Walking in Their Shoes

I haven’t written much about my mother since she died from the effects of age and dementia almost two years ago.

I think of her often, but once in awhile I come across something that reminds me of her terrible disease and what we went through together as her mind and health failed.

Actor Zach Ward, whom I follow on Twitter, recently posted the following:

“Today with Dad broke my heart. I am so sad & angry I want to scream, cry, hit something but I can’t scare him so I hold it in all day and rage inside. Alzheimers took my Dad. I talk to the man left behind and cry myself to sleep, powerless & afraid. Fuck you Alzheimers.”

Oh God, I know how he feels and my heart aches for him.

I responded to his tweet, as did many others who can relate to his pain.

“My mother suffered with dementia. What got me through was being by her side, holding her hand, being where she was at in her mind, looking for the humor in her words, and loving whoever sat before me. It also helped to write – a place to put my emotions and her story. Hugs!”

Damn Twitter and it’s letter-count maximum. Damn it! I wanted to say so much more to him. I suppose I could send off additional tweets, but he was already surrounded by so much advice and sympathy and love that I didn’t want to ramble on.

This was one of those times that I wanted to reach out and hug him, to actually talk to this person I don’t know, to offer every reassuring word I could muster.

It was also a time that reminded me of how we find our compassion for others: When we walk in their shoes.

It’s one thing to read about illness or bad things happening in the world, but it’s another to experience them firsthand. This leads me to understand, to some degree, why people don’t always have compassion or empathy for others who are struggling with illness, homelessness, job loss, poverty and racism, family tragedies or simply trying to cope with a virus. If you haven’t felt any of the repercussions, if life has most often been good to you, it might be difficult to understand what others are feeling physically and emotionally.

I discussed this to some extent with a few ladies from church as we started a book study on “Be the Bridge” by Latasha Morrison. In the book addressing racism and her role in the Christian community, she talks about acknowledgment, lament, reconciliation and reparation. It’s quite easy to acknowledge and lament racism, but our biggest issue as white women is not having walked in the shoes of Latasha. There’s a point to which we can understand the situation, but then there’s a point where we have no clue.

We can gather information about Alzheimer’s, racism, families affected by Covid, etc., but we may never find ourselves in complete understanding.

So, what can we do to come close to walking in someone else’s shoes?

My advice (or opinion) is this:

Read. Then read more. Keep reading. Knowledge is power and it’s also awareness. I learned much about my mother’s illness simply by reading. Book studies are great too as they provide an opportunity for conversation and discussion.

Attend functions (post Covid) or watch video that educate and address the issues – training, conferences, TedTalks, YouTube videos, speakers at church and work.

Listen to those who have holes in the bottom of their shoes. Have coffee together, hang out, learn about someone else’s life, but don’t ask a million questions. Allow your friend to speak about his/her life and listen.

Find empathy and compassion, even if you don’t understand the situation. Humanity will always have differences and our existence will have questions we can’t answer. We can spend hours learning, but our response still comes down to what we feel in our heart, emotionally. My heart hurts when I see Facebook posts about loved ones dying from Covid even though I have not personally been affected by this. A few friends have had the virus, but are recovered and doing well. Compassion gives us a tool to feel someone else’s pain and grief and that leads us closer to walking in that person’s shoes and being able to offer a piece of ourselves for relief.

Zach Ward has a difficult road ahead. I don’t know how long his dad will be on this earth, but Zach will have to find a way to channel the anger and pain he feels, for his own well-being. I hope that the Twitter responses to his post will help him understand he is not alone, that others have walked this path and made it home changed, but safe. While my mother is no longer living, she has unknowingly left a gift of understanding and empathy that will live on forever. It’s a gift that urges me toward acknowledgment of others’ difficulties and pain and a desire to reconcile myself to their footsteps.

So, whose shoes have you walked in, dear readers? Is there someone you need to understand better or something you want to know more about? What drives your compassion?

29 responses to Walking in Their Shoes

  1. I think we all have our bag of rocks we carry through life, and each rock has a different name written on it. Right now, my rock that I’m trying to comprehend are the folks who keep preaching that this isn’t a real pandemic and won’t wear masks in public. Clearly, they haven’t had a loved one or friend be counted in the 306,459 Americans who have died so far. Take care and here’s hoping Alzheimers’ research keeps progressing so maybe some families in the future can avoid the pain you have experienced.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      What you are trying to comprehend, Judy, is partly the reason why I wrote this piece. I have been frustrated by those who are fighting the science and logical reaction to this pandemic. I believe it is true, that they have not had a family member or friend who has either died, been gravely ill, or suffered the effects for weeks on end. I keep hoping that something, short of death, will make them wake up.
      I certainly hope there will be better treatment or even a cure for Alzheimer’s and dementia one day. This is a disease that we could all do without.
      Have a great Monday!

  2. Dan Antion says:

    I have brushed by situations in life that have given me a glimpse of the problems people face. I like to think it’s helped me to find compassion, but you’re right, you never truly understand until you’re there. You’re a very good person for trying to understand better and for trying to help. Even wanting to help is important. We do not know what others are going through. We often don’t know how to help, or even that a smile and a few kind words might be a good start.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Mary. You have been there. You do understand.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      I have had a number of days in my life when I thought it was the worst, that nothing could be worse, but always read or found out that someone else had it far worse with illness, death, job loss, etc. I feel my life in the last 10 years, although not very exciting, has been blessed by the people around me – friends, family, bloggers, etc. And because of mom, I try to focus on the shoes they walk in and try to help when possible rather than sit in my own comfort. If we all did a little of that every day, how much better would the world be?
      Thanks, Dan, and have a wonderful Monday!

  3. rugby843 says:

    Excellent post. Years ago my sweet neighbor’s husband had A. He ended up being a danger. Living with it was not easy.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you! Where my mom lived, they had a couple of Alzheimer’s patients that would get angry and swear, but I did not see anyone that was a danger during my visits. I don’t believe that facility had the ability to deal with severe cases. They were too small to have the resources and assistance.

  4. Maggie says:

    When illness or tragedy enters our lives, it requires change from us. An understanding, an opening of the heart. I remember feeling that I failed my sister in her cancer battle when she explained to me the only time she would let herself cry was when everyone else was asleep. To think she was fighting the emotions of this physical battle alone was more than I could stand. She still saw herself as the protector of her family and did not want them to carry her burden. From that moment my heart bled along with hers and I was able to share some of her worry. Having Alzheimers takes an even deeper level of understanding because of the memory loss. My sister’s cancer progressed to her brain and to see her lose the capacity to articulate her feelings was another layer. Bless you for offering kind words of compassionate experience when they were needed most.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Maggie, I’m so sorry for the pain you felt over your sister’s fight with cancer. That was an exceptionally tough time for you both and I understand how difficult it must have been for you when you couldn’t communicate with your sister. Sending huge virtual hugs to you today.

  5. Herman says:

    Thanks for this post, Mary. It’s always a support when you read about others peoples experience concerning handling dementia.

  6. dweezer19 says:

    Thanks for your post and wise words, Mary. I am reminded of a line in Helen Reddy’s song, I Am Woman.
    “Yes, I am wise; but it’s wisdom born of pain..” I feel, ultimately, this is the truest wisdom, to have lived through these experiences and come out on the other side.
    Dementia and I believe now undiagnosed Alzheimers is what caused my Dad’s decline, coupled with a wife who couldn’t cope with the changes in him and would not allow anyone else to help, hiding the worst of what she experienced to the pint of hating him and almost allowing them both to die of starvation because of her fear of Covid exposure and his not understanding what was happening. By the time I realized the truth and tried to intervene it would prove too late in the end. Without visits from her while in the nursing home where he was recovering, which she refused to do and family being able to only call or talk through glass, he wasted until they suggested she put him on Hospice Care, which she gladly did. It was only a week later that he left us. In 6 mos time he went from being up and around to being gone. We have always lived away so visits were yearly with weekend calls. I knew something was wrong when she kept telling me he was sleeping when I called. He was my here, truly.
    These are all great suggestions you posted. Hugs and love, Mary.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Cheryl, I am so sorry that this year took your hero from you and not in a good way. My heart and sympathy go out to you. It’s too bad your dad’s wife was unable to cope. It’s a difficult experienc to go through, but there’s so much help out there, if we simply ask. I hope you find peace snd comfort in memories and knowing your dad is in peace. ❤❤❤

      • dweezer19 says:

        I do Mary, I know in whatever way he is with my Mom now. He talked about her a lot in those last weeks, his mind unable to process his two separate lives. Thank you. .

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thank you. Mom has been gone almost two years, but the blessing for me is that she no longer suffers. My pain of loss is small compared to what she went through the last five years of her life.

  7. I wish I could hug YOU, this was such a thoughtful and moving post.

    When I encounter something (or someone) I don’t understand, I try to find out more – as you say, read, research, listen to stories. That’s super easy to do if there isn’t too much at stake for me personally, at home, or in my community.

    But in personal relationships, I don’t have as much success, because I am “en garde.” I remember advice a therapist once told me – look into their eyes. See the pain. Feel it.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Thanks for the wishful hug, Maggie. When I see people I don’t know in a sad or angry mood, I try to remember that they have an untold story. All I can offer is an unspoken empathy to whatever is going on in their life. I try to be understanding and sympathetic with friends, but found this past year that sometimes I have to walk away when a response is harsh. I feel their pain, but it’s not something I can help them resolve.

      • “unspoken empathy” to me, is like prayer. And bearing witness – sometimes all we can offer is silent observation and a wish for ease and speedy resolution.

  8. murisopsis says:

    I’m a people watcher and an observer of this world. I also tend toward being very empathetic. The two coupled means I tend to walk in everyone’s shoes. It is hard to be surrounded by so much pain and not get swallowed by it. I’ve lost a parent, lost a pregnancy, lost friends and family, lost a job, but I’ve never lost hope.

    • bikerchick57 says:

      Hope and faith in better days ahead are what keeps us going through life or a messd-up year like 2020. I hope we all have a much better year ahead.

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