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GUEST COMMENTARY: Kindness, compassion, powerful attributes of leadership
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GUEST COMMENTARY: Kindness, compassion, powerful attributes of leadership

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Damian Rico

Damian Rico

Our world needs compassion, now more than ever. Especially in these times of pronounced uncertainty and unrest.

Everything we yearn for was actually clarified for us as 4-year-old preschoolers and reinforced a year later in kindergarten.

Empathy and kindness go a long way.

As the marketing and community relations director for Hospice of the Calumet Area, one of my most valued roles is guiding family meetings for patients and families that want or need information on hospice care. It’s one of my favorite engagements because I know what it’s like. Just four short years ago, a year prior to working for the organization, our family turned to HCA for answers when my vivacious and inspiring mother, Mona, was diagnosed with liver cancer.

In the past few weeks, my formula for these visits has changed. No longer can I offer a hug to a patient or crying family member, no longer can I share a tear and offer a sympathetic smile, no longer can I physically hold their hands and reassure them everything will be okay. I have to use my compassionate and guiding words over a distant phone conversation.

On a recent phone meeting, an 83-year-old man was completely in tears answering questions about his wife of over 60 years. When I asked him about her appetite, he frustratingly rebuked, “I don’t know because they won’t let me see her and it’s been almost a week now since I’ve seen her.” He quickly retreated as I permitted him to vent his frustrations and apologized empathetically for his heartache. As I closed my eyes in prayer asking for peace, patience and understanding to reach this man’s heart, his demeanor changed. 

He was hurting. He was suffering profoundly.

By the end of our nearly hourlong conversation, he thanked me and asked me to keep both his wife and him in my prayers. There was a different calm about him now.

The one thing I have learned through this entire pandemic is the power of connection that we oftentimes take for granted.

I am constantly inspired by the kindness of others.

Last week, I overheard one of our treasured nurses telling her supervisor that she would return to a patient’s house because his wife, troubled with her own health issues, couldn’t find toilet paper. Kelli Aiello took it upon herself to take her own supply over to relieve this elderly woman of her anxiousness.

I can only imagine this woman’s face when Kelli rang her doorbell and devoured her with absolute kindness.

Social distancing is a real challenge for me. I am a hugger. This is really tough. I realize that life as we know it may change for a while, but I am not ready to concede to the fact that the power of connection will be lost.

The power of touch epitomizes thankfulness and care. It is an essential ingredient of life. There will be a time when we can once again embrace our family and friends, and even strangers, but until then, a genuine smile and hello (from 6 feet away) will have to suffice.

Damian Rico is the director of marketing and community relations for Hospice of the Calumet Area. The opinions are the writer's.

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