When it comes to grief and loss, what do you think is most important – to have sympathy or understanding?
According to Webster’s Dictionary, sympathy is a feeling of sincere concern for someone experiencing something difficult or painful. On the other hand, understanding is having knowledge about a subject or a situation.
When my daughter first ran ahead to heaven those early hours and days were filled with waves of phone calls, texts, emails, and people coming to our home. We were flooded with sympathy, shown in both word and deed. A meal train was established, the mailman dropped off many cards daily for weeks, and the UPS driver delivered gifts – blankets, wind chimes, a star in her name, books, and paintings. Our home was filled to the brim with beautiful flowers. The list goes on and on. Such thoughtful, lovely touches. Each one a show of sympathy for the unexpected loss of our daughter.
I’m no different than any of you and I’m sure this all sounds very similar to what happened when you’re loved one died. I know I’ll be forever grateful for those who lifted me up in many different ways, both in prayer and deed. There is no way to repay that kind of love and care. Sympathy is precisely what was needed during those early days.
Then as time moved forward, I found that my needs began to change. I began to seek out those who had understanding. I didn’t want to feel pitied. I didn’t want people to continue looking at me as the mom who lost her daughter to an accidental overdose. I didn’t want to be the poster child for this cause. Even though people meant well, I grew weary of hearing the words, “I’m so sorry.”
Even though it’s so important to have sympathy, what about understanding? Is one more important than the other? Actually, I think we need both – they are each important in their way. We just need them at different points along the journey. As we mourn our loved ones, there comes a time when there is a turning point, and our needs change. We may begin to be drawn to those who have understanding. The ones who know firsthand the pain of losing someone they love. We can walk along, arm-in-arm, holding each other up knowing firsthand what the other is feeling and going through.
Continuing on this road, I’m still learning and experiencing all the nuances of how child loss has changed the trajectory of my life. I can see how both sympathy and understanding positively impacted my devastated heart and how God continues to heal it. Sympathy got me through those hard, horrible early days. Now, it’s understanding that helps sustain and rebuild my broken heart.
Even though the journey may be hard, we can be grateful God knows when to place the right people along our path, and at just the right time. We never walk this road alone. I’m so grateful for each of you.