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Help, I'm Alive

Death With a Side of Sympathy or Empathy, Please

By Rumii KnairstonePublished 4 years ago 6 min read

So, I've always joked that I was cold-hearted, but it wasn't until a few days ago at work that I really started to think about it.

It was a typical day as usual, nothing out of the ordinary really happened, but then someone from another department came over and gathered us all around for some news. We have more than enough meaningless meetings that are a waste of time and productivity that I honestly wasn't even concerned about it. Then the person announced that someone who worked there that has been battling cancer had passed away. Most of the people in the room knew the woman that passed away, especially the people that have worked their longer than me, but I was completely unfazed by it all and I guess that's where my problem starts.

I didn't personally know her, I don't remember her name or even what she looks like. She didn't even exist to me, but I still feel bad that I feel that particular way about it. Cancer is a terrible disease and can overtake anybody at anytime. It's almost like death itself, personified through science. I shared my feelings about the topic with a co-worker I was working closely with that day and he for the most part understood, but I had to remind myself that I was also talking to someone who lost his mom. I never really talked to him about it because who would want to really, especially with a co-worker, but part of me believed that it was also cancer that took his mother away too. Not that I knew for sure, but I did know that she must have been gone a long time because he was so used to having a step-mother and step-siblings. That was his normal. For all I know, he didn't feel the impact of his mother's death as much as I imagined. Maybe, he was so young when it happened that it was as simple as if day turned to night and then it was over. I can't speak for him though. I can only speak for me and how I feel.

Initially upon introspection, maybe I have a problem showing sympathy. I've been hurt before by many people when I was younger and I've always thought I was better for it, stronger, unbreakable even. I also don't trust very easily or more accurately put, I try not to trust people easily. I always believe the worst in people though that's what my head thinks. My heart on the other hand has already put all of my trust, faith, hope, dreams, and desires into the palm of your hands before even formally introducing myself to you. Maybe that's where it starts, the disconnect between what my heart feels and how my mind thinks I should feel.

I've always thought I was at least empathetic if not sympathetic. I could sit down with someone I just met and hear their sob story about their life and struggles and cry alongside them because something inside myself resonated with them even if I personally never been through the same trials and tribulations as them. I still cried. I still imagined myself in their shoes; fighting and struggling, but ultimately overcoming. It was something that I could feel in my heart and it always felt real to me, but at the end of the day, once they walked away I was normal again. I didn't feel a thing even though I'm sure they continue to walk through life carrying all of that sadness and grief with them, because it truly happened to them. It wasn't just some story they heard one drunk night at a bar, it was a memory, an experience that they can't go back and change.

Which brings me to another theory. In the twenty-five years I've been on this earth, I have yet to experience a truly meaningful death. By that I mean, no one extremely close to me has died. My great-grandma passed away when I was nine or ten. I wasn't close to her and there was even a part of my life when I was a baby that she basically had custody of me, but her death barely impacted me. It affected my mom though. Long story short, my mom is actually my great-aunt who adopted me from my great-grandma, her mother, after my birth mother had me at a sixteen. My birth mother has and always will be apart of my life, but she didn't raise me. Getting back on track, I saw how it impacted my mom when her mother passed away and even her siblings, my actual grandma, and other great-aunt and great-uncle too. They grieved for weeks and months. A large piece of them was now missing and it hurt, but I guess my great-grandma wasn't as big of a piece in my life because you would think someone at nine-ten years old would be able to at least grieve a little bit for a family member. I remember thinking about sad things just to make myself cry because I thought that's what I had to do. I had to cry to show that I cared. Even when our family dog died a couple years later I didn't cry, I barely cared. It killed my mom though. I remember her coming home after they put Trixie down and she was balling her eyes out. I couldn't shed a tear. It sounds terrible actually writing about it and seeing the words. I hardly cry anymore though, but when I do it still feels forced. I could probably make myself cry while writing this, but what good will it do. I would be essentially crying because I feel like a terrible, selfish person who is devoid of emotions. It has to be borderline psychotic. Then I do think about how the death of my mom might impact me and it becomes so unbearable. I honestly don't know how it would change me, but I know that it would. We're not even that close, but I cling to her and look up to her in so many ways that she doesn't even know about that just imagining her absence from my life kills me inside. So, I guess I'm grateful that she's still around and for the most part healthy. Though it doesn't really solve my problem as to why I can't connect with other people and their own pain.

I'm completely aware of how terrible and impactful a death can be, though not necessarily from personal experience. I just can't bring myself to care about a stranger's death the way I would about...someone really close to me. I guess that's what's wrong with the world to begin with anyway. If it's not happening to you, it's not happening at all. I just feel lost in all this. I don't want to feel like I'm psycho for feeling the way I feel and I just want to be honest about it with myself and the world. I also want to know if there's anyone out there that feels the way I feel or at least understands from an outside perspective and is willing not to judge me.

Am I alone in all this?


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