Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Put On Your Own Shoes

I have been pondering the sorrows of many who have lost a spouse, myself included.  There is indescribable pain in losing someone you love so deeply.

My mom passed away six months before my husband.  I remember feeling such great sadness at her passing.  I remember feeling so lost without her…then my husband died…wow…and I thought I couldn’t feel deeper sorrow…now I know a deeper, indescribable sorrow that causes you to physically hurt…it’s the kind of sorrow that brings you to your knees…you curl up in the fetal position and sob uncontrollably…

I do not know the sorrow that comes from losing a child.  I have never lost a child, nor do I wish to ever have that happen!  I can only imagine the pain and sorrow which follows…I pray I NEVER have to face that loss.

My dad and I have had many conversations about the death of our spouses.  At first, I was frustrated at how he kept saying I can’t believe this happened…how could she have died?  My initial thoughts were, “Seriously, dad?  You can’t believe she died? Death doesn’t come as unexpected when you are in your 70’s.  At least you had 52 years in mortality with her.  At least, your reality is that you will see her a whole lot sooner than I will see Paul. My husband died when I was in my 40’s…mom was in her 70’s…I might be here another 40 years without him…you might be here another 10 years (not likely because of health).  At least all your children are raised…I still have young children to raise. 

It didn’t take me long to realize that his loss was just as significant to him as was mine to me.  I am ashamed to say that I even thought those things. You may lose your spouse after only 3 months or it might be 60 years later.  I have come to realize that it doesn’t matter when you lose your spouse, it IS PAINFUL.

I have also come to realize that everyone grieves differently.  Some people grieve longer than others.  Some people appear to not grieve at all.  It is not my place to judge anyone else for the way they choose to handle their grief.  It is my responsibility to love unconditionally.

Recently, I have thought a lot about the sayings, “you can’t understand a person until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes” or “don’t judge someone until you’ve walked a mile in their shoes.”  I have come to the realization that even if you were to put on another persons shoes, your experience would be different.

What if your feet are larger or smaller than the shoes?  What if your arch is higher? What if your feet are wider or narrower? Realistically, your feet would fit in those shoes very differently than the person originally wearing them.  You would feel things differently, because the shoes fit differently.  Therefore, your experience would not be the same. In order to have the exact same experience in those shoes, they would have to fit you exactly the same way.  That is not realistic, because even if your feet were almost exactly the same…they are not the same. 

Let’s take this a step further and say you even wore the same size of shoe as someone.  You were each given the same pair of new shoes to wear at the same time.  Would your experience wearing those shoes be the same? Not likely.  You still have differences in your feet.  No two people have exactly the same feet.  There may be just small differences, but differences nonetheless.

So it is with experiences in life.  Even if two people could be given the exact same trial to deal with, it would be felt and handled differently.  We all have different personalities; different life experiences; different perceptions about life.  It is those things that influence how we deal with our life circumstances.

I have learned that while the sorrow from the experience of the death of my spouse may be different than someone else’s, I still know sorrow.  I do not know the depth of someone else’s sorrow nor can they know mine.  But what we both know is that we are hurt and sad.  We can focus on commonalities.  We can show compassion and empathy towards others just simply because we understand pain. Knowing that we cannot completely understand how someone is feeling, we can still do our best to support and love unconditionally.  We can follow the teachings of our Savior and just “mourn with those who mourn”.

There are many types of loss in life.  Some may experience it through death, divorce, illness, work lay-offs, etc… All loss causes a form of suffering. Some people may want someone to talk to them.   Many people just need someone to listen to them.  Some people may want visitors and others may prefer to be alone. 

I know that it can be difficult to know how to help someone who is grieving.  The best advice I can give is to let the Holy Spirit guide you.  If you pray to specifically to know the needs of another, God will guide you through the Holy Spirit.  It may be something as simple as letting them know you are thinking of them…it can be through a card…it can be in person….of course food is always welcome!  Sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.

It is not our responsibility to attempt to put on someone else’s shoes and judge them or try to completely understand how they are feeling.  You can never walk in another person’s shoes and have the same experience!  You will never completely understand. You don’t need to walk in someone else’s shoes to show compassion and empathy.  You can put on your own shoes, with all the experiences they have provided you, and walk beside them and help them through their trials!

I have been blessed with so many kind, compassionate and understanding family members and friends.  I am grateful they wear their shoes and I wear mine and we walk together side by side. For this I will be eternally grateful!

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