Where sympathy and tough love fell short, I believe empathy would have helped: for my mother — or anyone, for that matter — to take the time to become conscious of what I was going through, and to be with me in that experience without trying to gloss over or fix orsolve. For someone to say “I feel your pain,” instead of “I’m sorry you’re going through this. At least…” or “Why don’t you…?”
Empathy is rare, maybe because it goes against so many of our habits; our tendency to judge (“What you’re going through isn’t that bad”) and our desire to fix what’s broken (“You’d feel better if you got some sleep”) both have to be abandoned. Having empathy means lingering in feelings we’d just as soon forget.