The first example was a large scale community loss. Monty Oum of Rooster Teeth, more notably RWBY, died suddenly. In a bizarre, allergic reaction during a medical procedure. What are the odds? How paranoid am I now because up until this moment I was pretty sure I wasn't allergic to anything. I wonder if Monty thought the same thing. I watched the RT podcast and their small tribute at the end and it was heart breaking. They just kept talking about how much more he had to give. How much more he wanted to give. And that his motto was to always keep pushing forward.
I've been part of the RT community since before there was a formal community. I fell out of touch with the site until recently, when Burnie's tweet caught my eye - "Monty Oum hospitalized." I feel ashamed that was what brought me back to the site. But I knew the name and I wanted to know that everything was going to be okay. That someone, whom I have never met was going to be okay. For the people he was close to, some of whom I've met and others I wish I had, I didn't want them to lose their friend.
During their tribute podcast you could tell how hard it was for some of them. The way their voices cracked when they told stories or just the look on their faces as they revisited the idea of someone they knew just being gone. My heart ached for them. Is that empathy? I cried. Cried at the idea of someone who was so full of greatness wouldn't be able to share that anymore. Cried for his friends because I imagined how they must have felt. But how I can I feel so strongly towards people I hardly know when I've never even lost anyone that close to me?
---Which bring me to my second example. The closest person I've lost was my paternal grandmother, and even then I wouldn't say we were that close. Sure we visited every few years, but that's it.She sent my sister and I checks for Christmas and so we'd call to thank her. She wasn't one for talking much and always insisted that she was bothering us and the conversations would be short. Then I got a call from my mom, while I was studying with Zack, letting me know my grandma had died. It was upsetting but we had a test the next day and we just kept going. For me, the saddest part of my grandma's death is that she was probably alone.
Now a friend of mine has informed me that his grandmother has died. He was very, very close to his grandparents. The kind of kid who visited them every weekend during the summer and helped with the yard work while he was there. So this must have hit him hard. I can only speculate because we've only ever communicated through the internet. I've never met him in person and I've only "known" him for a year. It's hard enough to try to comfort someone you've only known for a year let alone technically have never met.
I like to think of myself as an empathetic person but I can never seem to find the right words. It never seems right to have any words. My heart can ache all it wants but it will never have the same exact experience as what he's feeling right now. And I don't know what hurts worse; the manifestation of what I feel his pain is or the fact that I can't alleviate it for him.
To an extent it's strange to want to help someone you've never met and only acquainted with through similar interests. I don't feel this strongly towards everyone I meet, in person or online, but I am very picky about my friends in the first place. He's earned that spot and therefore my undivided attention.
So I feel useless. You tell people you're there for them and that you'll do anything, provide anything they need. But sometimes, that person doesn't know or even want anything in the first place. So it's up to the empathizer, the friend, to "be there for them," whatever the hell that means. I usually just end up listening, if they're willing to talk. But I don't feel like it's enough.