Not long ago, a few months maybe, this sort of news would have been nearly debilitating to me. I would, most certainly, have prayed for these families, but my tears, the deep sorrow that I felt would have been for my own tragedy, my own loss, not theirs. I would have been thrust back in time to our own horrific experience and relived the trauma of my own life. In praying I would have lashed out at God, begging to understand why it is that bad things happen to good people, demanding to know why he took my daughter from me. But this was not my reaction to hearing of each of these recent tragedies.
While my reaction to the loss that others have experienced is different than it has ever been since Laynee's accident, neither is it the same as it would have been before Laynee died. The difference....is empathy. Before experiencing the death of a child I would have felt sympathy for any parent who must endure such sorrow. Sympathy and empathy, though often used interchangeably, are not the same. The sympathy that I felt before would have come from compassion born of my perception of what I thought it might be like to lose a child. I would have ached for each of these families, all the while hoping that I would never have to know or understand this type of pain. I wondered "how does one survive something like that?" In contrast, the empathy that I feel now comes from a deep, personal understanding of child loss. From knowing the physical pain, the shock, the agony of burying your beloved child. Along with this empathy comes the knowledge that these parents will never, ever be the same. That their lives will forever be marked in terms of "before" and "after." Even as I know this, I know too that they will survive. By the grace of God they will carry on.
Tears fell upon hearing of each of these recent tragedies. For the first time since we said good bye to our baby girl, not one of those tears were for my own pain but for the pain of these parents. My prayers were simply "Oh God, be near to them. It's such a long and painful journey." I pray also that somehow I can take this empathy and use it for the service of others.
Comfort, comfort my people, says your God