I’m Grateful for the Rare Gift of Empathy

Lara Govendo avatar

by Lara Govendo |

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Living with cystic fibrosis and undergoing a double-lung transplant have had profound effects on my character. I’ve been graced with the ability to dig deep amid pain and suffering and find golden nuggets of wisdom. The rarest attribute I’ve developed on my health journey has been a deep level of empathy for others.

I tend to fly under the radar when it comes to service. As a mental health counselor, I pride myself on keeping the tender vulnerabilities shared with me confidential. It’s a bit of an undercover business.

I’ve lived through enough scary moments, sleepless nights, and ugly cries to know that suffering can be incredibly isolating, lonely, and exhausting. It affects mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health, and it’s worse when nobody truly understands.

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Sometimes It’s Best Just to Listen

My experiences have taught me what authentic support looks like. I’ve developed my own rubric for showing people empathy, which helps me to determine what’s helpful to say or do when others are suffering.

During my own challenging times, I needed others to give me permission to suffer, not try to fix the issue. I needed them to simply listen and let me cry rather than give me advice. I needed people to be in the difficult season with me, not stay away because they were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say. I needed loved ones to simply be by my side during scary times.

When people join us in our mess, they can provide a different level of support, encouragement, and love. I am thankful for those who have done this for me.

Receiving empathy has shown me how to offer it effectively. I have found that when I risk authenticity and vulnerability, it creates a safe space for others to do the same. When I’m transparent about my struggles, triumphs, and everything in between, I develop trust and credibility with others. People feel comfortable reaching out to me for support, guidance, and prayer. I’m honored to serve others in this way and be trusted with their silent struggles.

In my experience, people are often looking for validation and a reminder that they’re not alone, rather than a solution to their suffering. Deep down, we all just want to feel seen, valued, and loved, regardless of our circumstances. People aren’t problems to be “fixed.” We just need love, kindness, and empathy to thrive.

I know what it’s like to be hanging on to hope by a thread. Offering someone an encouraging word, showing up with a meal, or praying are other ways I help. And sometimes, these simple expressions of empathy mean the most to someone who’s suffering.

I never would’ve wished to learn empathy in such a painful way, but if given a choice, I’d choose my life every time. I’m grateful for this rare gift, which rewards me with the ability to hear people’s stories. Every part of our journey matters, and I hope my presence through all seasons of life echoes that.

Note: Cystic Fibrosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cystic Fibrosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to cystic fibrosis.


Judith E Moreland avatar

Judith E Moreland

Just wanted to say that in my experience, I have not found empathy to be rare. Maybe it's because I started out as a nurse and the nursing school I attended taught and emphasized empathy. We don't all experience life in the same way, of course, and I am happy to say that I have really never felt empathy was lacking in most people.

Mark Tremblay avatar

Mark Tremblay

Lara, I love this piece!! Specifically, I found your observation that you, ""needed others to give you permission to suffer, not try to fix you. I needed them to simply listen and let me cry rather than give me advice. I needed people to be in the difficult season with me, not stay away because they were uncomfortable and didn’t know what to say. I needed loved ones to simply be by my side during scary times." When I read this I thought of Job and how his friends came to comfort by sitting in the ashes with him silently while he wailed in anguish. I pray that every CF patient and everyone in their darkest moments can find someone who you so eloquently desribed. Keep writing and sharing Lara!!


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