Losing a Loved One- Empathy

Empathy…by Palwasha Khan (@mycreativeclutter)

Today I’m writing about something I feel very strongly – Empathy or the lack thereof. Let me give you a bit of background about why I feel so strongly about it. My father was diagnosed with liver cirrhosis in April this year. In a span of a few weeks only I watched my strong, independent, confident father deteriorate in front of my eyes. We tried everything to try to find a cure but the disease had spread too far. Abu left us in August this year. Abu was the backbone of our family and his death is something we are still coming to terms with very slowly as it’s hard to accept that he’s no longer with us.

The past few months have probably been the toughest that we have been through as a family. I think the word shattered describes our state of mind and self best. But I feel that what made matters worse, was that general lack of empathy from most people.

We always talk about being kind, generous and inculcating good etiquettes in our kids. But somewhere along the way we have forgotten how to be compassionate. We don’t know how to be there for people when they need us. I know everyone is busy with their lives, but we forget that how just a minute of our time can literally breathe life into someone going through a tough time. 

I am not going to lie – in the past I have most probably also not been aware of how my words and actions are affecting people who need extra compassion and have done or said things which may be considered lacking in empathy. But I think that is why it is important that we talk about this issue, so that we all learn what works and what doesn’t.


• Don’t make light of anyone’s situation – what they are going through might be a lot tougher than you can imagine.

• If you don’t have anything helpful to say, just listen. Sometimes people going through a tough time just need to talk about the situation.

• Try not to use clichéd phrases which mean nothing in reality. Please dig deeper and be more personal.o Hang in there – hang in where ? where am I going ? what does this even meano Be strong- easier said than done and why would anyone opt to be weako There is nothing I can say that will make you feel better- really? why don’t you try- (please make an effort- saying anything is better than saying nothing)That is all that is required, no one expects you to magically fix everything.

• Don’t offer to help if you don’t mean it. So many times people say let me know if I can help and when you try to call on them to help they start hemming and hawing. Don’t offer something that you can’t deliver, it’s not worth ruining your relationship with the person who may truly need you do something.

• Don’t make empty excuses for not being there. Busy with work or family or life. To the person grieving this means nothing. They’re dealing with so much already, they don’t have the time to care about why you aren’t there. (it’s funny the same very people who are so very busy have time to post pictures on FB but were too busy to message or call)

• Don’t send a standard condolence message, especially if you know the family well. Take the time to write something personal. I will always remember the people who shared memories and anecdotes about my father – at the end of the day that’s all we have left. Good words spoken about yourloved ones.

• Don’t treat the condolence process like there’s a box that you need to tick. If you’re a close friend, check in with family occasionally to see how they’re doing.

• Don’t wait too long to condole. In my case some family and friends took very long to get in touch. The general excuse for that was that they didn’t know what to say. Most people don’t know what to say. But not saying anything is worse than saying the wrong thing.

• Don’t take someone’s grief too lightly. No one can truly understand what a family goes through when they lose someone. Sometimes it takes weeks, sometime months before they can resume normal life. I wish life would bounce back to normal but it really doesn’t. So be careful before asking them out to dinners, play dates etc.

• Please do not dress up when you visit for condolence(whether you visit after a few days or a month later). I know it’s everyone’s personal choice. However I think it’s distasteful to dress in your best and wear lots of make up when the family you are visiting is mourning an irreparable loss.

• Don’t give up easily. I know a lot of people who tried to call me when I wasn’t ready to talk and after one or two tries they gave up. What would have been a better approach to leave a message and wait for them to get back to you.


• Take out time and check in regularly – even if it’s just a message

• Visit the patient but take into consideration the needs of the family. We always welcomed visitors but in the end when Abu got weaker we didn’t want to exhaust him further. What is sad is that some people took it the wrong way and got upset.

• Please if you can, do make it for the Janazah. My father used to always say everyone rushes to be with you during good times, but the one who are with you during the tough times are your true friends.

• Please keep in mind that certain decorum should be maintained when attending a janazah.o Please try and be punctualo Remember an entire family is mourning so be careful of your behaviour. Be mindful of the nature of the conversations you have and keep in mind the sombre mood- a relative of mine asked my sister how she maintains her figure!! Is this kind of talk appropriate in any part of the world?o Dress appropriately- I will not forget the ladies who came glad in their designer lawns and hair perfectly blow dried.o Please do not take pictures or worse selfies during the funeral – whatever your reason maybe, it’s just not right.o Please keep in mind that the family has just put their loved one to rest. Don’t expect them to wait on you or be gracious hosts. A relative of mine asked my mom when lunch would be served and once served if there would be something other than rice. As she was diabetic. o Do not inconvenience the immediate family with food preferences etc. try and be self sufficient.

• If you hear of someone’s passing away please inform as many people as you can, especially common friends even if they are not in the same city. Not only will they be there for that family in time of need but also it’s really painful for the family to be asked months after about the deceased health. It hurt me when I learnt that some friends didn’t think it was important to inform others. Weeks turned into months and I still have people asking me about abu’s health.

• Do drop in and bring food, medicines or anything that might comfort the patient or family.o If you want to bring something for the patient to eat, ask the family about his her/diet, so that you don’t bring some thing that they can’t have. lots of people brought juice for my diabetic father.o After a family goes through a tragedy home cooked meals might not be something on their to do list. So if possible do drop off meals for the family.

• Medical care is expensive. If you’re close to the family, askthem if they need some financial help. In most cases they will refuse it but your offer will mean a lot. I know of friend whose mother was hospitalized for long durations and in the end they struggled financially. She said to me even if all the relatives had pitched in a small amount, it would have helped us.

• Do visit the family to offer condolence and please make duafor the person who has left the world. Making dua not only helps the deceased, but also the family. Most my friends show up and though they ask about abu’s illness, very few actually make dua.

• Respect the feelings of the family. In the first few days neither I nor my mom could attend calls. We just couldn’t bring ourselves to talk to people. Don’t force people into a situation that makes them uncomfortable.• Do make an extra effort for someone who is in Iddat. I see how lonely days have become for my mother. A visitor helps the day pass more easily. 4 months 10 days is a very long period and I wish people would make more of an effort.

My intention today is not to point fingers or to hurt anyone. I have been through a very rough time and I am just sharing what could have made the situation better. Don’t get me wrong- I have had some amazing friends and relatives that stood by us. I will forever be grateful to them and pray that I can do the same for others in similar situations. 

At the end of the day just really try and be there for the friend or relative going through a tragedy. I will always be grateful to the people who called, messaged and visited us. I will always remember the people who listened, cried with me and gave me the tightest most reassuring hugs.

Finally I would really appreciate if you all would remember my father and say a little prayer for him. He was an amazing father and even better grandfather.  He will always be the bravest, most generous, and intelligent man I have ever known.

Palwasha Khan