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?