Op-ed pick: How to help when someone is in crisis

After spending many years helping my mom through cancer treatments and then experiencing the unexplainable and painful grief when she died last year, David Brooks’ piece in the New York Times really hit home. Going through my own family’s tragedy, I realized how poorly I had reached out to others in crisis and how seldom people understand what they can do in such situations. This piece is a great reminder of how to help those around you.

Some of the most meaningful things we received from others during our grieving included weekly meal deliveries for months after her death, text messages and phone calls to check in, and special notes and acknowledgements on hard days (Mother’s Day, her birthday, Christmas). That type of reaching out didn’t take much of a person’s time, but it was a reminder that people were thinking about us and were missing her too.

Here’s a section of Brooks’ column:

I’d say that what these experiences call for is a sort of passive activism. We have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness — to propose, plan, fix, interpret, explain and solve. But what seems to be needed here is the art of presence — to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the elemental situation. Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Let them define meaning. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.

Cheryl Strayed, author of the Dear Sugar column, summed it up perfectly in response to a man dealing with his girlfriend’s grief:

The kindest most loving thing you can do for her is to bear witness to that, to muster the strength and courage and humility it takes to accept the enormous reality of its not okayness and be okay with it the same way she has to be. Get comfortable being the man who says oh honey, I’m so sorry for your loss over and over again.

  • Randi Welhaven

    Lovely sentiments, Emily. I miss your mom a lot.