A couple of years ago, I got an unexpected call while I was at work. I remember rushing into the supply closet to take the call and answered to my mom sharing the news that our Lola (‘grandmother’ in the Filipino language) was at the hospital nearing the end of her time. As my mom was explaining the plans to fly the 20 hour flight from Chicago to the Philippines, I started to shift into autopilot. I began to feel the initial shock and numbness of the news as our family quickly arranged plans. It was like my body knew I had to keep taking steps to make sure responsibilities were taken care of but my mind wasn’t fully present and aware. At the time, I struggled to understand how I could support my mom as she was anticipating the loss of her mom. I thought, “How can I be there and support her?”
The Rabbit Listened
I believe that children’s books can be powerful. As an adult, I’ve grown a new appreciation for the books that my mom has read to my sister and I growing up. She read stories about dreaming, taking adventures, and growing with friends. I’ve recently been introduced to a book by Cori Doerrfield called, The Rabbit Listened. The story is about a girl named Taylor, who created something beautiful, but then unexpectedly lost it all. As Taylor sits next to the remaining pieces of her creation, we see different animals approach her in attempts to make her feel better.
Well Intentioned Animals
As each animal came to comfort Taylor, each proposed their idea of what might help:
Chicken: “Cluck cluck Let’s talk about it!”
Bear: “Grarr! I bet you feel angry! Let’s shout about it!”
Elephant: “Trumpa-da! I can fix this!”
Snake: “Let’ssss go knock down someone else’ssss”
Each of these animals were well intentioned and wanted to help. However, Taylor, understandably, didn’t feel like doing anything with anybody. Have you ever experienced a time when you were upset or disappointed and a well intentioned person came to comfort you with the wrong words? Have you ever found yourself saying the wrong words to someone who just needed a supportive friend to be with them?
Eventually, the animals left and Taylor was sitting alone. All of a sudden, we see a small rabbit gently moving closer and closer. Together, they sat in silence until Taylor said, “Please Stay with me.”
Sitting Shiva is a term I was introduced to last year while listening to a story of grief. Originating from the Jewish tradition, sitting Shiva is a practice that symbolizes the mourner being brought low following the loss of a loved one. Its primary purpose is to provide a time for emotional and spiritual healing, where mourners join together. Along with the customs of this tradition, one can see what value there is in just being with someone. For some of us, sometimes all we need is someone to be present with us.
The Rabbit Listened and Showed Empathy
In this story, the rabbit sat with Taylor until she was ready to talk and through it all, the rabbit never left. Not only did the Rabbit listen, the rabbit showed empathy! Psychology Today defines empathy as the ability to recognize, understand, and share the thoughts and feelings of another person, animal, or fictional character. What a fitting definition in reflection of this book! In contrast to sympathy (a feeling of concern for someone else to become happier or better), empathy focuses on experiencing another person’s point of view and helps us connect with others, rather than making them feel “better.” The rabbit was able to show empathy and sit with Taylor through it all because it approached her in a gentle presence that led to trust, healing, and new growth.
Growing as a Support and Feeling Supported
This book enabled me to reflect again on how I listen and support others. In all honesty, there have been a few times where I naturally responded like the elephant did and wanted to fix what I could in someone else’s life. I wanted so bad to make things better for my mom, but I eventually realized that she just wanted someone to sit with her and her cherished memories. I’m reminded that sometimes, all that is needed is just to be present and sit with another person in their lows and highs.
If you feel like you want to explore how you can be a better support or want to feel supported, please reach out to myself or one of the therapists here at Optimum Joy today!
Written by therapist Melissa Del Carmen
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