Following my mother’s battle with cancer, the question that arose for me was, what do I do with all of this? “This” being all of the feelings of loss, pain, missed moments, and the big unanswered question — why? I had to decide how I would harness and use this experience. I chose to embrace and act upon the gifts my family and friends so willingly gave during that time—unconditional love and support.
It Came Down to Two Things I Knew I Wanted to do:
1. Reach out to others dealing with brain cancer or the loss of a parent or loved one.
2. Instill in my children the singular value of empathy and the importance of taking action when in this situation.
Connection: Being a Part of Something Bigger
I think we all desire to be a part of something larger than our singular experience. Constructing meaning from an individual experience is reflecting on the impact you can have by sharing what you have learned. For me, those people in my life who created the small miracles that turned an unbearable experience tolerable were an inspiration (see my second blog post titled “How Does a Martyr ask for help? She doesn’t.” I made it a point to reach out to people I knew (sometimes even people I didn’t really know) who were dealing with a similar experience.
Part of it was a cathartic need to acknowledge a shared experience and part of it was about giving them what I could to make that unbearable experience just a little better. This is how I chose to draw meaning and channel that force of emotion I labeled “all of this.”
Empathy: the Art of Caring
After some snooping, I found that empathy comes in many forms. My favorite summary comes from Wikipedia: “Empathy is an ability with many different definitions. They cover a broad spectrum, ranging from caring for other people and having a desire to help them, to experiencing emotions that match another person’s emotions, to knowing what the other person is thinking or feeling, to blurring the line between self and other.”
My personal goal is, in part, to instill a capacity for empathy in my children and teaching them to act upon it. What is the benefit of being empathetic if you don’t turn that gift into action? I want my children to feel empowered and excited to know they can make a difference in this world with one small act of caring. I believe it is contagious and inspiring. I believe it can create a culture of caring.
I think of it this way: an act of caring will reach that person and inspire his or her act of caring. And in a culture of caring we create a ripple effect that becomes larger than any one action. If no one makes that first move, how can the larger impact ever be realized?