The Art of Helping


It hadn’t been an easy day emotionally; her father passed away exactly one year ago, and she was struggling to make it through each minute. As much as I think I can relate, I can’t. The closest I have come to losing someone close to me was when I worked for Union Pacific; a friend that I spent time with every day and thoroughly enjoyed had croaked one morning in his apartment from a heart attack. Not to mention, I have a seemingly skewed vision of how death works in comparison with the majority of society. But that part is maybe better told elsewhere.

Morgean had been holding up fairly well all day, having little bouts of sadness come over her every so often, but mostly remaining emotionally neutral. I was making my best effort to keep things light and let any little annoyances go, as they weren’t nearly as important as they sometimes feel in the moment. As we pulled into the parking lot of O’Reilly’s, her emotional infrastructure collapsed in a heap, leaving her in a blob of snot and tears. I don’t remember the specifics of what was said, but I’m going to go out on a limb and assign the blame to me. I’m really great with words at the most inopportune times. One of those gifts that sometimes I would gladly trade for the ability to be quiet and dumb.

My mind raced as I tried to find something, anything, that I could say to help her feel a bit less wrecked. So I began thinking about what I would want if I was in her shoes. Well, if one of my parents died, I wouldn’t want someone to say things to me. They don’t know me, they don’t know my parents, and they likely don’t know the detailed connection that we have built together over the time that I have been alive. There is no way in hell that they could say one single thing to me that would lessen such an overwhelming emotional torrent. I was taken back to a previous relationship I had. It was somewhat long-distance, meaning she wasn’t always around physically when times were rough and I needed her. The best offering she had—and I know she tried her little heart out—was to talk to me on the phone or text me words of comfort. But for me, using words to solve an emotional problem is like trying to drink the ocean with a fork. All I wanted was someone to feel what I was feeling, even for a brief moment, so I wouldn’t feel so alone.

Morgean talked about her dad fairly regularly in the month we spent together. She told me of how handy he was, fixing her cars for her and showing her what he was doing so she could perhaps acquire some of that knowledge herself. She told me about how he made certain to take her and her brothers out on camping trips, given the limited funds they grew up with. He worked hard to support his family in every way he could. So when Morgean and I were sitting together in her van, I started thinking of all of the things I knew about him and how I would feel if he was instead my father, and I was the little girl that was constantly awestruck at how beautiful he was as a human being.

It hurt so badly in the most beautiful way to sit in that car with her, embraced together over the center console and cry. And cry. And cry because I, for a split second, had felt the tiniest inkling of an idea what she was going through. As the tears streamed out of my swollen eyes and on to my red cheeks, I remembered what she had told me before about her dad passing away. When it happened, she went to a dark place. Her friendships began falling off because they didn’t want to have someone around who was in a seemingly constant state of depression. People that she once hung out with stopped inviting her to gatherings, and texts from others became less and less frequent. Eventually, one of her friends told her that everyone in the world has problems, and the last thing they want is to have to deal with hers in addition to the ones they already have. So Morgean began doing what many people do in that situation. She shut it all out and pretended that it wasn’t a big deal.

But it was a big deal. If it wasn’t, Morgean wouldn’t be sitting in a van one year later, crying. After we cried together for a while (and I was beyond emotionally exhausted), she sat up and looked at me through her glassy brown eyes. Attempting to speak through a thick layer of snot in the back of her throat, she said “I think I’ve done enough crying.”

Helping others is an art, and each person has an ability to help in their own way. Sometimes it is by doing an errand for someone, or maybe gifting them an item that will help them through their progress in life. But sometimes, when you see someone struggling with the weight of the emotional world bearing down on them, instead of coaching them on how they could hold it better, climb under there with them and share the weight.

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