By Laura Zigman

If you think greeting cards can't change the world, think again

Tags Inspiration

If your life has been touched by illness (your own, a parent's, or, God forbid, a child's), chances are you've also been touched by the kindness and warmth of friends, family, and a vast outer circle of support you receive from online connections you may never have even met in person. (Recently, the New York Times wrote about this very phenomenon when writer and cancer-blogger/educator and beloved online friend to thousands Lisa Bonchek Adams died of metastatic breast cancer.)

But dealing with serious illness often means dealing with the insensitive, clueless, and unintentionally hurtful things that fly out of the mouths of the exceedingly well-intentioned: (two of Lisa Adam's most widely read and shared pieces are "The Stupid Things People Say to People With Cancer" and "How to Be a Friend To Someone With a Serious Illness").

Meaning well doesn't always mean saying it well, which is presumably why writer-illustrator-designer Emily McDowell came up with this incredibly perfect line of cards: Empathy Cards For Serious Illness. According to her website, her company "was founded on the success of one card ["The Awkward Dating Card"] that spoke to a truth about Valentine's Day in a way that wasn't yet represented in Greeting Card World, and that's what we most like to do here: identify universal, emotional truths and observations on being human, and turn them into products that speak to people." These are fabulous when you don't know what to say to a friend who has cancer or another serious illness.

As with all amazing and meaningful products, the personal story behind "Empathy Cards for Serious Illness" is worth knowing:

"Most of us struggle to find the right words in the face of a friend or loved one’s major health crisis, whether it’s cancer, chronic illness, mental illness, or anything else. It’s a really tough problem; someone we love needs our support more than ever, but we don’t have the right language for it.

I created this collection of empathy cards for serious illness because I believe we need some better, more authentic ways to communicate about sickness and suffering. “Get well soon” cards don’t make sense when someone might not. Sympathy cards can make people feel like you think they’re already dead. A “fuck cancer” card is a nice sentiment, but when I had cancer, it never really made me feel better. And I never personally connected with jokes about being bald or getting a free boob job, which is what most “cancer cards” focus on.

With Empathy Cards, my goal is to help people connect with each other through truth and insight, which is one of the founding principles of this brand. I want the recipients of these cards to feel seen, understood, and loved."

One of the best parts about this series of cards?

"If these resonate with you, I’d love your help in getting them out into the world. I’ve never asked you guys to share our stuff before, but I’m asking now, because I want to connect these with as many folks as possible who could use them.

As a small thank you, everyone who posts one of these cards on Instagram, Pinterest, or Twitter with the hashtags #empathycards and #emilymcdowell will be entered to win one of two $100 gift certificates to our online shop. You can use any of the images in this post or on my instagram feed (@emilymcdowell_), or grab images from the shop. Two winners will be announced on Monday, May 11th, a week from today.

Also! If you have a contact at an illness/research organization, in the media, a blogger, etc., who you think might be interested in featuring these or working with us, please email Sara, our head of marketing, at We’re happy to donate cards, too — our main goal is just to get these in front of the people who need them. It’s hard to make a big difference with a greeting card, but I’m hoping these can make a small one."

Want to help change the world? Post, share, or send one of these cards today.




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