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Speaker Series: Liesel Mertes, Workplace Empathy Advocate

Aug 21st, 2020

August 20, 2020

Author: Heather Lowery


“Each person’s story of pain is unique to them.”

Liesel’s words rang in my head for a while after yesterday’s Linking Indy Women discussion. Whether you have witnessed only a couple of people going through something painful or are a seasoned pro in the loss of loved ones, there is always more to learn in the art of empathy.

Strength, love, pain, confusion, what now, mourning, support, hurt, adversity, grief, authenticity.

All of these words and more come to mind describing what we witnessed of Liesel. And yet, it’s only the tip of the iceberg of the emotions she has gone through and continues to go through after the loss of her sweet daughter, Mercy, at 8 days old.

And while each person’s story is unique to them, the more authentic you are to your story, the more people are able to connect to it. Empathize. Work with and through the pain.



With two small children, a full ride to IU’s MBA program, and a third baby on the way, life was busy, but exciting and on track for Liesel. A 20-week scan changed everything. This revealed a neural tube defect in which doctors were unclear of the severity for Luke and Liesel’s unborn child.

With a phrase like, “anywhere from terminal to a relatively normal life,” being tossed around, Mercy was born on February 15, 2011.

“Any surgery would be doing things to her not for her.”

Amid amazing family support, Mercy was able to go home for two days. Liesel and Luke desperately wanted these days at home for their other two children to be a family of 5, even for a short period.

Mercy died on February 22, 2011.

Still working through post-partum swelling and milk coming in for a child she couldn’t breast feed, Liesel was given cabbage leaves to help relieve the pain in her breasts. To this day, the grief she felt in the beginning still has the undeniable smell of soggy cabbage leaves in her memory.



As time passed, Liesel found herself annoyed by most everything. Knowing her two other children in the toddler phase needed her attention, yet feelings of annoyance and lack of patience persisted. Feeling a fraction of what she wanted to be. Disappointed in herself. Feeling a complete zap in her energy.

“What we resist ultimately persists.” She soon realized in order to make meaning after loss this also meant you had to walk through the complexity. Feel the feelings.

This was a trial and error process indeed. Running and intense workouts became her outlet. However, over time the stress this placed on her body outweighed any of the benefits she thought she felt.

Her body was interpreting running as a stress. “My body didn’t know if I was running from a lion or running on the Monon.” Ultimately, she had to consider the coping mechanism and channel her energy elsewhere.

Even with the shift in coping, she points out to not judge our coping of the past. Just look at it and thank it for helping you survive a particular season. But the key being to then ask if it’s what you need and want moving forward. Moving you to a state of choice. And what would choosing something different look like?



“Give me eyes to see the goodness that remains.”

As Liesel continued to work through her grief, she shifted her vantage point. She began asking God, “will you give me eyes to see the good that is there?”

It is from this place she began to have happy moments with her other children again. Making memories with her family while still bringing pieces of Mercy into the celebration. For instance, a family tradition of a Great Wolf Lodge celebration on Mercy’s birthday each year.

She refers to this as integration versus getting over it. Also, part of her shift in coping. Instead of asking “what has this experience taken from me,” reframing the question to “what has this experience given me?”



“What does it mean to consider pain and loss are a part of being alive?”

Something often felt by one going through a traumatic experience is the right to have a pass from going through another hard season. Instead, Liesel and Luke faced another challenge with their newborn Moses.

A heart valve issue led to surgery as a toddler as well as a lifetime of additional monitoring and surgeries to come.

Through this experience, Liesel came to the realization of pain and loss being a part of being alive. This openness to pain has led to their children adjusting to knowing pain is a part of life. They are just experiencing this in a much earlier phase than most.

Ada, even at the young age of 5, was (and still is now at 12) wise beyond her years with the experience of pain, coping, and still living a life of joy.



“Are there people letting you feel the hardness of it?”

Your support system matters, not just in them being there for you, but also allowing you the space to feel the feelings. Not diminishing your thoughts and feelings.

It’s extremely important to have people surrounding you giving time and space to be sad. Those who don’t try to move you to joy and pointing out the silver lining too quickly. These are people you want as a part of your support system.

Liesel also points out she is making efforts to de-stigmatize professional help. There is no shame in receiving mental help. Period.



Liesel’s company, Handle with Care Consulting, provides employers the tools to support their employees to survive, stabilize and thrive after a traumatic experience.

She explained there are categories in these hard times for people. Death, disruption by a diagnosis, bringing a child into the home, and relationship transitions. Hard times are…. Hard.

“Am I stuffing my feelings, compelled by a need to be happy or to be productive?”

Arming employers with the tools for empathetic conversations and actions, leads to a compassionate and productive workplace.

Her advice for how to respond when a co-worker or employee is going through a hard season?

  • Listen to hear, not to respond
  • Don’t compare to something in your own life. This is about them, not you.
  • Make someone feel heard. For example, “it sounds like you are really ________ (frustrated, sad, angry, feeling alone), and that is understandable.”
  • Simply stating, “I’m sorry you are going through this. It sounds really hard,” shows you are empathizing to their situation.

In your own hard season, moving to a space of gratitude can eventually propel you forward. There are a ton of ways to tell a story. You are the maker of meaning. “The event will not be different, but the meaning can be. What does this mean for you?”

Want to connect with Liesel? Find her at or on her podcast Handle with Care: Empathy at Work.