I am pleased to feature my first guest blogger G.M Lentz and her piece titled My Introduction to Empathy. Below is her heartfelt ,honest story. I am honored to be able to post her piece on my blog. I know her story will inspire others who have experienced catastrophic loss.
I had a great childhood, including the quintessential pony. My oldest brother, Howie, taught me how to tie my shoes, ride a bike, and play softball. He taught me how to creep along the banks of White Creek so we didn’t scare the fish, ultimately reaching our goal of catching the largest trout there. He couldn’t have been more proud if he were my own father.
I remember the last time I saw him; he was gassing up his car and I was drinking with friends. We pulled into the same parking lot. I told them, “shit, that’s my brother”, trying to hide the fact that I was drinking, underage; he never noticed us.
At 2:30 in the morning, we received a call from the hospital. He had been in an accident. “Is he ok, I asked?” The answer: “Well, he’s alive”. He had fallen asleep at the wheel, drove through a telephone pole, and crashed into a tree.
He had an old Oldsmobile Cutlass; a 70’s model with the really long front end. The front end was no longer long and my brother had sustained major head injuries.
He lived for ten more days, never coming out of a coma. How I wished I had approached him at the gas station.
How does a 15- year- old grieve her dead brother? I didn’t know. There wasn’t a handbook. I was sad but not tearful. The only time I almost lost it was when his friends came to his wake. There were men kneeling there sobbing ;I bit my lip and sucked it up. People thought I was handling it wrong. I just wanted to be left alone. I was pissed that people came to the house afterwards and ate and laughed and stayed too long. That wasn’t in the handbook. Oh yeah, there wasn’t a handbook; but if there were one, laughing and eating shouldn’t have been in it.
I did not want to go back to school. “Everybody’s going to be staring at me and feeling sorry for me”, I thought. I hated that people looked at me with pity. I was angry and everyone knew it.
I don’t remember this changing until my friend, who came from a very traditional Italian family, lost her grandmother. I remember going to see her and not saying much. I knew that she knew that I knew exactly what she was going through. My presence was enough.
That is when I discovered empathy. The loss of my oldest brother; friend, educator, father figure, contained a gift. And that gift was the ability to understand the pain of others.
I am a social worker and have told this story, without as much detail, many times over the years when asked why I entered this field. I’ve had people tell me that I have saved their lives. One life for many lives. Trauma or a gift? Perhaps a lot of both all wrapped up into one.
Still, I miss Howie…. but he saved his greatest lesson for last.
G.M. Lentz grew up in Clinton, New York. She received a Bachelors Degree in Psychology from SUNY Plattsburgh and a Masters in Social Work Degree from Syracuse University. G.M. currently works for the Office of Mental Health in New York State. She is married and enjoys her horse, dogs, cat and traveling to Provincetown every year for a beach vacation.