Sympathy, Snow and a Robin

Recently, in the lead up to Christmas, I travelled from Australia to the UK to attend the funeral of a close family member. I had been working through a natural sense of physical loss prior to my trip, and so I was feeling a gentle sense of acceptance within myself as I undertook the long journey north to celebrate the passing of this person’s life.

Travel protocols and security require us at several stages of air travel to declare our reasons for travel, and we often converse with fellow travellers and share our reasons for making such a long trip.

When I shared that I was attending a funeral, the first and immediate response from people was to connect deeply with themselves and with me. However, what I began to notice is that after a short while, this turned into sympathy, expressing how they felt sorry for me. This began to sever the connection we had established at the start and it was immediately evident how this emotion separated us.

For example, one remarkably consistent comment was, “Well, at least it might snow for Christmas.” Another person also added, “…and you may get to see a robin.”

What I began to observe was that these responses came in after I did not go into sympathy myself or follow suit by feeling sorry for myself.

An incongruity arose because I was not holding myself as a victim of this circumstance, a natural part of life, but felt that it was simply this person’s time to pass on. I surely mourned the loss of the specific relationship we had and the loss of the physical presence of the deceased: this too felt like a natural, ‘clean’ expression of loss.

However, I had no need of drawing pity from others, or of wanting to make myself a focal point of attention by having others feel sorry for me.

I was at peace with the passing of my relative and I found the imagery of the snow and the robin to be a strange non sequitur to the conversation, and what had initially felt like a heartfelt connection seemed to turn into more of a mental conversation of sharing happy thoughts.

The image of a snow-covered landscape with a red-breasted robin was one I had seen on many Christmas cards throughout my childhood in the UK. The anticipation of it snowing on Christmas Day is a huge part of the lead in to Christmas; snow is romantically idealised as being the feature that makes the perfect Christmas.

These pictures have been consistently shared through the postal system since Victorian times so this idealistic picture comes with close to 200 years of romance attached to it. That is a lot of energy when one considers the amount of mental aspiration, wishes and fantasies that would have accompanied this image during that time, all validated, confirmed, embellished and contributed to by literally millions (or billions) of people.

What I began to feel in this situation was that this potent imagery, as well as the socially expected and endorsed response of sympathy, were overriding the initial opportunity to connect and to share an event that touches all of us.

From this situation I understood two very significant factors:

  • Initially there is an attempt to connect with another on the subject of passing on or death. However, if either person is not open to receiving love, there is a very distinct turning away from the initial impulse to connect through Love, and then sympathy follows superfast on the tail of this turning away. I could sense it was anticipated that I would feel bereft and abandoned and that life at that point had become futile. However, my actual feelings were that it was the right time for this person to pass on (not pass away, pass on), that they had been sick for some time and that this was the next part of an ongoing cycle for them. I felt that holding them in love was truly supportive of them, my family and myself. Going into sympathy would have made this love appear ‘wrong,’ so I was left with the conclusion that sympathy is what we ‘do’ in the avoidance of this Love.
  • We often seem to have a tendency to use ideals and images, to distract ourselves in potentially emotionally charged situations like this one, to give us something to aspire to for the future – to give us a future. This takes us out of the present moment and the opportunity to connect, and into our minds.

I was touched that ‘strangers’ should want to connect with me. However, I also saw clearly that, perhaps collectively, we use sympathy and mental energy – ideals and pictures with great longevity – to distract us from the truth of a situation.

Which leaves me (and all of us) with some probing questions to ask.

Why would we substitute sympathy for Love, especially in the area of someone’s passing on?

What would happen if we had more understanding about our cycle of physical life and passing on, rather than believing that once we draw our last physical breath, that’s it – we are gone?

Of course we are going to feel sorry for each other if we believe that our close family is gone forever! Is it possible, though, that this is not actually true?

That the actual truth is that we are all ongoing and that in our ongoing-ness, we have no need for sympathy, only the acceptance and the celebration of the next part of our cycle?

If this were the case, then sympathy could most likely be the very tool that would inhibit our absolute acceptance and understanding of this; sympathy could well be what cements us into this belief that we end forever, that we pass away, rather than that we pass on to the next phase of our ever unfolding, divinely sustained life.

by Coleen Hensey

Further Reading:
To Observe and Not Absorb
Reincarnation – Taking Responsibility for the Next Time Around

782 thoughts on “Sympathy, Snow and a Robin

  1. As a health professional, I often wondered why people celebrate the birth of a newborn. When we see this tiny beautiful being in its pure essence but seldom see this in an older person, and yet they are no different.

    Why aren’t death, dying and funerals seen as a celebration? We accept the four seasons, a cycle of birth (spring), maturity (summer), autumn (dying) and winter (death) ready for the next cycle – there is no sympathy or emotions, it is an acceptance of life and human life cycle is no different too.

  2. A blog that gives us a pause to consider how we have responded to people when they have told us about a death. Perhaps we get drawn into sympathy because this is how we have been conditioned to behave and it is what is expected. Knowing this and not wanting to fall into it there could be a tendency to go to the other extreme and be cold and detached. Neither of these responses are loving. To deal with this with love is to hold someone in love, meet them with love, and stay connected to our own love. From here we can observe without getting drawn in to the drama or pushing it away.

  3. Passing over is a sensitive subject, perhaps we feel awkward in communicating around death and dying because we feel awkward about understanding what it means for ourselves? It’s an interesting topic that we as a society do not talk about, we’re not willing to explore and it creates awkwardness when it occurs.

  4. Reincarnation is something we need to talk about more. I love the fact that here you speak of celebrating someones life when they pass on. It seems more often than not we do not truly celebrate someone that has passed on but get engulfed in emotions of sadness etc and I agree we are human and so of course it is natural for some different emotions and feelings to arise when someone close has passed on but if we truly had an understanding about our life, our purpose and reincarnation then maybe we would see this differently. And you are right when we go into emotions and sympathy it ‘takes us out of the present moment and the opportunity to connect, and into our minds.’ which is never helpful or true.

  5. I have found that when I don’t know what to say, I may say something quite silly but even silence can then be quite awkward. Some situations can simply be quite difficult.

  6. We often use sympathy and imagery to stop going deeper and to really feel that what is presented to us means for us personally.

  7. “Sympathy is what we do in the avoidance of this love” I would agree we feel anxiety when we don’t know how to respond in the face of someone’s passing on. It will take much more understanding to helps us find another way to respond to another persons passing on.

  8. Sympathy can make you feel smothered when someone imposes their expectation of how they think you should react when a close relative has died.

  9. Over the last few years I’ve learnt how horrible sympathy feels when it gets dumped on me. On the other end I’ve had thoughts coming in of being heartless if I just say nothing but that doesn’t feel true. Sometimes what a person needs is the space to feel sad and grieve because it doesn’t last forever. Sympathy and the mental ideal pictures of the future actually stop that flow of emotion from passing and leaving.

    1. Yes Leigh, the imagery and sympathy we tend to use is in our avoidance to feel the deeper message behind such losses when people pass over, the deeper message that we are all equal in physical life that too will come to a natural end one day.

  10. Sympathy would have no place at all if we allowed ourselves full awareness of the cycles of life and the natural unfolding they cannot help but be. Whether it be loss of a family member, of a home or possession or maybe an illness we may be experiencing. They are all part of the ebb and flow of life and have consistently been so since the beginning of physical life on this planet. What if we allowed ourselves to reconnect to the fact of reincarnation, that we come back time and time again? Could there then be nothing but love and joy and acceptance of these conditions/events knowing that there has been a purpose for them? that perhaps we are clearing the way for our next life by discarding through illness and anything that takes us away from that joy and love and acceptance? No room or need at all for sympathy.

  11. Death is very challenging for people, and staying in sympathy is what people are ‘supposed to do’ . But I have found that when I express how I feel about the cycle of life and death, without attachment to emotion, many people light up and find it very refreshing to not have to keep up the sympathy game.

  12. Sometimes people react to death as it can trigger in them the regret of all the things that they have not done and expressed in their own life.

    1. Great comment – snow at Christmas and seeing a red robin are good symbols of things people living in Australia but with a connection to the UK may be missing in their lives.

  13. Because of the lack of education about dying, I think most of us can be unsure of what to do around death. I don’t think most people’s true sense is to be sympathetic, it is more that they do not want to come across as callus or uncaring. I have much understanding for others struggling in this department and so my approach is to support those that may be worried or sympathetic by showing how light and loving death can be.

  14. How often do we speak in awkwardness and not in truth?! I know I have done this so I sat an cringed a bit when I read your blog and how uncomfortable it felt for you and no doubt them!

  15. The ideals we have about what true love is prevent us from experiencing true love with others. But that can be corrected very quickly with the support of the Ageless Wisdom.

  16. Like the image of snow and a robin is rarely a reality, actually is an an emotion, so too is sympathy that we use to withhold ourselves from connecting with the greater truth of life we all innately know but avoid to be aware of.

  17. “sympathy could well be what cements us into this belief that we end forever, that we pass away, rather than that we pass on to the next phase of our ever unfolding, divinely sustained life.” I feel this is absolutely true. Sympathy is a very neat way of avoiding the truth of reincarnation – a lie we have all bought into as a way to ignore our responsibility to live with energetic integrity, truth and love.. For if we believe we have just one life then we can easily believe we have the right to do whatever we want in order to ‘be happy’ in this life. If however we live knowing the truth of our cycle of reincarnation, we understand that every choice we make is one that will pave the way of our next life – karma or Love?

    1. Sure Lucy, we can believe that there is only one life because we do not want to take the responsibility for the reality that we are captured in, an endless cycle of birth and death.

  18. Sympathy separates us, it makes one party lesser and artificially elevates the other by way of being able to dispense a sugary balm that does anything but soothe what they are feeling. Sympathy kneecaps any true connection unless the conversation is brought back to truth.

    1. There is not an ounce of sympathy or emotion in Love and there is no true connection without love. So yes, sympathy creates separation which is not surprising because in order to express sympathy we must have first separated from our true selves and then whatever occurs after is a consequence of that.

  19. I know I used to be in sympathy a lot in my personal relationships, but I now know the harm it brings to others and offers no true love or support whatsoever.

  20. Sympathy, if we subscribe to it, immediately makes us feel small and dependent and creates a place of coziness away from the truth of what is happening.

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