Let Empathy Lead You

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These past few weeks have been the first time in almost two and half years that I’ve felt relaxed enough to take a moment to sit, read and enjoy it. No matter how often people tell you to take some time for yourself, meditate, or do something to take your mind off it, if you have an unwell partner or family member for an extended length of time, it’s almost impossible to shift the load. It’s like you are holding your breath.

I don’t like to call it a load but that’s what it is…

When it comes to caring for our loved ones we don’t consider it a burden, but it’s something extra to carry. It may manifest as stress, worry, concern, anxiety, fear or even sadness and grief.

After Hubby’s mini stroke in March 2016 life changed. There were lots of wobbles and much monitoring and doctor care. With a strict regime in place we got on with it. But it was constant. There wasn’t a minute when I wasn’t on guard. And that takes a toll. While we hang in there, something always suffers. I may be a positive pixie, but my body didn’t get the message. My hair started falling out. So, stress ‘level one’ was silently in operation.

Then…

On the 1st May this year it became very dramatic. An ambulance transported Hubby to hospital again. This time he couldn’t move, and we had no idea why. It took three weeks and a myriad of tests to find out, but in the meantime, we were in no man’s landI did what it took to get through it and even made the following video, but the truth was, I felt lost and very much alone. During the first week that Hubby was in the hospital, I didn’t see a single soul and I fell into a numb kind of shock. The month of May turned into an emotional blur. I had nothing to hang onto. While Hubby was learning to walk again, I put on a brave face for the world, but I was quietly falling to pieces. I couldn’t sleep, I lost more hair, and because I was exhausted, I got sick. Stress level ‘of the charts’ was now in control and I couldn’t do a thing about it.

But this blog post is not about advice…

There are no magic words of wisdom that can help one deal with a shock or how to carry a heavy emotional load. This blog post is about what I learned because of it. Of course, what I desperately wanted was comfort. I wanted someone to put their arms around me and tell me everything was going to be OK. I wanted to feel safe enough to talk about how I felt. Just like I did with my mother so many years ago in a similar situation.

My social media friends were wonderful. My appreciation and gratitude overflowed for the love and support I received. But it doesn’t compare to a real life hug and a shoulder to cry on.

Today I feel a lot better and I am grateful that Hubby is on the road to wellness. So why would I bother writing about it? I’m writing about it because I learned something really important. When we see someone going through difficult times, don’t be afraid to reach out with empathy.

But, here’s the thing about empathy…

Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly what to say. We get the distinct feeling that someone is not OK, but because they smile and hold it together, we respect their privacy and see only the outside. That’s where I was – holding it together in company. Doing the strong thing and not falling apart. Everyone I saw during that time, very kindly and full of compassion, said exactly what I usually say in the same situation. Things like…

‘How is he…. give him my best’
‘Take care… thinking of you’
‘Sending you good vibes’
‘Wishing you well’

Everything but, ‘Are you really alright?’ … with their arms wide open…

Now, having walked in the shoes of someone who feels totally adrift at sea, I understand it a lot better. I realise how important it is to see beyond the outside and ask someone if they are really alright. Never again will I make the mistake of not reaching out with open arms and asking the right question.

The truth is, it’s hard to ask for help…

And sometimes, it’s even harder to express exactly what we need. We all try to hold ourselves together, but no matter how strong we are, sometimes we shatter. Those are the times when an ear and comforting arms are exactly what we need.

For those who feel lost, don’t be afraid…
Trust someone enough to tell them. It’s OK to be vulnerable.
For those who see it, don’t be afraid…
Reach out with open arms. Let empathy lead you.

Seeing inside someone’s heart is the leap from compassion to true empathy.

Inara Hawley © 2018

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