7 new nontraditional Empathy Cards that say what other cards can get totally wrong.

Back in May, Emily McDowell Studio released an incredible line of Empathy Cards.

As a cancer survivor, McDowell had been on the receiving end of some good-intentioned wishes that were a little, well, tone-deaf. She wanted to help people find the right thing to say to friends and loved ones going through tough times ... and she totally nailed it. The cards had messages like:

"Please let me be the first person to punch the next person who tells you everything happens for a reason. I'm sorry you're going through this."

And:


"I'm so sorry you're sick. I want you to know that I will never try to sell you on some random treatment I read about on the internet."

The cards were a hit — more than she ever could have anticipated.

"It was mind-blowing, the amount of people these resonated with," Emily told me in a phone interview. Truly humbled by the thousands of emails that poured in from folks, telling her how much these cards meant to them, she set out to create another set.

These seven new Empathy Cards are perfect for a broad range of people we care about who are experiencing illness, hardship, grief, loss, and more.

With humor and smarts, they tackle some of the most common clichés that get tossed around in tough times:

1. God's Plan

All cards shared with permission. Each is linked to Emily McDowell Studio's store so you can go directly there to purchase it if you're interested. Emily McDowell Studio.

2. Five Stages

McDowell explained that she asked her friend McInerny Purmort to help with this card. Purmort blogs at My Husband's Tumor and recently lost her husband to brain cancer, so she unfortunately had a lot of experience to draw on when coming up with the right words to offer someone experiencing grief. Emily McDowell Studio.

3. What Doesn't Kill You

Emily McDowell Studio.

4. Laughter Is the Best Medicine

Emily McDowell Studio.

5. It's a Marathon

Emily McDowell Studio.

6. Take Away Your Pain

Emily McDowell Studio.

7. Not a Burden

McDowell wanted this line of cards to work for people experiencing all sorts of challenges, including mental illness. "I've had depression since I was 11 and I'm almost 40," she told me. "I started taking Prozac when it first came out when I was a kid." She designed this card as an option to share with someone experiencing a mental illness. Emily McDowell Studio.

These are all pretty amazing, right?

Like the first round of Empathy Cards, McDowell hopes these will help fill a rather gaping hole in the market.

Historically, she says, sympathy cards tend to read "like they were written by someone who got the assignment to write a card about X." That's exactly what she didn't want to do when creating her line. Based on the response, it's safe to say she succeeded.

McDowell's company received around 15,000 emails in response to the first line they released.

"It was amazing," she said. "And I tried for a long time to respond to everybody. ... People were sharing very personal, important stories." Eventually, McDowell realized she wouldn't be able to send individual replies to everyone, but she was incredibly touched.

She told me that what really struck her is who sent the emails. About half were from people who had friends or family members going through hard times and felt like they had failed in their responses. She explained that people would tell her:

"'I wasn't able to figure out what to say. I've been sitting here, feeling awful about that for X amount of time and these cards gave me a way to reconnect with that person. I was able to explain — not justify — how I disappeared. Apologize and explain it — and use these as a bridge to have that conversation.'"

The other half of the messages came from people who were ill or who had lost someone. McDowell said they told her: "It feels like I'm being seen. It feels like it validates my reality. This is the first time I've seen something that makes me feel normal." Every one of these messages had an impact on McDowell. "Both of those things were so meaningful to hear," she told me.

When people we care about are going through tough times, it's not easy to know what to say...

When McDowell created the first line of cards, she shared the following:

"The most difficult part of my illness wasn't losing my hair, or being erroneously called 'sir' by Starbucks baristas, or sickness from chemo. It was the loneliness and isolation I felt when many of my close friends and family members disappeared because they didn't know what to say or said the absolute wrong thing without realizing it."

How great is it that we now have cards we can share with the people we love so they don't end up feeling like that? I'm so glad these exist.

Aging is a weird thing. We all do it—we truly have no choice in the matter. It's literally how time and living things work.

But boy, do we make the process all kinds of complicated. The anti-aging market has created a 58.5 billion-dollar industry, with human beings spending their whole lives getting older spending buttloads of money to pretend like it's not happening.

I'm one of those human beings, by the way, so no judgment here. When I find a product that makes me look as young as I feel inside, I get pretty giddy.

But there's no doubt that our views on aging—and by extension, our perspectives on our own aging bodies—are influenced by popular culture. As we see celebrities in the spotlight who seem to be ageless, we enviously tag them with the hashtag #aginggoals. The goal is to "age well," which ultimately means looking like we're not aging at all. And so we break out the creams and the serums and the microdermabrasion and the injections—even the scalpel, in some cases—to keep the wrinkles, crinkles, bags, and sags at bay.

There's a big, blurry line between having a healthy skincare routine and demonizing normal signs of aging, and we each decide where our own line gets drawn.

This is where Justine Bateman comes in.

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Images courtesy of John Scully, Walden University, Ingrid Scully
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Since March of 2020, over 29 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19, according to the CDC. Over 540,000 have died in the United States as this unprecedented pandemic has swept the globe. And yet, by the end of 2020, it looked like science was winning: vaccines had been developed.

In celebration of the power of science we spoke to three people: an individual, a medical provider, and a vaccine scientist about how vaccines have impacted them throughout their lives. Here are their answers:

John Scully, 79, resident of Florida

Photo courtesy of John Scully

When John Scully was born, America was in the midst of an epidemic: tens of thousands of children in the United States were falling ill with paralytic poliomyelitis — otherwise known as polio, a disease that attacks the central nervous system and often leaves its victims partially or fully paralyzed.

"As kids, we were all afraid of getting polio," he says, "because if you got polio, you could end up in the dreaded iron lung and we were all terrified of those." Iron lungs were respirators that enclosed most of a person's body; people with severe cases often would end up in these respirators as they fought for their lives.

John remembers going to see matinee showings of cowboy movies on Saturdays and, before the movie, shorts would run. "Usually they showed the news," he says, "but I just remember seeing this one clip warning us about polio and it just showed all these kids in iron lungs." If kids survived the iron lung, they'd often come back to school on crutches, in leg braces, or in wheelchairs.

"We all tried to be really careful in the summer — or, as we called it back then, 'polio season,''" John says. This was because every year around Memorial Day, major outbreaks would begin to emerge and they'd spike sometime around August. People weren't really sure how the disease spread at the time, but many believed it traveled through the water. There was no cure — and every child was susceptible to getting sick with it.

"We couldn't swim in hot weather," he remembers, "and the municipal outdoor pool would close down in August."

Then, in 1954 clinical trials began for Dr. Jonas Salk's vaccine against polio and within a year, his vaccine was announced safe. "I got that vaccine at school," John says. Within two years, U.S. polio cases had dropped 85-95 percent — even before a second vaccine was developed by Dr. Albert Sabin in the 1960s. "I remember how much better things got after the vaccines came out. They changed everything," John says.

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