Who Helps the Helpers? We Do

Embracing compassion and community in lifting the spirits of those who care for us
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A couple of weeks ago, there was a death in our little community. An otherwise healthy young man had a massive heart attack just days after his eighteenth birthday.

It’s devastating to many. We were nearby when it happened. The sirens got louder and louder as the ambulances arrived.

We passed the scene in our minivan, and I thought, “I hope it’s something small like a broken nose or dehydration.” Five minutes later, my husband’s cell phone rang, and all I heard was, “Yes sir. I’ll be right there.” He dropped me and the kids at home, drove away, and didn’t come home until 1 am.

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, “Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.”

Fred Rogers

My husband is a helper. As Chaplain, he is at the epicenter of tragedy when it strikes our school. Many evenings, he walks through the door carrying a heavy load. When I ask him how his day went, he tells me things like…

I had to pull a kid out of class today to tell him his little sister was in a terrible car accident.” Or, “A cadet’s father died of cancer this morning – I need to give him a ride to the airport in the morning.

When he is at work, he is strong and compassionate. His voice offers comfort, and his presence and counseling help others process trauma and grief. He is a helper, but the helpers carry pieces of that sorrow with them.

Because he doesn’t sit there unaffected when he has to pull someone from class to notify them of a death, he isn’t untouched when a young man collapses into his arms in tears after a traumatic experience. These things break his heart.

And he’s not the only one.

The first responders are grief-stricken when someone dies in their arms. The nursing staff is heartbroken when a baby dies in his parent’s arms. The police officers carry images in their minds that we can’t fathom.

The firefighters are overwhelmed with sorrow for the family who just lost everything. The pastors and counselors are burdened for those they love who tell them traumas and secrets… looking for hope and guidance.

So, who helps the helpers? Because, friends, the helpers need help, too. They need support, love, and compassion, too. The answer is simple: us. We help the helpers because this world only works if we all become helpers and lean on one another.

A friend shared this beautiful illustration in a sermon last week. Redwood trees are the tallest trees on earth, reaching over 300 feet. So, one would assume they have intense root systems to support them, right? Wrong. The redwood roots only go 6-12 feet deep.

So, where do they get the support and strength to withstand storms and earthquakes? Instead of diving deep into the ground, redwood trees extend their roots wide – more than 50 feet from their trunk.

And they live in groves, intertwining their roots with the other redwoods in the grove. In other words – they hold each other up and depend on one another to endure the harsh elements. The tallest tree in the grove is connected to the smallest.

And that’s how people work, too. We rely on each other for strength and can’t do hard things alone. Sometimes we are the helpers, and sometimes we need help. But often, it’s both/and rather than either/or. Most frequently, we are pouring out while being poured into.

So, while my husband gives himself to others during the day, he comes home to share his heart with me, and I let him process his day. Then the next morning I sit with a friend over coffee. And when she has a baby, I bring over dinner.

Another friend takes my kids so I can support my husband through a memorial service, and a neighbor delivers an apple crisp to our porch that evening. And then someone has a death in the family, and we send a care package and sit on the phone and listen.

And a soldier is deployed, so we mow his family’s yard, bring his wife a meal, and babysit the children. And a horrible shooting happens on yet another campus, and we weep and light a candle and send prayers and letters and call for change on it goes…

So when we talk about the helpers, we need to know that we are all a part of that. We are all helpers and have a role to play in the best and most challenging times.

Avatar of Lauren Casper

Lauren Casper

Lauren’s essays, known for their vulnerability and personal story-telling style, have appeared on The Huffington Post, the TODAY show, Dailymail, Yahoo! News, and several other publications

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