I am learning from personal experience and exposure, that sympathy has a time limit from those who see me or share it with me. For some, it is a week, with others 30 days seemed to be the cutoff. There was a real and definite change in the effort expended or attention granted. The tone of voice changed or merely there were newer things happening under the sun, understandably, busy with other parts of the lives that moved on.
The act of writing and sending sympathy cards and flowers stops shortly after the funeral, but the empathy and feelings of condolence, hopefully, last much longer. When it is someone who is an acquaintance, we will not know the date of the passing or the months of illness prior, but we can relate to the loss of a loved one.
This is a club that we would rather not belong to, a knowledge where we would prefer to be ignorant. There is a weary look to those who still mourn regardless of the time passed. Perhaps because our extra energy goes to hold back the outpouring of sadness, and emotion, like the Dutch Boy with his finger carefully levered to hold back the flow. The cracks in the heart do not fully heal, the lump is merely covered over.
The people we care about, those in our inner circle, share happy and sad times with us. On special occasions, we recognize the moment of loss reflected in their eyes. There is a quiet acceptance that our loved one is absent, and if cognizant, and empathetic, you can see it in someone else’s facial cues and body language. Loss does not have a use-by date; it is always with us. I can finally look at photos of my grandmother without crying but it took almost seven years. Although, she passed fourteen years ago, tomorrow, she is still part of my memories and those with my children.
Sometimes the small act of empathy– a nod, acknowledgment, shy smile or a hand on an arm, are gentle signals that we understand the feeling of absence. We love those whom we have lost and we love those who carry on. We help to carry the weight while celebrating the survivors — our friends, family, and neighbors. We support them in the immediate fog of loss, but also in the long term swirl of memories in the life that is long and the feelings that are deeply personal.
Love does not expire or end. We can express empathy, as long as able, and those who need it most are grateful to accept it.