The gift of empathy

bekah Faith 1 Comment

September gives birth to Fall, with Halloween on it’s heels, and Thanksgiving around the corner, barely before Christmas decorations are out… It’s the holiday season!

And with this season, comes talk of peace on earth, joy, cheer, and all the warm, fuzzy feelings surrounded by our Savior’s birthday!

And it’s great!
But it’s a season!

One that, if I’m honest, can feel a bit like a let-down when it’s come, and gone.

After the flurry of cookie-baking, gift-wrapping, tag-making, holiday-decorating, family picture-sending, Christmas Eve service-attending, present-opening, Santa lap-sitting, family dinner-eating, Christmas light-admiring, and thank you-card writing, turning the calendar page to January is a little sad.

Because it means the holiday season has come
And gone.

And a year-long idea has slowly seeded in my heart.

The gift of empathy.


Surprisingly, it began at work a couple of weeks ago.
I’d barely walked in the door and the phone was already ringing off the hook {working at an event rental company, you can imagine the busy holiday season} so I answered.

The gruff voice on the other end was a man demanding to make an order. NOW!

He was obviously in a hurry, and I quickly entered his information. As we spoke, I made small talk, and could hear the tiredness in his voice, so much so, that it was as if I was sitting across from him, watching him cradle the phone, eyes vacant, staring off into nothingness. I continued to take his order, only to learn that the tables and linens were needed for a funeral service for his sister, who had suddenly died unexpectedly the day before Thanksgiving! My heart in my throat, I continued. Verbally, I asked for his credit card information, but in my mind, I was reaching out to take his hand and tell him how sorry I was for his loss. How horrible that must be. And that it was okay for him to be grumpy.

Empathy. 

Before I hung up, I quietly whispered, “I am so sorry for your loss.”

It was quiet. And then a gentle reply, “Thank you. It’s really hard right now.”

Hanging up, I felt the hot tears, pulling at my bottom eyelids. I shuffled papers, muffled a sniffle, and tried to keep busy.

Empathy.

Here’s the thing about empathy~  the more I practice it, the more it grows. The more I allow it to sprout branches and leaves, offering shade and a listening ear, the more it firmly roots.

And I’m okay with it.

Because it takes my thoughts off of me.


Empathy reminds me to ‘sit in it’ with someone, to try to see what else is going on beneath the surface. Because there is always something going on, good or bad!

It doesn’t take much, it’s not a quick-fix, a pep-talk, or a hurried ‘God Bless You’ on your way to the next place. It’s an intentional moment to hear, really hear, through the words and body language, and into someone’s heart.

Empathy.

Empathy doesn’t mean I turn into an emotional wreck when everyone’s dog dies, or blubber when my boys get hurt. It’s a very human reminder that everyone has a story. And while some of those stories are fabulous, some ain’t so pretty!

And it happened again today.

Empathy.

A middle-aged lady came in with her {clearly ill} sister, and the sister’s caregiver. At first glance, I thought the sick sister had been tragically burned on her face. She talked out of one side of her mouth, and her too-large eyes, darted around the room. Her tiny frame weighed maybe 80 pounds, sopping wet! She occasionally chimed in while placing the order.

“And we need cocktail glasses.”
“Don’t forget the linens.”

The older sister was devotedly patient, explaining that they we were getting to that.

My job as Hospice Volunteer Director came avalanching back.
Look in her eyes. 
Speak to her.
Show her she’s valuable, even though it may be uncomfortable.

We walked around the room and I showed the sisters various linen colors, table sizes, and cocktail glasses.

Too tired, the sick sister took a seat with her caregiver, while the other sister finished up the order.

“Thank you,” she said, leaning over the counter and almost reaching into my chair.
This is the first time my sister has been out in a while. Clearly, you can see she is very ill. It’s amazing she’s even here. We almost lost her last Christmas.”

I asked what she had, and she went on to explain that she has a rare immune disease that often puts her in the hospital, only to catch every illness and disease there, which almost leads to her death.

“She’s a miracle,” I smiled.

We exchanged a look. A look from a sister that loves her sick sister more than life itself.
“She’s my only sibling. My only sister.”

Empathy

Those darn tears again.

I looked up to see tears in her eyes too and it was a beautiful, silent exchange of a thousand words. A thousand ‘thank you’s from her, for treating her sister like a person, and not just someone ill. My eyes told her a thousand ‘you’re amazing’s’ for the endless love and caregiving she sacrificially gives.

In that moment, the empathy tree sprouted a bud. A tiny, white, bud.

Yes, the season shouts peace, joy, and warm fuzzy feelings. And I celebrate that!

But every day, holidays or not, I intend to wrap up the gift of empathy and give it away.
Preferably, with an adorable, home-made tag 🙂

 

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