Can we all agree at the outset that everything does not, in fact, happen for a reason? That sometimes bad things happen to good people for no reason at all? While we’re at it, can we also — please — permanently retire the whole “God only gives you what you can handle” thing?
People say the strangest stuff at the time when you least need them to be strange. Right after I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2014, I had an acquaintance come up to me, cock her head sympathetically to one side and say, “I heard the news. I’m so sorry.”
“Thank you,” I said.
“My mom had breast cancer,” she told me.
“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “How’s she doing?”
Her eyes widened with horror. “Um, well, she died.”
It’s not that I wasn’t sad for her. It’s just that I wasn’t quite sure what she was hoping to accomplish by sharing that. I am well aware that breast cancer kills. At that moment, I was even more acutely aware. Thanks?
Emily McDowell is a cancer survivor who also had her fair share of the usual bad stuff said to her. In defense of the people who say the bad stuff, most of them don’t know any better, or are simply at a loss of how to be better. That’s why McDowell stepped in and designed a line of empathy cards that gives every person at a loss something to gain, which are the right words to say to someone suffering from cancer, or from many other things.
“Most of us struggle to find the right words in the face of a friend or loved one’s major health crisis, whether it’s cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or anything else,” McDowell said. “It’s a really tough problem; someone we love needs our support more than ever, but we don’t have the right language for it. I created this collection of empathy cards for serious illness because I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering.”
Sure, Hallmark makes plenty of “get well soon” cards, although what do you say when someone has experienced a loss in the family, miscarriage, or is suffering from a terminal illness?
With these cards, McDowell says her goal is to “help people connect with each other through truth and insight, which is one of the founding principles of this brand. I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved.”
To say the cards are perfect is an understatement. Most people who have experienced cancer, or another serious illness, or suffered a tremendous loss or sadness will recognize how many of McDowell’s cards would have been vastly superior to so much of the attempts of sympathy heaped on them by others.
While I was in the thick of my diagnosis last year, a smart friend of mine once posted a thing on Facebook about how the right foods can heal cancer in lieu of chemo and radiation. Clearly she wasn’t as smart as I thought, although had she posted this empathy card of McDowell’s, her IQ might have been bumped up a few points:
One of my dearest friends lost her 17-month-old son two years ago and she still remembers who didn’t reach out to her after his death. Some came up to her a year later and said they didn’t know what to say. That’s fine, although this empathy card sent much sooner would have been much better:
CAN I GET AN AMEN:
This. So much this:
To buy these and more of McDowell’s genius cards, check out her website.