Grief-Sympathy-Empathy-Bereavement...Do we really know what we are talking about?

Grief-Sympathy-Empathy-Bereavement...Do we really know what we are talking about?

I started diving into the meanings the other day because of a specific feeling I've been having about the term "sympathy" vs. "grief".  I thought I knew exactly my strong willed thoughts regarding some of this; but after reading some of this, maybe I wasn't understanding the big picture of it all. (that sounds strange, Angie, the girl who has had profound loss doesn't know the difference?)  That's not what I'm saying, I know the difference, but I had a bigger question that I wanted answered.  I'm still not sure where I'm at with it, but I'm still diving into how all these words are used and perceived. Until then, I figured I'd share the differences between all the words in the title of this blog, because I do know that many people get these a little confused (and believe me, I get it, loss is messy and along with that comes messy words, feelings, and reactions.)

  • Sympathy feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else's misfortune or understanding between people; common feeling.
  • Condolencean expression of sympathy, especially on the occasion of a death.
  • Empathythe ability to understand and share the feelings of another.
  • Bereavement the fact or condition of being bereaved (ok so the definition of bereaved is: deprived of a close relation or friend through their death.)
  • Grief: deep sorrow, especially that caused by someone's death.

Okay, so now we know the definition of all these, how de we relate to these when either you are going through the loss or people are dealing with your loss?  I pulled up some "vs." for you so you can see the difference. 

  • Sympathy vs EmpathySympathy is more of a feeling of pity for another. Empathy is our ability to understand how someone feels while sympathy is our relief in not having the same problems. When we relate with empathy, we give the other person space to own their emotions and feelings.
  • Empathy vs. Sympathy: Sympathy is incredibly important for creating relationships and supporting someone after loss, especially with a level-headed approach. That said, empathy is a way of creating a shared experience that feels more genuine and true. This can help with feelings of isolation and loneliness and the grieving journey overall.
  • Grief vs. Bereavement: Bereavement is the state of having lost a significant other to death.  Grief is the personal response to the loss.  Mourning is the public expression of that loss.  
  • Condolence vs. Sympathy: "Condolence" is an expression of sympathy as a whole, whereas “sympathy” is the feeling of sorrow you experience when learning of a death that impacts someone you know. While you send condolences or messages of sympathy, your sympathy message should highlight your feeling of sorrow for the person’s loss.

So now you're wondering, "What the hell is Angie talking about here"? too (JK)!  Really, what I'm trying to get across is that these words are not all the same.  Some are feelings and some are actions. Maybe all of you knew all this, but I'm betting a lot of you didn't. I say this because as a "griever" I notice constantly people saying one of these words and using them incorrectly. BUT, I get it.  You don't know until you don't know. We pull whatever we've been "taught" or "saw" before and express ourselves towards the griever that way. If I'm being completely honest...I don't like the word "sympathy"; I also don't like it when people say "I'm so sorry for your loss". Now this is just me, so don't get all up in my business about this stuff. I pulled all the meanings from google, so take that! I do love this point above: When we relate with empathy, we give the other person space to own their emotions and feelings.

I found this interesting tidbit on the internet; “Sym” comes from the Greek for “with” — when you feel sympathy, you’re feeling “with” someone. That’s why condolence cards often bear the message “with sympathy.” I do not generally like to offer a card like this. My cards I like to call "grief" cards. Most platforms do not give you a "grief" section, it is an "empathy" section which empathy and grief can cohabitate together.  So...maybe I need to gear all my cards to "empathy" cards and make it more relatable to the outside world. I don't know? Most people call my cards "sympathy" cards and I honestly want to gag. Don't ask me why I have such a weird aversion to a simple word that truly is harmless.  

WHY is Angie bringing all this up?  I came across this quote the other day by Elizabeth McCracken that says "Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving".  SO, I guess my thought process in calling my cards "grief" cards is this quote.  My mission is to show up for friends longer than the sympathy stage of a day or two weeks.  I want to show up for months and years because well, grief lasts longer.  

To wrap this all up, I think it really comes down to teaching people the correct language and the meanings of these words.  It also comes down to everyone just working together and building a foundation of empathy and changing the stigma that grief is surrounded with.  Together we are better, so let's teach the "uncomfortable" people around us that don't understand loss in general, to learn how to show up with empathy for their grieving friend.  



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