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On sympathy and empathy
A Woman's View
Judi Tabler color mug

One of the inevitabilities of life is the loss of a loved one. There is certainly nothing more grievous or painful than the void and sorrow remaining with the survivors; the shock, and the deep grief. 

The response of those who come to give aid is often sympathy. Sympathy is feeling sorrow for others’ misfortune. Each of us can feel, and understand grief. And we can feel sympathy and sadness for those who lose a loved one. We want to do whatever we can to show our regard and sincere concern.

But there is another response; that of empathy. The empathizer can’t help but place himself in the “shoes” of the survivor. He or she identifies and is deeply aware of the pain and loss because of having experienced the same kind of loss. Most usually, the empathizer understands deeply the situation, and feels himself, the pain and grief of those who have lost a loved one.

Both sympathy and empathy give strength and comfort and are strong supports for the bereaved. Coming along side, holding up, giving aid and succor.

Most of you readers have lost someone dear during your lifetime. If you have lost a spouse, that is a pain that only those who have lost a spouse can truly, deeply comprehend. Others can sympathize and that is a good thing. But those who also have also lost a spouse can empathize; understand, comprehend, and feel the pain. They get it.

And for those who have lost a child, whether that child is small or adult, there is pain that those who have not walked that valley cannot really understand. Those who have lost a child can empathize, and help carry that pain.

“Fred” and I have just recently lost a niece. She was a beautiful adult girl, and she struggled and fought with addiction for most of her adult life. Eventually, she could find no escape. But each time that she was able to be cleansed for a while from the pull and poison of addiction, she again became herself...for that short time. She was sweet and thoughtful, gentle and loving. But then, she would fall. She didn’t want to fall. But when she did, her personality and character changed drastically.

We can share empathy here because we lost a son to addiction. We understand. We empathize. We deeply share the pain. We get it. So, for that reason, we are the ones who can empathize here. We can be a valuable resource and give some advice having traveled that particular road. 

For those of you who have lost someone for whatever reason, whether a spouse, a parent, a child, a friend, a companion, please know this. There are many who have suffered a loss similar to yours, be it a heart attack, disease, accident, or a multitude of other reasons. And you are the ones who truly relate and can carry their burden at such times. There is always someone who has walked the same road that you have traveled.

The Bible confirms this spiritual reality. Jesus said in Galatians 6:2 we are to bear one another’s burdens. We cannot alleviate suffering, but we can carry a part of it. There is a spiritual reality where the survivors do feel the help and the lessening of their load. 

Your specific loss does have value to others who have experienced the same kind of loss. Yes, it is painful to dig up that pain that you felt and expose it again to another. But you can give such comfort. Don’t miss the opportunity. 

Judi Tabler lives in Pawnee County and is a guest columnist for the Great Bend Tribune. She can be reached at or juditabler@awomansview.