Empathy Rising

I enjoy getting to work early so for years I’ve woken at 5am to get my endurance training in before I turn into a professional. That all changed in Honduras early January when I fell off a dock onto a lower dock then into the ocean badly breaking my wrist.

It could’ve been much worse, I was lucky.  Back in Canada, a surgeon put my bones back together with a metal plate and 7 screws, now I was getting up early just to do one armed life. I felt I’d lost my independence and rebounded back into the downward spiral of grief the trip was to help me overcome; the loss of my beloved Mom last October.

Over the last 3 months I’ve had 3 bad falls which resulted in damaging 3 major body parts; wrist, knee and head. They say it comes in 3’s; enough already!

Let’s say I’ve taken an unexpected and blessedly temporary journey into grief, depression, chronic pain, concussion, loss of limb and insomnia. Sometimes life throws us curve balls, sometimes life even kicks us when we’re down. Trying to figure out the ‘Why’ of all of this hasn’t resulted in new intelligence so I’ve turned it into an exercise of building empathy for those who do not have the luxury of being incapacitated temporarily.

In fact, I’ve built massive respect for anyone dealing with challenges in their day to day lives.

My privilege is I will one day mostly return to a life without these ailments. What I have absolutely discovered is an inclusively built world allows people with disabilities to live their best life and it also benefits everyone else. Personally, I want to be surrounded by diversity in all aspects of life but, for that to become a reality, we need to adapt the world to make it easy for everyone to participate.

Here are some of my humble recent learnings:

Don’t feel sorry!  Build empathy. Feeling sorry for someone is an immediate downer. Truly showing you care through your actions is a huge take away for me. “Your actions speak so loudly, your words I do not hear.” Tell someone dealing with challenges that you are there for them, ask them what they need from you and follow through.

Listen. Don’t tell your story! We are all individuals and all our experiences are unique. Listen to Celeste Headlee’s TED Talk and she’ll reinforce not to equate your experience to others. I found this particularly true in grief, you cannot imagine what I’m feeling but you can be by my side, listen or even provide a hug. I still don’t know what ‘my condolences’ means but I know when someone truly cares about my well being.

Be kind without expectations. My favorite gestures have been simple random texts and notes ending with ‘I’m not expecting a response, I will reach out again.’  People popping by at work for no other reason than to ask how I’m doing. A friend went as far as cooking meals and bringing them to the house. Can I brag that was a male friend rocking the pots and pans!

Inclusive Leadership – Having leaders and an employer who value my contribution, respect my work ethic and act in my best interest (even when I’m not acting in my own) has allowed me to continue to contribute despite recent challenges. I cannot say enough positive things about TD, the leadership and specifically my boss Sharon. They say your boss is 90% of the employee experience, I believe this, I would also add that working for a company who makes inclusive leadership a priority paves the way for inclusive leaders. It starts at the top.

Let’s get over ourselves – The scariest thing I did for 3 months was go through Union station twice a day (oh, and the ice!). Do you know the person you’re bumping into at the GO station or the person who is trying to get to the handrail on the side of the good arm might have a good reason. We need to be more alert to others, more empathetic to everyone around us. Let’s truly work on becoming more human, the person beside you could be going through the worst time of their life.

Smile. No matter what our personal challenges, there is someone dealing with something even more challenging. Something as simple as a genuine smile or a ‘Hello’ can release some happy endorphins. I truly believe #SmilesCanChangeTheWorld

My challenge to you is go check on a friend, ask a relative how you can help, tell your colleagues you have their back. Who’s coming to mind right now? Go do it!

4 thoughts on “Empathy Rising

  1. sneville01

    Oh Karen,

    I read this and felt so much, well, empathy. I’m so sorry to hear of this awful time you’ve been through. I knew about the painful loss of your mom, and now this. What a beautiful, thoughtful piece. The honesty and vulnerability of this is just so meaningful, I could relate powerfully, and I’m sure that is the case for so many people.

    It meant a lot to me to read this today. I’ve had a particularly difficult week, and have been struggling to get through the days. I loved the reminder that we don’t ever know what other people are carrying. It’s such an important thing to remember.

    I want to share a video that I saw a few years ago about the importance of empathy. It’s for a hospital in the Cleveland and I can’t watch it without tears. It’s powerful and beautiful and much in keeping with your ideas here.

    My first blog entry was about my own radical empathy awakening after a serious accident, and how it gave me a different perspective on inclusion. I just read it again, can send to you if you like. No pressure to read it, but it was interesting to be reminded – by your post here – of that journey, and how much has changed for me since then. It was a dark time – of pain, fear, and depression, and I couldn’t believe it would ever pass. But it did. Thanks for reminding me of the privilege of wellness.

    I’m so sorry for your loss, Karen. And to read of this tough time you are going through. I don’t know you well, but what I know of you, I know you to be a strong, vibrant and compassionate woman. You will rise up, and seem to be finding meaning in this journey.

    I am reminded here to check in on someone in need.

    Take good care. Sending good, healing energy to you.




    1. karengeterdone

      What a lovely note Sarah. I would love to view that video and read your 1st blog post. I become less hesitant to write vulnerable post like this when I see it helps others, then it becomes a gift back to me. Thanks for sharing your experience!


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