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.

Leah Menzies/TikTok

Leah Menzies had no idea her deceased mother was her boyfriend's kindergarten teacher.

When you start dating the love of your life, you want to share it with the people closest to you. Sadly, 18-year-old Leah Menzies couldn't do that. Her mother died when she was 7, so she would never have the chance to meet the young woman's boyfriend, Thomas McLeodd. But by a twist of fate, it turns out Thomas had already met Leah's mom when he was just 3 years old. Leah's mom was Thomas' kindergarten teacher.

The couple, who have been dating for seven months, made this realization during a visit to McCleodd's house. When Menzies went to meet his family for the first time, his mom (in true mom fashion) insisted on showing her a picture of him making a goofy face. When they brought out the picture, McLeodd recognized the face of his teacher as that of his girlfriend's mother.

Menzies posted about the realization moment on TikTok. "Me thinking my mum (who died when I was 7) will never meet my future boyfriend," she wrote on the video. The video shows her and McLeodd together, then flashes to the kindergarten class picture.

“He opens this album and then suddenly, he’s like, ‘Oh my God. Oh my God — over and over again,” Menzies told TODAY. “I couldn’t figure out why he was being so dramatic.”

Obviously, Menzies is taking great comfort in knowing that even though her mother is no longer here, they can still maintain a connection. I know how important it was for me to have my mom accept my partner, and there would definitely be something missing if she wasn't here to share in my joy. It's also really incredible to know that Menzies' mother had a hand in making McLeodd the person he is today, even if it was only a small part.

@speccylee

Found out through this photo in his photo album. A moment straight out of a movie 🥲

♬ iris - 🫶

“It’s incredible that that she knew him," Menzies said. "What gets me is that she was standing with my future boyfriend and she had no idea.”

Since he was only 3, McLeodd has no actual memory of Menzies' mother. But his own mother remembers her as “kind and really gentle.”

The TikTok has understandably gone viral and the comments are so sweet and positive.

"No the chills I got omggg."

"This is the cutest thing I have watched."

"It’s as if she remembered some significance about him and sent him to you. Love fate 😍✨"

In the caption of the video, she said that discovering the connection between her boyfriend and her mom was "straight out of a movie." And if you're into romantic comedies, you're definitely nodding along right now.

Menzies and McLeodd made a follow-up TikTok to address everyone's positive response to their initial video and it's just as sweet. The young couple sits together and addresses some of the questions they noticed pop up. People were confused that they kept saying McLeodd was in kindergarten but only 3 years old when he was in Menzies' mother's class. The couple is Australian and Menzies explained that it's the equivalent of American preschool.

They also clarified that although they went to high school together and kind of knew of the other's existence, they didn't really get to know each other until they started dating seven months ago. So no, they truly had no idea that her mother was his teacher. Menzies revealed that she "didn't actually know that my mum taught at kindergarten."

"I just knew she was a teacher," she explained.

She made him act out his reaction to seeing the photo, saying he was "speechless," and when she looked at the photo she started crying. McLeodd recognized her mother because of the pictures Menzies keeps in her room. Cue the "awws," because this is so cute, I'm kvelling.

A simple solution for all ages, really.

School should feel like a safe space. But after the tragic news of yet another mass shooting, many children are scared to death. As a parent or a teacher, it can be an arduous task helping young minds to unpack such unthinkable monstrosities. Especially when, in all honesty, the adults are also terrified.

Katelyn Campbell, a clinical psychologist in South Carolina, worked with elementary school children in the aftermath of the Sandy Hook shooting. She recently shared a simple idea that helped then, in hopes that it might help now.

The psychologist tweeted, “We had our kids draw pictures of scenery that made them feel calm—we then hung them up around the school—to make the ‘other kids who were scared’ have something calm to look at.”



“Kids, like adults, want to feel helpful when they feel helpless,” she continued, saying that drawing gave them something useful to do.

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Photo by Heather Mount on Unsplash

Actions speak far louder than words.

It never fails. After a tragic mass shooting, social media is filled with posts offering thoughts and prayers. Politicians give long-winded speeches on the chamber floor or at press conferences asking Americans to do the thing they’ve been repeatedly trained to do after tragedy: offer heartfelt thoughts and prayers. When no real solution or plan of action is put forth to stop these senseless incidents from occurring so frequently in a country that considers itself a world leader, one has to wonder when we will be honest with ourselves about that very intangible automatic phrase.

Comedian Anthony Jeselnik brilliantly summed up what "thoughts and prayers" truly mean. In a 1.5-minute clip, Jeselnik talks about victims' priorities being that of survival and not wondering if they’re trending at that moment. The crowd laughs as he mimics the actions of well-meaning social media users offering thoughts and prayers after another mass shooting. He goes on to explain how the act of performatively offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families really pulls the focus onto the author of the social media post and away from the event. In the short clip he expertly expresses how being performative on social media doesn’t typically equate to action that will help victims or enact long-term change.

Of course, this isn’t to say that thoughts and prayers aren’t welcomed or shouldn’t be shared. According to Rabbi Jack Moline "prayer without action is just noise." In a world where mass shootings are so common that a video clip from 2015 is still relevant, it's clear that more than thoughts and prayers are needed. It's important to examine what you’re doing outside of offering thoughts and prayers on social media. In another several years, hopefully this video clip won’t be as relevant, but at this rate it’s hard to see it any differently.