First it hurts, then it changes you.
Some of the most difficult lessons in life, are anything but painless.
That is perhaps why those particular lessons are so hard to actually learn. You need to experience them empirically prior to your having a real understanding about what someone else is going through.
For example, until you have suffered the loss of a parent, you cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of what that experience is like. If you have ever had the wind knocked out of you so harshly that you are gasping for breath, losing a parent is like that, but exponentially harder. It is truly unfathomable.
How does that change you? For starters, when you are in that state of massive overwhelm, you might be taken back by how many people try to comfort you by telling you how they lost one of their parents and they want to tell you an anecdote about their experience. The truth is, you have absolutely zero bandwidth to even listen to their story, nor be polite about it, nor have an intelligent response. If you are in emotional control at that moment, you listen silently and acknowledge what they have said, and all the while you are hoping and praying that they will stop this story as soon as possible. You are completely in grief and they have nothing in their story that is going to make you feel better, and at that moment, your empathy and compassion is running on empty, so you weather the experience. Suddenly someone else is telling you a similar story, and all you want to do is go into a sanctuary and work through your own grief without trying to be polite about someone else’s story.
Where is the lesson?
From my own personal experience, I have changed how I react when someone loses a loved one. If I knew the person, I tell them a warm remembrance as to how that person did something, or said something, that made me feel joyous or appreciative of their presence. If I did not know the parent, I am most often saying something like, “I did not know your parent, but the acorn does not fall far from the mighty oak and they must have been a remarkable human being to have raised a child such as you.” I have found this simple comforting phrase helps make the true connection I am trying to convey and I can tell from their reaction that there is actual comfort in the phrase, not a polite acknowledgment.
I send my morning musings to a small group of friends on a daily basis. One in particular was suffering from some tough life issues. There were many days when he would take the time to respond to one of my musings and share how it made him feel and how energized he was from the thoughts. He called me his sensei, which is flattering, but hardly appropriate. I am just a guy writing thoughts. I noticed he had not responded to anything this month, so I sent a text back asking how he was, and his wife texted me back that he had passed away on New Years Day.
I sat there quietly trying to process the information. I reflected on the times we spent together, the Genesis concerts we had seen, the deep passion for music and entertainment that we shared. He had found me through one of our mutual friends and published more than 50 of my best concert pictures in a magnificent book he was producing and placed my work as a 16 year old, side by side with the greatest concert photographers of my generation. He gave me a gift in that choice that made such a difference to me.
Life is short. If you are not making every day count, you are wasting your most valuable of all currencies… time.
Tell people you love them. I told him this on many an occasion and it seemed to make a difference to him, and it certainly made a difference to me.