When Ali O’Grady lost her father to cancer in 2011, the then 22-year-old — understandably — found herself with a lot of questions.

“What could I have said or done to better support my dad in his journey with cancer?” she reflects now.

Over the years, O’Grady’s personal network has been touched by addiction, causing her to wrestle with more hard questions: “How can I continue to support people I love with addiction — even when I’m angry, hurt, or clearly just don’t understand? How can I show up for people I love who are grieving in ways that are honest, but still productive?”

Inspired by these experiences, O’Grady has found purpose in cultivating empathy in her own life… and — through her stationery company Thoughtful Human, which launched in October 2017 — helping other people support loved ones during a challenging time. All cards are printed on biodegradable eco-paper made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled materials (O’Grady has also always been passionate about sustainability) and, being made out of “plantable seed paper,” they can even be planted to grow seven different types of wildflowers! Their messages are unique too.

Ali O'Grady of Thoughtful Human

“I think there’s a huge opportunity to use the [stationery] space to shift from impersonal, holiday-based greetings to tools to start real, meaningful, and consistent conversations,” O’Grady tells us.

Rather than “Happy Birthday!’ and “Season’s Greetings!” messages, Thoughtful Human cards are printed with direct, honest, often darkly funny verbiage. A card meant to address depression, for example, says “Hey! Keep your head up. Or don’t. Whatever feels right.” Another one, designed to send to a grieving loved one, says “Something really sad happened on this day and we don’t really talk about it a lot anymore, but I remember and I’m still really sorry.” Sentiments like this, according to O’Grady, create opportunities for us to start more meaningful conversations with the people we care about most.

“There is a lot of power in a written note and the time and thought it took to get it into your hands,” she says. “People value that. Unlike a text buried in a thread of thousands of others, it’s something to hold on to, revisit, and remember.”

Thoughtful Human Grief and Depression Greeting Card Bundle
Thoughtful Human Family Dysfunction Greeting Card Bundle

We’ve all found ourselves in the tough spot of knowing that a friend or family member is struggling through a seemingly unbearable situation, wanting to say or do the right thing and having no idea of how to go about it. Talking about the sad stuff IRL can be awkward and uncomfortable and, as O’Grady says, a text message is easy to lose. A physical expression of your care and concern — one that doesn’t sugarcoat the circumstances they’re going through — can be the best way to show that you’re there for them.

Thoughtful Human products are available online as individual cards or in bundles that can help you offer support to someone over a longer period of time through a series of messages, and several multi-card packs and support series are also available on Target.com. And while O’Grady notes that she’s gotten her fair share of pushback from people who believe that snail mail is so not cool, she’s confident that Thoughtful Human’s cards can start important conversations and make a big impact.

“If you’ve ever been in one of those really dark, low moments yourself, you remember that one person who noticed and showed up,” she says. “The smallest act of kindness in a moment of crisis can be quite profound.”

What’s the most meaningful card you’ve ever received? Tweet us @BritandCo!

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(Photos via Thoughtful Human)