em • pa • thy

/ˈempəTHē/

noun

1. the ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

With political campaigns in full swing, we sure are hearing a lot about this word these days. As I watch the Republican and Democratic National Conventions, I’ve seen both parties vying to connect with voters by casting themselves as the entity most able to understand the feelings of millions of Americans whose lives have been horribly interrupted, if not shattered, by a deadly virus and ongoing racial unrest.

Empathy is a critical element of leadership. It requires our leaders not just to hear but to listen to and understand what is ailing our Republic and its people. While sympathy connotes pity and sorrow, empathy requires of our leaders a much deeper capacity to sense the feelings that are contributing to the malaise we are enduring. And, to understand with empathy, one needs to depart from the comfort of their own bubbles to recognize that nearly everyone is feeling some level of anxiety and fear today. This is threatening to further disconnect a confused, detached and divided electorate. Lately, we have been enduring a death toll equal to 9/11 every three days due to the Coronavirus pandemic. It makes sense, then, that we need the level of empathy Americans showed each other nearly two decades ago as the spark to encourage our leaders to act to cure this national illness, as difficult as that may be.

What does all of this have to do with Friends of Aine? As our presidential nominees compete to win over a largely unsettled electorate, organizations such as Friends of Aine are proving every day – even in virtual ways during the pandemic – that empathy is the very first step in lifting a child up and out of the pain of having lost a loved one. This is no easy undertaking, because the pain these children experience is unique and often disabling. Friends of Aine has taken the best practices of other organizations dedicated to serving young people who have lost a loved one and created a safe haven where empathy is at the epicenter of everything it does and offers.

FOA’s founders, David and Christine Phillips, have transformed their enduring love of Aine into a growing support network that currently serves 68 children. Staff, interns, and volunteers, driven by empathy, are working to achieve their vision of “a world where no child is left to grieve alone”. This work is resonating with participants, funders and New Hampshire community partners.

Thankfully, we are not alone. The partners I mentioned include local police and political leaders, public health officials, philanthropic organizations, and nearly every single person who takes the time to learn about what this engine of empathy has accomplished: building and strengthening the character necessary to live and even thrive with grief. I pray for those who are suffering today and for organizations like Friends of Aine which are “feeling” their way forward and setting an example our leaders should embrace and exemplify.

Submitted by Joe Murray, Board Chair, Friends of Aine

A world where no child is left to grieve alone