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Betty was the consummate helper. She was always at the ready if a friend was in need.

Tad and Maria came to see me to help them process the loss of their daughter who died in an automobile accident. I was surprised that Betty was the topic of discussion in an early session.

Upon learning of the tragic death of Tad’s and Maria’s daughter, Betty was at the family home within a matter of minutes. She was at Maria’s side through the visitation and funeral. She greeted visitors at the door, organized meals and kept up with the list of who should receive thank you notes for food, flowers and any other acts of kindness.

Maria and Tad began to notice they were more tense when Betty was at the house. When Maria wanted to lie down for a nap, she couldn’t because Betty was hovering. When Tad wanted to sit in silence with the pain of his daughter’s death, Betty would bring him food and repeatedly ask if she could get him something.

Betty’s intense need to be helpful blinded her to the actual needs of this bereaved couple. Her drive to experience her identity as a helper was not helping. In fact, it was draining their energy. Painfully, Tad and Maria ended up asking Betty to leave, which she angrily did, stating how unappreciated she felt.

A true helper is humble, doesn’t ask for anything, and doesn’t need to be recognized for what they do. They ask what the mourner’s needs are and do not assume to know. They offer their love without any other agenda. The receiver of their help never feels emotionally or physically drained after an encounter. A true helper is a gift of grace for those who mourn.

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Dr. Patrick O’Malley is a psychotherapist in Fort Worth, Texas, specializing in grief counseling. For 35 years, he has counseled individuals, couples and families in his private practice. Dr. O'Malley has recently published a book, "Getting Grief Right" about grief recovery.

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