It is impossible to fully understand another person's suffering. And yet, as physicians, we have an obligation to try. We try to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, to empathize, in order to respond appropriately. That empathy is the foundation on which meaningful communication is built. If we approach empathy, we can understand and comfort one another. If we cannot empathize, then we cannot understand, and the possibilities for healing are diminished.
The most painful human experiences are the most difficult to empathize with. For many of us, the end of a love affair is one of the most painful experiences. And yet, it is often painful in a regenerative way. It leads to poetry, song, dance, and, in the best cases, to self-knowledge and the possibility of new love. The loss of a loved one to death is a different sort of pain—it leads only to grief, emptiness, and anger; if we recover, it is often not through regeneration but through learning to live with a diminished emotional world. Grief isolates us from others.