Reaching out to help others is a way to heal oneself

It seems helping others also has the effect of helping yourself. That's something to think about when bereaved.

Not at first of course. When a very dear one dies, we are the ones in need of help and comfort - or maybe we just need just some time to ourselves.

However, when we are again able to look outside our own grief, it's easy to find others in need of comfort or help, and we can extend ourselves to them. This is very good for both them and ourselves.

There are endless ways to assist others: keeping company, listening, maybe a little money if needed, running errands, cooking meals, rides to appointments, a lunch out at a local restaurant. You can extend an invitation, read or help with small repairs, give advice or include the person in special holidays and fun outings. It doesn't have to be a big thing. It could be as simple as a phone call.

Perhaps this is why the tradition of volunteering is so ingrained in American culture. Volunteering is a fine way to help others. It's also a big part of our social economy - both time and money. The urge to help others, as well as oneself, is surely a reason behind peaceful protests for social good and justice.

When bereaved, I think helping others is also part of coping with our own grief. As we learn how to manage our grief, we have more energy to reach out to others. This outreach may be a way of coping in itself.

In one interesting episode of the British TV series "Downton Abbey," Mrs. Crawley's son dies in a car crash. She is devastated. One of the things that helps her start getting a grip, sometime later, is to help a person in dire need of health care. It awakens her past as a nurse and she is tireless in getting him back on his feet and off to a new job. And this helped her as well. It was her step forward, and a nice example of the power of helping others.

My dear Baheej was always helping someone, in one way or another. I think this was one reason why he loved teaching. He got to know his students well and often gave them good advice and encouragement, in addition to the teaching. They loved him.

I'm sure wanting to help is also a motivating factor for donations to animal shelters and other organizations that care for animals in neighborhoods or in the wild. It's why people seeking a pet often adopt from a shelter or animal rescue. A sweet dog, cat, horse or other pet gets a new forever home, and the adopter gets a wonderful new buddy.

I got my two sweet kitties from a barn in Belvedere when they were only 3 months old. Their mother had died and they needed a home. A rescue of sorts, but I was the big beneficiary. My sister Mary got her darling dog and cat as rescues.

So the point is: Helping one another, whether a person or pet, is a double whammy. It helps both the giver and receiver. It's healthy all around.

And everyone has a talent to help, something to give or do. Just look around for opportunities; it comes naturally.

• Susan Anderson-Khleif of Sleepy Hollow has a doctorate in family sociology from Harvard, taught at Wellesley College and is a retired Motorola executive. Contact her at or see her blog See previous columns at

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