Is there such a thing as empathy burnout? If so, that is what I am feeling. All my get-up-and-go got up and went. For the last couple of months, I have received one piece of bad news after another. People I know and love have died, are dying, cannot get the surgery they need, or are coping with the effects of catastrophic climate events.
In October my brother-in-law in San Jose died. I loved him very much and have been consciously trying to remember all the good times we had before he got dementia. Then in November my niece’s mother-in-law died. Whenever I was in Monterey, I enjoyed her company and admired her oil painting talent as well as her joie de vivre. Her death came as a shock.
Last week I was notified that my father-in-law was in decline. He had been in a nursing home but was transferred to hospital when his condition worsened. Now he is in a different nursing home and his mental faculties are not what they once were. When I called one of my sisters-in-law to check in on him, I discovered that she uses a motorized wheelchair now because she cannot get the knee surgery she needs. Hospitals are full of Covid-19 patients and so doctors are not doing “non-essential” surgeries. She and I used to share an apartment when we were young and single, and I still think of her as energetic and lively. She probably still is, but … damn.
While these conversations were taking place, family members in Merritt, British Columbia were enduring disastrous flooding. One family member had to be evacuated from her 103-year-old house which is now full of mud. She and her dogs are taking refuge with her parents whose house, thankfully, is on higher ground.
In all the conversations I have had with family members regarding these issues, I realize that the people closer to these tragedies also have other difficulties going on. They have health problems, or relationship problems, or money problems, or time-and-travel problems. Nonetheless, they keep on keeping on. They even find things to laugh about, and that gives me hope.
If there is any good news in all of this, it is that I have had more conversations with more family members in recent weeks than I have in years. I didn’t realize how much I missed hearing their voices. I’m not fond of using the phone, but sometimes it can bring sunshine to a cloudy day.