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The flight attendant grabbed her hand, looked into her eyes and said, "I've been there, honey. Those words, and the deep empathy with which she said them, moved the woman (and me) profoundly. There's a huge difference between sympathy and empathy, between "I'm sorry" and "I've been there." It's not that sympathy is bad, not at all.
My dear friend's mother was recently diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer and given less than a year to live. If you can relate to someone going through a difficult time, try to find the strength to let them know. The next time you're inclined to sympathize, see if there's really an opportunity to empathize. The flight attendant -- a bright-eyed African-American woman with blonde braids and a giant smile -- asked her what was wrong. I know the pain of losing a parent, as well as the struggle of watching a loved one succumb to lung cancer.
Allow yourself to be vulnerable enough to revisit your own pain and to share it, in words or in energy.


Call on your courage, take that person's hand, look them in the eyes and let them know you've been there.
There they stayed for many seconds, two strangers intimately connected by their shared experience of having lost a loved one. Sympathy says, "I feel sorry for you," while empathy declares, "I am you." Sympathy requires you to find compassion -- from a distance -- for another's misfortune.
Let them know that you are there for them, and that you can empathize with what they're experiencing.
The pain of loss, especially, has no easy fix, and there are no words to appease that kind of grief. We don't have to have the exact same experiences to relate to and empathize with one another. Thank them for sharing themselves with you, for entrusting you with whatever it is they're going through.
I have to finally quit being the only one trying to fix everything between us because I don’t see any efforts from your side. I opened to my pain so that she would know she's not alone, and that I, too, had been there.


To my friend whose mother is dying, I said, among other things, "I don't know what to say, other than I love you and I'm here for you." I am not just here for her, I am her.
These are the types of connections that change people, that foster love, that remind us we are all brothers and sisters.
I didn't do this by making the conversation about me, but by bringing to it the connection of our shared experience. I have to overcome this pain because it’s unbearable and I am getting emotionally worked up. We have all walked the path between joy and sorrow, stopping at every emotion along the way. I just cannot go back in time and undo anything but I think it’s time to wipe my tears and move on. We simply have to be willing to share ourselves with each other, willing to be vulnerable and speak about our pain.



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