Empathy is my superpower. If I detect the faintest hint of discontent in someone I love, I turn into a court jester. I launch into a song and dance of words and actions to set things right again.
I am your partner in pain.
I feel it in my bones.
I put myself in your position and imagine what you must feel like, and right now I am nearly broken because of it.
My mom is not well. She’s struggled with health issues for as long as I can remember, but especially the past two years. She’s in an acute health crisis right now. I am an only child, and there’s no one else to help. My dad passed away 29 years ago.
I have an incredibly close relationship with my mom. When she is sick or in pain, I am a total mess inside. I suck all of her feelings into my own heart, and it is pure agony. On the outside, it looks like I am okay. I take her to doctor’s appointments, bring her food, sit in the emergency room all night with her, and keep my outward composure.
Every time a doctor says something is wrong with her or I see the look of fear in her eyes, it’s like a punch to the gut. My nervous system sprays out fireworks.
She’s home now and recuperating from her latest ordeal and I am a total mess. I can’t sleep or eat like I should. I feel like it’s my responsibility to figure out what’s wrong with her.
I’m becoming unwell myself. I’ve had to force myself to do the things I normally do. Once a week, I take a pottery class at a local art center. Yesterday I was in the car driving to class and had a tremendous realization.
What my mother is going through is her own hero’s journey. I think that we all have problems that come up in our lives, and in solving them or at least coping with them, we grow as human beings.
I understood that what my mom is going through is her journey
Every single thing I have gone through in my life has helped me to be a better person, even the things that were awful at the time. In that one moment in the car, I suddenly understood that what my mother is going through is not MY journey.
It is hers.
She has to sift through the painful hours, and she has to let it transform her into whomever she is supposed to be.
I can walk beside her and witness her struggle and help her, but sucking every bit of it into my own heart and making myself sick over it does not help her.
I can love her and support her and learn and grow alongside her without it destroying me.
I swear, in coming to this realization, I felt such relief. I felt love for her and love for myself too.
I am allowed to be okay even if she is not.
I slept last night.
I text her, “How are you feeling this morning?”
“About the same,” she replies.
I feel the grip of anxiety and pain in my heart. But I take a deep breath and remember…
It is her journey. Not mine.
I take a deep breath and exhale my fears; they fall to the floor like a house of cards.
I can support my mother but keep myself intact also
I will bring her dinner and call the doctor again. I will stay and watch a movie with her and try to bring some levity to her day. I will remind her that I am here, always. She will have everything she needs. I can’t stop my empathy entirely and I wouldn’t want to. But I will keep myself intact.
I can love her and also not fall apart. We don’t have to be going through the same pain for us to be close.
My empathy is alive and well, but now, I think, so am I.
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Michelle Peterson Simasko is a child development specialist, content writer, and blogger with a Master’s Degree in Early Childhood Education. Children and families are her passion! She is the mother of 3 grown children, a wife, and a lifelong learner! Her blog is born from her search for contentment and personal growth, melding her experience as a mother, wife, and teacher. She is a reader, a thinker (ruminator might be a better word), and a truth-teller on a journey to find peace.