Memorial Day Weekend: Expressing Sympathy with Empathy

V.P. Joe and Dr. Jill Biden

There will come a day, I promise you. . .
when the thought of your [loved one]
brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.

– V.P. Joe Biden

Yesterday one of my dearest friends lost a loved one to suicide.  One of my neighbors had a seizure outside my apartment while I was writing yesterday’s post.  He is fighting for his life at Harborview.  Someone left a comment about the grief her family was experiencing because her brother-in-law convinced the police that his wife’s death was suicide.  She knows her sister didn’t kill herself, and it is breaking her heart that her former brother-in-law probably got away with murder.

Life is precious, and it can be gone in the blink of an eye.  We often can’t know the searing pain someone is feeling because we aren’t walking in their shoes.  Still, we want to find words to comfort them rather than have them feeling like we are well-intentioned yet horridly misguided and perhaps even insensitive.  How can we express sympathy with empathy?

ABC News reported last night on Vice President Joe Biden’s extemporaneous reflections on grief to the families of slain soldiers.  He went off-message to share his experiences after the sudden loss of his first wife and daughter in a car accident at Christmas:

And just like you guys know by the tone of a phone call — you just knew, didn’t you? You knew when they walked up the path. You knew when the call came. You knew. You just felt it in your bones something bad happened.  And I knew. I don’t know how I knew. But the call said my wife was dead, my daughter was dead, and I wasn’t sure how my sons were going to make it.

. . .black hole you feel in your chest, like you’re being sucked back into it. . .gets controllable. . .folks, it can and will get better. . .

There will come a day, I promise you. . .when the thought of your son or daughter or your husband or wife brings a smile to your lips before it brings a tear to your eye.   It will happen. My prayer for you is that day will come sooner or later. But the only thing I have more experience than you in is this: I’m telling you it will come.

2 responses to “Memorial Day Weekend: Expressing Sympathy with Empathy

  1. Julie,

    You help me find the BEST material. Thank you now and always! You are a phenomenal muse, guide, and mentor.

    I’m in the process of revamping my site to celebrate the quarter-million visitor milestone. How would you feel about a Julie’s Jewels page???

    Sending hugs,
    Anne Caroline

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