Empathy in writing to my sister

I’m posting this email I sent to my sister (D) after a visit with our 97-year-old father in the summer.


   Dad & D

An incident that was painful for both of us: I had a project of interviewing him, and my sister very much wanted to be a part of it, to the point of taking over and asking most of the questions at one point. The second time, I started without her, and she was upset about not having been told and included in the entire project.

In this email, I did my best to guess empathically my sister’s feelings and needs, express my regret, and let her know some of what I was feeling as well.

Dear D,

I have been reflecting some on our visit to Dad and my behavior toward you. It seems to me that when you saw me interviewing Dad without having told you I was starting and including you for the whole time, you might have been feeling sad, left out, nervous, and really wanting inclusion and being a part of the whole process. I’m wondering if you might have thought I was trying to exclude you from some important and close moments with Dad. Was that how it was for you?  I regret that I did not look deeper to see that this could have been going on.

At times when you were speaking and the family was listening, I was wondering if you were feeling the pressure of so much to say, that you wanted the family to hear, in such a short visit – to help you feel understood and heard and acknowledged, and to meet your need for connection with Dad especially. I regret that I was seeing you in a negative way because I did not want to re-examine my habitual thoughts. Now I see how what I was labeling as your “dominating” the conversation was small in comparison to the many ways I have dominated YOU over the years, even bullied you when we were younger.

My apologies, D, for all the unconscious old behavior you had to experience from me. I felt ashamed and guilty that I did not muster up the ability to give you more genuine empathy while we were together, not only because I want to “walk my talk,” but also because I want to be more compassionate.