A phrase that should never be said.
I say this phrase more often than I would like to admit. I thought of this string of words as a kind way of showing the other person that I’m not going to assume I know how they feel, or that their situation is unique and deserves a specific type of attention. However, it wasn’t until it was said to me in my lowest moment that I realized how incredibly insensitive that phrase is.
Amid losing my son, I clenched on to those words and held them tightly in my mind. I despised each character, just as much as I hated what was happening to my family. I couldn’t understand why something said in such a harmless way would bring me so much hurt and pain. After spending a few weeks contemplating the phrase and the intent behind it, I decided to do some quick research. Is this a normal feeling? Am I being way too sensitive? I came upon an article titled, Why you should stop saying, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” by Doc Ayomide. (Source: Medium.com, 2017.) Immediately, I felt justified for my feelings. Someone out there has been hurt by these words too! This phrase is indeed harmful! The article swiftly brought up a single word that explains it all, empathy.
That’s right, this painful phrase lacked empathy. Here’s the thing, if you can’t imagine what someone is going through, then you can’t share their pain. I know that we never intend on giving that message off to anyone. Ayomide unpacks how this phrase is misguided and that we really mean to say, “I don’t KNOW what you’re going through.” Which is right. Because even if you’ve experienced similar, it’s different (Ayomide). It’s important to understand that if you can’t imagine what someone is going through then you can’t empathize with them. However, let’s be honest. We absolutely can imagine. If we can use our imagination, then we are able to empathize. This is good news. We all have the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. What a powerful tool to have! A truly spiritual tool.
In my case, losing a child is something that I did imagine before it happened. The moments that these thoughts of loss came into my head, I prayed them away. Every time I heard the horrible news of another unarmed black teen getting shot by a cop, I had no choice but to ask myself, “What if that was my son, Liam?” That’s me imagining. That’s me putting myself in the shoes of a mother who has lost her child to senseless violence. If you have ever lost anyone (a grandparent, childhood friend, cousin, teacher, mentor…etc.), then you can imagine what I’m going through and what anyone else is going through. Especially those suffering through an unfortunate circumstance.
I’ve learned a lot in the past few months. This phrase brought about my biggest lesson. In times of suffering, it is important to join the one that is suffering and to refrain for drawing a line of separation. Get beside that person and be there for all of it. The good and the bad. In all of this, I’ve had to ask myself the hard questions and look at my past. Have I ever made anyone in my life feel like they are on an island? The answer is YES! I no longer want to do that. Empathy is the goal. There’s a verse from the scripture that says it all, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).
Thanks for listening. Until next time….