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Compassion For Others – A Personal Experience Story


Having compassion for others is a desirable way to be, is it not? However, is there such a thing as being too compassionate or too caring for others? And I mean those outside the immediate family and friend circle.

For me, this short saga of my life that tried my emotions and my altruism began after the great hurricane that wreaked so much devastation here on Long Island. It was in December that I first noticed the kittens, as I have a tender heart for the animals. They were living in the front garden of a house down the block from me, a house with a larger protective overhang that provided some shelter from the inclement weather.

At first I saw bowls outside, so I believed that someone was feeding the cats, though I wasn’t sure who lived in that house as it looked vacant. Well, it turned out that a woman named Lorraine lived there and very quickly I discovered that she was a recluse in every sense of the word, and a very ornery older woman in her late 70s. She was thrilled that I was feeding the cats, as the cats were her one link to the outside world, and most of the time she completely “forgot” to put food outside, so they were often just about starving.

Lorraine had lost her beloved husband in 1997 and I believe time had just about stopped for her then as she withdrew from normal life. From what I heard, neighbors had attempted to help her over the years, but she had pushed them away and so was now absolutely alone. (She had no children — just two nephews who live out of town.)

I am not going to go into the whole sordid story — about how she had not brushed her hair in over a decade, about how her house made the stars of that TV show “Hoarders” look neat and clean, about how her difficult personality combined with dementia made her a real challenge to deal with. But I know that she appreciated my assistance — running errands, bringing her wonton soup (her favorite) and just being a smiling face on her doorstep.

She had a service shopping and delivering groceries to her door once a week but she never, ever set foot outside anymore herself. I tried to get her to go to the doctor and would have driven her there, but she refused.

However, she would call me her “angel” and thanked me for making sure the cats were taken care of and for the few errands I ran for her.

(I trapped the cats outside her house, had them neutered, returned the feral one; found a friendly one a home through a rescue in Brooklyn and the other I am still fostering.)

One day Lorraine was found on the floor of her house, conscious but disoriented, and was taken to the local hospital by the paramedics. I finally wrangled the name of one of the nephews (who lives in a neighboring state) from her and found his phone number online, so I called him and let him know about the situation. He contacted the hospital and took over responsibility for his aunt, which was a blessing at this point. I did visit her several times and knew she was gravely ill, as her breathing was labored and there was a mass in her throat. She was always incredibly relieved to see me and very tearful about her situation. She hated being in the hospital and she was definitely very fearful about dying.

One Sunday her nephew finally came to the hospital with his wife, to visit and take charge of her paperwork and mail, and I did feel a burden lift off my own heart. That day I visited, too, and as I exited her room, she blew me a kiss good-bye — and I did the same sweet gesture for her. That was the last time I would see her, as she passed away the next day, so somehow the significance of that parting gesture became more meaningful.

I was truly saddened and have felt grief over this episode. The this whole saga did take time and emotion for me, in between all the many family and business responsibilities, demands and happenings that are part of my life, including the birth of my first grandchild.

Through it all, my husband would say “You’re doing a good deed, but…” And there was always that “but” even in my own mind and heart. “But” maybe you are TOO involved. Maybe you should review your priorities. Maybe you should choose not to be so caught up in the plight of others. But as the old Dickens quote goes, “Mankind is my business” is still the concept that I live by.

It was a life lesson for me. Lorraine was responsible for her life choices, and unfortunately made ones that left her completely alone at the end of her time here. I tried not to lose sight of that piece of it. At one point in the hospital, she had asked through tears, “Why is this happening to me? It feels like a nightmare.” And yes, that was painful to see and hear, but one must remember that she CHOSE to be a recluse, chose not to live her life in a joyful way, chose to shut herself in and have no contact with the outside world. (The nephew confirmed that Lorraine had always been a difficult personality, not particularly friendly or kind to anyone.)

I like to think that my brief friendship with her was a small ray of light in the dark reality at the end of her life, and maybe that is why our paths crossed the way they did.

So is there such a thing as being too caring, especially when it takes time away from your own life and family? Perhaps — and I know that many people would have absolutely looked the other way — but for me personally, in hindsight, I would not have done anything differently.


  • I show kindness and caring for all beings, as I feel a deep sense of connection to others.
  • I am able to create a joyful balance between compassion for others and being nurturing toward myself.
  • Being of service to others is fulfilling and helps me “grow” as an individual.


  1. Susan says:

    I enjoyed your compassionate story. We cannot be who we are not. If our soul yearns to be compassionate then that’s who we are. We’re lucky if we can be our real self now and then. That’s food for our soul, don’t you think? It seems to come before any of our own everyday business? You helped a person who had no one else who cared. In the end I think you eased her transition and that is a high honor!

    • Sheryl Schlameuss Berger says:

      Susan – thank you for your supportive comment. I do believe that I WAS helpful in easing the woman’s transition to the next stage of her journey. I couldn’t bear to let her be all alone at the very end of her life. And in my head, I can still see her smile and hear her voice saying to me “You’re my angel.”

  2. Laura says:

    Follow our “own knowing” is the best path we can do and walk in life. Love knows no boundaries. And so this very good, very good! – Thank you Sheryl for sharing this lovely experience with Us! Love & blessings my sweet friend .

    • Sheryl Schlameuss Berger says:

      Thank you for your thoughts here, Laura. And yes, we need to follow our inner guidance… and love is without limits and boundaries…