[Things my mother taught me] Part one: a lesson in compassion


This goes without saying, but I love my mama. In my short 20 years of life she has already taught me so many important life lessons. One of the most poignant lessons has been the value of compassion and empathy. My mom is one of the most caring and compassionate people I have ever met, and I am proud to say that I have inherited these traits from her. We are sometimes compassionate to the point where we neglect our own needs in the interest of helping others, which isn’t great, obviously. But I certainly think that there are few traits more admirable than compassion, even if we do go overboard sometimes.

Last week I went to Emory with my mom to visit her oncologist there. Sitting in the waiting room, we met an elderly couple that broke my heart. The man was 66 and had been struggling with oral cancer for four years. He had one of his jawbones removed, along with some tongue tissue, making it difficult for him to speak (not to mention eat and drink). His wife, this incredibly sweet lady, told us he had far exceeded the doctor’s expectations of longevity, but that he is getting tired of fighting. As his sole care-giver, all of this is clearly taking a toll on her well-being. She mentioned recently falling in their home and bruising her head and her arm, and all the while she is responsible for looking after her husband, who struggles to function in daily life. She started to cry as Mom and I talked with her and it was truly heartbreaking. It really puts things into perspective.

Normally, when my mom starts conversations with strangers I am immensely embarrassed. I’ve never been as outgoing as she is. But on this occasion, I realized how appropriate it was to speak with this woman. As someone fighting cancer as well, my mother was able to empathize in her way that I admire and aspire to. She offered the woman tissues when she began to cry, and I could see that even so simple a gesture made all the difference to this lady. My mom did most of the talking but I jumped in when the woman began asking me questions. I told her I was a college student taking the semester off to be with my family, and she replied, “I know that your mother is so happy to have you here with her.” A perfect stranger, and she bestowed this kindness upon me unconditionally.

She sat and laid her head upon her husband’s shoulder until they were called back to see the doctor. Her love for him was so touching, and despite the hardships they remain together and support each other. She thanked us for speaking with her and wished us the best as they walked away. It amazed me that these people we had known for only ten minutes connected with us in such a genuine and heartfelt way. These kinds of interactions remind me of the power of human connection and give me hope.

A simple encounter in a cancer patient waiting room turned into a lesson in compassion.  I walked away from it feeling uplifted and humbled. And this is why I believe that compassion is so important. It lifts people up, even in the darkest situations. I want to be able to empathize with people and understand what they are going through, even when I cannot completely relate. My mom has taught me the importance of this. Showing compassion for others (and yourself) makes life richer and worth living.

(P.S. Happy birthday to me! – 20 y.o. and no longer a teen…adult world, here I come.)


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