"One of the things we do sometimes in the face of very difficult conversations is we try to make things better," Brown says. "Because the truth is rarely can a response make something better. What makes something better is connection."
After my diagnosis, I was treated to all kinds of messages from people. There were those who wanted to help, who cried along with me or even without me, those who came along on appointments and radiation treatments, who wanted regular updates on my status. In the beginning I lumped them all together, sympathy and empathy, because I just wanted to be in people's minds, I wanted them to hope for the best for me, I wanted to feel loved when I was feeling rather crappy. But after the fog cleared, I realized what kinds of messages I was craving and noticed that the ones meant to shrink the situation left me feeling worse. While I understand that it was done to ease my mind, there's no need to tell me that the tumor is probably not that big and that I'll be just fine when I'm still very much terrified.
We do it so often, myself included. We want so much to make someone feel better, but sometimes there's no way out but through and you just have to be there to hold their hand and walk alongside them if you can. Sympathy is keeping your emotions at arms length and saying, "That sucks, I'll be here if you need me." Empathy is plopping yourself right there next to her and bringing her in for a hug for as long and as many times as she needs it.