Advocating with Empathy

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My second day at the clinic, I met with a client. She became emotional when discussing the passing of a loved one, even though it had happened a while ago. Having had a similar experience recently, and a much different reaction, I was shocked that she reacted the way she did.

My oldest sister died this past spring. When it happened, it was almost the furthest thing from my mind. I was preparing for exams. I wasn’t sleeping well. I was just trying to get through one day at a time. On the day my sister passed, I was still awake at 5 a.m. when my mother called me. I had no idea why she was calling me so early. Through tears, my mom told me about her death. I can’t even say it was unexpected. My focus was on the exam I had to take in four hours. I’m fairly certain I even said something about still going to take the exam and not bothering going to Michigan to see my sister, albeit just her body, one last time. I ended up rescheduling the exam and going to Michigan, but my initial reaction was to do what I had to do.

While meeting with Client, she talked about the death of a loved one. During the interview, she was emotional while speaking about it. Given that it happened that long ago, I was taken aback. I’m two months removed from losing my sister and even upon hearing about my sister’s passing, I was apathetic, let alone after a lot of time has passed.

The way I grew up, my family faced a number of issues, and because of which, I identify with a lot of the issues and problems seen throughout the HAC client base. As a result, I feel like I know what a lot of the client base is going through. For someone to react to the passing of a loved one in a way I wouldn’t is surprising to me. Since she and I had dissimilar reactions, I feel it’s important to keep everything in perspective. No two people are exactly the same, regardless of background. Given that I could feel myself relating to the client’s story, I was amazed that our reactions to the death of loved ones would be almost opposite. How somebody reacts to a certain event isn’t always because of the situation they’re in or their experiences. Sometimes it’s just how they react to that type of event.

Recognizing that people’s reactions vary can be an important part of being an advocate, because their reactions can help us understand their situation. I guess at the clinic, we have adopted the saying “expect the unexpected.” I didn’t expect the client to react the way she when discussing her family member’s death. However, maybe her feelings gave some insight into her past and could help explain how she ended up where she is today. Keeping in mind that we, as people, experience the same world in different ways, may allow us to understand why clients want our help in the first place. If something is important to a client, despite our own contrasting thoughts or feelings, as their advocate, it should also be important to us. While we should always expect the unexpected, we should also embrace the unexpected, because you never know what it can tell us.

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