How to be a true friend when the worst happens

Dr. Kelsey Crowe, co-author of "There Is No Good Card For This," talks to Inflection Point about comfort and grief

Published September 13, 2017 6:58PM (EDT)

 (Alison Christiana/HarperOne)
(Alison Christiana/HarperOne)

It’s not the awkward attempts at comfort that hurt the most when you’re grieving — it’s the silence of those you thought would be there for you.

Kelsey Crowe made this painful discovery after she lost her mother — who was her sole parent and family member — to mental illness when she was in her early 20’s.

“I experienced the loss of my entire, but very small family pretty much alone — with no recognition,” Crowe shared with me in our recent interview for "Inflection Point."

“There were no cards, there were no invitations for the holidays, there was no record of people’s memories of my mom when she was well. And clearly the absence of all those things in that scenario was a very amplified version of what so many of us go through in difficult times.”

Years later, when her dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer, she agonized over how to reach out--and chose to wait to be asked for help.

The problem is when people are in pain, Crowe observed, “the neediness that comes about with intense loss of any kind can cause a lot of shame. You don’t want to be that needy person — you want to be that likeable, funny, giving person.”

And that means that it’s hard for people having a tough time to ask for help, or to even be aware of what their needs are.

The popular solution, Crowe said, has been to create self-help books instructing broken people on how to fix themselves.

“At some point I realized that yes, it was very, very hard for me to ask for help. And I was like well, ‘why the fuck should I be the one learning to ask for help when I’m feeling so crappy?’ Why would I be expecting my friend [with breast cancer] to ask for help?” Crowe told me.

Why indeed?

Crowe realized that the problem isn’t that grieving people don’t know how to ask for help--it’s that the people in their lives don’t know how to offer help and reach out.

“Instead of self-help books that were proliferating beyond belief . . . I said we need a ‘help each other’ book. So that we’re not waiting to be asked by that empowered individual who feels ready to ask for help. And so that's where I wanted to go with it is how to make it easier to show up.”

Crowe’s book "There Is No Good Card For This," which she co-authored with Emily McDowell, is the culmination of interviews she conducted with 900 grieving people about what they needed others to say and do to help them feel less alone.

Listen to how Crowe decided to make the study of grief her life’s work and her advice on how to get past your own discomfort and offer genuine empathy to loved ones in pain.

By Lauren Schiller

Lauren Schiller is the creator and host of Inflection Point, a podcast and public radio show from KALW and PRX featuring stories of how women rise up. For more rising up stories, follow Lauren on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast on Android or Apple.

MORE FROM Lauren Schiller

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Authors Books Breakup Death Divorce Dying Empathy Empathy Cards Grieving Help Job Loss Loss Podcasts Salon Audio Self-help