Are you being sympathetic because you have to be?

To Sympathize[sim-puh-thahyz] (verb)

  1. to be in sympathy or agreement of feeling; share in a feeling (often followed by with).
  2. to feel a compassionate sympathy, as for suffering or trouble (often followed by with).

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This picture means a great deal to me.

It was taken in February 2016, a couple weeks after my mother had passed away from Cystic Fibrosis.  Her health had been declining slowly yet steadily; good days mixed with bad ones, fear and hope tightly intertwined.

I knew one day she would die from her disease but nothing in the world could’ve prepared me for her sudden and rapid deterioration in health, ultimately ending her life within two days after being rushed to the hospital. I was on my way to her when it happened, somewhere above the Atlantic Ocean with another 1000 miles to go. By the time I finally arrived at the hospital, rushing to the room they kept her in, her spirit was already gone, leaving just her physical body behind.

I was a mess in the following months, trying hard to keep it together and to not disrupt my daughter’s carefree, happy life. She was only two years old at the time, too young to understand my grief and despair.

After bringing her to bed and making sure she was sleeping soundly, I would allow myself to crumble and cry in silence.  Then, one night I felt something touch my cheek, something warm and soft. It was my daughter’s little hand, gently wiping away my tears in an expression of genuine sympathy and care.

The picture above was taken that night and will always serve as a reminder that sympathy is not just a mandatory formality, expressed in elaborate Hallmark Cards, sidelong glances of pity or the high pitched inquiries:” How are you holding up, honey?” and, “Let me know if there’s something I can do, okay?”

Sympathy, when sincere, doesn’t need many unnecessary words or gestures. Take flowers, for example. I received quite a few floral arrangements of sympathy and while I appreciated the thought behind it, I’ve got to shamefully admit that all those flowers ended up dead, rotting in makeshift vases on my kitchen counter. I didn’t have the energy to give them proper care; nor was it important at the time.

My daughter was still too young to understand that her beloved Grandma was gone. Too young to pick up a a sympathy card at Walgreens; too young to give me a puppy-eyed look of concern when she walked by.

And yet, my two year old, whom I thought too young to understand or sense grief was the only one able to offer consolation and all it took was a simple touch.

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