Empathy? Please Sir, May I Have Some More?

     I find that my deams often reveal the detail of my grief.  In a recent dream, my wife was scolding me for my parenting approach, “You too often let her get away with not eating fruits and veggies!”  Clearly, I have not moved on from feelings of self-doubt about my parenting skills.  I know most parents struggle with healthy food options, but I know it would be A LOT easier to feed my daughter if Natasha were still here.  She wasn’t just a good cook, she was a great food researcher: I didn’t have to read labels and search websites, Natasha would just say, “Buy this, and not that.”  This is where relying on our community is very helpful.

     Unfortunately, my grief at times hinders my ability to lean on other parents.  I am constantly asking other parents about quick healthy recipes and snack ideas, and most people are very, very helpful.  However, sometimes the tone of these parents triggers some negativity.  These parents sound like they are living on clouds, “I love feeding my kids.  I plan meals for the week and we follow a schedule.  It helps all of us, especially, it helps my kids to know what to expect, that way they won’t refuse to eat at the last second.”  My first thought is often; she has no idea how good she has it!  I mean, the whole idea of making a menu for an entire week seems horrendous to me.  I am usually just focused on the day’s meals!  I know that this negativity that comes from comparing is toxic, but sometimes I feel as though I am addicted to it, a dependency that can only be broken by compassion.          

      I still need more empathy from society as a whole, whether it be family, good friends, acquaintances, or strangers.  And, yes, that is right, even strangers.  When I meet someone and they start telling me how cute my daughter is, my need for more empathy leads to me searching for an opportunity to mention that my wife is dead.  “Actually, there is no mom, it’s just us two.  Unfortunately, my wife passed away from cancer a few years ago.  I might use the word, “died” instead of “passed away” if my level of grief is higher in that instant.  I know it is rather desperate, but in these moments, I am basically fishing for two forms of emotional support: empathy for losing my wife and empathy in the form of respect for being a single father.  My hunger for empathy seems insatiable.  Maybe I should walk up and down busy Vancouver streets wearing a sandwich board sign that reads, “My wife died, and now I’m a single father—please no cash,  ONLY empathy accepted!”. Even then, would I get enough?  How much empathy is really enough?  Will I know when I have had enough?  I suspect as my grieving process continues, I will hunger for empathy less and less.  In scientific terms, there is an inverse relationship between time grieving and need for empathy; as the number of years since Natasha’s death increases, my need for empathy will decrease.  Also, for me the best part of more time passing is that my confidence continues to skyrocket. 

     I love having all of this new confidence, especially, the feeling of not being bogged down by the opinions of others.  I love that I no longer spend so much energy trying to impress everyone in the room.  However, sometimes, I wonder if the pendulum has swung too far the other way.  Maybe I don’t care about the opinion of others enough.  If my actions felt motivated by pure confidence, that would be alright, but sometimes my disinterest in the opinions of others is my pain and anger.  Simply put, sometimes I get bored with ‘mundane’ conversations and find myself thinking, “What the hell do you know about life?  You can’t even talk about death?”  The disregard of other people’s thoughts embodies my need for empathy because I am fundamentally telling the other person, “My pain is worse.  Stop complaining about your so-called problems.  You know that my wife died, right?  You should be feeling bad for me and telling me how great I am!”  This is not noble behavior at all because it is okay for people to have lesser problems.

     My long-term goal needs to be to enjoy my new confidence without rudely discarding the opinions of others.  For instance, unlike most men, I will sing and dance in public even even though I know I am not the best singer or dancer.  I am no longer the guy who sits and watches other people sing and dance like no one is watching—and this is one of the greatest aspects of my new confidence!  This is healthy, but looking down on others for their different life experience is not the person I want to be.  At the same time, I will NOT be hard on myself for needing endless empathy.

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