“Hi there”, a colleague approached me from behind. I was walking home; I lived only five minutes from where I worked, a hospital at the heart of downtown Toronto.

“Where are you off to?” I was curious.

“I am looking for a new place. Also my date last night didn’t work out. So I guess I am moving on…”. My colleague sounded so casual as she shared a glimpse of her personal life to me.

I didn’t think much of it about my conversation with this colleague. I thought I could totally relate. I was single at the time, enjoying life, ceasing the moment and perhaps searching for a soulmate too.

It turned out my colleague went through a lot over the last two years.  I learned later that she had a son who was very ill since birth;  her son was a frequent visitor at the hospital. She was a dedicated mother who did everything in her power to give the best for her son. Unfortunately, her son didn’t make it.   Perhaps it was too painful to stay together, she and her husband also decided to go their separate ways.

I didn’t learn about her story from her directly. It seemed everyone else knew at the hospital.  I was new, so I didn’t know.

I would run into my colleague every now and then. We were sometimes on the same team, covering the same unit at the hospital. I was amazed she chose to work at the same place, where she spent many countless hours seeing her son suffered. Perhaps it was the only way to be close to her son again.

One day during a patient care round, the team was discussing a case that resembled very closely her son’s condition. I caught a glimpse of tears at the corner of her eyes.

No matter how much one tries to move on, the pain may not go away. We somehow learn to live with it. It makes us resilient.  This story helps to remind myself to never judge, to never assume what others are dealing with. Whether I work closely with someone or an individual I encounter daily, I may never know how much he or she has struggled in the past, may continue to struggle everyday, battling something that I don’t know about.

But there is always something I can do. Be nice, be kind and be helpful whenever I can. That’s a dose of helpful medicine that everyone can offer. It’s completely safe, free of side effect or drug interaction. Plus it’s free.