“Rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection,”-Brené Brown. These two short sentences really clicked with me. I had never really thought of the difference between sympathy and empathy, and I believe it lies between a response and a connection as Brené Brown said. When someone is sympathizing with you they speak. They try to think of anything to say that they beleive will make you feel better, when in reality words hardly have meaning without heart behind them.
Empathy on the other hand: Empathy is putting yourself in someone elses shoes. To emphasize with someone is showing them that you care and that you have been in the same or a similar situation, so you know how they are feeling. In my experience, empathy is far more powerful than sympathy. It allows people to feel less alone when they realize that they are not the only one who has been in that kind of situation. I believe it is also a powerful thing, as when people share how they went through a similar problem, it proves to the those currently going through it that there is a way out and in the end everything turns out okay.
Two years ago this November: my grandfather was diagnosed with kidney and bladder cancer. The day I got the phone call explaining what the doctors had found during a regular check up, was one of the worst days of my life. During the first few months after the diagnosis, my grandfather was not doing well at all and the doctors could not give us a definite answer of whether the treatments would work or even whether he would live much longer. My grandfather was and is one of the best people in my life. I had never been through or felt anything like this before and did not know who to turn to.
Sympathizing: While all of this was happening, I was almost 2000 miles away at my freshman year of college. I was in my first semester and had made many friends, but none that I felt I was extremely close with yet. So finding someone to talk to with about how I really felt was hard to do. The few friends that I initially tried bringing it up to with were more than nice but I found they were only sympathizing with me. They would offer me words of encouragement by saying “Everything is going to be okay”, “Just stay positive” or the classic “That is horrible, I am so sorry Lexi.” I knew their heart was in the right place, but nothing made me feel better.
Bad news yet again: A month after my grandfather’s last chemo treatment, he went in for a checkup and found the cancer had spread even more than they expected. The sadness I had felt over the past few months, grew immensely at the sound of this news. After I got the phone call from my mom, I called my best friend from home and explained everything I had been feeling and I found there could not have been a better person to talk to about this. 2 years prior, my friend had gone through the exact same thing with her grandmother and I had no idea.
Empathizing: She told me every feeling she went through throughout the entire process of her grandmother being sick. She explained to me that she realized the best thing anyone can do is be there for your family. Rather than feel sorry for yourself and the person that is sick, remember all the good times you had together and continue making happy memories while you still can. Everytime I felt sad or frusterated about my grandfather’s situation I would call this friend and instead of simply tell me she was sorry she would turn the situation around and find a way to make me feel better.
Good ending: In the end both her grandmother and my grandfather came out of their last treatments cancer free and continue to be today. Looking back though, I don’t know how I would have gotten past the last few years withouth that friend and I am eternally gratefful for her. She found a way to connect with me rather than just sympathize with me. It was a lot easier to connect because she had been in that same situation, but I believe even if she had not been because we care so much about each other she would have been there for me as much as she was.