That's What Friends Are For

Shelley Lieber • 4 min read

It doesn’t matter if I know you or not, or whether we are in the same room or across the country. I am an empath, and your feelings become mine as well.

That's What Friends Are For

Yesterday I learned of a mother who lost a baby through miscarriage. She is not known to me personally, but I am connected to her... I was going to say through social media, but the truth is I am connected to her by virtue of womanhood, motherhood, and being human together on this planet at this time.

I cried for a long time after reading the news and the intense grief stayed with me all day and remains still today. My thoughts keep returning to her and what I know she must be going through again and again.

This is not the first time I've had this experience of embodying another's pain on a deep, personal level. On May 6, 2021, I published my first post on my new blog, inspired by a similar event. The post didn't go out as a newsletter since I had no subscribers yet. So, it's highly likely that you never read it.

I'm going to share it here now because it's practically the same story of what I'm going through today. And truly, I just can't bring myself to write anything new this week. (Remember, this was written last May, so adjust any references to time accordingly.)

Thanks for understanding. That's what friends are for.

I feel your pain. No, really. I do.

Yesterday a dear friend called to tell me that her son’s childhood friend had been shot and killed in the line of duty as a deputy sheriff in Boone, NC. Grant and this young man had known one another since the age of 10, and their families had spent many years celebrating the holidays together. Just before the tragic event, the two friends were planning to be in each other’s wedding parties.

We always feel sad when learning of a tragic loss, more so perhaps when a young, vibrant life is extinguished. I’ve witnessed Grant’s sensitivity since he was a small boy and although he grew to tower over us all, he retained his gentle nature. I knew how deeply he was grieving.

I felt shaken for the rest of the day. I cried for Grant, for the deputy’s family and fiancé. It’s not unusual to feel compassion for others facing great loss, even if they are personally unknown to us. The degree of pain is usually proportionate to how well you know the person or family or to the magnitude of the loss.

We are all sickened to learn of senseless shootings—especially those at schools. I remember the horror of Sandy Hook in particular because the children were so young, and the adults that were lost that day died trying to protect their young charges.

Yet when the Parkland, Florida shooting took the lives of 14 teenage students and three adults at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, it was personal for me. This was a suburb very close to where I had lived in South Florida for many years. I still have friends there, and my daughter-in-law, an elementary school teacher, and my granddaughter were in another Parkland school just blocks away when the shooting took place.

When the surviving students of Parkland came forward to create a national and international sensation with their protests, anger, and grief, I felt as proud of them as if they were my own children. Indeed, I felt they were.

So it would be easy to assume that my deep feelings yesterday were stimulated by my sorrow for the young man’s family and the deep grief I knew my friend’s son was experiencing. But the pain persisted for me. Brought me back to my own pain and grief over the loss of my husband less than six months ago. Again, one might nod and agree that it’s quite logical, given the circumstances.

It’s not easy to describe the depths of my pain—to explain how intensely I am affected by others. It doesn’t matter if I know them or not, or whether we are in the same room or across the country. I am an empath, and your feelings become mine as well.

Certainly it’s more pronounced with people I know, but often I pick up the feelings of others just walking in a crowd. And it doesn’t need to be a packed auditorium or concert venue. I “know” or “feel” things about people passing me on the street or in the grocery aisle at Trader Joe’s.

I am more keenly aware of this sensitivity now. I used to brush it off, thinking most people had similar experiences. But I’ve learned they don’t. I am what is called a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP) and because of my highly intuitive “feelings” and “knowing,” I am an empath as well.

This discovery came as a result of my search for help with navigating the grieving process after my husband’s death, and I’m still learning more about it every day.

I’ve learned that a traumatic event like the death of a loved one can trigger the development of increased sensitivities for an empath, and that’s what occurred for me. Couple that with experiencing it all amid the collective grief in the middle of a global pandemic and you'll understand how I can become overwhelmed with sorrow.

Perhaps you feel that way sometimes, too. Certainly, this is not something a person chooses. Sometimes it is chosen for us, and it’s up to us to find out why—and what we’re supposed to do about it.

That’s on the top of my to-do list these days. I plan to share my guided insights with you in more articles and posts like this. Thank you for sharing the journey with me.

Image: Portrait of Old Friends ©Gemignani.

Text ©Shelley Lieber

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