It was a bright and beautiful spring day and I was just at the beginning of facilitating a training day on empathy and emotional awareness at a residential home with 6 members of staff. As always, I was starting off the day with the ‘icebreaker’ / introductions. This is always one of my favourite parts of the day as, although many of those attending may start off cringing slightly and probably thinking… ‘oh dear God…do I have to do this?’ it inevitably provides such inspiring stories, that in turn starts cultivating that all-important human connection. Yet nothing this day had quite prepared me for the chance…or maybe not such a chance encounter, that I had.
With even the smallest narrative eliciting powerful empathic responses (even if we are not aware of them) and with a big part of my training being focused on how we all have our own stories and experiences that we carry around, the ice breaker consists of those attending, sharing a story that has had an impact on them. Now whilst this does not need to be emotional or deep, it can simply be a film that made them laugh, inevitably, people share personal experiences and on a majority of the cases they will be around some kind of loss. This particular mornings ice breaker was no exception. However when one lady, Wendy, started to speak, I knew, and don’t ask me how I knew exactly, but I did know, she was about to share something that would reveal a strong similarity to my life.
As her words came out about her family, firstly her 3 boys, (I had 3 boys): Her marriage and subsequent divorce but to a man she maintained a good relationship with and still provided a sense of family between them for their boys, (my ex husband and father of my boys, remain the best of friends), her voice hesitated and started to break a little. The emotion, care, support and empathy in the room from her colleagues became almost tangible, and this in itself was something I recognised, that I had seen in my friends, and it was at this point that I knew what was coming. I knew she was going to say that she had lost a teenage child….just as I had, not one of my boys but a dearly loved girl. But what impacted on me, was her saying it was in 2003, the same year I had experienced the very same thing. Her precious son had died in a car accident, suddenly and brutally taken away from her, and the rest of his family.
With part of my training being about openness and transparency and the impact the absence and presence of empathy has, the beginning of the training (following the icebreaker) is me sharing my story as an evaluation tool. As I started to do this, I became very mindful of the possible impact that my story, being in the same year, might have on Wendy, and whilst it did not feel appropriate at the time to draw too much attention to her, I was mindfully watching her as I spoke, knowing that it could be resonating with her so strongly. But it was as I finished and the group started to discuss things that Wendy and I, as part of the group, discussed the fact that 2003 had been a year representing dramatic child loss to us both. But it was when she had heard me say it was February that she said “me too”. She then said the 21st….. the very same day that the life support machine was turned off for the child I had nurtured for so many years, as I had held her hand, just as I held her hand for all those years. In this little group of only 7 people, including me, there we both were, looking at each other, knowing that on the very same day, we both, as mums, shared this life changing experience. In a group of only 7, what were the chances!
This connected us at a strong level and as we spoke, both as part of the group during the day, and privately, we shared more about our experience and we have been in contact since. As a facilitator of so many powerful sessions, I am privileged always to hear such amazing life stories and hear about things that mean something to others, it is one of the joys of the work that I do and reinforce time and time again, the way I work, creating environments of support and of emotional awareness of ourselves and others. But it is fair to say, that whilst I remember each story someone has shared, I will remember this one strongly for the rest of my life. Both Wendy and I have remained in contact, both feeling grateful to have met and both feeling that we were meant to meet.
I have known for some time now what my purpose in life was, to promote psychological well-being by raising awareness and educating on the immense number of things people have going in to their ‘funnel of life’ as I call it, and to be mindful of people’s ’emotional experiences’ and potential damage caused when you don’t. I am now living into my purpose with my work, watching it grow and evolve. But what will never fail to surprise me, is the immense connections formed with people and how similarities of experiences come to the forefront time and time again. Meeting Wendy and hearing about her son, is most definitely one of them.
For more about my work and embedding empathy and emotional awareness into your organisation see me website: www.emapthytrainingltd.co.uk
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