Last summer, while away on a family vacation, I received a difficult phone call from my dear friend, Ron. He had recently been diagnosed with leukemia. My first reaction, aside from “OH SHIT, you can’t leave this world!”, was how soon can I mail a card to him back home. Unfortunately, I had some practice writing get well cards over the past few years to friends and family. But as I saw through my mother’s partner, David, who received letters while battling melanoma, handwritten letters make a difference. They really do.
Since our small beach town in Oregon only carried a small selection of encouragement cards and were not totally my style, I decided to roll with the situation and buy the most sappy, Deep Thoughts by Jack Handeyesque cards I could find. It became our theme to send Ron extremely syrupy, footprints-in-the-sand kind of greeting cards (he’s still talking to me so something must have worked!).
Thankfully, more greeting card designers are creating cards which simply state how we feel, the Queen Bee these days being Emily McDowell. Her booth at the National Stationery Show is always packed with buyers and it’s easy to see why. Emily’s empathy cards speak the truth in a humorous yet thoughtful way!
After her experience (and triumph!) with cancer as well as connecting with people who have lost loved ones, Emily understands first-hand what it’s like to be on the other side. The emotional impact of the experience was her inspiration to create cards she would have liked to receive while she was ill.
Indeed, it’s a fine balance, how direct are you with those you feel empathy towards? This quote from Dr.Brene Brown sums it up well, “Empathy is a choice and it’s a venerable choice because in order to connect with you I have to connect with something in myself that knows that feeling. Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with at least…we are trying to put the silver lining around it.” And what are these words to use if not found in the perfect card?
Years ago an article in the NY Times made it a bit more clear as far as the Do’s and Don’ts of communication to those ill. Words which are direct and have feeling appear the most powerful. “I’m sorry you have to go through this.” “I hate to see you suffer.” “You meant a lot to me.” These statement plus keeping it light with a little juicy gossip, (a Hollywood star scandal, the school Principal’s dating life, etc.), can be the key in getting through the next round of chemo.
This is what I believe to be true. Show up, be real, be encouraging. Look for online support if the what’s and how’s don’t come naturally to you (my good friend recently kicked off Cancer Doula blog after losing her best friend to breast cancer and was unable to find support which spoke to her!). Do not hold back mailing a card if you don’t have the perfect words or perfect card. Your loved one will be overjoyed knowing you are with them in mind and spirit – And they are not alone.
Wendy Brown writes the blog Brown Ink. She is a writer, Cancer Doula Tribe member and all around amazing human. She lives in South Minneapolis with her equally exceptional husband, Nick, and their three children.