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Listening with Curiosity and Compassion

Happy Memorial Day! What a strange time we live in. How do we honor holidays and commemorate special occasions in the time of Covid?

Our family is celebrating its own momentous rite of passage. Our twin daughters, 22, are graduating college, one in May and one in June. Graduation ceremonies have been cancelled, of course, replaced with the sad (but necessary) substitute of live-streamed speeches and virtual congratulations.

Our May graduate is feeling the loss. Like many other students, she left her East Coast campus fairly suddenly to return to our home in Chicago. She didn’t have the chance to enjoy all the bittersweet “lasts” of senior year—from her last tour as a campus guide to her last classroom seminar, from her last nocturnal walk to her last hugs goodbye.

As her mother, I’d love to make it all better, but I can’t. Right now, my daughter simply needs to feel heard and acknowledged. This is not the time to point out her good fortune; she has voiced how lucky she feels to be healthy and safe while so many are suffering from health, family, and financial worries.

In difficult times, we must learn how to sit with conflicting feelings and accept them all as valid—because grief and gratitude can indeed coexist. And we must learn to support others in whatever they are feeling. (Remember: Feelings aren’t good or bad. They simply are.)

YOUR TURN: Next time someone in your life shares their pain, how can you refrain from judging or fixing, avoiding or negating? Instead, how do you show empathy? My take: It’s mostly about listening with curiosity and compassion: “Tell me more.” “That sounds really hard.” “I’m so sorry.”

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