“I understand what you’re going through”.
My Godfather and Father had one thing in common when it came down to the bare bones of not putting up with bullshit, they were both viewed as brutally honest characters who often appeared “too harsh”.
Little did people know how much pain they’d endured to truly understand what allowed them to develop a no bullshit attitude towards life.
They didn’t openly project compassion, and a warm hug isn’t exactly what you’d expect; but they damn well knew when not to speak.
It’s a moral obligation, and ethical conduct, one I was conditioned into — don’t speak, if you have nothing of value to add.
One of the most important lessons in life they taught me was, “Don’t ever try to estimate some one else’s pain”.
I was too young to understand, because frankly I’d never experienced loss and my concept of pain was when my stomach hurt.
Mental pain came a lot later, at the age of 20 — when I was first diagnosed with depressed and it started feeling like life was going to fall apart.
It was during this time that I would realise, it ran in the family.
Yet, the lesson never left me — “Don’t every try to estimate some one else’s pain”.
I would find myself at a funeral, funeral of a friend — alongside accompanied by my two greatest mentors.
They told me to simply say nothing, not even “I’m sorry for your loss”.
They simply instructed to make myself useful.
Help clean up the left over food, talk to the guests, and make sure I stayed until everybody had departed.
I’d lost a friend, hence — the urge to speak up felt more necessary evermore, maybe I needed to vent.
“You can’t understand the pain of losing a child, even if you’ve lost one yourself. Everybody processes pain differently.”
It’s in this moment, the words made more sense than they had ever before.
Nobody would ever comprehend how I deal with my depression, and I hated being told that people “understood”.
How could I make the claim of uttering such a statement which would feel nothing but hollow.
When the guests had left, and it was just us with the grieving parents.
We shared silence.
A silence that didn’t feel awkward.
A silence of self reflection.
Nobody sharing their own experience with loss, neither one sharing stories of how great of a friend or a son he’d been.
Silent was all we had that connected us in that moment.
Patiently observing, the eyes fixated — sore as they seemed, the colour of red as though life would never be the same again; it’d all come to startling halt.
Silence, held a deeper meaning than the words “I understand what you’re going through”.
Finally my two guardians would say, “Can you make sure everything is all cleaned up?”
I obliged and went about cleaning up the mess the guests had left behind.
Figuring out which food was worth storing and which to throw away.
Making sure the recyclables ended up in the right bins.
On my return I’d notice a glimmer in the eyes of the parents that were grieving much earlier — now observing me as I rejoined after having cleaned up.
They’d look to me, as if awaiting for me to utter a word — and I’d fall short of it.
The only thing I could say, in that moment that came to mind, one which seemed appropriate was ; “Is there anything else I can help with?”.
To which they’d signal a negative with a genuine smile of encouragement.
“I’ve got the semester off, so if you need me — I’m happy to stick around”.
“You should…that’d be nice”, they’d say.
As hours would pass and I’d find myself now alone, without my two trusted guardians to guide me through this moment; I confessed to the parents grieving the loss of their son of what advice I’d received.
“I apologise for not saying much…my two mentors told me the worst thing I could say was ‘I understand how you feel’, so I just tried to make myself useful…”.
They’d smile and say…
“You’re not a parent, you wouldn’t understand. But that’s not why they told you not to say that…it was because no matter how many times someone does say they understand, they hardly every try to.”
Some how it made it all okay, and we’d share an honest moment — where we didn’t have to say things just for the sake of it, just to provide a sense of false comfort…
Life was never going to be the same for neither of us.
As such, we’d grow to patch ourselves up in our own time, in our own way, processing the pain to intertwine the fibres of trying to relate.
Pain would become the substance of empathy, one that would always remain with us in, its essence our binding force.