However, when I went to Sunday school class, not really expecting anything in me to feel better, the pastor’s wife, amazing person that she is, did for me, what your friend a few years later did for you—She listened to me empathetically and without judgment. Know that I would love to do the same for you–and all those around me–who are in pain.
Girl! This post is legit one of the best ones I’ve read on empathy! I love how raw and honest you are!
Beautifully written! I relate so much from living with a chronic illness and being isolated most days. I want to be that friend who offers encouragement, support and a listening ear to others. While reading this I wanted to reach out and give you a virtual hug. There is so much truth to this and I long for a strong community where these longings and needs are being met in the body of Christ. ❤?❤
Stephanie Malcolm says
I wish I could have had this advice five years ago when my son passed away to share with well-meaning friends.