Let’s talk empathy

If you read my previous blog, you would notice how I express my empathy towards many things. Last week, I spent the day with my mother as she went to *Fabio’s house. He is an alcoholic and my mother goes to his house bi-weekly to check up on him and to see if he has enough food, clean clothes and so on.

We drove for about 15 minutes to Matelica, through this beautiful small village between the mountains and I was in awe. So much beauty!! We pull up in a parking spot and walk a few meters to his house. The glass in the door, was broken (apparently, Fabio felt depressed and smashed it) My mother opens the door and there are about 15 very steep stairs that lead into his house, which we climbed while my short stumpy legs felt the pain and burn.

As we reached the top, I noticed the strong smell of old cigarette smoke, sweat, dirty dishes and a hint of wine in the air. I casually walked to the window and opened it. My mother greeted Fabio, he is originally from Albania, moved to Italy a few years ago for work, very sweet guy. She introduces me to him and I say hi. The tall man standing in front of me had dirty hair, wrinkles along his eyes, stubble and has impaired vision in his left eye. He has been sleeping on the couch, too scared to sleep in his bedroom which is another flight of stairs up, due to the recent earthquakes.

When he saw my mother, his face lit up. He had company for the next two hours. It was there, where I just wanted to go wait in the car and cry.

Soon thereafter, my mom scolds him because on the kitchen table was an empty box of white wine, the sink was full of dirty dishes and the floor was dirty. She tells him to that he is capable of not living like a pig and to clean up after himself when he proceeds to laugh and say he knows. I decide to do something, so I start doing the dishes. He offers me a glass of wine, which I politely decline and smile. He asks me a few questions: how old am I? Where am I from? What do I do? Which I tried to answer the best I could in Italian, while horribly butchering some phrases. I told him that I am studying communications and psychology when he tells me that doctors think he has schizophrenia and gave him calming drops to take when he starts ‘acting up’. He shows me the bottle, which is almost empty and explains that it doesn’t work and something about angels. I looked at him, quite puzzled and gave my best understanding nod.

In the background, my mom was asking him what he ate? When he took a bath? How is he feeling and what has he been doing? He answers her questions and while I was doing the dishes, I could see if his meal time version corresponds. He has been eating canned lentils with tomato pesto and pasta, most of the time and some egg and a bit of meat. My heart broke, just a little more. He jokes and tells my mother that the last time he took a bath was in August. My gullible mother looks at him in total shock and I start to giggle, he looks at me and laughs. He tells her that he is joking and that he took a proper bath two weeks ago… wait, what?!

He looks at my mother and says, no one cares about him. Everyone is just using him. My mom reassured him that she cares, that is why she is there and people do care about him but he needs to stop drinking too. I looked at him, trying to muscle a convincing smile and he asks me for my name again. I give it to him and he completely butchered it. I told him to just call me, Meggie. For some reason, my Welsh name is very hard to pronounce. He then asked if I would like ice tea, I accept and that’s when he then got up and went to the shops to get us some iced tea.

I looked up at my mother and just stared at her for a few seconds. I then proceed to tell her that I feel so sorry for the guy. Alcoholic or not, I feel so sad for him. From what I gathered, both his parents passed away and they meant a lot to him (he has pictures of them on his wall unit) and he has a brother who lives in the same village as him, but never visits. He was attacked by his own nephews, for money and landed in the hospital with severe damage to his head. Consequently, they are in prison but they only cared for his money and nothing else. He turns to alcohol because that is better than facing reality and while I don’t agree with his actions, I cannot help but feel sorry for him. Like heart wrenching, bad break-up bad. I tried to put myself in his shoes. He is depressed, an alcoholic, the most important people in his life are dead and his brother doesn’t care about him, his money yes. But not him. Did I mention that the only time his brothers’ family were interested in him, was when he was in the hospital, but just to find out if he was alive or not and how his life insurance payout works?

While I know that alcoholism is not the answer, I cannot get him out of my head. I cannot imagine being that alone in the world. I cannot imagine my family not actually caring about me and making it that obvious and I cannot switch off my empathy. My mom and I got into a debate, she also feels sorry for her but says there is no reason to turn to alcohol. I get it. I do, but put yourself in his shoes. He has no one, apart from the people that look after him, only for him to get his insurance money, because of his hospitalisation, but no one goes to his house to check up on him, make sure he eats or just sit and talk to him. If my mother didn’t agree to go to his house, twice a week, where would he be?

I also feel that, had the people (other than my mother) that “take care of him” invested 10 minutes of their time on him, they would rather put him in a rehabilitation center for his addiction and get a psychologist to talk to him. Find out what his issues are and carry on from there, I truly believe that he would get better. But dumping him in a house, giving him a weekly allowance to take care of himself will not work. He is not strong enough to stop and especially if he doesn’t have that support. Telling him to stop drinking, won’t work. It is like telling a dead heart to start beating.

I do not feel like not going to his house again because I feel so horribly sad when I look into his eyes and see heartache and there is only so much I can say, but that would make me like the rest of the world. The life that we live in has become so greedy. Every man for himself and will only help if it benefits them. I hope that in the near future I could try to help him. I don’t believe that he should be given up on, he deserves a second chance.


Empathy: Unknown artist. (Source: Google images)


Food for thought:

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care”

― Theodore Roosevelt


*Real name withheld


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