“How do you do it?” I asked a dear friend whose child has a severe illness and special needs, and who has faced adversity in her own life.

I wondered: How does she not break down?

Whenever I ask her any form of this question, her answer is the same. "I don't have a choice. You just do it."

In my life, I have many friends whose children are very ill. Special needs, seizure disorders and childhood cancers are part of their everyday lives. It’s not fair. These are good people, and they would go to the ends of the earth for their child. How do they do it? Who wouldn’t? If you have or had a child who was sick, my friends tell me, you’d do the same thing.

And they’re right.

Sure, we can contribute to the GoFundMe accounts. We can bring meals or make cards. We can keep raising them up as superheroes; moms and dads who do it all despite the adversity life has handed their family.

But what I really believe we can do is provide compassion and empathy. This is something that may seem lost in this world of political arguments, materialism and social media one-up-manship, but I believe it’s still alive.

Part of compassion is understanding that, no matter what your politics or affiliations, there are children with illnesses who may suffer when and if new healthcare legislation gets passed. Part of compassion is knowing you can’t fix a family that is facing illness, but knowing you can be there to listen and be a friend. Empathy is not saying, “I know how you feel,” because for most of us, we don’t. It’s simply stating, “I can’t imagine what you’re going through, but anything I can do to help bear some of the burden, I will.”

Families of children with illness or special needs have different priorities. Like any parent, their children come first. But for their children, doctor appointments, treatments and emergencies are part of the routine. It’s a life that doesn’t come without struggle, but it’s a life they live for their children. That’s where empathy comes in; understanding these parents would do anything for their children.

I think about my friend often, and I always tell her I wish I could do more. But really, I can. I can remind her I am there for her no matter what. I don’t need to fix things; I just need to be there to listen. I can pick up the phone a little more often, and I can drive to hang out with her and her family, laugh and maybe eat a Runza sandwich or two (which may or may not be her favorite). I can show compassion.

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Jen Schneider is a local middle school teacher and mom to two children.

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