Losing a loved one is one of the worst experiences we’ll go through in our lives. Grief is difficult, so it’s important to have a trusted support system.
Anyone can show sympathy for someone’s loss, but empathy is another story. So, what exactly is the difference between these terms? Let’s define them and go over some ways to be more empathetic.
What Is Sympathy
Sympathy is when you feel sorry for someone’s situation. It can be for the death of a loved one or secondary losses that often come with it, such as someone losing their home after the death of a spouse or losing their role as a mother after the death of their only child. Some common ways to express sympathy are sending a sympathy card or flowers to the funeral service.
This Medium article perfectly sums up the difference between these two terms, describing empathy as feeling with someone and sympathy as feeling for someone. Empathy is the ability to try to understand someone’s feelings, not just feel bad for them.
Oftentimes, those who are grieving receive more sympathy than empathy. But, empathy is what’s truly needed during a time of loss. Let’s discuss some ways you can be more empathetic toward a grieving loved one.
When talking with a grieving loved one, there are several things you can do to be more empathetic. First off, pay attention to your body language. Show that you’re actively listening to them, such as by nodding your head and making eye contact. Pay attention to their body language, as well, as it can show you whether they’re comfortable talking about a certain topic.
You also should be open about your own experiences that they may relate to. However, don’t take the spotlight. Keep the focus on them and their grief. Also, keep in mind that their way of coping with grief may be different than yours, so keep an open mind and don’t be judgmental.
Finally, suggest specific ways you can help. Whether it’s helping them with daily tasks or finding healthy ways to grieve, show your support. You can suggest methods that worked for you or ideas that you think may work best for them.